Book Review: "When Harry Became Sally: Responding to the Transgender Moment" by Ryan Anderson

Ryan Anderson is a senior fellow at the Heritage Foundation who holds a PhD in Political Philosophy from Notre Dame. He has written an excellent book surveying the landscape on transgender issues as of 2019. He does not agree with the transgender ideology, and writes a persuasive and winsome case for pushing back against this new secular orthodoxy.

He explains that trans culture is being increasingly normalized in culture,[1] in laws and executive orders,[2] and in the medical field.[3] Advocates seek to silence all opposition, even from respected medical experts who advocate treatment for transgender individuals.[4]

Anderson’s most frightening chapter is where he surveys what activists themselves say. He makes three claims; (1) activists continually expand their demands, (2) they are closed off to contrary evidence, and (3) they incline towards coercion to enforce their creed.[5] The most significant point, as with homosexuality, is one of identity. However, the argument has now advanced one step further – people do not merely see themselves as transgender; society must acknowledge them as transgender. A subjective sense of identity has given way an objective orthodoxy. A “trans man” is a man. Period.[6]

They attempt to ground this in science and medicine,[7] a move perfectly in keeping with the worldview of “scientism.”[8] Sex is not determined by biology; rather, it is determined by one’s gender identity or “internal sense.” This ideology is being taught to young children through infographics such as the “gender unicorn.” At the State agency where I work, the “gender unicorn” was prominently displayed and promoted this past Summer. This unicorn is deliberately sexually androgynous. Indeed, even gender-neutral Barbie dolls are now available. In a news release accompanying the product launch, a Mattel representative explained,

Through research, we heard that kids don’t want their toys dictated by gender norms. This line allows all kids to express themselves freely which is why it resonates so strongly with them. We’re hopeful Creatable World will encourage people to think more broadly about how all kids can benefit from doll play.[9]

This worldview is resulting in a revolution in transgender medicine and policy.[10] Attempts to redirect children towards their biological sex are often deemed unethical. Some activist organizations recommend public schools keep a child’s transgender status from unsupportive parents, and effectively provide schools with guidance to mount a campaign of subversion against such parents.[11]  

Anderson believes sex is determined by reproductive function. He cites one such proponent saying that he cannot find any other definition for sex other than what is promoted in social policy literature.[12] The discussion of treatment for gender dysphoria is one of the most horrifying and depressing things I have read.[13]

Anderson rightly concludes that “[w]hat’s at stake in the transgender moment is the human person.”[14] He suggests a comprehensive approach involving, (1) not stigmatizing those who suffer from gender dysphoria, (2) building a network of clinicians who do not agree with transgender ideology, (3) engaging the culture winsomely, particularly with former transgender individuals, (4) and lawyer and public policy experts working together to combat this ideology.[15]

This book’s value is that is accurately captures a snapshot of our cultural moment. It is not a religious book, and Anderson offers no theological insights. Every well-read Christian who pays attention to culture knows where we are headed, but Anderson gives one an invaluable and sobering guided tour through an otherwise familiar neighborhood.


[1] Ryan T. Anderson, When Harry Became Sally: Responding to the Transgender Moment (reprint; New York: Encounter Books, 2019; Kindle ed.), pgs. 9-11.  

[2] Anderson, Harry Became Sally, pgs. 12-15.  

[3] Anderson, Harry Became Sally, pgs. 15-20.  

[4] Anderson, Harry Became Sally, pg. 20-25. One wonders how Mark Yarhouse would recommend responding to the idea of a transgender “identity”!? Perhaps here.

[5] Anderson, Harry Became Sally, pg. 28.  

[6] “At the heart of the transgender moment are radical ideas about the human person—in particular, that people are what they claim to be, regardless of contrary evidence. A transgender boy is a boy, not merely a girl who identifies as a boy. It’s understandable why activists make these claims. An argument about transgender identities will be much more persuasive if it concerns who someone is, not merely how someone identifies. And so the rhetoric of the transgender moment drips with ontological assertions: people are the gender they prefer to be. That’s the claim,” (Anderson, Harry Became Sally, pg. 29).

[7] See J.P. Moreland, Scientism and Secularism: Learning to Respond to a Dangerous Ideology (Wheaton: Crossway, 2018).

[8] “Transgender activists don’t admit that this is a metaphysical claim. They don’t want to have the debate on the level of philosophy, so they dress it up as a scientific and medical claim. And they’ve co-opted many professional associations for their cause,” (Anderson, Harry Became Sally, pg. 29).

[9] Mattel Newsroom, “Mattel Launches Gender Inclusive Doll Line Inviting All Kids to Play.” 25 September 2019. Retrieved on 03 January 2020 from https://news.mattel.com/news/mattel-launches-gender-inclusive-doll-line-inviting-all-kids-to-play.

[10] Anderson, Harry Became Sally, pgs. 33-42.  

[11] Anderson, Harry Became Sally, pgs. 42-45.  

[12] Anderson, Harry Became Sally, pgs. 77-81.  

[13] Anderson, Harry Became Sally, pgs. 97-116.  

[14] Anderson, Harry Became Sally, pg. 212.  

[15] Anderson, Harry Became Sally, pg. 211.  

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