Parent Letter: School Sexual Education Curriculum Promotes Transgender Confusion

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teaching transgender in the classroom

First, let me begin by reaffirming there is much to praise in our school’s reproductive health curriculum. Greater understanding around biological changes, anatomy, pregnancy, STDs, bullying, peer pressure and drawing healthy boundaries are all topics I believe our children should be armed with. I take no issue with these topics and am pleased they constitute a majority of the curriculum.

I also want to recognize the delicate nature of the work our teachers and school leaders are engaged in around this effort. The tentative balance between parental sensibilities and delivering this potentially controversial content can’t be easy.

Yes, I know state law says parents can simply opt their children out of a portion or the entire curriculum. While this practice may selectively shelter one child here and there, I’m not convinced this is the best option, since it still leaves the rest of their friends and peers exposed.

Thus, this larger conversation.

As a parent who was slow to investigate the reproductive health curriculum, I can testify to the high probability that many (most?) parents haven’t gone through the material. This was certainly the case with another parent I recently spoke with. They had digested the summaries mailed out last Friday and felt they had a good handle on what was being taught. When I asked if they had actually logged into the school website and reviewed the full content, they admitted they hadn’t.

Summaries, by their nature, do not give the full picture.

However, while I commend the reproductive health panel for their communication attempts, this note is not about how they can improve curriculum transparency or better engage busy parents.

I opened this discussion referencing a concern around Advocacy for Youth. To be more specific, I am concerned that the Advocacy for Youth curriculum seems to evangelize gender dysphoria.

Dealing Honestly with Gender Dysphoria

For example, in the 7th grade module called “I Am Who I Am” from 3rs.org, the problem can be distilled into what is basically a “feelings are reality” belief system. Here is an excerpt from a “Myth vs. Fact” quiz our students will take. The answer key under each question tells us what Advocacy for Youth would have our teachers say:

Q1. People can choose their sexual orientation.

A: Myth or Fact? Myth. Sexual orientation has to do with the gender(s) of the people we’re attracted to, physically and romantically. We don’t choose our feelings just like we don’t choose who we find attractive. What we CAN choose is whether to act on those feelings, as well as what we call ourselves based on those feelings (our identity).

Q2: People can choose their gender identity.

A: Myth or Fact? Myth. Just like sexual orientation, a person doesn’t choose to feel male, female or a combination of both. What we CAN choose is what we call ourselves, even if it doesn’t match our physical body (male, female, transgender, etc.).

In both of these questions, the student is told,

  1. their feelings just happen to them and
  2. their feelings drive their identity.

This is dangerous ground. If our identity is driven by our feelings, the following examples become all too real:

  • Those suffering from low self-esteem become right; they really have low or no value.
  • Those with overblown self-esteem also become right; they really are better than everyone else.

Feelings are fickle. Our world offers plenty of examples where people felt certain about something, only to later find their feelings changed or were just flat wrong. High divorce rates, a myriad of scams played upon the hopeful masses and “friendly fire” on the battlefield all pay testimony to this.

Please don’t get me wrong. Feeling like an alien in your own body must be awful. But do we normalize and even promote it? If I had a son who thought he was Napoleon, would the loving response be to bend reality to meet his illusion? Or is it more loving to get him counseling?

We are called to love and support people wrestling with dysphoria; not better establish the dysphoria. This goes for all dysphoria, regardless of whether it’s the age, race, gender or even species variety. (Yes, species dysphoria exists too, apparently.)

I believe dysphoria sufferers need compassion, not co-signing.

Mental Health Screening & Suicide Prevention

Besides removing dysphoria-norming content from the curriculum, I would also recommend the school district advance their mental health screening protocol.

According to a 2014 study on suicide attempts among transgender and gender non-conforming adults, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention partnered with UCLA’s Williams Institute to conclude:

“The prevalence of suicide attempts among respondents […] is 41 percent, which vastly exceeds the 4.6 percent of the overall U.S. population who report a lifetime suicide attempt, and is also higher than the 10-20 percent of lesbian, gay and bisexual adults who report ever attempting suicide.” (Haas, p.2.)

(For context, the current suicidality rate for Jews under Nazi rule during WWII is thought to be as high as 25 percent.) Way beyond simple lack of societal acceptance, this points to a high comorbidity rate, where suicide attempts result not just from dysphoria but other mental or emotional conditions like depression, anxiety, etc.

Maybe regular mental health screening is already in place in the school district. If it is, I’m simply not aware of it. I do know there is a handful of insightful, caring counselors sprinkled among the schools and we’ve been thankful for their interaction with our kids more than once. I also know there are tools available to help with conducting screenings like this. MindWise.org offers one. I’m sure there are others.

I hope I’ve been able to clearly and respectfully explain my heart on this issue.

In closing, I pray I haven’t left anyone offended. If so, please know that was not my intent. There is certainly enough ideological vitriol in the world these days and it is not my goal to fuel more. When I investigated the Advocacy for Youth curriculum and websites, I found helpful gems mixed in with harmful error.

As I mentioned in a previous note, I know we all care about these kids and want to support, protect and equip them. I appreciate the earnest dialogue so far and hope it can continue.

Matthew


UPDATE 02/07/2020

Below are some additional notes that were compiled in the preparation for this discussion. I hope they can be helpful in framing the conversation around this sensitive topic.

Disagreement ≠ Disrespect

These days, there seems to be a growing leap to the cry of “Violence!” when disagreement occurs, especially around the transgender debate. No matter how honorably delivered, vocal dissent is often met with fallacious claims that the offended has been violently victimized. The assertion: disagreeing with the subjective reality of transgenderism invalidates the transgender person’s humanity.

Compassion around this issue means understanding we’re talking about someone’s perceived identity, regardless of genetic realities, social constructs or personal relativism.

To be crystal clear, it is only the transgender decision and the illusion it forces upon society being debated. The person suffering from gender dysphoria still exists and is still worthy of love and respect.

Respectful disagreement is not hate; it is simply disagreement.

Lie: Binary Can’t Hold a Position on Transgender

Another way disagreement around gender dysphoria is silenced is through the claim that non-transgender people have no right to voice opinions or even join the conversation. If we follow this logic to its broken conclusion, this is like saying someone who has never been depressed before cannot become a therapist.

That’s the great thing about truth. Regardless of your political affiliations, sex, religion, whatever, anyone can earnestly investigate any issue and have a voice.

Feelings Don’t Dictate Reality

Fortunately for us, feelings—while they may feel very real—don’t dictate reality. As I alluded to in my letter to the school, our feelings don’t just happen to us and they are not to be considered drivers of our identity. Yet, our “be true to you” world would have us place our feelings on a pedestal where they can fuel a weird, cultish form of identity-idolatry. Of course, once we worship our feelings and emotions, we will be subdued by them, which only serves to amplify them all the more.

The Concept of Gender Fluidity is a Recent Invention

Gender is not disconnected from sex. Gender is not in the mind. A boy who thinks he’s a girl is not actually a girl. He can pretend to be a girl, but since he’s never actually been a girl, how can he ever know what it is like to truly feel like a girl? He can’t.

Physical Differences Between Men and Women are Real

When a man complains of lower abdominal pain, the diagnosis may be indigestion. When a woman complains of lower abdominal pain, the problem may be completely different. According to the Weizmann Institute of Science, there are over 6,500 binary (as in, distinctly male and distinctly female) gene expressions across 53 tissues in the human body. Taking drugs to block hormones and undergoing surgery to remove body parts does nothing to change one’s biological binary sex, no more than a 21-year old can factually claim to be a senior citizen or a person with blue eyes can rightly claim to have brown eyes.

Modifying your basic biology just to ease your subjective sense of who you are in the moment can lead to disastrous consequences.

What About Intersex?

Intersex is a term that describes rare genetic mutations where both sets of genitalia (binary, male and female) are present in a newborn. In most cases, one sex is considerably more developed than the other and the secondary sexual organs are removed with surgery.

This is not a mental health issue.

Gender Dysphoria is Mental Illness

I once heard a psychotherapist describe the frustration from his LGB clients around the transgender issue. In his account, he had several LGB clients who voiced dismay about the T being lumped in with the gay rights movement. His LGB clients felt the transgender condition was mental illness.

As previously stated, it is not denying someone’s humanity to refuse to pretend men are women and women are men. It is simply saying you are not the sex you claim to be. Upholding a person’s illusion and refusing to address underlying emotional trauma or mental illness is not love; it’s turning a blind eye to broken identity.

Suicide and Transgender Comorbidity

In a 2014 study on suicide attempts among transgender and gender non-conforming adults, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention partnered with UCLA’s Williams Institute to conclude:

“The prevalence of suicide attempts among respondents […] is 41 percent, which vastly exceeds the 4.6 percent of the overall U.S. population who report a lifetime suicide attempt, and is also higher than the 10-20 percent of lesbian, gay and bisexual adults who report ever attempting suicide.” (Haas, p.2.)

Additionally, “lifetime suicide attempts were found to be lowest (36%) among respondents who said people can ‘never’ tell they are transgender or gender non-conforming. Suicide attempts were reported by higher percentages of those who said people can ‘always’ (42%) or ‘most of the time’ (45%) tell they are transgender or gender non-conforming.” (Haas, p.8.)

In comparison, the UK-based Centre for Suicide Prevention places the suicide rate for Jews living under Nazi German rule to be around 25%; considerably higher than previously recorded by history, yet considerably lower than the attempted suicide rate in today’s transgender community.

When held up against the overall U.S. population’s rate at 4.6 percent, we should see the argument that society’s rejection of transgenders leads them to suicide is largely a myth. In fact, these numbers make a strong case for high comorbidity rates between gender dysphoria and other mental disorders, such as depression, anxiety and hopelessness.

In short, we should be addressing gender dysphoria as a mental health issue; not a social justice issue.

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