transgender thoughts

Some thoughts about last night’s 60 Minutes segment on Schuyler Bailar, a transgender swimmer at Harvard.

1. The episode contained none of 60 Minutes’ usual pushback. There were no alternate voices. No one wondering whether Schuyler had made a mistake. Instead, the segment praised Schuyler for sacrificing victories with the women’s team for back of the pack finishes with the men’s team, all so Schuyler could be true to oneself. The episode demonstrated that our cultural leaders believe the transgender debate is over. There isn’t a contrary view worth mentioning.

2. Our culture is descending into chaos. Schuyler has female body parts and is open to someday carrying a baby, but Schulyer is now called a man because Schulyer identifies as a man, takes testosterone, and dates women. Who should be using which restrooms is just the beginning of our troubles. We’re going to need scorecards to keep up with the burgeoning number of gender and sexual possibilities. When fathers are carrying babies, what does gender and sex even mean?

3. I doubt there is much difference between a lesbian who plays the man’s role (e.g., Ellen Degeneres with Portia de Rossi) and a transgender man who marries a woman. As far as I can tell, the only difference is that the latter takes testosterone and insists she is a man.

4. Despite the wide variety in gender and sexual labels, all the players in this uniquely modern drama are committed to two beliefs: individual autonomy and Gnosticism. Everyone believes that each person decides for themselves what their gender and sexual preference might be and that their body does not matter. Until ten years ago Schuyler would have fit into the culture as a beautiful tomboy (she was a good looking woman). Now the culture must adapt to Schulyer, and millions more who make their own autonomous decisions. I expect the culture will exhaust itself in trying.

5. Christians need wisdom to know best how to help the Schulyer’s of this world who come to Christ. What does redemption look like for them? Some people will be so damaged by sin, through surgeries, marriage, and adoption, that it will be difficult for them to make it all the way back to wholeness, at least in this life.

6. Churches need to think through their restroom policies. We want to reach Schulyer’s for Jesus, and yet we also want to protect the privacy of people using our restrooms. What will we do when a transgender man or woman visits our church? Are we prepared with a proactive and compassionate policy that will protect the needs of everyone? Is this even possible?

7. It’s interesting how culture sets the parameters of debate. Until a couple of years ago, most every culture in human history assumed gender was binary and marriage was between men and women. Suddenly the ground has shifted, and even Christians believe they may not be able to prove either. Demonstration requires common ground, and as our culture continues to pursue autonomy and Gnosticism, there should be less of it between us and them. Christians will be reduced to a minority dissent. This isn’t all bad. We may not be able to persuade by argument (though we should try), but we can show by our marriages, families, and sexual purity that there is a better way. Our culture is in crisis. What an opportunity for the church!

Photo by Lindsey Price. Via Flickr. Used by permission.

20 Comments

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  1. I loved this line, “Some people will be so damaged by sin, through surgeries, marriage, and adoption, that it will be difficult for them to make it all the way back to wholeness, at least in this life.” SO TRUE!

  2. Your stance on the church’s role in our cultural climate is encouraging!

  3. Caroline Caffeine April 11, 2016 — 11:21 am

    “Until a couple of years ago, every culture in human history assumed gender was binary”

    While this doesn’t excuse the immorality of the transgender issue, it’s important to remember that this isn’t necessarily a modern problem. Several pagan cultures have historically had “third genders” — such as the hijra of India, the fa’afafine of Samoa, or the berdaches of various American Indian tribes. It would probably be best to say that all Western cultures, due to their Christian influence, have upheld the gender binary.

  4. Thanks for catching this, Caroline. I inserted “most” to qualify this. I wasn’t aware of these few exceptions. I think binary genders is much broader than merely the West and its Christian influence. It’s also nearly unanimous in the East. So I think “most” qualifies it enough without diminishing the force.

  5. Caroline Caffeine April 11, 2016 — 12:09 pm

    Yes, “most” is certainly appropriate. Obviously, the gender binary is most prevalent throughout human history, but I think it is interesting to see how some pagan cultures adapted to the problems we face today. There is nothing new under the sun, after all. They deserve some additional study, if you’re interested. The fa’afafine of Samoa are particularly fascinating.

  6. Mike, I’m uncertain what you mean when you identify Gnosticism as one of the leading influences upon today’s culture. By Gnosticism do you mean something akin to postmodern epistemology? Or more along the lines of classical Gnosticism in which the body’s significance is eclipsed by one’s subjective views of reality and ethics? ~Thanks

  7. I mean the classical view that our bodies don’t matter and that the real us is our soul. We couldn’t have such malleable views of gender and sex without a deficient view of the human body.

  8. Kristine Parker April 11, 2016 — 3:04 pm

    I have been waiting for you to write on this. I appreciate the pro-active thoughts on church restrooms. I’m wondering what “right” is next on the list…

  9. very close to my very thoughts as I watched last night.

  10. Mike- My understanding of transgender is that it can best be understood as a disorder. Using a clinical descriptor such as this helps me to frame a foundational response, both from a sociological and from a Christian perspective. Do we seek to be understanding? Do we at the same time maintain standards? Yes, and yes.

  11. Churches need to get ready for this to hit home. I get several calls a year from pastors who have a transgender person attending their church (either new attendee or recently “out”). They are in a panic. What do I do? How will this affect my church? What should the board know and do?
    Most churches respond in fear and ignorance. Instead of trying to understand and restore, they deny and exclude. There are too many misunderstandings like transgender = homosexual; this just isn’t true.
    One thing that is never addressed is how the current treatment of transgender individuals (hormones, plastic surgery, etc.) is inherently destructive to the human body and soul. It is not improving the depression rates. The hormones are making physical changes that the body cannot handle. This leads to increases in physical pain, cancer, and internal organ damage.
    We need to have a loving response that seeks to understand the individual’s struggle, heal the physical damage, and teach an identity in Christ that transcends gender stereotypes.
    Mike, thanks for speaking up on this issue!

    Sean
    Pastor & son of a Trangender Father

  12. Thanks for your insightful comment, Sean. I know you have grappled with this a lot longer than the rest of us. Can you weigh in on one thing more? I’ve been wondering why the NC law said people must use the restrooms that correspond to the gender on their birth certificate. Wouldn’t it be more appropriate to say they must use restrooms that correspond to their present genitalia? I realize this would present a problem for the intersex people–I’m thinking we could carve out an exception for them–and it may be hard to check (but no harder than checking someone’s birth certificate), but I’m thinking this would avoid the problem of men with a physical anatomy using the women’s restroom and vice versa. It would require transgender people to make a full commitment to their new gender before they could switch restrooms and would effectively weed out the voyeurs and creeps who would take advantage of the law as it presently stands. I’m sure that every solution will have holes. Any thoughts?

  13. I’m not sure what the NC lawmakers were thinking. Most people who have gender reassignment surgery go through a period of euphoria followed by deep regret and depression. Maybe they are allowing for people to change back mentally even though it’s not physically possible.
    The problem is that transgender people need to change not only themselves but the WHOLE WORLD around them in order to (in their minds) remove the pain — this is impossible. The necessary narcissism of the transgender individual creates a need to control all the people around them. This is ever changing because the the person is always at odds with reality. So, no legal solution will work.
    Toronto schools just had a major problem with peeping because of their rules about bathroom use. So they stopped allowing people to use which ever bathroom they “identified” with and forced people to return to the previous standard. They say this is just a temporary solution until they can find a way to solve the peeping issue. I think churches would be wise to build single user bathrooms only. It’s more expensive, but it’s the only real solution I can find. It protects privacy while not discriminating against gender. I think this would create the best atmosphere for loving the people we are trying to reach (including transgender people).

  14. As a transgender person who believes Jesus Christ is my Lord and savior (and therefore a Christian and follower of Christ) the comments on this article are terrifying to read. If I walk into church on Sunday morning and need to pee, which restroom do I use? The one that aligns with the gender on my birth certificate, or with the gender that I identify (and am dressed) as. Wouldn’t me going into the woman’s restroom dressed in male attire (with a flat chest and masculine build) be quite alarming to the women in that restroom? If you were outside the restroom waiting for your daughter to come out wouldn’t it be alarming to watch me (or Schuyler) walk into that very same restroom?

    Furthermore as a transgender person, it can be very scary to go into any public restroom. If I don’t fully pass (look unmistakably like a certain gender) as either gender what restroom am I supposed to use? If I walk into the women’s I’m afraid that I’ll get yelled at or even physically attacked because I am taken for a man? And I deal with the same issue in the men’s.

    I oftentimes won’t use public restrooms that aren’t single stall for fear of being verbally or even physically attacked. I have no desire to look or speak with anyone in the restroom. I just want to use the facilities and get out, not check out other people’s genitalia.
    By not allowing trans people to use the restroom that they identify with, you’re only making the problem worse. If you tell me I HAVE to use the women’s restroom, I won’t use the restroom at all and won’t come back to your church. I am not a threat to you or your way of life. I am a person who wants to learn and grow closer to Christ.

    We are people. We are your neighbors and your friends. Some of us are stealth and you may not even know that the gentleman sitting in the pew in front of you was assigned female at birth. The woman who just came out of the bathroom stall while you were washing your hands has a phallus and testes. We are humans and need to be treated as such, especially in the Christian community. If we are afraid to use the restroom at church, it probably means we won’t come back to grow closer to Christ. We are not freaks or monsters, we are your brothers and sisters in Christ. If we choose to come out to you, let us speak and do not condemn us. Honestly think to yourself what would Jesus do?
    Would Christ just say “stop being a narcissist, put on a dress and go to church?” I don’t think so… I think He would be kind and listen and love us and allow us to love him and learn from Him.

  15. Elisha: Thank you for sharing your perspective. I’m sorry for the fear that you feel. We need to find a solution that is respectful and considerate for all, and this may take awhile. I don’t know the specifics of your situation, but I hope you find a church that loves you and nourishes your faith in Christ.

  16. “…the comments on THIS article are TERRIFYING to read.” [emphasis mine]

    I read back over the comments on this article. I don’t see how any mentally healthy adult could consider them terrifying, regardless of how much that person disagreed with them. I think this brings up a second reason why we cannot let the new culture take ascendance without challenge. Even if we accept for the sake of argument that the transgender issue is morally neutral, any caring person should be able to see that radical claims of victim hood are signs of a person who is not able to engage with society in a healthy way. It will be harmful to them and to the rest of society if society is forced to placate people who are terrified or humiliated by mere disagreement, rather than help these people learn to deal with disagreement and disapproval.

    One strength I learned early was the ability to live with myself in spite of how many people look down on me for one reason or another. I have value because I am in the image of God, because Christ died for me, and because I try to live as the Bible teaches. When I was in the Army, I was sometimes openly mocked because I didn’t sleep around and because I didn’t drink alcohol. I was told ugly things to my face by other officers and through anonymous notes by some of the enlisted men.

    As the saying goes, I “sucked it up and drove on.” I NEVER whined about it publicly. It didn’t even bother me very much on most occasions. I have continued to mature far beyond that. How can a person learn that maturity if one is told that any slight, any challenge to one’s beliefs or actions, cannot be tolerated? The person cannot.

    Let me make something clear here – even in 1987, when I was in college, I believed the law should not be used to suppress homosexuality. I got into arguments with some of my Christian friends because of that. However, I have not budged from believing that the law has no business suppressing those who believe (for multiple reasons) that LGBT issues are disorders. It definitely has no business suppressing those who believe that acting on LGBT impulses is sin, but that Jesus holds out forgiveness for those and all other sins.

  17. Great points, Kevin. I guess it would be terrifying to live against the natural order. We should not try to soften this predicament, but comfort, counsel, and lead to Christ those who feel trapped in it.

  18. One thing that’s NOT being mentioned in the media is that North Carolina (and many other States) will issue a new birth certificate. NC requirements for such include a signed affidavit from the surgeon or any doctor who has performed an examination and will state that the individual physically appears as the sex they claim.

  19. 23 trans people were “unlawfully” killed in 2015, so far in 2016 there have been 11 murders of trans people in the U.S.

    That doesn’t include the 41% of trans people that try to kill themselves at some point in their lives, compared with 4.6% of Cisgender people that attempt suicide.

    Being transgender can be a terribly scary journey.

    The previous comments on this article are not inherently terrifying.

    What’s terrifying is the lack of love transgender people are shown within the church.

    What’s terrifying is the number of transgender youth that are kicked out of the homes of their “Christian” parents to fend for themselves.

    What’s terrifying is the number of trans women that are forced into sex work because no one will hire them because the manager isn’t sure what bathroom they should use.

    What’s terrifying is that in NC trans people are being arrested for USING THE RESTROOM!!!!!!! (Also, quite recently, a cisgender woman was arrested for using the bathroom because she “looked transgender.”)

    In several states it is possible to have your birth certificate changed, so, after years of therapy, surgeries, hormone therapy, doctor visits, counseling, dealing with government offices and filling out paper work (not to mention the money that it takes for all of those things) you can finally have the paperwork to use your preferred restroom.

    According to so many articles I have read, most people are nervous about “the other creeps and psychos that want to prey on children” and aren’t actually worried about “transgender people.” Honestly, when had a sign on a door stopped those “creeps and psychos”?

    Overall, my point is the same as in my first comment. Love. Love your children and neighbors. Love your sisters and brothers in Christ. Love them no matter what’s in their pants. Love them no matter if they’re transgender or cisgender.

    (Also, for future reference, it’s incredibly rude to assume anything about anyone’s mental health/stability. I am a physically and mentally healthy and stable adult according to myself, my doctors, my therapist (that I had to go in order to get approval to take certain steps in my transition), my family, boss, coworkers, friends, and pastor. I am active in my community and church. Your comments on my mental health were not appreciated.)

    God bless.

  20. Kristine Parker April 26, 2016 — 9:42 pm

    Sharing the most beautifully articulated article I have read yet on this issue: https://m.facebook.com/BenjaminWatsonOfficial/posts/868709509922848

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