The public intersection of Christianity and transgenderism is quite small, so I’ve kept tabs easily and I have to scrounge for every morsel. So I was anxious to see Glenn Stanton of Focus on the Family enter the court of the prince of pop-psychology on “Dr. Phil,” McGraw’s daytime show on January 14th. The trans movement is several decades behind the gay movement so I don’t encourage anyone to put their hopes up for a fair portrayal. Nevertheless, the result was entertaining.
The cast was comprised of three moms of transgirls (male-to-female transexuals), two trans-affirming researchers, Dr. Dan Siegel and Dr. Michelle Angello, the not so affirming Joseph Nicolosi and Glenn Stanton of Focus on the Family, and Dr. Phil. The kids were absent. Siegel has an MD from Harvard and has spent years studying how parent-child attachment influences behavior, emotions, and how a child perceives their history. In other words, exactly what reparative therapists generally believe is the cause of both transgenderism and homosexuality. Dr. Angello has her doctorate in sexology and has 10 years of counseling and leadership experience in gender and sexual orientation. Both act in the ways we’d expect from professional counselors – deep knowledge, experience, empathy, and solid advice – so I’m going to focus on Nicolosi and Stanton.
Stanton was new to me, and for good reason. He’s written a fair number of books and articles on homosexuality, but nothing on transgenderism and, of course, his education has nothing to do with psychology and his experience is politics and public speaking. His very basic article on the topic reveals he relies more on second hand quotations like newspapers and Focus on the Family literature than books or journals. Stanton is like any lay person who hears a theory second hand and uses his influence to espouse it without actually doing research or talking with trans (or even “ex-trans”) people.
For instance, on the show he cites Dr. Jerome Kagan as an expert with four decades of experience. Kagan is a giant in psychology, but his expertise is cisgender (non-transgender) child development, not transgenderism and invoking his name is a fallacious appeal to authority.
Even worse is Stanton’s usage of David Reimer! Reimer is infamous to every informed trans person. Long story short, David lost his penis during circumcision in 1965 and, Dr. Money instructed the parents to raise him as a girl. Money theorized that gender identity comes only from social pressures so if everyone told David he was a girl, he’d believe it. Forty years later it’s obvious this would fail miserably, when David rejected his feminine life and ultimately killed himself. David was a cisgender male but Stanton (and others before him) mixes these completely different categories. Siegel responds,
This is a perfect example of a misrepresentation of science. . . . [David] had a brain that developed as a male and just because he had an accident that had him remove his external genitalia, they tried to raise him as a female. [Siegel and Stanton interrupt each other.] It supports the view that brain development is really what determines things. You’re arguing against yourself.
Psychologists have since unanimously rejected the environment-only model of gender identity development, acknowledging that biology plays an immutable role. Stanton’s response is horrifying.
It was science at the time that directed them in this direction. And that’s the important point to say – that science is not necessary the answer to everything.
He finally says what we know he’s thinking! At least he’s honest. Science cannot answer non-scientific questions like “does God exist?” and “what is the meaning of life?” but science is not worthless! Psychology can very easily compare the outcomes for trans children between supportive parents and non-supportive parents. Simply looking at suicide rates is a telling answer. Affirmative parenting creates children who are healthier and happier. The obvious hypocrisy is that Stanton tries to use science to back up his ideas throughout the show and Nicolosi’s whole shtick is his desperate claim to science. I can only presume Stanton’s “real” answer is a conservative philosophy where biology determines destiny; trying to appeal to non-Christians, he does not say.
Stanton reveals the self-contradicting view of gender binary gender expression (feminine & masculine) in our post-feminist values.
If the child wants to be artistic, creative, even do ballet, you know what, encourage them in that, but to do it in a masculine sort of way. You think, “what does that mean?. You know what? It’s very simple. Parents know what that means.
No, Mr. Stanton, parents don’t know what that means. Stanton has thoroughly confused sex and gender in the past. Is he doing that here? One can certainly be a male in ballet, but I cannot imagine putting a “masculine” male ballet performer on stage next to a “feminine” male ballet performer and expect that anyone could tell them apart. I am the first to say that males need not be masculine nor females feminine and I am a perfect example. But I represent flexible gender expression and Stanton represents rigid and conforming expression. He cannot have it both ways. Nicolosi is honest and consistent about gender expression, saying,
Discourage, not to shame the child, but to discourage the feminine interests.
Nicolosi’s answers are no better than Stanton’s. While he parades himself as a transgender expert from time to time, there seems to be no evidence that he has done any writing on the topic, let alone actual research or counseling. Comically, he says, “This is different from what we would do at our clinic.” Notice the hypothetical. Has NARTH ever had a trans person? Focus on the Family is NARTH’s biggest backer, but they only refer trans people to Jerry Leach. JONAH and CrossOver, ex-gay groups, have had a rare trans person, but no such evidence for NARTH. NARTH’s detailed website contains only literature reviews of transgenderism, no actual research or counseling.
Dr. Phil brings up Nicolosi’s ideas about homosexuality and offers to let him differentiate between homosexuality and transgenderism, but he talks around it. Neither Nicolosi nor NARTH have any public information about transgenderism, but from this show he states the cause (absent father, over-bearing mother) and response (spending quality time with a father figure) are identical. He could replace “girl” with “gay” and “gender identity” with “sexual orientation” and you’d have deja vu. That leaves everyone to wonder, “Does he believe transgenderism and homosexuailty are different?”
Both Stanton and Nicolosi predictably trot out their tired models of absent father and overbearing mother. This time was unique in that the parents could respond. Nicolosi is used to a controlled environment, writing to people who cannot answer and speaking to parents yearning to feed their confirmation bias. But Siegel responds that there is not one piece of evidence for this causality model. It’s dearly satisfying to see Nicolosi with no response. Indeed, such research does not exist beyond anecdotes and rhetoric.
What’s even more redemptive is Toni’s response, one of the mothers. She responds to Nicolosi that her other two sons are cisgender, disproving a simplistic bad-parenting cause. Stanton replies,
No human being is cookie cutter. But what we find is time and time again, if kids do fit in a situation, they are likely or somewhat tending to turn out that way. It’s not absolutely one for one, but we see similar things here, in that close relationship with Mom, and Dad not being there.
Toni responds again that the child had a close relationship with the father and her own relationship was quite distant. I personally had that same scenario. She jabs Nicolosi confidently, “I think your theory sucks.” Give it to daytime TV to give the truth when it’s politically incorrect. Neither Stanton nor Nicolosi have a response and the conversation moves elsewhere.
Psychology is full of tendencies and we should respect those subtleties, but reparative therapy advocates equating tendencies with determinism. When a tendencies exists, there must, by definition, be other causes. Stanton is explicit that biology is not a cause at all, so what’s left? There is choice, but even Nicolosi and fellow gender-defenders suggest the absurd idea that anyone would choose such a difficult and counter-intuitive life. (However, everyone chooses behavior and may choose to act transgender or cisgender.) Ruling our Nature, Nurture, and Self, there’s nothing left. Researchers now focus on finding biological causes simply by process of elimination.
A Focus on the Family fan makes this interesting insight about the episode,
I feel that Mr. Stanton and Dr. Nicolosi . . . were not as prepared as they should have been for presenting their opinions in this type of format. However, those with the opposing viewpoint [had] well-prepared, short and concise statements, that presented the best of their opinions. It was almost as if they had rehearsed some “one-liners” that zinged right in and hit their targets while Mr. Stanton and Dr. Nicolosi were left with a mouthful of generalities that created more questions in the minds of the viewers than answers.
These “zingers” and well-prepared, short and concise statements are also know as “knowledge” and “experience.” When you know a topic well, it’s easy to speak about it. But Stanton who’s really a writer and speaker and Nicolosi who knows just one side of a entirely different topic just couldn’t’ keep up. When these men preach to the choir, they’re confident and sound knowledgeable to the untrained listener. Put them in a public forum with real transgender people and real opposing viewpoints and their shallowness shines right through.
To write fairly, a recurring theme in the show was the statistic that only 15-20% of those who are trans before puberty live as transgender in adulthood (if they enroll in therapy to stop their transgender feelings). This is an issue that deserves more focus than I can give here, but suffice it say neither Siegel nor Angello addressed it. The science of gender identity is also several decades behind homosexuality. There is wide agreement that transitioning into the opposite gender is life saving for adults, but children transitioning is still controversial with the majority supporting forcing kids to live as their assigned gender until after puberty when they should decide for themselves. Children whose parents support their gender identity almost always remain trangender in adulthood.
Nicolosi and Stanton meet the poor expectations many have grown to expect, equating sexual orientation with gender identity and promoting the same causes and responses. When challenged, they have no support to fall back on and even well informed parents have better knowledge and more experience with transgenderism.