More on Transgender Issues

In response the Susannah’s comment on a previous post, here’s what I had to say about my current approach to transsexualism.

I have to be totally open and honest with you (and my other readers) at this point and admit that I am currently engaged in a rethink on this issue of transgenderism. When we lost our second son to a chromosomal disorder (in his case Trisomy 18 – Edwards Syndrome), I spent quite a bit of time exploring issues around chromosomal disfunction and other gender issues. I’m still in the middle of that exploration, but at the moment my position can be summarised as follows:

  • If we lived in a perfect, Edenic, un-fallen world then issues of Transgenderism wouldn’t occur. That is to say, I am convinced that transgenderism is a result of the Fall.
  • However, if transgenderism is simply one variant expression of the brokeness of all humanity, we cannot (as you rightly point out) make its experience in and of itself as disbar to ministry of any kind. We are in a sense driven back to the behaviour / orientation distinction in the issue of homosexuality.
  • My current issue therefore is what “behaviour” in the life of those who have transgender issues is sinful and what isn’t. For homosexuality I think we have clear Scriptural guidelines on sexual expression. For those with transgender issues we do not.
  • My key current concern is whether in assuming that the displayed sex of a person (i.e. that which they appear to be biologically) is the “correct” sex, are we actually missing the truth of the situation for some people? For example, I assume Susannah that if you are a male to female transexual, your sex chromosomes are XY. A traditional conservative approach would be to argue that since you present as biologically male that is your true gender and any attempt to deny it is to embrace fallenness rather than to reject it.
  • However, might it actually be the case that your true gender is female and that the development of your sex chromosomes as XY is actually a result of the Fall (in the same way that my son having a third 18th chromosome was fallen, not “good”). If this is the case then helping you transit from male to female is actually a “good” thing rather than a “bad” or sinful thing.
  • At the same time, I am aware of a number of cases where those who have presented with very clear sex/gender self-divergences have, through bringing areas of emotional and relational brokeness to God in prayer and allowing him to heal them, have seen their self-perceived gender realign with their biological sex.

I’m not decided yet on this issue, but I am in a position where I am not prepared to condemn those who have transited sex to their self-understood gender. Certainly, I cannot see the experience of transgenderism itself as a disbar to employment in a church, though I can understand why some churches would be hesitant to employ someone who has actually transited.

I’m reposting this (as it were) because this afternoon Andrew Marin made some interesting comments on the subject of Obama offering a White House post to a male to female transsexual.

As for the Christian world’s response to this appointment, I am not surprised about (generally) their vocal, slippery-slope-driven reactions. However, what does continue to surprise me is the question of why Christians are always so surprised by such things!

We do not live in a Christian society no matter how many of us like to think the opposite. Ours is that of God’s Kingdom; something we are commissioned to bring here to our world. However, our world is governed by a secular culture that governs in a secular fashion. Yet we still continue to place our worldview upon them, expecting that one day they will ‘wake up’ and see the boundaries we are placing upon them to be able to productively work with us. That is not going to happen. Instead, let us continue to hold on to our belief and start working within the mainstream worldview that has been placed upon us; to figure out how to peacefully and productively bring our Kingdom within the structure we have been given. Or, we could just keep expecting something different to happen by doing what has always been done? You know, whichever you think is best.

I urge you brothers and sisters, take the structure that has been given to us and work to find a way to bring Kingdom to that—not working to try to have Kingdom rule and dominate a culture unwilling to allow such a thing to happen.

This is the challenge for us in the 21st Century isn’t it? Do we think we should spend our time on a reactionary culture war, constantly opposing (and abusing) everything we think is wrong? Or perhaps we could stop, accept that we are in a largely non-Christian society like the first few generations of the Church, and try to learn from them how to engage with a world that is, like it or not, not operating in even vaguely the same paradigm that we are.

17 Comments on “More on Transgender Issues

  1. Hi Peter,

    thanks for this. I like Andrew Marin’s words you’ve quoted – can see why you seem to be becoming a fan of his as I think I am too!

    Responding to the last bit of the comment you reposted: is it worth noting that there are already trans people employed in the C of E? Sarah Jones spoke at Greenbelt 2006 on ‘Changing gender, God and discipleship’ – am pretty sure she’s either a priest or deacon but don’t know where.

    In case anybody’s interested there’s a Grove pamphlet called ‘Changing channels’ by David Horton, which considers both transsexuallism and transvestism. It’s still available as an e-book.

    More to say on this but too tired – was wanting to shift things on to talking about crossing the boundaries of gender, which seems to me to be a link between trans and gay issues and a reason why the letters LGBT might go together… but might expand on that another time.

    in friendship, Blair

  2. Hi again Peter, and thank you for your open exploration of this subject.

    I think Andrew Marin’s frank admission that he knows next to nothing about this subject is honest – but raises a more Church-wide question:

    Why does the Church seem to be slow getting to grips with a condition that has been in the public domain for a long time now (decades)? Why isn’t it deeply dug in, exploring it, developing pastoral initiatives (because there is a *huge* need for pastoral support), and (I’d argue) acting at the forefront of the struggle to educate the public, or at least its own membership?

    Too often the instinct seems to be to set to one side, sort of marginalise through non-engagement, or (in bad cases) just define a harrowing condition as perverse.

    Let’s look at our own diocese. I look on the diocesan website in vain for any mention of LGBT issues or support or info. Shouldn’t the leadership of the diocese be proactive in promoting study groups, and disseminating information and helpful thoughts? Correct me if I’m wrong but I can find zero support for a minority which has a very high suicide rate, terrible family and employment problems, who suffer from street abuse, isolation, loneliness, confusion.

    I can vouch for the fact that some individual churches like mine have been wonderful. But I see no leadership initiatives, or focus for people like me. It’s as if it’s a subject that is best sort of ignored.

    I don’t think that is a gospel approach though.

    Don’t get me wrong. I am supported. I am blessed and loved. But I know in a transsexual context many people are nothing like as advantaged as me.

    I really think St Albans diocese should be recognising this is a real pastoral issue on its doorsteps, and that ‘ad hoc’ provisions is really a kind of non-commitment, and failure to recognise the need for diocese-wide information and discussion.

    With love,

  3. An interesting discussion.

    I think you’re right that “the sin part” does, again, go back to behavior rather than ontology [or imagined ontology].

    My difference is probably that I believe that behavior is the living into the sex that one has “chosen” for oneself. And this gets back to some of the root sins of the whole panoply of modern sexuality, doesn’t it? A part of that is the notion that one may *choose* one’s sex — or rather “gender expression” just as one may *choose* with whom one will have sexual relations.

    It’s one thing to say “boy, I’m sexually attracted to the same sex, not the other sex — now what am I going to do about that disordered attraction?”

    And it’s another thing to say “I’m sexually attracted to the same sex, and that’s what I’ll live into, too.”

    I think the same thing can apply to the transgendered issues. It’s one thing to say “my word, I know my chromosomes say I’m a man, but I sure feel like a woman — or . . . what I *imagine* a woman feels like” [a key distinction that latter, as I can’t help but notice that the transgendered generally behave like a caricature of the gender they have chosen rather than the real thing, just as occurs so often in the gay subculture].

    It’s another to say “I feel like a woman trapped in a man’s body — I’ll make the choice to be that woman I believe I should be, rather than the man I shouldn’t be.”

    RE: “However, might it actually be the case that your true gender is female and that the development of your sex chromosomes as XY is actually a result of the Fall (in the same way that my son having a third 18th chromosome was fallen, not “good”). If this is the case then helping you transit from male to female is actually a “good” thing rather than a “bad” or sinful thing.”

    I do have an issue with that statement, I think, as I ponder this. The XY condition is a natural and intrinsically ordered condition. The third 18th chromosome is an unnatural and intrinsically disordered condition.

    If someone resists or feels “other than” a natural and intrinsically ordered condition, I would put the disorder in a different venue than in blaming it on the chromosomes. In the case of the XY chromosomes . . . they’re just sitting there being healthy and all!

    You might find this article in Touchstone, written by the former psychiatrist in chief at Johns Hopkins to be interesting:–35

  4. I have only know three people who have “transitioned” to a different gender, one I only met briefly, one I know quite well and one I have met on a few occasions and had one long conversation with. Not one of these three “acts like a caricature” of the gender they have transitioned to! In fact in the case of one ( male to female transsexual)I thought she was always that gender, had no idea she had transitioned for quite some time.

    I don’t know if the XX and XY chromosome thing gets us that far as apparently there are some men who present anatomically as men, feel that they are men but have XX chromosomes! ( and vice versa for women.) – I haven’t checked this out but someone who is transsexual told me this once?

  5. Just want to quickly thank those who have been commenting. I’m quite busy at the moment so can’t respond to everyone, but I’m really enjoying the level and tone of the conversation.

  6. Looked it up and it is possible to be XX chromosome and present as male, but not to be XY and present as female, as far as I can find. In 90% of cases there is a chemical or hormone present which prevents the leg of the second X being active, but in 10% of cases it isn’t present, so it must be something else.
    I do believe gender and sexuality are largely genetic, but it is complex and our understanding is so limited. I do think we should hesitate to say too much about the genetic basis for either homosexuality or transgenderism until we know for sure.

    • I presume that most male to female transsexuals *don’t* have this biological distinction? It is fascinating to note though that someone can have female chromosomes and yet present externally as male. Quite challenging for unequivocal conservative notions of sex=gender.

    • I’d have to double check, but I thought it was the other way round. An XY pair (‘male’ chromosomes) can exhibit female characteristics, if the dihydrotestosterone release is not sufficient.

      It’s slightly more complicated than that, as that would suggest that all foetuses start female and ‘become’ male – that’s not the case either. It’s more that proto-male and proto-female foetuses look similar, and an XY body without the hormone release looks similar to a XX body (at least until puberty).

      XX male syndrome is a slightly different situation – men with it seem to have a second X chromosome containing Y chromosomal information. At puberty, they develop ‘normally’ but are typically sterile.

      At least, that’s always been my understanding. I hope that made sense, I’ve got XY-flu, so I might have typed gibberish!

      • My reference was to what I believe is called “XX male syndrome” and I think they are generally infertile. I haven’t heard of the XY – with-female- characteristics situation but I am certainly no expert on the medical or genetic stuff surrounding these issues. It is complex and what we know about the genetics, let alone the social, emotional and psychological factors, is only the tip of the iceberg. That’s one of the reasons we should be careful about what we say on the issue, especially when the things we have to say involve condemnation or blanket assertions about what people *should* do and feel.

  7. RE: “Not one of these three “acts like a caricature” of the gender they have transitioned to!”

    Well, my experience is different. I can tell immediately, so much so that it’s quite clear that no such “transition” has actually taken place, despite hormones, imitations, surgeries, simulacrums, etc. Such language frankly reminds me of the “transition” that the Heaven’s Gate Cult leaders spoke of . . . to the spaceship beyond the Hale Bopp Comet. ; < (

    Please note that I distinguish between sex and gender — the latter just a distracting word used to imply plasticity.

    Sex is not plastic. It's chromosomal. One may have a certain sex, and claim a different one — but the claim makes no difference. It is what it is.

    If we are to accept the word "gender" then we'll need to accept also the idea that gender is a choice. And that therefore, one should choose the gender that matches one's sex as defined by the chromosomes. And if one decides not to — or has psychological difficulties with doing so — then those psychological difficulties need to be addressed, not by mutilating the body's sex but by dealing with the psychological identity disorder.

    I understand that those involved in postmodern sexual identity activism aren't going to agree with that.

    I'm just asserting the conclusions that I'm coming to for the sake of clarity.

    • I’m not going to comment on this issue as such, because my knowledge and experience of it is negligible, and my understanding of it is zero.

      I would like to say something, however, Sarah, about your observation:

      ‘RE: “Not one of these three “acts like a caricature” of the gender they have transitioned to!”

      ‘Well, my experience is different. I can tell immediately, so much so that it’s quite clear that no such “transition” has actually taken place….’

      This reminds me of a conversation that I can still remember having years ago with my sister. It went as follows:

      ME: You can always tell when someone has dyed their hair.

      SISTER: No, you can’t. When it’s been really skilfully done, you can’t.

      ME: Yes, you can. I’ve seen a lot of women with dyed hair, and I’ve always been able to tell that it’s dyed.

      At this point we both laughed, as I realised what a silly, circular argument this was. Are you absolutely sure that your own argument isn’t of the same type?

  8. I don’t like naming names, but one of the male to female transsexual people I have met is a trustee of Changing Attitude( she is the only one of the three transsexuals I Have met who is really “public” and she writes on the CA blog.)I would defy anyone who met her to describe her as a “caricature” of a woman, she is a just lovely, warm and ordinary woman. I can honestly say the same of the other two I have met. One of the transsexuals I have met is perhaps more easy to recognises as a male to female transsexual. This does not mean that she is caricaturing women. In any case within women who were “born female” there is a huge variation. Some women are much less “conventionally feminine” than others for example: doesn’t make them any less a woman and , more importantly, it doesn’t make them less valid as a human being.

    It is in that idea, I think, that we get to the point. Do we find our humanity in conforming to some ideal of what constitutes male and female? If you met someone and they were a “caricature” of a man or woman ( and that is a subjective opinion anyway) – would it make them any less of a human being? Would you feel less respect for them? Would you feel entitled to treat them less favourably? Would you feel entitled to regard them with contempt?

    I do hear a contempt in the tone of your posts. I don’t hear much love. I have to say that,no matter what your views on this, if you have not really tried put yourself in the position of a transsexual person, if you have not prayed for a transsexual person, if you have never got to know a transsexual person with the attitude “what can this person teach me”, if you have never recognised that you may be as fallible and sinful – if not MORE fallible and sinful than a transsexual person, then you have not even begun to show a Christian response.

  9. “Do we think we should spend our time on a [perjorative] culture war …. Or … try to learn … how to engage with a world that is … not operating in even vaguely the same paradigm that we are.”

    Err, these are not opposites, so it is not an either-or situation! Critical engagement might be the best approach?!

  10. I've been reading all the comments on this post and I have found some of them to be very insightful. As some one who is placed in the Transgender group my self I have had to change some of my own preconceptions and attitudes about people in general. First though I would like to address the idea of the "caricature" of women that was mentioned. If that is the case then would you not also say that Female to males present a "caricature" of men. If that is the picture you are seeing then look at it much as you would a painting by an artist with an inexperienced hand. When you have to change to all the learned behavior of your life you may not exactly get perfect every time. You may also go to the extreme levels of that behavior in order to make it seem you know what you are doing. Breaking the behavior habits you have developed prior to Transition in order to blend in with the the group you are transitioning in to is not an easy task so you act on the behaviors that you have observed and tried to learn because you never had any one to teach you properly. You are learning things that people of the gender group has been raised in. In my own opinion also there are people who are truly of the opposite gender to their biological one and then there are those who use it as an excuse or a crutch for dealing with their own internal issues. The for mentioned may find easier to learn and actuate the behaviors of their gender. While the other may not because they don't feel a total congruence. That's just my own ideas which may or not be wrong. I disagree though with calling it a "chosen gender" that implies that you chose to be in conflict with your own true since of self. I didn't make a choice one day to say hey I feel more like a female than I do a male. If it were that simple I would have saved my self sooooo many years of grief and agony. My conflict is something I have dealt with from a very young age so saying I'm making a choice is only accurate in saying that I am making the choice to say "yes I am different and that I need to deal with this on my own terms and that I'm not going to lie to my self any longer. God has made me as I am and not accept and love my self as I am would be the greater travesty for I can not serve God as he asks of me with out being true to my self and sharing the love that God has for all his creation." As Christians we all to often focus on the point of the sword in our spiritual war and forget that God has given us a full set of armor to defend our selves with rather than to attack people. God loves me for who I am and accepts me as one of his children with out condemnation because in his eyes there is no gender, no skin color, no cultural difference or any other such distinction that only humanity it's narrow view makes. He loves us all equally with out any reservation.

  11. The truth of transgenderism is that it is a mental illness and should be treated as such.

    To wit, those whole claim to be transgender should be treated with compassion, but we should not deny or alter reality.

    A person can no more change sex/gender by wishing it, any more than they can change their age, ethnicity or species.

    When a teenage girl with anorexia claims she is too fat we don’t say ‘yes you are, here are some appetite suppressives’. Even though in her mind she *is* fat, objective reality tells us otherwise. So we tell her she’s not and we give her help. We don’t indulge the delusion.

    Truth matters.

    If we capitulate on facts, a very, very dark path lies ahead.

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