Finished up an interview today for a Christian magazine that is working on a story on gender dysphoria. The story was prompted by recent legislation that is being voted on in California. The legislation would “ensure students could participate in school activities and use facilities like bathrooms based on their gender identity, not their physical sex,” according to the LA Times. Here is the key text from the legislation:
Existing law prohibits public schools from discriminating on the basis of specified characteristics, including gender, gender identity, and gender expression, and specifies various statements of legislative intent and the policies of the state in that regard. Existing law requires that participation in a particular physical education activity or sport, if required of pupils of one sex, be available to pupils of each sex.
This bill would require that a pupil be permitted to participate in sex-segregated school programs
activities, including athletic teams and competitions, and use facilities consistent with his or her gender identity, irrespective of the gender listed on the pupil’s records.
Another story coming out of Oregon raises similar questions about access to facilities. In that story, six bathrooms were converted to unisex restrooms. This resolution seemed to meet the concerns of multiple stakeholders, as many families might not be comfortable with where the CA legislation is heading, while at the same time there is a desire among many families to respond compassionately to the needs of the person who experiences gender dysphoria. In any case, the conversion of six bathrooms to unisex restrooms was viewed by the transgender teen featured in the article.
In the interview I participated in, I didn’t really get into a discussion about legislation. I think that is an area where we need wisdom in thinking through how best to respond so that Christians are not reducing the complexities to just how to defend one’s beliefs/values in a culture war. While there is a need to defend religious liberties, there is also a need to respond to a range of issues that arise in these discussions. Unfortunately, when these complex issues are handled through legislation, my experience is that frequently no one comes out ahead. So we need to be wise about political issues while at the same time consider the experience of people who are gender dysphoric and the challenges they may face in a range of situations.
Back to the interview: I discussed what we know and do not know about gender dysphoria in terms of prevalence, etiology, and treatment, including controversial treatment options and current trends. We also discussed how Christians ought to respond from more of a clinical and pastoral standpoint, and I discussed humility and empathy for the family that is navigating gender identity concerns. We certainly do not want to drive them away from the church or contribute to shame (which is essentially self-condemnation that isolates itself from others for fear that if their experiences were know by others, they too would reject/condemn them).
In my role as a psychologist who provides consultation to individuals, couples and families navigating these difficult issues, I make sure that they are familiar with the current state of the research, including what we know and do not know in the areas mentioned above (e.g., etiology). I also want them to know what options are available to them at the present time and in the years to come. I also talked about working with the gender dysphoric person and his or her local church in terms of providing education and encouraging a supportive and sustained presence in the life of that person (and his or her family), as well as providing mature spiritual guidance.