Today the term “gender dysphoria” has become part of our daily parlance. We hear about it on the news, and we see it in movies. But few seem to realize this is a recognized medical illness. According to an article entitled “Gender Dysphoria in Adolescence: Current Perspectives” by Riittakerttu Kaltiala-Heino et al.:
The fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) defines gender dysphoria (GD) as a condition in which a person has marked incongruence between the expressed or experienced gender and the biological sex at birth. This causes clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational or other important areas of functioning.
Surveys range, but the UCLA School of Law 2016 estimate states 0.6% of adults “identify” as transgender. Due to negative influences in social culture, youth numbers are fluctuating but on the rise. Children test at higher levels—that is an article for another day, but most children outgrow the phenomenon. (Alarming influences of the culture reveal that in a mere eight years, U.K. youth labeling themselves transgender has risen 4500%.)
Transgender identification covers everything from crossdressing to hormonal treatment to sex reassignment surgery. The 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey, which claims to be the largest survey (27,715 respondents) in the US and its territories to examine transgender people, states that of its respondents, 78% wished for hormonal treatment. At that time about 49% had received it. Because this study is three years old, the numbers have likely grown, and 2019 data released by The American Heart Association links terrible health implications to those even opting to receive hormonal therapy.
The data was extrapolated and studied further based on an original Dutch study. Dangerous health implications have been uncovered:
- Men undertaking female hormone treatments double the average stroke risk of both men and women;
- Men undertaking female hormone treatments doubled their heart attack risk;
- These same men also increased their blood clot risk by 4.5 times;
- Women taking hormones to transition to men were perhaps worse off, in that they triple their heart attack risk.
This study does not look at the psychiatric impact on patients, nor the impacts of gender reassignment surgery. But taking the physical data alone, it is reckless for the medical establishment to condone administering adult hormone therapy. Patients being given this treatment for years have been guinea pigs, when they should have received non-biased psychiatric treatment to undress underlying issues.
Can a Person Truly Change Gender?
Ryan T. Anderson, senior research fellow in American principles and public policy, authored an article that discussed and documented the “mental unrest” of people who had elected to have sex reassignment surgery. He states:
Modern science shows that our sexual organization begins with our DNA and development in the womb, and that sex differences manifest themselves in many bodily systems and organs, all the way down to the molecular level . . . . Cosmetic surgery and cross-sex hormones can’t change us into the opposite sex. They can affect appearances. They can stunt or damage some outward expressions of our reproductive organization. But they can’t transform it. They can’t turn us from one sex into the other.
We all strive to be happy—to feel comfortable in our own skin and to feel at peace with who we are as a person. But gender dysphoria is an illness. As stated above, this illness appears to affect roughly 0.6% of the population. As Catholics, we know that the only thing that brings true happiness is spiritual well-being, to live according to the Christian tenants and to observe them faithfully.
In other words, a man can have surgery to look like a woman, and a woman can have surgery to look like a man, but no one can change his DNA—the essence of his being—to truly become the opposite sex.
Yet, society today demands we believe that all gender is fluid—that each person can and should all decide one’s gender, and that the world should just conform to our decisions. It does this to the detriment of the people who need help the most. The term “gender” has had its traditional meaning hijacked for ideological purposes. Despite afflicting a very small percentage of the population, the movement has gained so much momentum that it is often considered unfeeling, “hateful” even, to point out in charity any flaws in the transgender mentality. Yet as Christians, that is exactly what we are called to witness to—that biological sex is assigned at birth and remains for us for the duration of life. Any other claim is the “emperor with no clothes.”
Paul McHugh, MD, has spent over forty years as the University Distinguished Service Professor of Psychiatry at Johns Hopkins Medical School studying transgender persons. In an article about reassignment surgery, he writes:
Gender dysphoria . . . belongs in the family of similarly disordered assumptions about the body, such as anorexia nervosa and body dysmorphic disorder. Its treatment should not be directed at the body as with surgery and hormones any more than one treats obesity-fearing anorexic patients with liposuction. The treatment should strive to correct the false, problematic nature of the assumption and to resolve the psychosocial conflicts provoking it.
Most young boys and girls who come seeking sex-reassignment . . . come with psychosocial issues—conflicts over the prospects, expectations, and roles that they sense are attached to their given sex—and presume that sex-reassignment will ease or resolve them. The grim fact is that most of these youngsters do not find therapists willing to assess and guide them in ways that permit them to work out their conflicts and correct their assumptions [emphasis ours]. Rather, they and their families find only ‘gender counselors’ who encourage them in their sexual misassumptions.
Transgender Regret and Lost Years
One such person who transitioned to the opposite sex and who later felt misguided was Walter Heyer, who suffered both sexual and emotional abuse as a child. After many years of agony resulting from this abuse, he began to think that all his problems would go away if he were a woman. So, to the horror of his wife and children, he underwent surgery and became “Laura.”
He lived as Laura for eight years, but never felt the sense of peace he thought he would feel after transitioning. He came to realize that transitioning into someone else did not fix what truly ailed him. Heyer now states:
Had I not been misled by media stories of sex change “success” and by medical practitioners who said transitioning was the answer to my problems, I wouldn’t have suffered as I have. Genetics can’t be changed. Feelings, however, can and do change. Underlying issues often drive the desire to escape one’s life into another, and they need to be addressed before taking the radical step of transition.
Walter sought therapy and was able to work through the problems that caused him to feel he needed to live as a woman. He de-transitioned and has since married again. He and his wife now work helping others whose lives have been negatively affected by a sex change. He writes:
You will hear the media say, “Regret is rare.” But they are not reading my inbox, which is full of messages from transgender individuals who want the life and body back that was taken from them by cross-sex hormones, surgery and living under a new identity. After de-transitioning, I know the truth: Hormones and surgery may alter appearances, but nothing changes the immutable fact of your sex.
Compassion and the Church
As Catholics, we understand that the body God gifted us at our creation was intentional and that God makes no mistakes. Furthermore, our body houses our soul and is a temple of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, we must treat it with respect and reverence, never causing harm to it.
The National Catholic Bioethics Center explains this beautifully:
A person’s sex is manifested by the body in accordance with how the person has been created, and so it cannot be in conflict with any truer or deeper sexual identity contrary to that bodily sex. This is a foundational anthropological point that no medical association or political ideology can overturn. The psychological experience of a disconnect with one’s bodily sex is not to be minimized; it calls for appropriate psychotherapy [emphasis ours], but it can in no way be reflective of an “incorrect” sex.
Given this understanding of what it means to be a human person, a body–soul unity whose innate sexual identity is reflected in the person’s biology, it should be clear that no surgical, hormonal, or other intervention directed toward the body is capable of altering that innate sexual identity.
And what percentage of transgenders regret surgery? The NCBC goes on to say that studies have shown that sex reassignment surgeries do not necessarily resolve the feelings of anxiety that people suffer from and that it also leads to a significant increase in both suicide attempts and in suicide. Indeed, the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey reported the same sobering statistics—that “40% of respondents have attempted suicide in their lifetime—nearly nine times the attempted suicide rate in the U.S. population (4.6%).”
In another report, Paul McHugh, MD, discusses the fact that adults who have had sex reassignment surgery have a higher risk than those in the general population of experiencing mental health problems. He cites a study that found that individuals who had had this surgery were about 5 times more likely than the control group to attempt suicide and almost 20 times more likely to succeed.
The 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey claims, however, that, among its respondents, regret after surgery was extremely low, with transgender women being more likely to report reverting back to the original sex (11%). Transgender men had a reversion rate of 4%. But considering that transgender surgery can range from $7,000 to well over $50,000 dollars depending on the sex and extent, is that a surprise?
Just in this single survey alone, roughly 4,000 people were unhappy with the fact that they changed their God-given sex. That’s not insignificant.
As intelligent people, we cannot deny what medical science teaches about the immutability of sex. As Catholics, we cannot deny God’s plan for us as His children. And as human beings, we cannot deny the fact that people are hurting.
We must approach this sensitive issue with love and compassion, for to do anything else would be a disservice to our fellow man. No one specific fix will heal all of those who are suffering, and we must enlist the help of ethical mental health professionals to help people facing gender dysphoria. Though there may seem like little we can do as individuals, especially if we don’t personally know anyone with these struggles, there is one thing we can all do. We can and must teach the truth and not be party to the promulgation of lies that claim that people can change their sex free of repercussions.
Gender is not fluid. Regret after changing your body is real. And those who are hurting must be given an outlet to heal that does not entail the maiming of their bodies.