Well-known church leaders have responded to the Bruce Jenner interview. For the most part I have chosen not to respond to what other religious leaders write about trans issues. However, embedded within my identity are responsibilities, one of which is to respond when leaders present inaccurate information that could very well cost lives. Leelah Alcorn’s death cannot be repeated.
If you are reading this blog you may already know the individuals to whom I am referring. I see no need to name them. These are people with whom I worked and people I respect. On the subject of gender dysphoria, however, I strongly disagree with their conclusions.
The Bible is silent on the subject of gender dysphoria. Those who suggest it does speak about it must wrest meaning from scripture passages that, upon closer examination, do not deal with the issue at all. For instance, one writer cited Deuteronomy 22:5, a passage about cross-dressing. If Christians are responsible for the 613 laws of the Old Testament, then we are responsible for all of them, not just one. Additionally, cross-dressing and gender dysphoria are not the same. One is a paraphilia, the other a gender identity issue. The same writer equated sexual identity with gender identity, though they are two completely different subjects.
Another pastor said quoting a 41 percent suicide rate is a passive aggressive attempt by transgender people to silence those who challenge them. The same speaker said the suicide attempt rate was as high after transition as before. This is simply not true. Over 90 percent of those who transition are happier and better adjusted post transition. After the initial trauma of losing jobs and social standing, the suicide rate drops dramatically.
Transgender people mention the high suicide attempt rate not out of any passive aggressive behavior, but because they have been there—and it is utterly and profoundly terrifying to be at a place of such existential hopelessness. Most of the trans Christians I know arrived there after decades of attempting to suffer through as their churches taught. To say that referencing the 41 percent suicide attempt rate is passive aggressive behavior is dangerously irresponsible.
One speaker taught that gender dysphoria was a result of the fall, and Christians should just suffer through. In that case, we should also suffer through depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and many other medically treatable conditions. Asceticism is a poor choice when suffering can be treated.
There was no mention of any of the studies done showing significant brain functioning differences between pre-hormonally treated transgender people and the general population. There is the suggestion gender dysphoria can be cured through proper parenting, a hypothesis with absolutely no empirical support. There is the unfortunate quotation of 40-year-old research that has been discredited by virtually all subsequent research. There is the quotation of a WSJ article when the Wall Street Journal was excoriated by several highly respected media companies for publishing such spurious information.
Over the past 40 years I have read just about every word ever written about this subject from a religious perspective. If the conclusions of these gentlemen were correct, I would have accepted them, even if it meant maintaining a tortured existence for the rest of my days. I do not take the words of Scripture lightly.
I do not fear the truth. I believe it sets us free. But finding the truth demands diligent work. It requires time, intellectual rigor, and a willingness to challenge every subject from every angle. The search for truth demands careful and thorough study, and a willingness to give up long held beliefs when the hard light of research leads to different conclusions.
There are no easy answers on this issue. It cannot be dealt with in a sermon, a blog post, or a two-hour television interview. There must be compassion, thoughtfulness, and time involved before positions are taken. It took the medical community a century to reach their conclusions on gender dysphoria. It was not acknowledged and accepted flippantly or superficially.
We all have our blind spots, our prejudices, our unresolved personal issues, our poor hermeneutics. We are all, in a word, human. When on occasion we stridently shout out our bad advice, it is always unbecoming. I certainly know that from personal experience. The individuals who presented this information are very good humans who have done so much for so many. When it comes to gender dysphoria, however, they are dangerously wrong.
Gender dysphoria is a difficult and complex issue that demands humility and compassion from all sides. If a person is not willing to put in the time necessary to truly understand what it means to be transgender, it would be better if he or she remained silent on the subject.
Photo (Flickr CC) by Masayuki Takaku
Paula Stone Williams
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