Monday, February 16, 2015

Sexuality and the Bible, Part 6: Transgender

For many of us, our bodies are a sign to others of the kind of person we are. That's because for most of us, our sex indicates our gender. It shows how we think, communicate, and behave, who we hang out with, and what sort of roles we fill in life. 

For trans individuals, their bodies differ from their gender. A trans individual might be born with male sexual parts, but in their head and their heart, they are a woman. They relate with women, follow feminine pursuits, and prefer she/her pronouns.

Leelah Alcorn, trans girl who committed suicide on December 28, 2014.

There are a lot of different ways of living transgender. Trans doesn't necessarily mean hormone therapy and surgeries. To transition simply means you've started living as your real gender. You request the pronouns, use the restroom, wear the clothes, etc. associated with your gender. Hormone therapy and the various surgeries can make trans people more comfortable with their bodies and bring a lot of healing, but it's not a path that all trans folk choose.

Transgender issues aren't explicitly mentioned in the Bible. That's not to say they didn't exist back then. Differently-gendered individuals were sometimes thought to have special insight into gender, like in Navajo beliefs. 
Records from ancient Greece show men living as women and marrying men. (Most trans individuals are straight.)

These trans women in many cases chose castration, thus being counted among eunuchs. Some argue that the verses directly discussing transgenderism are those talking about eunuchs and celibacyIf not, all we have to go on are the Biblical principles on gender. Things get murky here. God "made them male and female"--but trans individuals agree, since they identify as one or the other of those categories.

The most common hang-up Evangelical Christians have with trans people is that, "God doesn't make mistakes." If you're born with male parts, you're meant to be a man, and vice versa.

But I find this view doesn't hold up with real life or the Bible. Children are born every day with disabilities or problems, both physical or mental. Moreover, sex isn't binary. Some people have XX chromosomes but are born with a penis, and vice versa. Some people have all three sex chromosomes. Genetic intersex is something that's programmed in at conception. If God doesn't make mistakes in how people are born, then does God intend for intersex people to be born neither male nor female?

I should clarify right now that I don't think being intersex is a mistake by God. I don't know whether in a perfect world intersex would exist or not. Maybe everyone would fit nicely into the two categories that, according to reproductive biology and evolution, make the most sense. Or maybe in a perfect world, intersex people would be seen as a glorious other sex, unique and beautiful and not belittled. I have no idea.

I feel a little more confident in assuming that in a perfect world, no child would be born with physical disabilities. But in our imperfect world, they are. It's not because God made a mistake. There is evil in our world. Bad things happen to good people.

Some kids are born with congenital heart disease. I have no problem believing that some people are born with the wrong sex parts and the wrong genetics for who they are internally. That doesn't mean their internal self is off. A soul was created and the body that was knitted around them wasn't the one that culture says should match.

Gender is a cultural concept. Where sex is biological, gender has to do with what society says you can and can't do according to your sex. In modern America, gender roles have been heavily redefined, even in the last half-century. It's good to remember that when considering whether or not someone can occupy the same gender as yourself.

Christendom tends to protest medically changing one's sex to fit one's gender. But what about women getting a breast implant after they've had a mastectomy? What about prostheses or facial reconstruction or any number of other medical procedures that help people be more comfortable with their bodies? These procedures allow people to embody their internal view of themselves, to function more as who they're supposed to be.

For most of human history, sex change wasn't possible, but neither was chemotherapy. Changing your body isn't a bad thing. If transgender is being born with the wrong sex, then there's nothing wrong with making use of medical advancements.

You may still think that trans sounds weird to you and that it doesn't fit your worldview for what God designed. That's fine. But like with marriage equality, we need to leave room in our churches for people to disagree with each other. We need to foster an inclusive community and let trans people be the gender they desire. If God never convicts them to un-transition, you need to be okay with that.

This is going to take some change. Call people their preferred pronouns. Don't be weirded out. Get to know people on their terms. Be open to something that is different from what you're used to. Unless our walls come down, we cannot build relationships.

Recognize too that trans folk face a lot of danger. Besides the high risk for depression, suicide, body dysphoria, and self-abuse, trans individuals are targeted at extremely high rates for violent hate crimes. Before we do anything else, we need to ensure their safety.

We need to listen to their stories and we need to stand up for their rights. It's the best way to love them the way Jesus loved.

This is the last post in the series on Sexuality and the Bible. We're nearing the end of our five weeks of queer talk. Thursday we'll hear how a California judge handles his beliefs in the courtroom, and next week we'll finish up with an account from a straight Christian ally.

Word count: 943.