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Oprah and Transgender: Just the Facts, Ma'am?

  • Annabelle Robertson Entertainment Critic
  • 2004 7 Jul
  • COMMENTS
Oprah and Transgender:  Just the Facts, Ma'am?

I’ve always been a fan of Oprah. She’s funny, she’s generous and she shows us a side of the world that we rarely see. Not only does she inject positive stories into the crass world of daytime television, but she also promotes hope and healing – most of the time.

Just recently, I watched an Oprah show that featured people who had overcome exceptional hurdles to succeed in life – true role models, like the boy with no arms or legs who managed to play baseball, and the mother who jumped in front of a rolling SUV to save her children.

It is episodes like these that make Oprah a unique talk show host and a wonderful individual – one that I would love to befriend. Sometimes, however, Oprah veers astray, and in the process, I fear that she takes along millions of Americans.

I have no doubt that Oprah’s intentions are good. However, the problem isn’t her intentions; it’s her worldview.

Although raised as a Christian, Oprah’s guiding philosophy is humanism. Humanism promotes the self – and happiness, primarily individual – above all else. For Oprah, the guiding light for all of our pain and problems is personal bliss – how we get it and how we keep it.

On the surface, this sounds good. It’s certainly popular to promote health and well-being, and that’s a good thing. But if happiness is our sole arbiter of truth, we will ultimately become self-centered narcissists. 

This far-reaching quest for enjoyment also leads into areas that are morally shaky, if not downright dangerous. Oprah understands the ethics of journalism, especially objectivity, which means presenting both sides of a controversial issue and not hammering an audience with opinion rather than fact. But recently, she abandoned these ethics and wholeheartedly supported an issue that is controversial at best, and abusive at worst.

The latest of Oprah’s three episodes on the subject of “transgender” aired on May 12. It featured several children who claimed that they were “born in the wrong body.” 

One of the children on the show, an 11-year-old girl named Kayla, talked about her problems at school and her explosive arguments with her mother that often escalated into violence. Only Kayla’s mother, who appeared to be single, was in attendance. No information about Kayla’s father, or her relationship with her father, was ever mentioned.

After years of severe emotional problems, including one hospitalization for a violent episode, Kayla watched an Oprah show about “transgender” and “realized who she really was” – a boy.  She shared this thought with her mother, who agreed to allow Kayla to “live as a boy.”

Now the 11-year-old goes by the name “Kaden” and waits for the day when she can have “reassignment surgery.” In the meantime, she binds her growing breasts and takes Depo-Provera, a birth-control pill that regulates her periods. She dresses, acts and talks like a boy and claims to be “very happy.”

Young Dylan also appeared on the show. Although he is just 5 years old, Dylan insists that he wants to be a girl. Dylan’s father, who is rarely at home and who struggles with the fact that his son plays with dolls and doesn’t enjoy sports, has a great relationship with Dylan’s younger brother, but not Dylan. So Dylan has bonded with his mother, who takes her son to the nail salon and the beauty parlor. Dylan participates in these traditionally feminine activities – further confirmation, according to his mother, that he is “transgendered.”

When Dylan told his mother that he wanted to be a girl, she responded, “It’s not possible, because you have a penis. You’re a boy.” Dylan said, “Well, then I want my penis to fall off so that I can be a girl” – yet another confirmation that her little boy is “really” a girl.

Interestingly, no one ever asked Dylan or Kayla why they wanted to be the opposite sex, or what it was about that gender that was so appealing. Even more interesting – though not surprising, given the popular trend of revering children’s opinions over those of adults – is the fact that the children’s feelings were assumed to be fact.

Throughout the broadcast, just one “expert” – a clinical psychotherapist and “gender specialist” – offered her opinion about Kayla, Dylan and other families with this problem.

“If the child is transgendered, they’re transgendered,” she said. “There’s really nothing you can do to change that, nor is there anything you’ve done to cause that… It occurs in the womb. The research so far shows that it occurs in the first trimester. Something happens whereas the brain develops in one direction and the body develops in another.”

Many would disagree with this statement. Moreover, there are no credible medical studies that verify this conjecture. But Oprah presented it as fact, and encouraged us to do so as well. She even rebuked Dylan’s father for not “believing who Dylan really is,” as if five-year-olds had somehow become trustworthy authorities for truth and justice.

Even more disturbing is the fact that Oprah’s website, which describes the shows, reverts to the use of “he” for Kayla (Kayden) instead of “she,” and “she” for Dylan instead of “he.”

Without objective information, we cannot understand this complex issue. And without understanding, healing may well seem impossible – or even abusive. As a result of shows like this and the lack of objectivity that currently reigns in the media, millions of people are buying into the lie of “transgender.”  

There is hope and there is healing for those who suffer from feelings of association, however powerful, with the opposite sex. These people are not alone, and they do not have to be abused by the lie that “God made a mistake,” which will only lead to more alienation and confusion.

Contrary to another extreme position, which is rooted in Christianity but which offers mere willpower and prayer as a one-stop panacea for these feelings, “transgender” is a complicated issue. Healing is not a simple path, nor is it a comfortable one. After all, facing our pain – and the sinful ways that we have responded to that pain – is an emotionally demanding process. But there is a path that leads to freedom – something that the popular “do whatever you feel” humanist philosophy can never offer.

Oprah’s support of “transgender” without questioning the facts or delving beneath the surface is not only unethical, but abusive. This is surprising, sad and extremely disappointing, given Oprah’s heroic support of abuse victims in the past.

As a result of Oprah’s shows on transgender and the many myths that it continues to perpetuate, Crosswalk has decided to tackle this issue in a two-part series.

The first article, which will appear later this month our News section, will deal with the origins of transgender. Where does it come from? Might there be a genetic component? Why do young children associate so strongly with the opposite sex? And why do people, even Christians, believe they really are in the wrong body? Could they be?

The second article, which will appear next month also in our News section, will explore some of the ways that people can begin to find healing for “transgendered” feelings. We will briefly discuss the reasons why Christians may fear and minimize these issues, as well as the wide variety of Christian ministries and counselors that are available for help.

We hope you will join us for this all-important discussion.