Monday, January 11, 2016

Responding With Care to Transgenderism

Mention the term "transgenderism" to virtually any evangelical, and watch their eyes roll.

Our eyes roll either with contempt, confusion, or conflict.  We're contemptuous of people who have different problems than we do.  Or we're confused about how somebody could claim to be so sexually mixed-up.  Or we're conflicted about the proper way to respond, especially if we find out a co-worker, close friend, or a loved one is struggling with transgenderism.

Few evangelicals react in a sanguine fashion, or with compassion, or confidence that the Bible can address an issue virtually all of us find at least bizarre, if not impossible.

After all, doesn't the Bible teach that God created man and woman?  And just man and woman?  Doesn't biology assign body parts based on whether you're a man or a woman?  Sure, sometimes our emotions and desires can get a bit confused, can't they?  But transgenderism doesn't really exist, does it?

According to a growing body of respectable science, the phenomenon of transgenderism does indeed possess at least a baseline of credibility.  Noted evangelical scholar Dr. Anthony Bradley recently wrote an article for World magazine encouraging evangelicals not to dismiss the topic out of hand.  While much remains unproven about transgenderism (which the scientist in Bradley prefers to call "gender dysphoria"), enough studies have been conducted and evaluated to lend credence to the notion that we Christ-followers need to treat people struggling with this condition with dignity.

Not that we promote transgenderism as a viable, legitimate lifestyle that, in and of itself, honors Christ.  Transgenderism represents a manifestation of "the fall of man," otherwise known as the moment when sin entered God's creation. Numerous other sexual and psychological conditions besides transgenderism exist in stark contrast to God's prescribed intentions for how we exercise our sexuality and emotions Biblically.

In his article, Bradley argues that believers in Christ need to remember that we're all sinners, and each of us struggles with a variety of issues that do not honor God.  Yet even as we struggle with sin, we generally confer a certain amount of dignity to each other in terms of not denigrating ourselves based on our sin nature.  We look to the grace and mercy that God provides His people as validation of our inherent worth to Him - or at least, we like to say we do.

However, when it comes to sexual and psychological aberrations, we tend to become cynical.  We tend to mock, and be derisive.  There's something about these types of unBiblical propensities that we think qualifies them as being fair game for scorn or prejudice.  After all, why don't we treat heterosexual adultery the same way we treat homosexuality?

Instead, Bradley advocates for Christ-followers "to be a community offering hope instead of shame."  Not hope that things like transgenderism can become mainstream, but hope that Christ can provide freedom from the relentless confusion and urges that a follower of His who struggles with transgenderism inherently faces.  After all, if you don't believe that Christ is Who He claims to be, your struggles with transgenderism stem from it not being mainstream, or widely accepted as a viable lifestyle.  Bradley doesn't believe transgenderism is a viable lifestyle.  But he does believe that people who want to honor God with their lives should be able to rely on their community of faith for support in prioritizing Christ and His truth, no matter the challenges to doing so.

And I agree with him.  

I have a distant acquaintance who has embarked on a journey of gender reorientation. He's the former boyfriend of one of my best male friends.  Like me, Bradley approaches this issue not through theoretical distance, but as the friend of an actual person struggling with transgenderism.  But I haven't really known how to react properly until after reading Bradley's article.

As Bradley exhorts, this is a topic from which the evangelical church should not shy away.  Nor should we paint the people struggling with it in broad, discriminatory brushes.  Unfortunately, when a topic seems extreme and difficult to understand, it becomes a lot easier to treat with derision.  But we're talking about real people living real lives here.  And these are people who are just as valuable as you are, and I am.  Which means we can't be so dismissive of them, right?

Okay, so yes; it's a fairly complex subject, and Bradley lists no less than 15 reputable studies for us to consult as reference material if we want to learn more about its many nuances.  But can't we address this without earning a doctorate in psychiatry?

No matter the causes or manifestations of transgenderism, doesn't the Bible still have the answer?  After all, if every time we ran into a complex question, we'd have to run to a highly-educated expert, why does God expect each of His followers to have an answer for the hope that supposedly resides within us?

So let's think about this for a moment.  What is the answer for transgenderism as a viable lifestyle?  It's that God created man and woman, right?  And since God created man and woman, our own personal experience with the life He's given each of us individually involves a responsibility to honor God with that life.

How do we know whether we're a man or a woman?  In this context, I'm not convinced that's the question we should ask.  Instead, how about asking whether God is honored by what we feel, or how God has designed our most intimate features?  After all, God doesn't make mistakes, but on occasion, He does challenge us in extraordinary ways to put His glory - and the things that give Him glory - above our own preferences.

Personally, I think our society gives too much credence to sexuality when it comes to defining who we are.  We are trained to forget that sexual intimacy isn't a God-given right.  Some of us will never be married.  Some of us will have to relinquish our sexual impulses and be content with celibacy.  Perhaps that celibacy will be necessary because God does not reveal a suitable opposite-gender spouse to us.  Or perhaps that celibacy will be necessary because there is something inside of us that is sending confusing messages - for whatever reason (biological, social, sin-based, etc.) - to our psyche.

No, it's not easy.  No, it's not fun.  But lots of things in life are neither easy nor fun.

One of my many problems in my own life is that I try to figure out why I can't be or do what I think I want to be or do.  Sometimes I have to simply allow myself to receive the peace of God that is beyond my understanding (Philippians 4:7), and the only way to do that is to relinquish my drive to understand things that maybe God doesn't want me to understand.

That's a very counter-cultural perspective to hold these days.  Especially when we still need to be loving, patient, kind, and gentle with others - even with people who may be experiencing something as conflicting and confusing as transgenderism.  Oh yeah - and we're also supposed to be self-controlled!  But not contemptuous.  It's the Fruit of the Spirit at work, even when we don't understand what our brother or sister in Christ may be going through.

Sin manifests itself in many ways, whether they're conventional or not.  As human beings with a propensity for evil, we've become used to many different types of sins, yet other sins can still strike us as being so unnatural, it seems natural to belittle the people who suffer from them.

In the case of transgenderism, perhaps the sin isn't so much in having the condition, but how a person suffering with it responds to it...

...And how we followers of Christ respond to them.

Here's the list of resources recommended by Dr. Bradley:
  • Balen, Adam H., et al. “Polycystic ovaries are a common finding in untreated female to male transsexuals.” Clinical Endocrinology 38.3 (1993): 325-329; 
  • Bao, Ai-Min and Swaab, Dick F. “Sexual differentiation of the human brain: Relation to gender identity, sexual orientation and neuropsychiatric disorders” Frontiers in Neuroendocrinology 32 (2011): 214–226; 
  • Coolidge, Frederick L., Linda L. Thede, and Susan E. Young. “The heritability of gender identity disorder in a child and adolescent twin sample.” Behavior Genetics 32.4 (2002): 251-257.; 
  • Dessens, Arianne B., et al. “Prenatal exposure to anticonvulsants and psychosexual development.” Archives of Sexual Behavior 28.1 (1999): 31-44; 
  • Dorner, Gunter, et al. “Genetic and Epigenetic Effects on Sexual Brain Organization Mediated by Sex Hormones.” Neuroendocrinology Letters 22.6 (2001): 403-409; 
  • Gooren, Louis “The biology of human psychosexual differentiation” Hormones and Behavior 50 (2006): 589–601; 
  • Green, Richard. “Family cooccurrence of “gender dysphoria”: Ten sibling or parent–child pairs.”Archives of Sexual Behavior 29.5 (2000): 499-507; 
  • Hare, Lauren et al. “Androgen Receptor Repeat Length Polymorphism Associated with Male-to-Female Transsexualism” Biol Psychiatry 65.1 (January 1, 2009): 93–96; 
  • Hines, Melissa, Charles Brook, and Gerard S. Conway. “Androgen and psychosexual development: Core gender identity, sexual orientation, and recalled childhood gender role behavior in women and men with congenital adrenal hyperplasia (CAH).” Journal of Sex Research 41.1 (2004): 75-81. 
  • Lentini, E. et al. “Sex Differences in the Human Brain and the Impact of Sex Chromosomes and Sex Hormones” Cerebral Cortex 23 (October, 2013): 2322-2336; 
  • Meyer-Bahlburg, Heino FL. “Transsexualism (“Gender Identity Disorder”)–A CNS-Limited Form of Intersexuality?.” Hormonal and Genetic Basis of Sexual Differentiation Disorders and Hot Topics in Endocrinology: Proceedings of the 2nd World Conference. Springer New York, 2011; 
  • Rametti, Giuseppina et al. “Effects of androgenization on the white matter microstructure of female-to-male transsexuals. A diffusion tensor imaging study” Psychoneuroendocrinology 37 (2012): 1261—1269; 
  • Savic, Ivanka and Arver, Stefan. “Sex Dimorphism of the Brain in Male-to-Female Transsexuals”Cerebral Cortex 21 (November, 2011): 2525—2533; 
  • Swaab, D.F. “Sexual differentiation of the human brain: relevance for gender identity, transsexualism and sexual orientation” Gynecol Endocrinol 19 (2004): 301–312; 
  • Zucker, Kenneth J., et al. “Psychosexual development of women with congenital adrenal hyperplasia.” Hormones and Behavior 30.4 (1996): 300-318

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