KELSEY REED: Hello, welcome to Concurrently: The News Coach Podcast from WORLD Radio and God’s WORLD News. Our mission is to come alongside you, learning and laboring with you as you disciple kids and teens through culture and current events. I’m Kelsey Reed. I’m here with Jonathan Boes.
JONATHAN BOES: Hello!
KELSEY: Together, we want to model conversation and apply tools you can use at home or in the classroom. We would love for you to send in your questions for us to address in future episodes. Please send your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
JONATHAN: Today, we are returning to the subject of gender identity. So we’ve laid out foundations for this topic in two previous episodes. You can find those linked in our show notes. If you haven’t heard those, we would highly recommend that you give them a listen, because we will be connecting back to the themes and foundations we laid out there.
Today, we want to build on those foundations and enter the realm of the practical. We want to ask the deceptively simple question: How do we engage our gender-confused culture with grace and truth? Along the way, we’ll also be looking at some listener questions we’ve gotten on this topic.
And of course, as we acknowledged in those previous episodes, this is a complex and fraught subject. We know it’s a painful and often anxiety-inducing topic for many parents and educators. But more than any other topic, it’s where we see parents and educators asking for wisdom. So to help us glean some of that wisdom today, we are once again joined by Dr. Gary Yagel.
KELSEY: Welcome back. Dr. Yagel is the producer of Mission Focused Men for Christ’s weekly podcast and executive director of Forging Bonds of Brotherhood Men’s Ministry at forgingbonds.org. He served over 10 years as the Presbyterian Church in America’s Men’s Ministry consultant. Recently, his focus has been helping parents and church leaders be equipped to guide their children to embrace God’s wonderful design of male and female, and also equipped to respond with grace and truth to the transgender craze sweeping through our nation and even our churches. He and his wife of over 40 years, Sandy, have raised five children in the D.C. suburbs. So again, welcome, Gary.
DR. GARY YAGEL: It’s great to be with you and the Concurrently podcast. I’m excited about what you’re doing.
KELSEY: Thanks again for joining us. So pivoting towards this more practical engagement of this topic area, and to connect it with some of what we’re seeing in the research: In October of 2022. Barna Research released its findings that 30% of millennials now identify as LGBTQ. This percentage has increased in the ages between 18 and 24 to 39%. What do you think is behind this explosion?
DR. YAGEL: Let me also add a statistic I saw recently that of Gen Z, born from 1997 to 2013, one in five have come out as LGBTQ. I think the research is pretty clear that the explosion of this conglomeration of folks that are identified as LGBTQ has been largely the transgender part of this—those that are questioning whether they are in the right biological body. For example, in Great Britain, their gender clinic, Tavistock, saw a 4,400% increase over the last decade of teen girls presenting for gender treatment. And even in the U.S., we’ve gone from a handful to over 300 gender clinics in the last 12 or so years.
KELSEY: So you’re identifying, right out of the gate, that this seems to be particularly pernicious to girls. And I know there’s some data recently from Dr. Lisa Littman—this is an OBGYN turned public health researcher—who in 2018 explained this explosion of teen girls experiencing dysphoria and named it “rapid onset gender dysphoria.” So could you explain: What is this and what causes it?
DR. YAGEL: Sure. Rapid onset gender dysphoria was defined by Dr. Littman as a sudden dramatic spike in transgender identification among teen girls who had no childhood history of gender dysphoria at all. That’s why it’s so striking. In fact, Dr. Littman knew that the transgender population, up until the last 12 or 14 years, was only about 0.02%. And she noticed a statistical peculiarity in her hometown in Rhode Island, because eventually six adolescent girls—mostly girls, not all—came out as transgender, all from the same friend group. And she said, that’s a statistical impossibility, knowing what I know about gender dysphoria. In the last 100 years or so, what has changed? She asked herself: Why would a psychological ailment, gender dysphoria, that had been almost exclusively the province of boys, suddenly explode among teen girls? She conducted extensive research that resulted in 256 detailed parent reports. And she identified two causes for rapid onset gender dysphoria that make a great deal of sense.
Cause number one: Transgender identification was sharply clustered in friend groups, revealing that it had spread through what is called social contagion, like disease spreads through being contagious. Psychologists have always been aware of the power of teen contagion among girls, because the teen girl population has a long history of spreading anorexia and bulimia in a similar way. And so we know that this group of girls who fall into this social contagion tends to be identical to the group coming out as trans: high anxiety, depressed, struggling socially. And adolescents tend to dislike their bodies. And then, in addition to that, we’re noticing—and this was pointed out by Abigail Shrier in her book—that today’s teen girls are in the midst of the worst mental health crisis on record: the highest rates of anxiety, self-harm, and depression ever recorded. So these are troubled girls going through puberty, coming to the conclusion that their problems, and the trauma, and all of the ups and downs, and their dislikes of themselves, is all caused by being in the wrong body.
And then, the second cause of this rapid onset gender dysphoria confusion is that 65% of the teen girls that she did research on discovered their trans identity—those of course, again, who discovered it out of the blue didn’t have any issues of this earlier—did so after a prolonged period of social media immersion. There’s a very pervasive presence of online trans social media influencers. And they are very happy to guide troubled teen girls into thinking that testosterone, for example, will cure a lot of their problems. And the fact of the matter is that girls who start to take testosterone do feel more confident, and there are some emotional side benefits right away. So there’s a very troubled population of teen girls who are hearing the message that the solution to their problems—that are really the problems of puberty—are to be solved by coming out as transgender. And Lisa Littman discovered that there are hubs on the major social media sites, just about all them really—Instagram, Tumblr, Reddit, Twitter, TikTok, Facebook, Deviant Art—of those that want to guide people into this way of life.
KELSEY: So you’ve named again, we just say this over and over again—this is such a complex issue with so many moving parts. There’s the social media part, there’s the emotional part, there’s the puberty part, as in the biological and chemical processes in the body. There are so many things going on here. Help us: What are the implications of this entire realm of thought, all these findings, for Christian parents in their parenting process right now?
DR. YAGEL: Well, I think that puberty has always been a tough time for everybody. I have a friend of mine who was a Young Life leader and said that those periods of middle school are the toughest grades for all children. But I think that, in today’s world, the normal problems of going through that process—the upheaval of changing bodies, surging hormones self-doubt, uneasiness about becoming sexual—a number of girls have reported that they didn’t so much reject masculinity as they rejected becoming more sexual. So that area that has always been troublesome. That group, that subgroup within the culture, unfortunately is being victimized by an ideology. And being aware of that, I think it intensifies the need to do a number of things.
One of those, of course, is to recognize that a teen’s job description in adolescence is to pull away from his parents and own what he believes. But during that process it is absolutely critical today for a teen to have a peer group of Christian friends, and if possible another adult mentor, like a youth leader or a Young Life leader. Because his job is to own his belief, so he’s going to push away his parents. But now there are those with a very destructive lifestyle that are waiting to step in and do some real harm, unfortunately. So we have to be more intentional about making sure we provide the friends our kids need, and the Christian friends who have the same values.
And then, in some severe cases, when Christian teens are drawn into the LGBTQ world, really fully drawn into it, the principles used to help that child sometimes are like the principles related to separating a child from a cult. There’s a story that the Gospel Coalition published about a girl whose parents just had to pull her out of the school system she was in and separate her from that influence. And I don’t want to separate from culture. I want to penetrate culture and transform culture. It’s so allergic to me to say that, but this is serious stuff. If a child is really indoctrinated into transgender ideology, that may be the only thing left to do.
So the main point here being: Be aware of the peer pressure. Be aware, be aware. And then the second implication, besides awareness of peer pressure, is to require online accountability. Require kids to leave their phones in the kitchen for recharging every night, or something better. Establish a policy of immediate seizure and investigation. Ask to see what site they’re on. Have punishments if they’re going to destructive sites. And then one small observation I noticed is that, depending on your child’s personality type, those who may be on the introvert spectrum may be finding community on the internet more than the typical child. So we need to provide an internet community for that child that’s wholesome and healthy, not try to change them into being more of an extrovert, but just recognize that child might be more vulnerable to finding an unhealthy online community than another child.
KELSEY: I appreciate that balanced perspective there, that knowing the diversity of children we have in front of us, and equipping for that diversity. And I am so encouraged by those thoughts, of building into a positive community, and seeking out other adult voices even, in our children’s lives. This isn’t up to you alone, parent. This is something to just build a larger community of mentors as well as peers. So those are great applications for me, and I think for our listeners.
So you talked a lot about the content that can be shaping our children’s lives. Let’s get a little deeper and pull the threads apart of the ideologies. What worldview teaching are our teens hearing through social media that could undermine their confidence in the Bible’s teaching about gender and gender roles?
DR. YAGEL: We could spend a lot of time. Let me just share two in particular that I think would be valuable. The first I made a little reference to in the first portion of this, but the Bible’s creation account really sounds like it demeans women by telling wives that they’re created to be their husbands’ “helpers.” To be honest, many Bible believing churches are really trying to defend the biblical roles, that husbands and wives, their roles are different—but they can still give the impression to the rising generation that Eve was a second-rate helper to Adam. And that is just not at all what the word ezer means there. It’s sort of a tragedy for 2023 that when scholars translate that word ezer, it comes out “helper.” Because it sounds like, you know, “mama’s little helper,” or like somebody that washes the floor or does the dishes. No wonder Christian daughters are rejecting biblical gender roles, if that’s what they think the Bible teaches—which it does not at all. That’s not what that word means. The Bible teaches that Adam was inadequate by himself. Ezer really means “powerful partner.” It is frequently used in the Old Testament for God. Psalm 33:20 says “Our soul waits for the Lord. He is our help and our shield.” The Hebrew word does not imply inferiority, but competency. And males need the help of females just like they need God’s help. And as I mentioned, my wife would be the first one to affirm that biblical truth.
The second myth, I think, is that the Bible is the origin of oppressive patriarchy. Such fallacious thinking is partly due to confusion in the use of the word “patriarchy.” It can mean a system of society or government in which the Father or eldest male is the head of the family, and descent traced through the male line. By that definition, the Bible teaches patriarchy. But usually, its literal meaning is more in view. The word “patriarchy” comes from the Greek word pater—father—plus arche—rule. Now Rome was a patriarchy. Patria potestas, in Roman law, gave fathers absolute authority over their children, including the right to put them to death. When the child was born, if his thumb was facing up, the child would live. But if the father turned his thumb down, the child would be instantly drowned. But this is nothing like what the Bible teaches. In the Old and New Testaments, Israelite society practiced the rule of law. Men were accountable to the town elders for keeping laws like Leviticus 19:18: You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself. And New Testament husbands were commanded, of course, to love their wives with Jesus as their model. But they were also accountable to the elders of the church for their treatment of their wives. So it’s simply not true that the biblical teaching about gender is rooted in oppressive patriarchy.
KELSEY: It’s so encouraging. Again, there’s this inherent value for all life and a diversity. It is not a limiter. It is a bounty to be male and female. We’ve talked about how the expression is so wide and deep, the diversity is manifold. So to hear you describe it, and to hear how it is also down to the very smallest little person, that that value is not just for adult men, adult women—this is a value all the way down to the smallest. And we can see the Lord’s corrective of Israel, when Israel began to engage as though their children were of no value and that they could express that authority over life and death. And the Lord is like—No, my authority is over life and death, over male and female, and it is good. So you’re reminding us of His good authority. His headship is good.
What are some more pieces of the beautiful scriptural narrative, or more biblical truths, that help to guide our children’s response to their LGBTQ friends who’ve bought into this ideology and even expression?
DR. YAGEL: At the heart of our design—God’s design for gender—is the fact that male and female are image bearers. And Jesus everywhere modeled teaching human beings with great dignity, because they bore the image of God. And nowhere do we see that more clearly than in His conversation with the woman at the well of Samaria, where the Jews wouldn’t even talk with Samaritans. A rabbi would certainly not talk with a woman. But everything about the way He treated her, perhaps even going through Samaria itself, shows quite the opposite. It showed the dignity that Jesus treated the Samaritans with.
We need to teach our kids to follow Jesus, the model of someone who treated others with enormous respect. And so what that means in terms of their transgender friends is—first, welcome them into their presence. Secondly, take the initiative to speak to them. That’s what Jesus did with a woman at the well. Third, choose to befriend them. He had this conversation with her. He even offered or asked for a drink of her cup, which was a tremendous affirmation that He was not treating her as unclean, in any sense of the word. Seek to befriend them, and seek ways to affirm their value as human beings. You can affirm their value as human beings without affirming their lifestyle. So looking for ways to do that, to treat them with love and affirmation. And then defend them from verbal assault upon their dignity, from bullying or from any other harm. Be known in the school as those who love and care for those who are transgender. Respect their right to call themselves trans, but affirm their birth gender. That’s what I would do. I respect your right to pursue a trans path, but I liked you back when you said you were a female. And then, don’t deny your convictions about God’s gender design, but realize that being trans is usually a symptom of a deeper issue. Their greatest need is to know Jesus. So stay focused on introducing them to Him.
JONATHAN: I think that’s a great segue to one of our listener questions. A few weeks ago, we received an email from listener Nick Ens, who writes:
I am a public high school teacher married to an ER nurse and we have an 8, 5, and 3-year-old. A question my wife and I have not been asked yet, but definitely expect it to be asked eventually is how to talk to our kids about the pronoun issue. Even though our kids attend a private school, eventually they will be asked to use different pronouns for one of their peers. Being a public high school teacher I have had to deal with this for years, but explaining this to an 8-year-old is far from easy. Tough to balance all that needs to be said in terms of not wanting to participate in a lie by using an objectively wrong pronoun for someone, but also being loving, following your convictions, and being ready for any pushback that may come when one does anything but just bend over to other's requests/demands.
So how do we handle this issue of preferred pronouns when speaking to a person who has adopted the outward expression of transgenderism?
DR. YAGEL: Let me try to answer that generally, and then come back to the specific case. There are so many issues mentioned in that specific case. At the level of policy, when you have some influence on the policy, I think it’s worth saying that a legitimate legal right does not take away the rights of another. And so we may need to point out that a transgender child does not have the right to force the rest of the students to violate the rules of grammar, which use feminine pronouns for biological girls and masculine pronouns for biological boys, to adjust to their wishes, any more than a Chinese student has the right to force everyone else to speak Chinese to adjust to their wishes. In other words, we need to help people think accurately about this, in terms of it being a violation of a person’s rights. So that would be my first point. You’re talking about a situation where you don’t have control. And I’ve certainly heard of those in this situation who choose not to use pronouns as much as they can, and use the name they were given in the school system for the child. At that point, that’s the best solution.
KELSEY: So teasing it out a little further, that makes all kinds of sense in terms of engaging at the school level. But when our children then start coming home and saying, “Mommy, Jack is now wanting to be called Jane, and for me to say ‘she’ and ‘her.’” How do I respond to my child who’s coming home with those pieces of confusion about how to engage relationally?
DR. YAGEL: The first thing I would do would be to ask my child: What do you think is the answer to that question?
But I don’t think that we need to be overly embarrassed about simply explaining that there are people who are mixed up right now. And I think it is valuable, at some point, to help our children understand the biblical teaching, that it is part of human fallen nature to suppress the truth in unrighteousness. I just talked to my presbytery a couple of days ago, and I presented a good bit of information about the brokenness of the origin of the transgender movement. And as I said—I said over and over again—I don’t believe that the ad hominem abusive argument is valuable in a public setting. But I do think it is valuable to help our children understand the origin of this broken idea. And so I do think we have to help them see that part of our fallen nature is that we suppress the truth. The truth is there are two genders. Everything about science, everything about civilization, has taught that. But that part of fallenness—and we’re all fallen, we suppress the truth in our own ways—is that we hold down the truth. And that leads to people being mixed up about their bodies. You and I know the truth. We know that your body tells you whether you’re a boy or a girl. But in today’s world, there are a lot of mixed up people. And, you know, Ephesians 4 talks about how part of our sinning as a race is that it blinds us to truth. And nowhere can that be seen more clearly than facts of biology, that clearly indicate there are two genders.
KELSEY: So we are talking about that beautiful blend between equipping our children with truth and graciously equipping them to be gracious, to love.
DR. YAGEL: I think in the area of the public arena, and in terms of trying to argue for a biblical worldview, that Jesus taught us a lesson about how you argue. When He was talking to the Pharisees, I notice that He—normally in the New Testament, when the resurrection is being defended, the writers go to the book of Psalms—but Jesus, in talking with the Sadducees, didn’t go to book of Psalms. He went to the law of Moses, because the Sadducees accepted the law of Moses as authoritative. So science is so much on our side as Christians in this whole transgender issue, that I think it’s really valuable, in the public arena, to lean on all that we know of science. But I also think, for our children to see the continuity between what the Bible says and what science teaches, in opposition to what is being taught, is really valuable. And I don’t think we can fully explain the fact that we suppress the truth in unrighteousness. But I think we have to probably say that in order for them to deal with the incongruence.
JONATHAN: And I think it’s legitimate to say that, you know, this is a really hard aspect of this issue, whether or not to use someone’s preferred pronouns, if you’re convicted that, no, that’s not reflecting the biblical truth about gender. And it’s something where I know very well-meaning Christians land in different places.
DR. YAGEL: Yeah, I think that the desire to have a person’s pronouns changed, we have to remember, is a symptom of a deeper problem. There are lots of different opinions about how to handle that in terms of your own integrity. I realize that. But I would rather want to focus on, you know, the root issues behind that. I will say that I’ve learned from some parents, who have been through this, have allowed their child who did not like her feminine name to change to a different name, but it wasn’t a masculine name. It was a gender-neutral name. Because they felt like they needed to respect her dignity, and allow her to make that decision, but at the same time they were not going to change it to a male name. So these are tough, tough issues out there.
JONATHAN: We have one more listener question. This one comes from a pastor. He asks:
I have a friend whose sister-in-law has professed faith in the past but has become very disillusioned/angry with the church. At the same time . . . this sister-in-law’s daughter is in the early stages of gender transitioning. My friend and his wife are reflecting on two things: How do they (as adults) approach their visit to these family members? And how do they talk with their children about it before/during/after?
DR. YAGEL: The approach that I would recommend this person take toward the friend is to ask the sister-in-law: What are your thoughts and feelings about your daughter? And then, if that person is open to advice, I think I would recommend Abigail Shrier’s book The Transgender Craze. Because this friend’s sister-in-law might not necessarily be a believer, but I think that Abigail Shrier’s book is based more on science, in terms of making her aware of the risks and the dangers. The other thing is that 80-81% of those who have rapid onset gender dysphoria do end up having that resolved, if the child does not start on puberty blockers. So I would want to make sure that got communicated to the friend’s sister-in-law in a way that the sister-in-law could hear it. Because as long as that hasn’t happened, there’s a pretty good reason this could be changed.
Another part of this is that the daughter that might be caught up in this—a big part of the draw is looking for a place to belong. And so I would want your person, who asked you these questions—I would want to try to communicate to the friend’s sister-in-law that that is very commonly a motivation, that the kids that don’t feel like they belong anywhere, suddenly, instantly if they come out trans, they experience instant belonging on social media and in some groups in public schools.
KELSEY: Identity, purpose, and belonging being such key parts of all of our lives. But in this transition—and what I mean by transition here is puberty—this transition into adulthood, where we’re just mixed up over who we are, and where do we belong, and what is our purpose anyway? You’re talking about that very pastoral meeting in those places, and affirming: You belong, your identity is good, you have a purpose within creation that is very good.
And so when we’re talking to our children, when we’re going into an environment where there are folks who are hurting, there are folks who have adopted these solutions that come out of this ideology or come out of, you know—we’re having dysphoria, so we must conclude that transitioning to a different gender is the solution—how do we help our children to see the hurt, to be present? What do we equip them with, in terms of questions or answers to their questions? How do we equip them for engagement?
DR. YAGEL: Well, I want to go back to what I said in the prior episode. I really believe that my heart reflecting real compassion is the starting point. And perhaps showing the way that Jesus treated the prostitute who let down her hair and washed His feet—He did not push her away. He allowed her to touch Him, by befriending those who are mixed up in this way, and by befriending those who are—if we were honest, they’re not obeying their Creator. But the way that Jesus modeled being the friend of sinners, the way that He saw every person as deserving dignity and needing love, is what we just have to keep pointing to with our children. We need to guide them into the truth, but we need them, at the same time, to have a heart of compassion for those who are just looking for love. They’re looking for acceptance.
I have to say that, in studying some of the stories of those drawn into the trans life, the trans community—the LGBT community—has really majored at enfolding people and supporting them. And it really puts to shame, in a sense, the Christians who are not doing that well. In other words, the kids that don’t feel like they fit in everywhere else, are often drawn to this group. A big part of the motivation isn’t actually all that much confusion about their bodies, it’s that they don’t fit in. And maybe they don’t fit their own gender stereotypes, but they don’t feel like they belong anywhere. That’s the motive. That’s why our kids need to reach out to those who are trans, because that may be a phase they’re going through anyway. A great percentage of those who go through gender dysphoria, over 70% in one study, 80-81% in another one, come out of it. So just having our children have a sense of loving them well while in the midst of this, knowing that everybody when they’re going through puberty is looking to be accepted and to find a place to fit in.
KELSEY: I think of 1 Corinthians 13, talking about how the greatest thing of all of these things is love. You know, you can have prophecy, you can have tongues, you can have acts of service—all of these things will fade. What is most important, and what is most shaping in these instances, is the love that we find in Christ, that we as parents need to both receive from Him and then model for our children, that we also might model outwards to bring more and more into His kingdom. So I’m just so very thankful for your insights, for how gospel-rich they are. I’m thankful for your pastor’s heart, and wonder if you have one more piece, just as with the last time we asked you—do you have a pastoral blessing for us from scripture or elsewhere today, to help us end our show?
DR. YAGEL: Again, to build on what you just said, Kelsey: If we would be like Jesus, it’s important to resist the lie that reaching out to another person to befriend him or her—for example, that transgender friends of our children who we see as pulling them in the wrong direction—if we see our love for them, our affirmation of them as made in God’s image as embracing their lifestyle, that is a lie. That would have been said of Jesus over and over and over again. We cannot listen to that. We need to reach out very intentionally to the transgender community that is reaching out to our child, if our child is in that community individually, and love them well, affirm them where we can. Because that’s what Jesus does. Jesus did not feel compelled to say, when He first met the woman at the well, “I want you to know that I disagree with your lifestyle.” If we would be like Jesus, we can’t wait for our trans or gay children or their friends to repent before extending to them the love of Christ. Yes, like the woman of Samaria, each one will need to repent and believe before being restored in intimacy with God. But in our own experience of grace, it’s my Lord’s unconditional love for me that melts my heart, causing me to repent more fully, and surrender more parts of myself to Him. So we can’t let that lie, that somehow loving our trans child’s friends is affirming their lifestyle, shape our behavior. Because that would have been a criticism made of Jesus Himself.
KELSEY: Thank you for those words of supply, for the grace and truth with which you operate, and just for helping to equip us to think about these things so carefully, these very complex issues. This has been such a fruitful conversation for me. It’s helping with my thinking, with my action with my children with their peers.
And so I want to speak to all of us as parents, teachers, mentors of kids and teens. You are uniquely positioned to have an impact on the kids and teens in your life. Maybe it’s even your children’s peers. He has equipped you for this work.
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