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Book Review: Understanding Gender Dysphoria by Mark Yarhouse

Book Review: Understanding Gender Dysphoria by Mark Yarhouse

Author: Mark Yarhouse

Publisher: CAPS Books (IVP Academic)

Reading Level: Moderate

Pages: 191

“We do not want to artificially endorse rigid gender stereotypes that make cultural normative expression of gender roles a marker of obedience to God or something along those lines.” (150-151)


I am breaking my book review rule — I am writing in first person. Publications from IVP on sensitive subjects have a way of doing this. I requested Understanding Gender Dysphoria: Navigating Transgender Issues in a Changing Culture (henceforth UGD) about a month before news broke on Bruce Jenner — henceforth Caitlyn Jenner. Shortly after the Jenner nighttime news special I found myself sitting on a porch discussing transgender issues. It did not surprise me how uninformed people (including myself) were about transgender issues. What was surprising was the general lack of interest concerning the issue.

The Internet went wild with defenders of Caitlyn Jenner. Her decision to come out publically put the transgender issue on the map of even the casual American. The church was lurched forward at least a decade on a subject they would rather not know existed. I tried to stay silent as I waited for Mark Yarhouse’s book to be delivered. It went straight to the top of my review stack and I read it quickly despite some rather large, and current, deterrents to reading books.

UGD is a phenomenal introduction to one particular portion of the transgender community — those who suffer from Gender Dysphoria. Key terms are provided for individuals unfamiliar with the issues (11). “No one navigates gender identity concerns in a vacuum” (23) and Yarhouse ensures that readers can identify Gender Dysphoria in a growing culture of many transgender issues. Gender Dysphoria occurs when one’s biological/birth sex does not match with a person’s perceived psychological sex. For those who have not experienced this disconnect the concept will seem foreign. Yarhouse attempts to shed light on this experience through chapters entitled “A Christian Perspective on Gender Dysphoria” (chapter 2) and “What Causes Gender Dysphoria?” (chapter 3).

First, Yarhouse provides three lenses from which Gender Dysphoria can be viewed — Integrity Framework (46-48), Disability Framework (48-50), and Diversity Framework (50-53). These positions become valuable paradigms upon which to reflect on persons struggling with experiences on the continuum of gender dysphoria. There is no hiding that conservative Evangelicals will be drawn to the simplicity of the Integrity Framework and repelled by the potentially rebellious nature of the Diversity Framework. However, Yarhouse provides valuable insights into why an integrated from of these three lens may prove valuable to the church. Though it may be tough to hear, the church has done a poor job of helping people feel they “belong.” This is because teaching to “behave” has replaced a feeling of self-belonging. This often puts a strangle hold on individuals who want to share struggles and conflicts that arise from Gender Dysphoria. The LGTBQ community (and many others that are not sexual-orientation related) is fixated on belonging based upon who a person is and not how they behave.

Though behavior needs to remain important to church life and Christian sanctification, pastors and church members need to permit a sense of belonging to people who suffer from Gender Dysphoria. Yarhouse might take this point further than some are willing to go, but the principals need to be processed thoroughly. While at times uncomfortable, I believe Yarhouse has highlighted one of the glaring signs that the church has forgotten hospitality. Compassion and grace are found for people who have struggles. Christ died for us while we were still sinners. The call to spend time understanding people and their place in life is hardly comparable to the suffering of Christ.

Scientifically valuable, Yarhouse evaluates three possible reasons for Gender Dysphoria - “Brain-sex Theory” (67-74), “Blanchard’s Theory” (74-76) and “Multifactorial Models” (76-80). No easy answers are given though and Yarhouse concludes that no single theory dominates. Those who view Gender Dysphoria as a result of the fall (primarily through the Disability Framework) should not be hung up on the “how” as much as relating through compassion. UGD provides insights to the ways Gender Dysphoria can be discussed at different ages as well as the different stages of experience (chapter 5 — “Prevention and Treatment of Gender Dyphoria”).

In evaluating how the church should respond, Yarhouse is harsh on adopting modern cultural gender roles as Biblical dictums (133-137, 150-151). When these “artificially endorsed gender stereotypes” become the standards for sin and disobedience otherwise godly people are put out and made uncomfortable. This is particularly pertinent to individuals struggling with internal dissonance such as Gender Dysphoria. These insights are not enough to qualify someone as a counselor, but it helps the church populace as a whole prepare themselves to be Christ’s hands and feet.

In conclusion, Yarhouse is informative on the approaches Christians can take to Gender Dysphoria. He helpfully distinguishes Gender Dysphoria in the full spectrum of transgender issues. Understanding Gender Dysphoria is an incredibly timed publication that will help many pastors and laymen related to friends, family, and church members in helpful, compassionate, and Biblical ways.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

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