This post probably covers the subject that will cause folks the most ire and has been the most difficult to write – and how do you find an image that doesn’t cause upset?! There are so many rabbit-holes to fall down, and every likelihood I can offend every reader with something I say!
People seem to be more polarized about this topic than anything else, and it’s not just the church – society has got a much bigger problem getting its head around it than with folk who identify as Lesbian, Gay or Bi-sexual. And perhaps this is because it cuts to the core of what we believe we are. As I establish in the essay, I will henceforward simply use the term Trans, for the reasons laid out in the chapter, being released with this blog.
Next time we’ll look at the Bible passages frequently quoted about issues of Transgenderism, so we won’t go there this time.
Let me start with Intersex, which doesn’t appear to be at all divisive, even though in essence human decisions are made surrounding which gender the person, normally a baby/child is assigned. This isn’t a newly recognised issue but one that has always been in humanity. I remember my mother, who was a nurse at St. Thomas’ Hospital in London telling me that during her career as a nurse, in the adjoining ward, on two separate occasions, there were twins being cared for with intersex conditions, and that determinations were being made as to what gender to assign. This was in the 1950’s. What seems to me totally wrong and lacking any logical thinking is that many people of faith, accept biologically that Intersex conditions occur, and are simply no problem Biblically, but find it impossible to accept those who identify as Trans.
Just to be clear, what do we mean by Intersex? To quote from my essay:
“Intersex” is a general term used for a variety of conditions in which a person is born with a reproductive or sexual anatomy that doesn’t seem to fit the typical definitions of female or male. For example, a person might be born appearing to be female on the outside, but having mostly male-typical anatomy on the inside. Or a person may be born with genitals that seem to be in-between the usual male and female types—for example, a girl may be born with a noticeably large clitoris, or lacking a vaginal opening, or a boy may be born with a notably small penis, or with a scrotum that is divided so that it has formed more like labia. Or a person may be born with mosaic genetics, so that some of her cells have XX chromosomes and some of them have XY.
Though we speak of intersex as an inborn condition, intersex anatomy doesn’t always show up at birth. Sometimes a person isn’t found to have intersex anatomy until she or he reaches the age of puberty, or finds himself an infertile adult, or dies of old age and is autopsied. Some people live and die with intersex anatomy without anyone (including themselves) ever knowing. From http://www.isna.org/faq/what_is_intersex.
That’s a fascinating final paragraph. In our western culture we are taught from our earliest days that our identity is either male or female, so we dress and behave as society expects, and indeed, demands. That designation of male or female is made primarily on our physical appearance at birth, if there is a penis, then male, or if vagina, female. Done and dusted – case closed! For most of us, we don’t give it a second thought. However, the decisions of gender determined by doctors and parents to intersex babies and corrected by surgery, is sometimes wrong, and the children can grow up with a confusion over their gender, but this is not the same as what we call Trans, although there are parallels.
Then we have this other small group or people born male or female, for whom life is a real struggle, because they don’t identify with the designation they have been given, and the norm’s that society imposes.
At the end of the previous chapter, I was talking about the statistical likelihood of mistakes occurring in the genetic material, as a new baby is formed. I said: “At a simplistic level, all that is needed is for a hormone to be secreted at the wrong time, or by an incorrect amount. Alternatively, as I understand the logic, the possibility of a wrong hormone being secreted would have unanticipated effects. Abnormal sexual development, and ambiguous genitalia, can result from genetic and/or hormonal factors.
But sexuality must include far more than that. My thinking, behaviour, temperament, and attitudes, I would describe as male, but the scientist would attribute them to be a result of hormones, they are not learned” although some of my attitudes and personality are products of my environment.
So, just as we shouldn’t be surprised by people being born latently gay or lesbian, neither should it surprise us that folk are born with an identity that differs from their physical birth designation – again it should surprise us if it didn’t happen. In view of what we have read, that is utterly logical. So, to repeat the question, if we get people born with intersex conditions, why can’t you have the various Trans conditions? It is amazing how good the Creative processes are, and that so few errors occur, given how many biological processes are involved.
Intersex folk are generally treated by non-affirming faith groups with a far greater acceptance than someone identifying as Trans. Why is that? Once again it seems to come down to “choice”. The logic behind accepting the intersexed, and rejecting the Trans, is deeply flawed. It relies on the fact that the intersexed condition is scientifically easily proven, and the person therefore has no choice. However, they perceive the condition of the Trans person as being all in the mind, and so is simply a matter of choice or preference stemming from a mental health issue. That, I’m afraid is very wrong, and is largely informed by prejudice. We don’t bat an eye when someone is diagnosed with a mental health issue, such as Autism or Asperger Syndrome, although there is nothing to physically see, or measure, and we don’t ask them to account for their diagnosis.
Neither do we bat an eye when someone is recognised as being unusually highly intelligent. We don’t recognise that as a problem because they are seen as an asset to society. If you compare me to a concert pianist there will be nothing to show that one has a supreme talent, and I don’t! I can’t sing and clap at the same time, because I have very little in the sense of rhythm. Biologically, there is nothing to see, though it might become clearer in brain scans. (Okay, inject joke here!) As the neuroclastic.com web-site (which I quote again later) wrote: “eidetic memory is correlated with autism and is not a mental illness. Math, art, music, and tech savviness are correlated with autism and are not mental illnesses. Left-handedness is correlated with autism. Not a mental illness”.
So why is it so hard to recognise that there might just be something in what these friends are saying when they say they identify differently to their assigned gender. In our highly sexualised culture where we are expected to conform to a stereo-typical model, I am expected to be a man’s man (I’m male, but certainly not macho!), and women are expected to, … well, I’m going to leave that blank or I’ll be in a pile of trouble!
There is a significant and growing body of scientific evidence to reinforce the case that being Trans is a scientifically provable condition. In my essay I refer to some work done by Dr Baudewijntje Kreukel of the VU University Medical Centre in Amsterdam, where she compared the brain activity (using brain scans) of Trans-boys and Trans-girls to see whether there is any difference between them and a gender typical control group, with some fascinating results demonstrating that those identifying as female seemed to have typically female brain scans and likewise with those identifying as male. However, more work needs to be done, but it looks interesting.
In addition, there is some further research showing that there are twenty-one variants in 19 genes that have been found in the oestrogen signalling pathways of the brain of those identifying as Trans. These are critical to establishing whether the brain is masculine or feminine. It was a small study, so once again let’s see what else comes out to confirm or refute this, but to read about the research take a look at: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2020/02/200205084203.htm
A different study, this time in Australia, also pointed at gender dysphoria having genetic links: https://www.abc.net.au/news/health/2018-10-04/study-reveals-potential-biological-basis-for-gender-dysphoria/10334512
Another issue I need to mention is Rapid-Onset Gender Dysphoria, which has become more publicised since I finished my essay. ROGD is where Gender Dysphoria seems to appear in a person “out of the blue” with few signs or clues up to that point in the person’s childhood.
ROGD is NOT a clinical diagnosis and doesn’t have a huge amount of support from the scientific community – indeed many regard the methodology as significantly flawed. You can perhaps argue it is a “proposition”. The original report written by Lisa Littman was released by Brown University School of Public Health in 2018 and can be viewed here: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/327065646_Rapid-onset_gender_dysphoria_in_adolescents_and_young_adults_A_study_of_parental_reports. It is not an easy read, but the findings in more readable format can be seen here: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/08/180822150809.htm. Recently Premier Christianity published an article, sympathetic to the ROGD proposition, which you can read here: https://www.patheos.com/blogs/unbelievable/2021/02/rapid-onset-gender-dysphoria-only-diagnoses-the-fearsome-power-of-social-media/
There was quite a lot of push-back from the Trans community because the report seemed to be implying that being Trans was quite superficial – almost one where I woke up one Wednesday morning and decided that I no longer identify as my birth gender. The implication being that the following week, I could, and should, revert:
“Trans people have and continue to suffer wicked discrimination and ostracism. Any paper that suggests that trans identities are superficial is likely to be seen as “harming” or “denying” their identities, and the very term “rapid onset” implies that trans identity may not have been indelibly etched in the trans-identifying children of the parents in the study. Throw in links to social isolation and other mental health issues and you have a whole barrage of conclusions that understandably might be viewed as insulting derogations of trans people. And, given the ugly history of marginalization and victimization, a certain sensitivity to threats and derogation among some trans activists is probably understandable.” https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/rabble-rouser/201903/rapid-onset-gender-dysphoria
For those interested in the issues there is a very helpful overview of the research paper, the responses to it (from both sides), the timeline and the paper’s weaknesses, which you can read here: https://www.verywellhealth.com/rapid-onset-gender-dysphoria-4685597. And there is a more overtly critical assessment of the research paper pointing out the very flawed way the report was compiled. This article was endorsed by more than 20 professors, lawyers, and academic medical specialists. Once again, I found it a relatively easy read: https://firstname.lastname@example.org/why-rapid-onset-gender-dysphoria-is-bad-science-f8d25ac40a96
Finally, for this segment, there was a further very good article that I found at https://neuroclastic.com/2019/08/01/rogd-rapid-onset-gender-dysphoria/ and was a carefully constructed and very logical argument that I enjoyed reading. This reference links back to that earlier quote.
All that being said, there are valid questions to ask. And we need to find answers. For example:
- how do we respond when there seems to be a cluster in a school class/year group who all appear to be showing signs of Gender Dysphoria?
- How do we deal with the issue in schools?
- What age do we allow children to transition?
In the first instance I think if you had a cluster of 7 or 8 in a class/year group, anybody is going to be suspicious and want to investigate. No competent medical practitioner is simply going to hand out hormone blockers on demand without due diligence, however alarmist the press get. Although there is a slightly higher prevalence of gender dysphoria around puberty, it seems to settle down in society to about 1%, so a significantly higher incidence needs careful and sensitive investigation. The temptation might be to say they are all mistaken, and you then harm the ones who are genuinely experiencing gender dysphoria. Many of these report feelings of GD, anything from 5yrs of age, and upwards.
The answer to the second and third questions is: I just simply don’t know, but we need to talk. Regarding the last question, I would say that the earlier a person transitions, the more socially acceptable the results of the intervention, but on the other, you need to be careful the person doesn’t live to regret their actions. I suspect you must treat everyone individually.
However, there is no denying that there are a few who regret transitioning – I think the last percentage I remember seeing was about 3-4%, but it is this group of people the church frequently cites as its poster child as an argument against allowing people to transition. The fact that 96% are contented/pleased/very pleased with the result is ignored. What about their mental health if they had been blocked? How many more suicides would we have? In 2017, I accompanied a person to their surgery on the south coast and now, in 2021, they are still thrilled that they were able to make the change. In this instance there was a highly positive character change.
Sadly, some of those expressing regret for their transitions, are not regretting the change itself, but the reaction of family and friends, who have now rejected and ostracised them. So be careful with statistics – even the ones I quote!
As a Christian, the big questions are really, does it matter to God? How does He see the person who has transitioned? Does he see them in their natal or assumed gender?
As I’ve said, we will look at Scripture next time, and I will try and answer those questions, but personally, I believe them to be the wrong questions. We know how God views us. 1 Samuel 16:7 says:
“The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart”. NIV
God is looking at me, and what makes me, Me. And Isaiah 56: 3-5 is even more positive – go and read it. And we know Jesus sought out the marginalised to demonstrate his love for them and got angry with the petty spitefulness of the churches of His day. I know from the churches I have attended, not just those where I have been a member, how important rules are, and this desire for keeping rules is no different to the Pharisees of Jesus day – they are just different rules, but the same passion keeps them in place. Where do we see the Grace of God?
In our highly sexualised culture where we are told what male and female should look like: I wonder whether if we held a much looser idea of masculinity and femininity, with both being determined by behaviour and character (although probably informed by physical appearance), the need for surgery to reinforce identity might diminish. I truly hope I’m not being unfair, but as someone not directly affected by trans issues, I wonder whether the demand for surgery is to enable our bodies to match our identity, because society’s rules demand that only men have penises and only women have vagina’s. If our designations were less rigid, is it possible the need to conform physically, would be reduced? Would that mean the arguments of faith-groups would melt away, or would the arguments just change? Regardless, I can’t see that happening anytime soon, but if we look at pre-colonial Africa, or the Indigenous peoples or communities of Australia and Americas, where sexuality wasn’t binary, but multiple categories, there might be considerably fewer difficulties. In some societies you had four categories: masculine women; feminine women; masculine men; feminine men; (as we read in chapter one when looking at twin-spirit people). These original civilisations seem to have coped very well with gender issues, whereas we don’t.
Well, that should set the hares running, but it’s interesting to try and imagine or think through the issues. If you have anything helpful to add, please let me know. And as always, that word “helpful” is working hard!