QUESTION: I am a transgendered person (ftm) and am struggling with how this affects faith. Does the bible view being transgender the same way as it does being gay? Sorry if this doesn’t make much sense.
RESPONSE: Hi, and thanks for your brave inquiry into this difficult topic. You make perfect sense.
A HOLISTIC RESPONSE
First, I admit beforehand that any response you’ll read here will be inadequate as a final solution to the struggle you’re having. So out of the gate, I want to remind you that while this kind of Q and A can begin (or move along) a dialogue with you and the Christian Faith, the dialogue will need human contact at some point. This is best done in the Christian community, where we all allow our struggles to surface in respect-filled, and trusted relationships with fellow travelers on the Christian path. Good Christian counsel cannot be undersold as a tool in helping to uncover all the issues involved in transgenderism, and how it relates to faith in Jesus personally.
Of course, you already know about the culture’s voice on this issue which has been loudly tone setting – especially in light of recent high profile cases of transgendered persons, Caitlyn Jenner being the most notable. The clear and consistent message outside the church is that transgender is normal, natural, and amoral. Further, the only solution to transgender given in the press and by most physicians is costly and invasive gender reassignment surgery.
CHRISTIAN SEXUALITY DEFINED
You’re suspecting that the Church’s response to this issue biblically will be along similar lines as our response to the gay debate. You’re right in this way: we believe in sexual design. Christians believe the world is made by a Designer. And while we believe there are things inside of nature that do not conform to God’s design, at a fundamental level Scripture teaches us to look at creation and say, “it is good.”
So when we look at sex, it is right there, in the creation narrative, “male and female” – a complimentary design, which is not only said to be “very good”, not only a means to “fill the earth”, it is also said to reflect the communal oneness within God himself (Gen 1:27)! Our gender then, and the duality of it is intrinsically good and an unalterable part of God’s design for sex. Jesus would double down on all this too, when he affirmed and summarized this design as faithful, loving, permanent and heterosexual (Matt 19:4-9).
Now, for the non-Christian, one of the reasons a multiplicity of sexual options seems reasonable is that they do NOT believe in Design. Neo-Darwinism is the lens through which we look at everything, including sex. So if you are here through a series of biological and chemical accidents without forethought, planning or design, then sex can have no inherent meaning or prescription. Thus, I’m bound only to follow my sexual feelings wherever they lead.
Well, Christians, having submitted to a Mind higher than our own, cannot go there. So the question of your spiritual walk is of utmost importance, because devotion to Jesus changes how you look at Design. Jesus does not just save the human soul, he means to bring us back into God’s good creation designs. So the Christian brings their very life (including gender and sexuality) under his good leadership.
If that is true of you, then the design question has been forever settled – sex has an order to it, and a prescription. Think about Legos. You could use those however you wanted, you could throw them at people as a projectile, or try to eat them. But just looking at them, you would know, this is made for building stuff. People are given sex as a gift, and they can and do use it however they want, but you don’t have to study sex very long to realize it was made for something specific.
Therefore, Christian opposition to forms of sexual expression other than faithful, heterosexual monogamy has nothing to do with hate or discomfort or lack of science training or phobias. It has to do with design.
THE TRANSGENDERED MIND
Now, the Christian transgendered person may have no real incompatibility with “faithful, heterosexual monogamy” as God’s design – they may simply wish to live that good design for themselves by reassigning their gender. In this case, transgenderism may appear very different than homosexuality. Surgery may seem the answer to live out God’s good design!
Unfortunately, I think that reassigning gender is essentially an impossible wish physically, with broad and unsettling side effects, as I’ll explain below. It seeks to fix something that isn’t broken (the body) by calling something fine that’s actually broken (the mind). To put it in Paul’s words, we should rather seek the transformation of our lives by the renewing of our minds, rather than being conformed to the world (Romans 12:1,2).
If you have transgendered feelings, realize that no one comes to Jesus without their mind needing to be renewed. So your transgendered feelings do not put you in an altogether different position than the millions of people struggling with addictions, depressions, bipolar, or anxiety disorders. I hope you’re not offended by the comparison with other mental illnesses. Rather than offensive, I hope it’s merely self evident: a person with a man’s body and XY chromosomal structure will function best with a male persona IN that male body. And to have a female persona in that male body is by definition a malfunction – a disorder.
So, is the fundamental problem in the mind (which can change), or in the body (which cannot fundamentally change)?
CAN THE BODY CHANGE?
But perhaps you dispute that the body cannot change. Dr. Paul R. McHugh, the former psychiatrist-in-chief for John Hopkins Hospital and its current Distinguished Service Professor of Psychiatry, says that sex change is “biologically impossible.” Dr. McHugh, explains that transgender surgery is not the right solution for people who suffer a “disorder of ‘assumption’” – the notion that their maleness or femaleness is different than what nature assigned to them biologically. Transgenderism is actually a mental illness that merits treatment, and thus people who promote sexual reassignment surgery are collaborating with and promoting a mental disorder.
He’s collected studies that show the suicide rate among transgendered people who had reassignment surgery is 20 times higher than the suicide rate among non-transgender people! Also, Dr McHugh cites studies from Vanderbilt University and London’s Portman Clinic of children who had expressed transgender feelings but for whom, over time, 70%-80% “spontaneously lost those feelings.”
The Christian view then, is that the promoters of gender reassignment as treatment for transgenderism are doing no favors either to the public or the transgendered by treating their gender confusion as a right in need of defending, rather than as a mental illness that deserves compassion, understanding, treatment and prevention.
A DISORDER OF ASSUMPTION
Take for example people who are “dangerously thin” and who nevertheless look in the mirror and see a fat person. Their mental assumption about themselves is not in line with their actual nature, and this constitutes a disorder, which we call anorexia. Here we believe we can fix the mind in many cases, and no one thinks it’s a good idea to try to fix an anorexic’s body to make them feel thinner. It’s probably only because sex is involved with transgendered feelings that we don’t automatically use the exact same reasoning. (Unrestricted sexual liberty, after all, is the idol of our times.)
For those who have had sexual reassignment surgery, most said they were “satisfied” with the operation “but their subsequent psycho-social adjustments were no better than those who didn’t have the surgery.” At Hopkins Hospital they just stopped doing sex-reassignment surgery, since producing a ‘satisfied’ but still troubled patient seemed an inadequate reason for surgically amputating normal organs.
CHANGING THE MIND
With the transgendered, as with the homosexual, we have observed that if a person has a personal desire and deep commitment to bring their feelings in line with sexual Design, great mental change is possible. No change is possible without this, so abandon all attempts at coercive change for a husband, wife or child. But change is even more probable, we believe, with the power of God in operation in the fully surrendered Christian’s life.
But keep in mind, there are different kinds of gender dysphoria. There is a kind that shows up early and is persistent and insistent. There is also “late onset gender dysphoria” which studies are showing may have much more to do with environmental factors than anything internal. Often this comes during puberty when sexual insecurity is at a peak, and conforming to gender stereotypes is most problematic, from a social fitting-in standpoint. Combine this with a public endorsement (even an encouragement) of gender experimentation, and you have a stage set for maximum gender confusion.
If you can recognize a fluidity to your gender expression, please note that this in no way is evidence that you were “born in the wrong body.” You may just be a woman who expresses her gender in ways that are not in perfect alignment with gender archetypes. So what? Perhaps, if we give ourselves more latitude to what it means to be a girl or a boy, we can can affirm girls and boys AS girls and boys across a wider spectrum of gender expression. If so, we can hate our make up less and less.
You have to admit, there is something curiously contradictory going on in gender “affirmation”: it rests on the ideological assumption that gender is socially constructed, and yet it relies equally heavily on gender stereotypes. Don’t miss the irony. The feminist movement spent decades trying to dismantle stereotypical tropes such as “girls like pink and play with dolls” and “boys like sports and red meat,” and yet, society tells boys who like pink or girls who like baseball they were born in the wrong bodies, on no other evidence but those same stereotypes. How can gender be imposed on you by an internal “sense” completely innate and individual to you, but it just happens to conform to these external stereotypes?
This is very Gnostic – the idea that our inside is all important and the body is decrepit and unimportant and therefore usable, malleable, abusable. Ideologically, you can’t miss how this whole way of thinking is connected to materialism – the body is a biological accident therefore I can do with it what I please. No Christian thinks this way about the physical world. We see the world as the result of intention – God’s intention. Therefore, we read out of nature an intrinsically good design. As with our view of ecology and the environment, the goal is to not to impose our internal desires onto the physical world at all costs, but to see the inherent design in operation in the world, and seek to work with it, not against it.
No matter what stands behind your gender dysphoria, and not matter how committed you may be to seeking God’s renewing work, you must not pretend or cover up your struggle. As my formerly same sex attracted friend said to me recently, pretending will surely lead to frustration and probably a falling away from a faith you deem “didn’t work”.
So the end game for the Christian transgendered person is not about Jesus “working” for them – it’s not about being happy – it’s not about being heterosexually attracted – it’s not about having all the right feelings – it’s not about sanctioning the feelings I do have – it’s about holiness! The Christian doesn’t tell Jesus how the journey will go, he accepts the privations involved in obedience and straps in for the adventure of where Jesus and his grace will take them.
And likely that journey in Christ will not mean never wrestling with gender confusion again, but will mean being whole in Jesus, by faith forgiven and completed in Him, struggles and all, fully accepted, adopted, adored, and walking forward in trusting obedience.
For a fascinating personal story on the growing trend of gender transition regret, go here.