One of the things that happened this spring in my family is that my beloved spouse came out as a transgendered woman. As I profoundly love the ineffable being that my spouse is, (and gender has neeeever really made sense to me in a deep way – I mean, I’m woman shaped, but that never really meant much to me) I’m not going anywhere and our marriage has only gotten stronger for this move in the direction of health, wholeness, truth, and integrity. So Michael is now Emma and while not the man I married, I love her more for it.
Our friends have all been incredibly supportive and our family fall further on the spectrum of positive and negative responses, but one of the most interesting conversations I had on the subject (so far) has been with a more conservative pastor colleague of mine who has my trust, and I his. And we were able to have a truly beautiful conversation about how I, theologically speaking, wrestle with the extremely popular and widespread Christian belief that we human beings were made perfectly in God’s image – literally, our physical bodies.
Honestly, folks, when he very tentatively and respectfully asked to discuss it at some point if I was willing, I think I might have actually grinned, checked my watch, cracked my knuckles, and said, ‘Well, I finished my sermon early this week and I have time now, how about you?’ What follows is the essence of what we discussed, with significant edits for brevity and clarity.
But before I get into it, a cautionary word. I am certain, absolutely certain, that in the coming years research – in particular genetic and epigenetic research – is going to reveal why and how gay people are gay and trans people are trans and asexual people are asexual and nonbinary people are nonbinary, etc. I’m certain of it, because that is the juggernaut of science. We’ll figure it out eventually, and we’re already making strides in that direction. There’s a Ted Talk on it.
I’m not talking about science, here people. I’m not intending to talk about science, that predictable, hypothesizing, amoral (in a good way) juggernaut that slowly and irrevocably gets to the correct conclusion, given enough data and the right questions. Yes, I’m throwing some of the absolute basic science that is taught in elementary school in because how would I avoid that? But I don’t mean this to be a scientific argument. I am intending to wrestle with the multilimbed kraken that is theology – it’s messy, it’s slippery, its never gray but always either stunningly good or ragingly evil. You need reason and logic to deal with the kraken, but know that a lot of people prefer to check their brains at the door and won’t even bother.
One Theology of Transgender
Here are the world view assumptions I take for granted in considering a theology of transgender:
- There is a Source from which all reality comes
- Everything Source makes is perfect and good
- Source loves everything Source has made – no force on earth can alter Source’s love
- There is a Corrupting Influence in our reality that creates suffering
- The Corrupting Influence is everywhere, can affect everything
- The Corrupting Influence only has so much time to create suffering before it ceases to exist
- Humans are made in the image of God (Source)
- The part of humans that is the image of God is not the body; its the ineffable God part within us
- The body is faulty; it changes, it breaks, gets addicted, has imbalances, gets cancer, gets fat, stops healing, dies – the ineffable God part within us does not change, break, or die
Now, I’m not saying you need to agree with my axioms, but it will make understanding my kraken wrestling match a little easier.
The Corrupting Influence (the devil/evil/the ego) creates suffering. How better to deeply and profoundly f**k with a person – with their sense of self, with their sense of worth, with their acceptance in their social group and tribe – than to misgender them? Flip a switch at conception and make sure that beautiful little girl grows up confused and suffering in a man’s body surrounded by toxic masculinity and misogyny! Give her a standard feminine yearning to carry a child to term and really twist the knife. (Not every woman wants to, and in fact this woman doesn’t, but it’s a pretty typical part of the average feminine experience.) To make it even more confusing for her surrounding culture, compound the suffering with something else, too; any other non-typical social behavior or disease will work.
Just telling the little girl stuck in the wrong gendered body to get over it (or some nuanced statement that boils down to the same thing) makes no sense. It’s not a thought pattern that can be changed with therapy. Likewise, it’s not going to help to pray over them, or try to exorcize them. It’s not a spiritual malfunction, it’s not caused by a demonic possession (speaking as an expert, it’s really not). It’s a physical genetic disposition that’s malfunctioned – don’t compare it to eye color or hair color. If you must, compare it to a genetic predisposition for a disease. A disease is a malfunction of the body and that’s what we’re looking at here. Something caused the body to malfunction in relation to an ineffable something else, because what I’m proposing is that it’s not just about the body. I’m not actually talking about x and y chromosomes. That’s only half the deal – that’s the body. I’m talking about the ineffable something else, the person in the body who’s been dealt the wrong chromosomes.
Because gender is apparently way more than just those x and y chromosomes. And sometimes a person’s gendered experience (that ineffable something else) matches their gendered chromosomes perfectly, and sometimes it doesn’t. (For me, it doesn’t in a mild and largely ignorable way. For my wife, it doesn’t in a profound and overwhelming way.)
And I propose that regardless of what science will come up with in the coming years and decades about the nuts and bolts of the how and maybe even taking a stab at the whys, the pain and suffering that is caused by someone being conceived and born and growing up with the wrong gender is absolutely sponsored by evil. And the solution to it isn’t to pretend it isn’t real, or vilify the person who has been misgendered, or pretend that children have no awareness or inner sense of gender especially when it doesn’t match their embodied gender, or even try to ‘fix’ the person’s innate awareness of their gender.
The compassionate, loving, deeply Christian solution to the problem of human beings stuck in bodies that don’t match their gender experience is to help their bodies align to their gendered experience.
Do the same thing we do with everyone else whose physical body is betraying them: everything we can to fix their bodies.
And a side note on the idea of bodies betraying us. I’ve ministered to people dying – quite old people, after a good and long life – telling me that it feels like their body is betraying them, that inside they still feel the way they did when they were nineteen, but their body just isn’t working right anymore at eighty and ninety. And I’ve absolutely felt that my body was betraying me when my migraines were so bad that if I could have strung two thoughts together enough to consider suicide, I would have. And so when my spouse describes her gendered experience and says, ‘it feels like my body has betrayed me,’ all I can do is nod and agree. Because, yeah. Bodies do that. And this world is broken. God didn’t create the suffering. God created the love that reaches beyond the suffering.
And God? That’s the part we absolutely don’t have to worry about. God has always loved us all, and always will. (Axiom #3) Our problem as humans has always been acting in a manner that would make God proud of us. That’s the real problem, here. And the one who sows division, discord, suffering, and strife would much prefer the waters stay muddied so we don’t realize how much we’re hurting each other, instead of helping.