Book Reviews

Book Review: “Gender Identity & Faith” by Mark A. Yarhouse and Julia A. Sadusky

Gender Identity & Faith: Clinical Postures, Tools, and Case Studies for Client-Centered Care is one of those books that tells you exactly what it is with the title and subtitle. Or does it? As a non-professional, I didn’t realize exactly how focused on the subtitle the book would be. Nevertheless, I found quite a bit of interest as I read the book.

Mark A. Yarhouse and Juila A. Sadusky explore questions of gender identity in a clinical setting, offering specific, concrete advice and even exact examples for how to go about having these discussions. Thus, there are specific examples of people who came in seeking therapy for a variety of gender identity related issues, and the authors share these examples from a wide array of backgrounds. Some were supported by family, others were not. Some had favored pronouns, others hadn’t contemplated that. The variety of specific examples show just how complex these topics are, going far beyond the yes-or-no that is often offered in faith settings.

The authors also offer concrete advice for therapists and others, along with worksheets that can be used to discuss topics of gender identity. I am not trained in this field, so I can’t comment much on how useful they are, but I did find them of interest as a lay person in the setting.

Some reviews of the book have attacked it for not taking an entirely negative stance towards anyone who questions gender identity. Such attacks are short-sighted and scientifically uninformed. While Yarhouse and Sadusky don’t really dive into any of this, the fact is that strict binaries of gender identity (eg. boys wear blue/girls wear pink) are obviously constructed by humans rather than being objective aspects of reality. Additionally, the existence of intersex persons, whose numbers are far higher than most people know, is a direct challenge for such binaries. So far as this reader could tell (without any relevant degree–only an interest in the topic), the authors take a neutral stance regarding the questions, seeking instead to bring help and healing to people wherever they are on their journey.

Gender Identity and Faith is a useful book for Christians (and non-Christians who want to know more about faith and gender identity) wishing to discuss gender identity in clinical settings. That’s the book’s purpose. Readers who aren’t involved in that field–such as myself–will still find it of interest to see how these topics can be approached.

Disclaimer: I was provided with a copy of the book for review by the publisher. I was not required to give any specific kind of feedback whatsoever.

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About J.W. Wartick

J.W. Wartick is a Lutheran, feminist, Christ-follower. A Science Fiction snob, Bonhoeffer fan, Paleontology fanboy and RPG nerd.

Discussion

9 thoughts on “Book Review: “Gender Identity & Faith” by Mark A. Yarhouse and Julia A. Sadusky

  1. You mentioned “intersex persons, whose numbers are far higher than most people know.”

    That is quite vague. Could you provide documentation to support the claim and provide ballpark estimates, based on objective empirical data, of the actual incidence?

    Posted by Ralph Dave Westfall | September 12, 2022, 5:53 PM
    • Well, “most people know” is a generalization, I’ll admit. When I started reading about it, though, I was pretty surprised, and everyone I’ve talked to about the statistics since are surprised as well. The wikipedia article on intersex persons is a decent place to start, and shows some of the range. The debate over the meaning of “intersex” is broad and technical and I’m not an expert in it. I do know that the book “Sex Difference in Christian Theology” by Megan DeFranza explores this debate. Again depending how one defines it, it’s possible 1.7% of the population (or more) are intersex (see again, the references in the Wiki article). I know my own upbringing and learning in apologetics circles always said intersex persons were such an outlier they didn’t really come into play in discussion of gender issues. Of course, this was a gross oversimplification.

      Posted by J.W. Wartick | September 13, 2022, 8:16 PM
  2. Thank you for your gracious reply.

    The research I’ve seen indicates that intersex morphology is rare and the 1.7% of the population statistic is overstated by a factor of four or more due to inaccurate classification criteria. See
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Intersex#Prevalence and https://www.webmd.com/parenting/baby/news/20190503/study-about-1-in-1000-babies-born-intersex

    Posted by Ralp Dave Westfallh | September 13, 2022, 11:32 PM
    • 1/1000 is still far higher than what I personally was taught. And also seems to be based on definitional difficulties. In either case, the fact that intersex people do exist and aren’t extraordinarily rare (or even if they were) suggests major difficulties for a strictly dichotomous core of human gender.

      Posted by J.W. Wartick | September 14, 2022, 11:16 PM
  3. Thank you for the kindness of a reply.

    For a long time I’ve been hearing figures for the incidence of intersex births of around one in a thousand. I was at a conference and there was a session on the topic in which the speaker mentioned a figure of perhaps two in a thousand, or maybe one in two thousand–this was possibly ten years ago so I’m not sure of the precise number.

    One or two in a thousand is much lower than the claim that is currently
    being bandied about that intersex conformations are as common as having red hair.

    Furthermore, I don’t see any identifiable logical connection between the existence of people with an intersex morphology and “major difficulties for a strictly dichotomous core of human gender.” They appear to be separate and distinct issues with only superficial conceptual associations.

    Your thoughts?

    Posted by Ralph Dave Westfall | September 15, 2022, 12:52 AM
    • Intersex people are by definition non-binary. Many many people are pushing for a purely binary gender theology and ethic; hence that is problematic because it doesn’t align with reality.

      Posted by J.W. Wartick | September 15, 2022, 6:57 AM
      • Thank you for the courteous reply.

        I think you are conflating two very separate issues here. Around one or two out of a thousand births are intersex. Can that objective biological fact result in any logical conclusions about people with normal genitalia who subjectively feel there is a discrepancy between their biological sex and their gender?

        To facilitate discussion of this issue, could you put the reasoning for your conclusion in the form of a syllogism, filling in statements below between the initial factual statement and the conclusion?

        One or two out of a thousand births are intersex.





        Therefore “a purely binary gender theology and ethic … is problematic because it doesn’t align with reality.”

        Posted by Ralph Dave Westfall | September 15, 2022, 10:50 PM
      • Well, I don’t especially want to follow your format, and I would dispute the 1-2/1000 but am leaving that aside for the sake of argument.

        Here’s how I would put it.

        1. For something to correct, it must reflect reality.
        2. A purely binary gender theology and ethic are correct.
        3. Therefore, a purely binary gender theology and ethic must reflect reality.
        4. Intersex people exist.
        5. Intersex people do not reflect a gender binary.
        6. Therefore, a purely binary gender theology and ethic are not correct (5, 3, 2, 1).

        Or something like that.

        I might massage the argument a bit and change it more to reflect how many/most purely binary gender theology and ethical stances tend to conflate sex and gender etc. But that would be farther afield, and is somewhat implied by 5 above. So there are some hidden premises there, but not ones that I personally think are worth pursuing -because- getting from 4 to 5 is not difficult.

        Posted by J.W. Wartick | September 19, 2022, 6:43 PM
      • It’s interesting to me, too, that you (and many others) latch upon the lowest possible estimate. As the Wikipedia article, for an easy-ish read, notes, the estimates can be as high as 1.7% depending upon what one classifies as “intersex.” And it is in the interest of the gender essentialist, of course, to minimize those % as much as possible. But at no point does that % reach 0.

        Posted by J.W. Wartick | September 19, 2022, 6:44 PM

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