This article first appeared in the Christian Research Journal, volume 45, number 2/3 (2022).
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How could a popular podcaster and author produce a feature film and write a book with the title What Is a Woman? Does not everyone know the answer to that? After all, humanity is a dimorphic species, consisting of males and females, each with its own distinctive DNA (XY or XX) and gametes (sperm or egg). God created humans as male and female (Gen. 1:27). But now the known has become the unknown and the true has become the false — that is, if transgender ideology is right. How did we get here?
On June 26, 2015, after decades of moral decay regarding sexual ethics, the United States Supreme Court detonated an explosion that decimated millennia of legal precedent and perennial wisdom, sending shock waves throughout the country and the world. The Court legalized same-sex marriage in its ruling on Obergefell v. Hodges.1 The late Christian writer and activist Charles Colson long warned that this issue was “a hill to die on,” given its grave implications. After the ruling, the Obama White House was lit up in the colors of the rainbow to affirm its allegiance.
Things had changed quickly and radically on this issue. The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) had been signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1996. But in February of 2011, President Barack Obama announced that the Department of Justice would no longer defend DOMA’s provision defining marriage as only between a man and woman. This led to the Supreme Court’s Obergefell decision. While this legal change was rapid, the devolution of sexual morality has a long and perverse pedigree.
The short version is that through the history of ideas, the self has separated from any sacred order or moral standards. This is known as “expressive individualism” and is explained in Carl Trueman’s brilliant book, The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self.2 To put it in biblical terms, “In those days there was no king in Israel: every man did that which was right in his own eyes” (Judg. 21:25 KJV). Apart from divine authority, everyone becomes his or her own authority, especially over “their own body.” This declaration of independence from God has its origins in the Fall (Gen. 3) but has played out in secular philosophy over several centuries, resulting in a combination of hedonism and relativism. There may be no God (Nietzsche), but we do know our impulses, and the strongest is often sexual. Yet, because of the Fall, our sexual desires are often warped and disordered. They aim in the wrong direction. Hence, the biblical prohibitions against any sexual intimacy outside of heterosexual monogamy. But when flames of biblical truth fade in a society, the beasts of prey no longer fear exposure or condemnation. As Os Guinness wrote concerning the rise of the occult in America, “Early hunters on safari in Africa used to build their fires high at night in order to keep away the animals in the bush. But when the fires burned low in the early hours of the morning, they would see all around them the approaching outlined shapes of animals and a ring of encircling eyes in the darkness. When the fire was high, they were far off, but when the fire was low, they approached again.”3
Gender Ideology and Common Sense
Enter Matt Walsh: a young, bright, witty, and sometimes brash political commentor and a conservative Roman Catholic with a vast following.4 Both Walsh’s book and film were produced by The Daily Wire, a growing conservative media company founded by Ben Shapiro. Walsh’s podcast frequently addresses LGBTQ controversies, and he is a tireless defender of traditional sexual ethics. Walsh prides himself as not having gone to college, but he is often an incisive thinker who can ferret out the assumptions and knows where they lead logically. These skills are on display in both the film and the book.
What Is a Woman? is the kind of film that needs a book to substantiate its claims because it trades on ideas. The book is more conversational than academic, but it addresses the ideas of sexologists, professors, philosophers, activists, counselors, and physicians. We meet these folks in the film through Walsh’s interviews, but their ideas are mostly documented in the book. While he can be acerbic on his podcast, he is respectful to everyone he interviews in the film.
The question, “What is a woman?” has become controversial because common sense and simple logic have been abandoned. The culprit is gender ideology, as Walsh makes clear. Why would an eleven-year-old girl be told that she is wise to “transition” to becoming a boy if this is her “authentic self”? How could a physician perform surgery to castrate a man or remove the breasts of a young woman? Much of it goes back to two very perverted men, Alfred Kinsey and John Money.
Sexual Deviancy Normalized
Walsh interviews psychiatrist Miriam Grossman about gender theory, who begins with Kinsey. She says, “He wanted to rid society of Judeo-Christian values when it came to sexuality, and he worked very hard to do that. And I would say he succeeded.”5 Kinsey was a professor of zoology at Indiana University in Bloomington, where he began his study of sex. He was an expert in wasps before switching to sex.
Having abandoned any moral constraints on sex, Kinsey thought that humans were sexual at every point in their lives, including childhood. Traditional mores were repressive and caused suffering. Freedom came through unrestrained sexual experience. Kinsey published Sexual Behavior in the Human Male (1948) and Sexual Behavior in the Human Female (1953). Both “studies” claimed that abhorrent forms of sexual activity (homosexuality, lesbianism, pedophilia, and more) were more common than thought. However, his studies were seriously flawed. “[Kinsey] was interviewing convicted sex offenders,” Grossman told Walsh. “He was going into jails and interviewing child molesters, people who committed sexual assault. He was interviewing prostitutes…. terrible experiments [were] done on children under year one. They were basically being sexually assaulted.”6 Nevertheless, it was Kinsey who helped normalize sexual deviancy and is considered a hero by many.
Bifurcating Sex and Gender. Another key figure is Money, a psychologist from New Zealand, who claimed that sexuality was due more to nurture than to nature. According to Money, the film and book explain, we are born sexually neutral; we are socialized into being male or female. He, more than anyone, advanced the crucial and bogus distinction between biological sex and socially-constructed gender. He was also indirectly responsible for the death of a young man, Bruce Reimer, whose penis was cut off during a botched circumcision. Money told the parents to have the baby castrated and to raise him as a girl, since gender was acquired over time, not given at birth. He became Brenda. But the boy remained a boy and acted like one. He never fit in as a woman. When he was eventually told he was biologically male, he accepted this and lived as a man, even marrying and adopting children. That is, until he committed suicide at age 39. His parents blame Money for it, the man who sanctioned and supported it all along.
Walsh interviewed transgender ideologues as well as critics of transgenderism, such as Grossman, quoted above. Some of the most telling interviews are with transgender advocates. One interviewee, who is clearly a biological woman, says she is not a woman and that she affirms that women can have penises. Not one of the transgender advocates can answer his question, “What is a woman?” with any clarity. This is simply because of the distinction made by Money, and so many since, that gender has no necessary association with one’s given sex. In fact, sex is not a given of nature but is “assigned” at birth by doctors and parents. Therefore, if someone identifies as a woman, then this person is a woman. It all depends on their sense of self. Here is expressive individualism as applied to sexuality in all its absurdity.
Fearing Truth, Logic, and Evidence
When Walsh probes for real answers to his questions, he is greeted by hostility and character assassination by the transgender ideologues. Consider a professor, Patrick Grzanka, the chair of the Women, Gender, and Sexuality Interdisciplinary program at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. As a professor myself, it was embarrassing to see Grzanka speak in obfuscating academize and never make a solid point.
After Grzanka is asked about “the truth and reality” of trans women, Grzanka replies, “You keep invoking the word ‘truth,’ which is condescending and rude.” He went on to explain, “I’m really uncomfortable with that language of ‘getting to the truth’…because it sounds actually deeply transphobic to me.”7 After Grzanka threatens to end the interview, Walsh calms him down a bit, but is later told, “I don’t go around talking about capital ‘T’ Truth…because it is often used as a weapon against people whose ideas, experiences, and lives don’t fit so neatly into the kinds of stories that oftentimes books with bad intentions try to tell.”8 Walsh’s comments are on target: “I had learned a lot about the truth so far in my journey, and for a radical like Dr. Grzanka, his fear of the truth was very understandable. After all, the truth would tear his entire world down.”9
When Walsh asks Michelle Focier, Associate Professor of Pediatrics and Assistant Dean of Admissions at the Brown University Alpert Medical School, what a woman is “in reality, truth,” she responds, “Whose truth are we talking about?” She goes on to say matter-of-factly, “The same truth that says we’re sitting in this room right now, you and I. We’re not on a plane in the sky. We’re not in Victorian England….My patients’ truth isn’t determined by you.”10
This muck about truth is postmodernism applied to gender.11 There is no fixed and objective truth, especially related to human existence. Our identities are constructed, deconstructed, and may be reconstructed — all without appeal to any objective and normative standard outside of ourselves. Even more, the hard and unambiguous physical reality of biology is ignored or discounted. The body is mere stuff to be manipulated as one pleases; it is not taken to be “fearfully and wonderfully made,” as Scripture teaches (Ps. 139:14). But that change requires mutilation.
Walsh interviews Scott Nugent, who identifies as a biological woman with three children who was chemically and surgically altered to appear as a man. Nugent’s emotional testimony exposes the dark side of transitions, which transgender ideologues seldom mention. Since it is impossible for a man to become a woman or a woman to become a man, severe alterations must be made to cement the façade. Nugent was left in terrible health, regrets the decision, and warns people against it. Clinical psychologist Jordon Peterson tells Walsh that “carving up” the body to fit a temperament is deeply wrong when other options are available.
Walsh gives shorter interviews of people on the street and at the annual Women’s March, asking them “What is a woman?” Many don’t know how to answer or give circular answers, which avoid the real question. Walsh sums it up: “Apparently, circular reasoning is a feature of transgender ideologues. They either claim they can’t answer the question because they lack a certain identity, or they define the term using the term itself, making the definition completely meaningless.”12
Walsh is smart, plucky, and brave. His life has been threatened. When I heard him speak recently, attendees were checked for weapons before entering. Walsh’s weapons of choice are truth, logic, and evidence — all on full display in the book and film, What Is a Woman?
Douglas Groothuis is Professor of Philosophy at Denver Seminary. Among his many books are Fire in the Streets: How You Can Confidently Respond to Incendiary Cultural Topics (Salem Books, 2022) and Christian Apologetics: A Comprehensive Case for Biblical Faith, 2nd ed. (IVP Academic, 2022).
- Obergefell v. Hodges, 576 U.S. 644 (2015).
- Carl Trueman, The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self: Cultural Amnesia, Expressive Individualism, and the Road to Sexual Revolution (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2020). Trueman is interviewed in the What Is a Woman? film but not cited in the book.
- Os Guinness, The Dust of Death: The Sixties Counterculture and How it Changed America Forever (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2020), 241, Kindle.
- On July 1, 2022, his podcast was rated #1 on Apple Podcasts in the News and Commentary section. Chartable, “The Matt Walsh Show,” https://chartable.com/podcasts/the-matt-walsh-show.
- Matt Walsh, What Is a Woman?: One Man’s Journey to Answer the Question of a Generation (Nashville: DW Books, 2022), 26, Kindle.
- Walsh, What Is a Woman?, 30, Kindle.
- Walsh, What Is a Woman?, 156, Kindle.
- Walsh, What Is a Woman?, 157, Kindle.
- Walsh, What Is a Woman?, 157, Kindle.
- Walsh, What Is a Woman?, 87, Kindle.
- See Douglas Groothuis, “Postmodernism on Race and Gender,” Truth Decay: Defending Christianity Against Challenges of Postmodernism (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000).
- Walsh, What Is a Woman?, 198, Kindle.