Book Review: ‘When Harry Became Sally’

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When Harry Became Sally:  Responding to the Transgender Moment
By Ryan T. Anderson
Encounter Books
February 2018

Most of us have seen the 1989 movie When Harry Met Sally – the delightful if prurient comedy (starring Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan) about a friendship which develops into a love affair. Ryan Anderson adapts the movie title in his new book that addresses the transgender moment in North America. And he does a brilliant job. It is a book of common sense in the midst of a tidal wave of propaganda about gender, and every key premise and statement in the book is backed by 28 pages of endnotes.

This book is a must-read book for politicians, officeholders, teachers, and parents. It describes how we got to such a place in our culture and prescribes a plan of action to deal with this worrisome development.

The postmodern zeitgeist decrees that gender is a social construct. In his hugely successful book 12 Rules for Life, Jordan B. Peterson, a professor of psychology at the University of Toronto, argues in a chapter dealing with gender, “[Is] gender a social construct? It isn’t. This is not a debate. The data are in.”

Fifteen years ago, gender dysphoria (the condition of feeling one’s emotional and psychological identity as male or female to be opposite to one’s biological sex) was defined by psychiatrists as a psychological problem that needed attention and therapy.

But now gender dysphoria is a civil right. The American longing for self-actualization — backed by university-spawned ideology, large amounts of money, and the well-intentioned desire to show toleration and respect for almost any and all behavior — is transforming American culture.

In middle school and high school classrooms, teachers ask students what pronouns they wished to be called by. Facebook recognizes 71 genders. States pass statutes mandating that any man who “presents” like a man but “identifies” that day as a woman can use public restrooms or locker rooms meant for females.

Is this transgender world one which we want our children and grandchildren grow up in? A world that encourages teen-agers and children to indulge in their sexual fantasies and seek self-actualization wherever they wish?

In the early chapters of his book, Anderson introduces the reader to Dr. Paul McHugh, now-retired chairman of psychiatry at Johns Hopkins Medical and psychiatrist-in-chief at John Hopkins Hospital. McHugh was educated at Harvard College and Harvard Medical School. In 1979, he put a stop to sex reassignment surgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital; many other hospitals through the country followed the lead of this elite institution.

But recent years have seen a resurgence of these procedures – not because of a scientific breakthrough but because of ideology. In 2007, our own Boston Children’s Hospital became “the first major program in the U.S. to focus on transgender children and adolescents.” Forty-five institutions across the land have followed suit. Parents are told that puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones are the only means to keep their children from committing suicide.

However, the best studies of gender dysphoria (cited even by transgender activists) show that between 80 and 95% of children who express a discordant gender identity will come to identity with their bodily sex if natural development is allowed to proceed. In days gone by, for example, many girls were called tomboys until they grew out of this phase.

On the other hand, studies find that “transitioning” treatment has not been shown to reduce the extraordinarily high rate of suicide attempts among people who identify as transgender (41% compared with 4.6% of the general population).

In his book, Anderson makes it clear that those opposing the transgender movement are not doing so out of hatred or disrespect towards those with gender dysphoria. He repeatedly emphasizes that they deserve only our love, care, and best treatment in order to present them with alternatives to transitioning.

In Massachusetts with its many prestigious schools, colleges, and universities, the transgender moment seems unfortunately not to be a passing phase. It is taking root in our culture, and it shows the predilection of intellectuals to trample the legacy of the male/female paradigm that great civilizations over the millennia have taught us and to ignore old-fashioned common sense. It is the case of intellectual hubris trumping science and empirical data. Ryan Anderson tells the truth about the transgender moment in America, and it is a tragic tale that needs to be told.