Love your (Transgender) Neighbour as Yourself

The decision this week by English parents Nigel and Sally Rowe to remove their 6-year old son from primary school and homeschool him instead has started a media storm. Why the fuss? Because their reason for doing so was the confusion their son experienced when a boy in his class came to school dressed as a girl and was treated as a girl by all the staff. Pupils at this school are free to ‘change’ their gender from day to day as they wish.

This comes just a week after one of the UK’s leading department stores, John Lewis, made the controversial decision to remove signs identifying children’s clothes in their stores as either ‘boys’’ or ‘girls’’. They now sell dresses for boys and ‘gender neutral’ clothing.

There is no doubt that an extreme transgender agenda is being pushed and rapidly accepted by our culture. How should we respond as Christians? Al Mohler describes the transgender revolution as ‘…one of the most difficult pastoral challenges this generation of Christians will face.’

How should we relate as Christians to those who genuinely feel they are trapped in the wrong body? I’m not thinking here of those who have a passing sense of ‘gender incongruence’. Many children think they are the opposite gender to what their biological sex says, but studies show that these feelings pass in 70-80% of cases without any intervention or treatment. No doubt there will be those who declare themselves to be transgender or gender queer (neither male nor female but somewhere in between) because they are seeking attention or notoriety. They are not my concern here. How should we respond to people who experience what is now called ‘gender dysphoria’ – someone who is deeply distressed by the disconnect between their sex and their sense of gender.

How should we respond? We should do as Jesus commands and love our neighbour. That’s what we’re called to do no matter who we’re engaging with. But what does it look like to love your transgender neighbour in particular? Let me suggest several things:

  1. We should treat them with dignity. Transgender people are image bearers of God and so they are entitled to respect and honour, regardless of what we may think about their self-identity. Go through the whole (ever growing) equality alphabet – LGBTIQA – every human being is created in the image of God and should be treated with dignity and courtesy.

 

  1. We should treat them with empathy. Try to imagine what life is like for that person. We have all experienced something of the pain of feeling out of place – that you don’t belong somewhere. It’s a horrible feeling, isn’t it. Can you imagine how agonising it must be to feel that you don’t belong in your own body? That it’s not really you? If we don’t know any transgender people we should read their stories so as to better empathise with them and understand what life is like for them.

 

  1. We should treat them with compassion. Gender dysphoria is a very real cause of suffering for those who experience it. More than 60% of people who suffer gender dysphoria also suffer mood disorders, anxiety disorders and suicidal thoughts. A 2011 study found that 41% of transgender people attempt suicide at least once. That is a tragic figure. Real gender dysphoria is a terrible affliction, and so we should be full of compassion for those who experience it.

We should especially have compassion for transgender people because there is no human solution for their pain. Changing their name and their clothes, identifying as the opposite sex, taking hormones and even subjecting their bodies to sex-reassignment surgery doesn’t work. It doesn’t really change anything – they are still the same sex and the same gender as before. And they will still be just as confused and alienated as before.

A 2011 study by the Karolinska Institute in Sweden followed 324 people after sex-reassignment surgery. The study found that ten years after surgery there was a significant increase in mental difficulties and, appallingly, that the suicide rate rose by a factor of 20. As long ago as 1979 Dr Charles Ihlenfield, an endocrinologist at a gender clinic recommended that 80% of those who want sex reassignment surgery shouldn’t have it because of the high suicide rates among post-operative patients. He made the following painfully honest but devastating comment: that sex-reassignment surgery was never intended to be a lifelong treatment – only a temporary reprieve. Paul McHugh, chief psychiatrist at Johns Hopkins Hospital which pioneered sex-reassignment surgery, said that all you end up with after surgery is ‘feminized men and masculinized women.’

There is no human solution, and that should fill us with grief and compassion. The best that people can do is engage in a very elaborate game of dressing up, but on the inside those painful feelings of confusion and alienation don’t go away. Walt Heyer, who received sex-reassignment surgery and lived for a number of years as a woman (‘Laura’) described his experience like this: ‘Over time I discovered that life as a woman could not give me peace. To my dismay, I still fluctuated between being Walt and being Laura, sometimes several times in one day. Whatever caused me to want to change my gender identity had not been solved by sex-reassignment surgery or by living as a woman… after the initial euphoria wore off, it delivered only despair. Until I determined to stop living as Laura and to do whatever it took to be Walt, peace eluded me.’ Stories like this one are just heartbreaking. We need to be ready, like our Saviour, to show compassion for hurting people.

  1. We must share the truth. Much as we feel sorry for those who struggle with this condition, we are not helping them or loving them if we give the impression that it’s OK to embrace a different gender from their biological sex. We need to sensitively and lovingly explain the Bible’s teaching on sex and gender.
  • God created us both body and soul (Gen 2.7). Both are important and valuable and integrally related.
  • God created our bodies as distinctly male or female bodies (Gen 1.27). These are the only two categories there are and they are always connected to what it means to be a man or a woman. Our chromosomes and anatomy mark us out as either male or female and that is the gender identity we are called to pursue, regardless of our feelings. Our anatomy determines our gender, not our feelings. If there is a mismatch, it’s our feelings that need to change, not our bodies or our clothes. Paul McHugh draws an analogy with anorexia. If someone feels that they are overweight when in fact their biology says they are dangerously underweight, their feelings need to change. To give surgery or to encourage somone with anorexia not to eat would be to collude with their condition rather than to cure it.
  • We need to be careful that we don’t equate our own cultural or personal ideas of masculinity and femininity with what the Bible says. Not only are there big differences between men and women, there are also big differences between men and men and between women and women. Unhelpful stereotypes no doubt contribute to many people’s sense of gender dysphoria. It’s not hard to imagine a British man thinking like this, ‘I don’t like sport, but I love the ballet, so perhaps I could be a woman trapped inside a man’s body.’ What a ridiculous idea. The Bible says nothing about masculinity being bound up with liking sport.
  • And so we need to lovingly call those who experience gender dysphoria to live life according to the biological sex God has given them. Sam Allberry puts it extremely well: ‘Our culture says, “Your psychology is your sexual identity—let your body be conformed to it.” The Bible says, “Your body is your sexual identity—let your mind be conformed to it.”’ The world will call that ‘hate speech’, but the Bible calls it speaking the truth in love.
  • Above all we need to encourage people that our identity is only truly found in Jesus Christ, through whom all our dysphoria is being transformed (eventually) into euphoria. Our satisfaction, comfort, joy and hope rests in a relationship with him, not in changing our gender. After his sex-reassignment surgery, Einar Wegemen (the eponymous ‘Danish Girl’ of the 2015 film) triumphantly declared, ‘I finally am who I am.’ The evidence suggests that that euphoria is short-lived. But one day all who are in Christ will say those words as they are made perfect in holiness and their souls are reunited to their imperishable, glorious, powerful resurrection bodies from which every last trace of dysphoria has been eradicated forever: ‘I finally am who I am.’

7 Comments

  1. Gary Crawford September 16, 2017 at 2:56 am #

    Thank you ! Very Good!

  2. Simon Trollip September 19, 2017 at 3:11 pm #

    Thank you for a very helpful article.

    A question. So I am called to love – does this mean I call transgender male by his female name or his male name?

    If I call him by his female name, I might be respecting him but surely then am accepting his position. By calling him by his male name I am not accepting his position but am being honest as to what I believe as a Christian???

  3. Warren Peel September 20, 2017 at 6:05 am #

    Thanks for the question, Simon. I know there are different views on this. Personally I don’t think I’d want to be dogmatic on the issue of names, as long as we make it clear that whatever we call the person we do not believe they can change their sex or their gender. If we refuse to call someone by the name they want to be identified by we may well be taking a clear stand for our point of view, but it may make it impossible to build any kind of meaningful relationship with the person. The most important thing is that whatever we call the person we don’t give them the impression that we approve of their attempt to disguise their sex.

    So speaking the truth in love might mean saying something like this, ‘I’m so sorry for the pain you’re going through and and I want you to know that I’m here for you. But because I love you and I want to be a good friend to you, I need to be honest with you – I don’t think that what you’re doing is the right way to deal with this pain…’ At this point, depending on our own conscience, I think we could then say either of two things:

    (a) ‘…so I’m sorry, and I really hope you’ll understand, but I just can’t call you something you’re not – I don’t want to reinforce the direction you’re choosing to go.’
    (b) Or, ‘…so I want you to know that even though I’ll call you by this new name you’ve chosen, I don’t want you to think that I agree with your choice, and I hope I can persuade you to change your mind.’

    We do need to carefully and honestly monitor our own hearts and if we choose option (b) it shouldn’t be because we are afraid of the repercussions of saying something unpopular.

    • Simon Trollip October 3, 2017 at 3:38 pm #

      Thank you so much Warren for your feedback – apologies for my delayed response.

      Very helpful feedback and in fact can be used in many areas. It also makes me realize that there have been times in the past where I have been more concerned about being liked than representing Jesus. This helps me to see how I can be a loving friend and represent Jesus without compromising truth.

      Thanks so much to all who make this blog what it is.

  4. DPM September 23, 2017 at 9:42 pm #

    “We need to be careful that we don’t equate our own cultural or personal ideas of masculinity and femininity with what the Bible says.”

    So important…thank you for mentioning.

  5. Dave September 27, 2017 at 7:21 am #

    What you write the same things if you substituted pedophilia with transgender (or what about white supremacy)? I think reading Tim Baylys book the Grace of Shame is helpful here.

    • Warren Peel September 28, 2017 at 6:32 am #

      Thanks Dave. Although transgenderism has to do with sex and is part of the LGBT grouping, I’m not sure that it properly belongs in the same category since it’s not really about sexual attraction (in fact I read of some homosexual activists who want the ‘T’ removed from the acronym). So it’s a different kind of temptation from pedophilia altogether. Having said that I do think that most of what I’ve written would apply to someone who struggles with any kind of temptation, sexual or otherwise. We should feel compassion for them as fallen sinners, we should love them as Christ calls us to, and we should speak the truth to them about the particular sin they are tempted to – unmasking it as sin, calling them to resist it in the strength that God alone provides and supporting them in doing so in every way we can.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Check out | HeadHeartHand Blog - September 18, 2017

    […] Boy or Girl? How do we relate to Transgender People? “How should we respond to people who experience what is now called ‘gender dysphoria’ – someone who is deeply distressed by the disconnect between their sex and their sense of gender. How should we respond? We should do as Jesus commands and love our neighbour. That’s what we called to do no matter who we’re engaging with. But what does it look like to love your transgender neighbour in particular? Let me suggest several things…” […]

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