Talking About Transgender

A recent meeting of the Higher Ground ministry in New York City discussed transgenderism, based on the following reading for the evening, authored by the ministry’s leader, Peter. I found it a very helpful and succinct summary of the issues currently, and so wanted to reproduce it for you below. The piece also shows the quality of discourse and equipping going on in that ministry, which continues meetings both in person and on zoom. The discussion that night was lively and illuminating:

 

What is transgenderism?  It is a movement to promote the dis-integration of gender, based on a condition of mind and emotion (body dysmorphia) that leaves a person feeling as if he or she has been born into the wrong body, and that creates a compulsion toward altering one’s body through cross-gender hormones and/or surgical amputations.  Although tightly entwined with gay advocacy, transgenderism is distinct from homosexuality in that it does not necessarily involve erotic relating — and because activists celebrate it as a type of change that IS possible.

 

According to a 2016 study conducted at UCLA, there are an estimated 1.4 million people in the United States who identify as transgender — approximately one-half of one percent of the population.  That percentage has most likely grown in the years since then, due to increased transgender visibility and activism.  In her 2020 book Irreversible Damage: The Transgender Craze Seducing Our Daughters, Abigail Shrier documents the dramatic increase among adolescents, especially within friendship networks of teenage girls, who self-identify as transgender. 

 

But in 2016, Paul McHugh, the former Chief of the Department of Psychiatry at the prestigious Johns Hopkins University Medical Center wrote:

“When children who reported transgender feelings were tracked without medical or surgical treatment at both Vanderbilt University and London’s Portman Clinic, 70%-80% of them spontaneously lost those feelings. Some 25% did have persisting feelings; what differentiates those individuals remains to be discerned.

“We at Johns Hopkins University—which in the 1960s was the first American medical center to venture into “sex-reassignment surgery” [note: trans activists now call it “gender confirmation surgery”] —launched a study in the 1970s comparing the outcomes of transgendered people who had the surgery with those who did not. Most of the surgically treated patients described themselves as “satisfied,” but their subsequent psycho-social adjustments were no better than those who didn’t have the surgery. And so at Hopkins we stopped doing sex-reassignment surgery, since producing a “satisfied” but still troubled patient seemed an inadequate reason for surgically amputating normal organs.

“A 2011 study in Sweden should give trans advocates pause. The long-term study—up to 30 years—followed 324 people who had sex-reassignment surgery. It revealed that beginning about 10 years after surgery, the transgendered began to experience increasing mental difficulties. Most shockingly, their suicide mortality rose almost 20-fold above the comparable non-transgender population.”

 

Is transgenderism sinful?  Some trans-identified people from Christian backgrounds argue that Jesus at least indirectly affirmed the trans experience when he declared in Matthew 19:12, For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Bear in mind that Jesus made that statement in the context of his teaching about marriage, and thus we can reasonably conclude that he was speaking in metaphor about the divine calling to become married – or not.  Not everyone has that marriage calling (instead being a “eunuch”) – including Jesus himself. 

A better answer is given by Dr. Michael Brown, who is affiliated with Restored Hope Network, who wrote on the subject in Christian Post in 2016:

“It’s important to remember that we are talking about people and not just issues.  Some of these people have suffered severe mental and emotional torment for years before deciding to have sex-change surgery, to the point that, in their minds, it was either that or suicide.  Those of us who never struggled with this cannot pretend to understand their agony. If we scorn them as freaks, we do not share the heart of God.

“It’s also important to remember that some of these individuals profess a strong faith in Jesus and make the case that it is false to assume they are engaging in any forbidden sexual relationships. (Maybe yes, maybe no.) They are simply seeking to find peace from mental torment and to affirm what they believe to be their true identity.

“The Bible does not say anything specific about transgenderism as we know it today.  What the Bible does say is that: 1) God created human beings male and female; 2) male-female distinctions are of foundational importance; 3) male-female distinctions should be celebrated. When Paul taught that there is no male or female in Christ, he did not mean there are no distinctions between the sexes but rather that there is full equality in Christ for men and women, the enslaved and the free, Jews and Gentiles; see Galatians 3:28.)  That does not mean we embrace the contemporary war on gender, which denigrates gender distinctions as oppressive and rejects God’s intended order for humanity. 

We might view transgender body alterations as we do chemotherapy, which is destructive in itself but can effectively fight cancer. In that case, we would say that it is not ideal but may be a life saver.  Obviously, God alone is the Judge and knows exactly what is happening inside someone’s brain — be it a physical or emotional malfunction.

“But I cannot believe that God’s best for a biological female who identifies as a male is for her to have her breasts removed; her genitalia radically (and imperfectly) altered; and her body pumped with male hormones for the rest of her life.  At best, it would appear that such radical interventions are terribly misguided but perhaps done out of great duress.  At worst, it would be an open sin against the gendered image of God into which one was born.

“At least until recently, it would appear as if a clear majority of those who identify as transgender have struggled with these issues for years, and thus we should not condemn them.  Instead, we should meet them where they are, recognizing that many still live in a fragile emotional state.  We should help them affirm God’s intended male-female order and encourage them to repent of wrong actions where possible, while patiently standing by them as they seek wholeness within and without.”

 

This is good counsel. But still, many questions remain. For example, how to navigate questions about pronouns, mis-gendering, and “dead naming” (i.e., using a person’s birth name rather than the new trans name)?  We can begin by considering the three “rings of intimacy:” the world of work; community in the body of Christ; and marriage and the biological family. 

The least intimate relationships (one hopes!) are work-related ones.  In a growing number of workplaces, there is an expectation or even a policy to specify what one’s pronouns are, which can sometimes be cross-gender or gender neutral.  In such instances, I would be inclined to abide by the workplace code and use whatever pronouns a person requests. 

Within the more intimate rings of relationship, however, we need more nuance. I will close with the words of the founder of Higher Ground, Pastor Sam Andreades, who offers this counsel in his writing:

“I try to make sure that the loved one knows that he is loved, that he bears the Image of God. But I cannot truly love him by agreeing with his misconception. So I make it clear that I respect his decisions, I want his happiness, but I cannot agree with the path he is taking, to say that he is a woman. And I cannot support harming his perfectly good body.

“God has given him his body to know how his soul was made to love others (inner distress notwithstanding).  I don’t think that changing the sign changes him or helps him.  Then I brace myself for rejection. Then I turn the other cheek. Then I determine to stay in the relationship as much as I am allowed.”

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