Book Review

When Harry Became Sally:
Responding to the Transgender Moment

by Ryan T. Anderson
Encounter Books (8 Mar 2018)
ISBN: 978-1594039614 (Also on Kindle)

Book CoverThere were many questions I asked as I read this book. Is it compassionate? Does it speak the truth charitably? Yes to both questions. This book asks all the right questions and gives the right answer.

We all have regrets. In most instances, they can be remedied. If a product I buy at the local supermarket could be bought cheaper elsewhere, I switch. But what if a person decides to "change" his sex and later has regrets? That is a big deal for that person. According to Anderson, such people are far from few in number. So, we need to ask a whole series of questions. Did the professionals get it badly wrong?

There was the case of a woman who wanted to "change" and become a man. She had her breasts removed. She was given testosterone and this gave her the appearance of a man. The breast operation went badly wrong. She now feels like a woman trapped in a man's body. We are led to ask the question: how much objective psychological support did she receive? In this particular case, Anderson gives us the answer: very little.

What happens when a movement becomes a fashion? Vulnerable people get exploited. Doubtless, a very small number of men and women feel trapped in the "wrong" body. They need compassionate support. But because transgenderism has become fashionable, there is pressure to "change". Icons like Bruce Jenner lead the way but, from reading this book, there appear to be plenty of victims of change. 

The medical management of gender dysphoria is drugs and surgery. But what about exploring the often deep seated psychological issues, asks Anderson. In the psychological condition known as autogynephilia, the afflicted person has the erotic fantasy of being admired in the opposite sex persona by another person. It is suggested that this may be case with Bruce Jenner.

There are a number of truly tragic cases of regret. Anderson discusses the case of a transgender man who believes he can make up for his lost puberty after transitioning. But he is in his thirties. 

Anderson goes to all the essential points. What is sex  in the first place? Sex as a status is recognition of the organization of the organism for sexually reproductive acts. There is a real distinction between male and female.The distinction is objective. The best biology and psychology support an understanding of sex as a bodily reality and of gender as a social manifestation of bodily sex. "Biology isn't bigotry" says Anderson.

For those who have regrets, who should take the blame? Anderson argues that doctors, activists and journalists along with a host of others ought to share the blame. Anderson puts forward some interesting statistics: 80-95% of children who suffer from gender dysphoria will grow out of it. Those who transition are nineteen times more likely to die by suicide than the general population.

A deeply compassionate work which we need to read and reflect on.

Reviewed by Dr Pravin Thevathasan