Saturday, October 25, 2008

Gender

One of the things that I rarely talk about when it comes to GLBT issues is that "T," mainly because I don't feel qualified at all to speak about it. It's not an issue I've ever dealt with, nor can I think of any experience I've had that would really be parallel to it. I also haven't researched it in any significant way, so quite simply I keep my mouth shut about it unless I'm asking a question. (This, incidentally, is the way that some Christians and/or conservatives should try to approach homosexuality; it would certainly cut down on rude, ignorant, and unhelpful comments).

Having said all that, I do find transsexual (is that even the right term?) issues to be interesting. I shouldn't need to point this out, but they are an entirely separate set of issues from homosexuality. A gay man doesn't want to be a woman and a lesbian doesn't want to be a man. It's hard for people to get that through their heads sometimes, but there it is. I've known a trans woman online who was still married to her wife after transitioning from male to female, and I've also met a trans man in real life who dates women. It's confusing, I know, and at least for me, when I come across something confusing, I don't want to make judgments about it until I learn more about it.

Some Christians would tell me that there's nothing to be confused about; that there are only two genders and you're stuck with the one you're born with, and I'd be inclined to agree with them initially. I certainly am not sure that dangerous and invasive surgery is appropriate for anyone, and if living as the opposite sex means carrying on relations with a member of the same sex, well, I personally just consider that homosexuality, and we all know where I stand on that.

But, alas, it is not that simple. We'd like to say that there are simply two genders, but really, there aren't. Some people are born in with in an intersexed condition (more inaccurately referred to as a hermaphroditic condition). They have both male and female genitalia, and assigning a gender -- something that is black and white for most people -- is not for them. I'm really treading into unknown waters here, and all this is from what I've looked up.

In Western societies, people have often taken the liberty of assigning intersexed children a gender, but very often they assign the wrong one. I looked up English biographer Lady Colin Campbell, who was assigned to be male but, after realizing something was wrong, had gender reassignment surgery to become a female. In developing nations like Indonesia, intersexed individuals don't have the luxury of those types of procedures, and live out their lives as neither male nor female, but in between (this is the subject of the National Geographic clip at the end of the post). Even the first recipient of sex reassignment surgery, Lili Elbe, was revealed after death to have had rudimentary female organs in her body.

I don't know about you, but for me, that raises a ton of questions as a Christian. What should the church's response be to intersexed individuals? We have such rigid gender roles and have built entire theologies around them. And should we reexamine attitudes towards transsexual individuals? Like I said, someone like Lili Elbe looked to be anatomically male before she transitioned, and only after her death was she revealed to have been intersexed. I understand this post is more about me raising questions than anything else. I'm usually the one to give opinions, but this is somewhere I'm just not qualified. I would like people to raise opinions, though. What should the conservative Christian's response be?

13 comments:

grace said...

Jay,
I can't speak for conservative Christians since I probably would not be considered conservative...

but I would say that Christians ought to extend grace, mercy, understanding and compassion to all folks just as it is extended to us...

I have become friends with several transgender folks through my blog and they are very dear and precious people. I can't begin to imagine the amount of grief and anguish they've endured and I certainly can't presume to know what I'd do given their same circumstances.

I think the most important thing that Christians can do is to just RELAX and be friends with all different kinds of folks....including those who are transgender.

Jay said...

Grace: I think the most important thing that Christians can do is to just RELAX and be friends with all different kinds of folks....including those who are transgender.

Amen! Actually, I would hope that should go without saying. I guess I was asking for opinions more along the lines of doctrinal positions and such.

But you're totally right. Simply extending grace, love, and friendship to all types of people is the most important doctrinal position of all. Thanks!

P.S. Love your new profile picture!

Autumn Sandeen said...

When I wrote for the Ex-Gay Watch, I wrote about whether one could be transgender and Christian; what's wrong with using Deuteronomy 22:5 as an reason to say trans people live in sin and what's wrong with the concept of not allowing for gender fluidity, and outlined the scientific problem with sex dichotomies. I discussed these things in terms of science and the scriptures.

The Bible doesn't directly address the concepts of transgenderism, transsexualism, or genital reconstruction surgery in terms that are used today. But we can look at how the Bible addresses the term eunuch -- especially in relationship to Isaiah 56:3-8, and Matthew 19:12. In Matthew, Christ is quoted as saying:

~~~~~
For there are some eunuchs, which were so born from their mother's womb: and there are some eunuchs, which were made eunuchs of men: and there be eunuchs, which have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven's sake. He that is able to receive it, let him receive it.
~~~~~

If one considers that castration would have been the only form of "sex change operation" available to the ancient world and that Christ was not quoted as condemning the procedure -- stating instead one could reshape one's genitalia by choice, and the surgery could be done for "the kingdom of heaven's sake" implies to me that God doesn't condemn those who reshape their genitalia.

To focus a idea that God condemns transsexuals based on scriptures like Genesis 1:27 and Deuteronomy 22:5, while ignoring scriptures such as Matthew 19:12 and Isaiah 56:3-8, indicates that the quest to condemn transsexuality is based on Evangelical's using their preexistent biases to interpret the scriptures rather than using scriptural interpretations of the Bible of experts that disagree with the common interpretations -- experts both directly in the scripture states and the cultural setting in which the scripture was written.

RikFleming said...

Jay,

I think there are two different issues here.

First, there are those who do not psychologically accept themselves with the gender with which they were given by God. Hence they may say something like, "I am a woman stuck in a man's body." I believe that this is a psychological (mental-emotional) development issue.

This is a totally different issue than someone who is in a hermaphroditic condition which is the result of a biological developmental error that took place in the womb and like many other physical maladies it is a result of the fall of mankind and all of creation much like being born blind, deaf, missing a ligament etc.

How should the church respond to someone who is biologically male or female but psychologically they are rejecting that with which God has given them?

First, I do not believe that mutilating the body through a sex change operation is the answer. Never does anyone who undergoes such an operation truly identify as the new gender, they are always an ex-male or ex-female. God had created in the original order only two genders for humans, male and female and we should not reject that with which God has given us. Rather the thinking needs to be conformed to God's order of creation.

In regards to the one born in a hermaphroditic condition, we should definitely show them compassion and recognize that the physical malformaldy is like one who is born missing an arm, a leg, etc. Should they receive an operation to conform them to one or the other? Can an x/y chromosome test be conducted to determine which they are closer to? Should the choice be made for them as a child or should they be allowed to grow up and make their own choice? Is it best for them to have gender assignment given to them and not have to deal with their oddities as a child?

Modern medicine is a great blessing but it can also present very difficult ethical questions such as these.

When I have an definitive answer, I'll let you know.

Part of me says that we should accept the hermaphrodite as they are and make an change choices for themselves according to their desire.

Perhaps they are ambidextrous?

What is clear is that we cannot take an exeption to the rule in regards to sexuality and sexual practices to be the governing rule for all others.

Homicide is justifiable if someone is trying to break into my house (Exodus 22:2), but that is the exception to the rule of the 5th commandment (Exodus 20:13). However, I cannot take the exception to the rule as a justification to breaking the general rule of not killing other people. The same goes for sexual conduct, while someone born in a hermaphroditic condition may be an exception to the rule for sexual behavior, we cannot make the exception a justification for violating God's holy law for those who are clearly born male or female.

Rik

Dan said...

My thoughts are this, and what I've thought about it for a long time. First and foremost, I don't think there can be anything more painful or psychologically traumatic than to believe that you were born in the wrong body. This is a very profound kind of suffering.

I think that gay men and women suffer in profound ways too, and for me, the entire question of homosexuality and transexuality needs to be talked about in terms of suffering, and what God calls us to do with suffering.

Since I believe in a God who calls us to unite our suffering with Him, the call of those who feel that they are assigned to the wrong body is to call out to Him in their woundedness and rely on Him and His redemptive mercy to transform their very pain into something beautiful.

I suppose the argument would be made that if someone has cancer, we don't just tell them to accept it as something to unite with Christ, and then not work to mend it. But there is a fundamental difference between a man who thinks he should have been a woman and a man who has cancer.

Those are just a few thoughts to add to the discussion, fwiw.

Selly said...

Rikfleming:"First, there are those who do not psychologically accept themselves with the gender with which they were given by God."

We need to be careful when we use the words gender and sex interchangeably. Without going into the intricacies of the differences between sex and gender (Wikipedia will help here), I will say that Rik's statement above accounts for people who do not psychologically accept themselves with the "sex" (biological features)with which God has given them. And in no way accounts for the "gender" God has given them.

Having no personal experience with transgenderism/transsexualism, all I can say is that I believe it isn't as simple to ignore the role that gender plays in our being.

Everyone will admit people are born with the "sex" God has given them.[I won't even touch the issue of how blindness and intersex states and such relate to the fall!] What is not so certain is whether or not God gives us our "gender." So what happens if the God given "sex" does not match the God given "gender." Is it OK to do something so one matches the other?

Autumn Sandeen said...

Selly:

Matthew 19:12 seems to indicate that changing the shape of one's genitalia is acceptable in Christ's view, and Acts 8:26-40 would seem to indicate that having differently shaped genitalia is no imposition being babtized and saved.

Jay said...

Autumn: Thank you for your input. Obviously, you have much more knowledge of this subject than I do. However, I have always taken the "eunuchs" who made themselves that way to be a figurative term for people who, like myself, have chosen celibacy. It's hard for me to see that verse any other way. I will read more of your work, though. Thank you.

Rik: Like I said, "hermaphroditic" is an inaccurate term. "Intersexed" is the more-or-less accepted term, as far as my understanding goes.

Of course, intersex issues and transsexual issues are completely separate, and it's good to see that being recognized.

I actually do think that an intersexed child should be raised and then make the choice for further surgery on his or her own when he or she is of age. Stories like Lady Colin Campbell's seem to be fairly common, in which the gender the child was raised in was not the one that the person ended up identifying with.

And also, some individuals who may not appear to be intersexed (like Lili Elbe), actually are, and many of these could erroneously be labeled "transsexual" by Christians. I think that's one of my main concerns.

Dan: First and foremost, I don't think there can be anything more painful or psychologically traumatic than to believe that you were born in the wrong body.

Good point, and I agree strongly. That's why Christians need to be compassionate about this issue, and not flippant (and oh, they can be very flippant!)

Selly: Good point in pointing out the difference between "sex" and "gender." It's pretty complicated, isn't it?

Phatty said...

Jay,

You really should read Hanna Rosin's article on childhood sex changes in the November Atlantic. Here's the link:

http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/200811/transgender-children

The piece forced me to do a lot of thinking about these issues. It's also, in my mind, almost overwhelmingly tragic. I think you'll find it helpful.

By the way, I love your blog.

Devlin said...

Jay,

In a way, you might be experiencing the same inner angst a trans might go through by you being in a gay body and not feeling like you can express yourself fully. I think this is a major part of a tran's plight, the inability to fully express what they feel is their true nature.

What should the conservative Christian response be?

Nowadays, I don't think the church would get away with just the limited straight male view point on the subject. I do believe if church men, women, therapists, doctors and the minority all conversed in research and authentic loving communication, there would be an outcome that would far better what took place 2K years ago regarding being gay.

My hope would be that there would be absolutely no judgement, that view points get worked out for the good of all, and that trans people were accepted without a hitch, soas to further their closeness to God in a group environment. And that this was written with full explanation concerning all involved, as "doctrine", so they may not have to similarly feel what gay Christians feel from the church today. However, I'm sure some of that is already clear and present.

I certainly hope they are not the next group the church focuses on to emotionally dismember when the gay issues subside down the line.

Common sense, authentic facts, and good communication are powerful tools that I think could save them much pain from the church, if it ever came up for review. Have you thought of possibly spear-heading such a plight? What a thesis that would be.

Thanks for the good post, very interesting and thought provoking.

muted disputability said...

"I shouldn't need to point this out, but they are an entirely separate set of issues from homosexuality."

Jay: That seems like a strong conclusion when you say you are uninformed. Is it possible that transsexual leanings are simply at an extreme end of the sexual identity issue? That is my current conclusion, and I'm open to discussion/input.

muted disputability said...

"stating instead one could reshape one's genitalia by choice, and the surgery could be done for "the kingdom of heaven's sake" implies to me that God doesn't condemn those who reshape their genitalia. "

Autumn: Strictly speaking, God does not condenm us (eternally, if that's what you mean) for actions or "orientation" but because we reject him (John 3:17,18).

nit picking, but I am hoping to bring clarity to the discussion. And grace is always the best way to respond, imho.

Jon said...

autumn sandeedn,
Stop right there.
There is a disturbing movement in Christianity today that some have dubbed "Red Letter Christianity", in which people mutilate the Bible into "what Jesus said" and "everything else".

Then they posit (how and on what authority I do not know), that what Jesus says is important and whatever he does not mention is not important. Or worse yet, whatever he does not mention is open to human jurisdiction regardless of what the rest of the Bible may say about it.

The entire Bible is God's inspired word; and the New Testament is pure nonsense without the Old Testament. And the more you read your Bible the more you will begin to understand God's genius from throughout His word; especially when you study the words of Jesus. His words and teachings are deeply, deeply rooted in the Old Testament.

Jesus was not saying that people could (and did) castrate themselves "for the kingdom of God". That is a direct repudiation of the commandments in Deuteronomy about self-mutilation; and God does not contradict himself.

Furthermore there is no evidence of the existence of any such people anywhere in Bible times.

You can argue that "eunuchs from birth" might be people with same-sex attractions (which I believe), "eunuchs by other men" are traditional eunuchs and "eunuchs for the kingdom of God" are like Paul (who never married for the Gospel's sake).

But you cannot argue that Jesus was talking about self-mutilation "for the kingdom of heaven". Such a concept does not appear anywhere else in the Bible. It is highly suspect.

You cannot read the Bible piecemeal. You must read and compare and compare line upon line. Look at themes and look at trends. When two lines seemingly "contradict", you must read even more; but you must not let cognitive dissonance lie in peace.

Jesus does not exist apart from the rest of the Bible.
Just because Jesus does not mention something does not mean it is not binding and not important.