As a parent of a teen, you sit there bewildered. Across the kitchen table, your young’un has just declared “I am queer non-binary” or “this body is not who I am.” You did not think that your family was that messed up but this is throwing you for a loop. Once again, you feel out of your league in this whole parenting thing.
Or, perhaps a friend has confessed to your teen that the friend is trans. Your child is asking you how to respond. You are at a loss. Or, a relative has transitioned and is asking your family to use a new name for him. How do you advise your child on engaging this now prevalent trend in the culture? How do you even interpret the statement? What is actually being said?
You might search about for some trusted resource to make sense of your child’s words. You might happen upon Mark Yarhouse and Olya Zaprozhets’ recent book: When Children Come Out: A Guide for Christian Parents (2022). As the subtitle suggests, the book is supposed to help with such LGBT+ confessions. It principally deals with gayness, but includes boxes that try to extend its counsel to trans.
Honestly, the book is tiring to read. A great deal of the text speaks on the level of “studies show that parents have a hard time with a child coming out as gay.” One expects this kind of non-statement in psychology books, but it gets to be mind-numbing. While one can appreciate the book’s good advice about empathy and understanding, not using grief as an excuse to manipulate, commitment to relationship, that advice is well-buried in its many pages of statements like “Many parents find that it gives them hope to realize that things can improve.” Okay.
More seriously disappointing, the book accepts without question the categories of the therapeutic culture, of orientation and immutable desires, and “gender assumed at birth” and “biological males who experience their self as a girl.” So, you can pretty much predict where the advice will go.
Dr. Yarhouse lays out more clearly his “no fixed-outcome” approach taken at his Sexual and Gender Identity Institute of Wheaton College in his book for clinicians: Gender Identity & Faith: Clinical Postures, Tools, and Case Studies for Client-Centered Care, by Mark A. Yarhouse & Julia A. Sadusky (2022). There he expresses disapproval of resolving a gender discordance with child’s birth sex: “We can say little about the effectiveness or existence of any therapeutic protocols or interventions that resolve gender identity with a person’s birth sex” (p53, emphasis mine). Existence? Really? Measures to resolve gender dysphoria by reconciliation to your body do not exist? Apparently, this non-existence does not stop the authors from going on to tell about stories they have heard about how harmful it is: “there are reports of [such] interventions that were not helpful and in some cases harmful, not accomplishing that goal” (p53). There you go. No fixed outcome except one outcome that is not allowed. It is hard to call this Christian.
So despite all the insistence that this is a “no fixed-outcome based therapy model,” certain outcomes are not allowed to be imagined. Based on this approach, you can guess ahead of time the results the authors will get in their clinic. Non-existent is anyone in the book who actually determines themselves happily according to God’s way of sexuality. Those folks no doubt leave and don’t come back or never show up to start with. Detransitioners? Not a breath about them in either book, despite their increasing numbers and their huge unmet need for care. I guess we are to conclude that a Christian (first book) or faith-respecting (second book) approach does not allow that experience to exist. The best that clients at this institute can hope for is a steely, sad management of their immutable desires. Alas, poor things.
No outcomes fixed for the kids. But the book is quite comfortable being directive to parents: “Doors [in the relationship] should not be conditional” (p86). Plenty of fixed outcome for the parents, but only in one direction. Yarhouse and Zaporozhets shut the door firmly on any parental relationship factor to a gender broken condition of a youth (p32). The dynamic of attachment and parental relationship playing a role in childhood gender development is not admitted in the Yarhouse universe. Decades of casework in the field of Childhood Development just gone-poof! Contradicting Dr. Yarhouse’s previous work, which is relegated to an uncommented on footnote, the authors make sure to emphasize that “the resources parents most often found unhelpful were those that emphasized an ex-gay approach to sexual orientation” (p41).
Most troubling, the book spends a great deal of time talking about how parents (pretty clearly implied by the placement of stories, as the good parents) change their beliefs about gayness and trans as time goes on. The authors highlight stories of compromise of biblical beliefs. A typical paragraph: “Most Christian parents we have interviewed shared that, prior to their child’s coming out, they held the belief that…same-sex behavior…was a sin. However, many of these parents came to question this belief over time. Still other parents never viewed homosexuality as a sin” (p88). What might you expect to be said, after or before this, to be fair? A statement that other Christian parents still did continue to hold to this behavior as sin, right? But the authors won’t go there. That “outcome” warrants hardly any attention throughout the book. This is so even though, they finally admit, most even in their population, which clearly would be skewed toward parents changing their beliefs, did hold to Biblical beliefs all the way through (p99). Their stories are muted. Only after this confession of how many Christian parents did not change their beliefs do the authors rush to quickly disclaim, “It is difficult to say how representative these samples are of Christian parents more broadly” (p100). Every paragraph, without fail, ends with a sentiment to direct parents to the fixed outcome of changing their beliefs.
A better title of the book might be, You are Not Alone if You Reject your Doctrinal Beliefs in the Hope that You will See Your Grandchildren. This may be a guide to something, but a help to Christian parents with teens talking trans it is not. I am afraid that I cannot recommend it. Somebody really needs to write a biblical pastoral guide, founded in the Scriptures and pastorally oriented, to help parents.
Sam, thank you for pointing out the unhelpfulness of Mark Yarhouse’s perspective, as he ignores or dismisses the reality of personal wounding, healing and transformation for those of us experiencing same-sex attraction and gender confusion. Foundationally, Yarhouse’s promotion of “sexual orientation” and “gender identity minority” constructs is misleading for followers of Jesus. We have the Holy Spirit to help and empower us. Yarhouse seems to cater to non-Christians in the secular, biased American Psychological Association (APA), and, thus, misleading Christians in the process. I hope to see Yarhouse become more aware of the many of us who have experienced significant transformation relationally in our lives. It’s like we don’t exist in his mind. His approach to change is tepid, and his affiliation with Revoice theology is problematic, leading many into stagnation and not experiencing the relational good of their gender. I am concerned that Yarhouse soft pedals transformation with low or no expectations, and my guess is his posture is a self-fulfilling prophecy for those influenced by him. I long to see Yarhouse and corporate evangelicals clearly and courageously embracing the possibility of change for those of us who experience same-sex attraction and gender confusion, as well as for all followers of Jesus, and laying out clear paths toward relational and sexual wholeness. I’m thankful for your inspiring, biblical theology of gender in your book Engendered, and would appreciate any feedback or clarification you may have to what I have said. (John 10:10; Luke 9:23-24; Matt. 10:38-39; Matt. 7:13-14; 2 Cor. 5:17; 1 Cor. 6:20; Rom. 12:1-2; Eph. 4:22-24; Rom. 13:13-14; 1 John 1:9; Prov. 3:5-6)
Steve, thank you for your thoughts! I’m afraid I have to agree with your frustration. In Dr. Yarhouse’s second book I mentioned in the post, “Gender Identity and Faith,” for example, we have an entire book on treating transgenderism and not a single word about the absence of evidence that medical interventions prevent suicide. He absolutely knows it. But not a word! (Two mentions of suicide ideation from depression during a case study with no reference to how transitioning won’t effect it!) In a whole book about trans! Why would this be?