Focus On The Family: How (Not) To Talk To Your Kids About Transgender Issues

Cher and Mary Bono Mack applauding Chaz Bono at the GLAAD Media Awards in 2012. CREDIT: AP PHOTO/VINCE BUCCI
Cher and Mary Bono Mack applauding Chaz Bono at the GLAAD Media Awards in 2012. CREDIT: AP PHOTO/VINCE BUCCI

Focus on the Family and its action arm CitizenLink, issued some fresh advice this week about how parents should talk to their children about transgender issues. In a short CitizenLink Radio segment released this week, the organization’s resident ex-gay Jeffrey Johnston joined host Kim Trobee to provide advice for “talking to kids about gender confusion” that completely rejects and erases the experiences of transgender people.

This conversation offers a quick guide about how not to talk to anybody about transgender issues:

Trobee: “By now you’ve seen the Vanity Fair cover featuring Bruce Jenner and his new look.” Actually, her name is actually Caitlyn Jenner and she uses female pronouns.

Johnston: “First you want to let them know that God made us male and female in His image and that individuals are born either male or female.” Actually, there are people who are born male, female, intersex, transgender, and genderqueer, to name just a few examples of the sex and gender diversity that exists and is naturally occurring throughout humanity.

Johnston: “But some people get hurt, confused, or they believe some lies, and they don’t like the way God made them.” Actually, research increasingly shows that there are biological origins for transgender experiences, and mental health experts no longer diagnose gender dysphoria as a mental illness. There is absolutely no research to suggest that trauma or confusion can cause people to be transgender, nor any evidence than anybody has ever been — or ever could be — recruited with “lies” to be transgender.

Johnston: “As a result, they wish they were the opposite sex, but then you tell them, ‘Nobody can really change from one sex to the other.’” The entire reason people like Jenner transition and live out their lives as the sex different from what they were assigned at birth is because it’s beneficial for their mental health to do so. Conversely, being forced to reject their gender identity has many negative consequences.

Trobee: “There are going to be some kids who are actually fearful of this. What if your child is afraid that this might happen to them?” It’s a very real possibility that any young person could be transgender, but nothing would “happen” to make them that way.

Johnston: “Well you want to be very affirming with your children too…” This would have been very good advice if he had ended his answer there. But he didn’t.

Johnston: “Well you want to be very affirming with your children too. You want to let them know, ‘This isn’t going to happen to you. You’re a boy. We’re glad God made you that way.’ Or you say, ‘You’re our girl. We’re glad God made you a girl, and you’re going to grow up to be a fine young woman.” Trying to correct a child’s gender identity could have huge consequences. Children can understand their gender identity when as young as the same age they can learn to talk, and studies have found that trans kids identify with their gender just as completely as other cisgender kids. Allowing them to transition improves their mental health, and even taking hormone blockers to delay puberty is virtually risk-free.

Johnston encourages listeners to check out Focus on the Family’s other resources on these questions. On that page, he still offers the term “gender identity disorder” — no longer in use by psychiatrists — and even implies that it’s still up in the air if being transgender constitutes having a mental disorder.

He suggests parents who don’t understand these issues explain to their children that “sin entered the world and spoiled everything, including how we see ourselves,” explaining that transgender people — who he refers to as “gender-confused” — are “broken” and need God to “save and transform” them. “We can pray for those who are gender-confused,” Johnston encourages. Focus on the Family promotes the use of ex-trans therapy to try to reject a transgender identity through shame-based counseling.

The organization’s official position on “Transgenderism” rejects a “revisionist transgender theology” that violates God’s “clearly articulated and intentional design for the sexes.” Mothers and fathers should provide children with a “strong, Christian example of what it means to be male and female” because people somehow become transgender because of “a lack of healthy and good parental involvement and guidance.”

In other words, Focus on the Family is wholly committed to rejecting transgender children, reinforcing the same transphobic stigma that results in rampant discrimination, poverty, homelessness, depression, and an astronomical suicide attempt rate among transgender people. CitizenLink Radio is heard on 500 radio stations nationwide.