“The best biology, psychology, and philosophy,” Anderson writes, “all support an understanding of sex as a bodily reality and of gender as a social manifestation of bodily sex. Biology isn’t bigotry.”
He raises questions about gender dysphoria — a condition in which one feels an identity opposite to one's biological sex — and asks whether some cases could be linked to “social hostility to people who don’t conform to gender norms or who have same-sex attractions.”
“We need to respect the dignity of people who identify as transgender,” he argues in the book, “but without encouraging children to undergo experimental transition treatments, and without trampling on the needs and interests of others.”
Anderson has tweeted that “gender dysphoria is a serious mental health issue.” By contrast, “transgenderism is a belief system that increasingly looks like a cultish religion . . . being forced on the public by the state,” he said.
Among the academics Anderson cites in his argument is Paul McHugh, a professor of psychiatry at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. McHugh is famous for helping shut down a pioneering transgender program at the university that began in the 1970s and for lobbying against Medicaid coverage for gender reassignment surgery. Hopkins did not reopen a transgender health service until last year.
The reaction to Anderson’s book has been swift. Conservative writers have hailed Anderson — who regularly appears on CNN, Fox News Channel and MSNBC as a conservative voice on the news — as a “fearless intellectual” who is saying things no one else will dare say because they are too politically correct. “Transitioning is not a magic wand for instant gratification as the media so heedlessly baits people to believe,” Corine Gatti wrote in the Christian Post. She wondered, why isn’t anyone else “addressing the dark side of transitioning?”
“Repulsive,” “disturbing,” “nonsense” and “moronic” are among the words Anderson’s critics have used to describe the book. Zack Ford, writing on ThinkProgress, dismissed the book's claims as “junk science.”
“Ryan T. Anderson’s latest book on ‘The Transgender Moment’ conveniently ignores reality,” Ford wrote.
Anderson said in an email commenting on the reaction to his book that “it's no surprise that it is intense, even from people who haven't read it.” He said his goal in writing “When Harry Became Sally” is “to help people think about these issues more carefully, and to respond to those in need more charitably.”
“Activists want to silence and shame anyone who questions transgender ideology. But there's too much at stake to remain silent, for what's at stake is nothing less than the human person,” he said.
Described in a profile in The Washington Post in 2015 as “the conservative movement’s fresh-faced, millennial, Ivy League-educated spokesman,” Anderson made headlines at that time for a different book — this one denouncing same-sex marriage. The Post article delved into Anderson’s background:
Anderson says he has been taking unexpected positions all his life, as an antiabortion activist in college and as a conservative at the liberal Quaker Friends School in Baltimore, where he grew up.
He was the fourth of five boys, and his parents paid for all to get the rigorous academic background Friends School provided. But they told their sons that college would be on them.
Anderson paid for the part of his Princeton schooling that scholarships did not cover with the proceeds from a lawn business — Cutting Edge, he named it — started when he was an adolescent. His undergraduate degree is not in history or political science or philosophy, but in music. A percussionist, he keeps in his Washington apartment a marimba, a vibraphone, a hammered dulcimer and an electronic drum set.
“I always thought Ryan was going to be a musician or a composer or an entrepreneur,” says his oldest brother, Christian, a professor at California Polytechnic State University.
(The Quaker Friends School, it should be pointed out, created a stir when it posted a link to that report and then quickly took it down. “The head of the school expressed ‘sincere regret’ for his ‘lack of sensitivity’ and the ‘anguish and confusion’ and ‘pain’ the link inflicted on members of the school community who thought the link implied that the school was standing behind Anderson’s views,” according to an article about the controversy in the Week.)
The current commotion over Anderson began when bloggers noticed that “When Harry Became Sally” had skyrocketed to No. 1 on two of Amazon's book lists — one on natural law and another for LGBT issues. (Amazon chief executive Jeffrey P. Bezos owns The Washington Post.)
“Amazon is giving credibility to an anti-trans book by allowing it to gurgle its way up to the #1 spot in the category of Gay & Lesbian Civil Rights History, a place it could not possibly deserve less to be,” journalist Matt Baume tweeted.
Dan Avery wrote on NextNowNext that as a result, “many uninformed people will see this book branded a bestseller and assume it’s well-researched, objective and informative. Some of those people may be looking for advice about a loved one who’s come out as trans, or grappling with their own gender identity.” He urged people to buy other LGBT books to lower Anderson’s ranking.
The complaints may have gotten Amazon’s attention. While the company did not respond to questions about “When Harry Became Sally,” the book was no longer on Amazon’s Gay & Lesbian Civil Rights list Thursday, although it remains on the Natural Law bestseller list.
This post has been updated to reflect comments from Ryan Anderson.