A reflection by Lindsey
This week is Transgender Awareness Week. We make an intentional point of using the acronym “LGBT” throughout the blog. This post could be incredibly brave or needlessly foolhardy. I hope to bring some substantive questions to light by discussing some dominant narratives.
Before I get into my discussion, I’d like to say that I’ve pretty much spent my whole life on the “non-conforming” side of gender. Growing up, it wasn’t that big of deal. I’ve discovered ways to be comfortable in my own skin, even if some of those ways defy convention. Amidst an explosion of gender identity labels in LGBT circles, I don’t exactly know which words add value to my efforts in communicating my experiences more widely. There are some words that seem to fit better than others, but I have yet to discover any word other than “Lindsey” for which I am prepared to take on absolutely every commonly-held assertion about its meaning.
I’ve heard a lot of people assert that there’s no need to think critically about the experience of gender minorities. The dominant narrative goes something like, “In the beginning God created people male and female to be fruitful and multiply.” In this view, gender is understood principally in terms of reproductive sex. Since God has knit all people together in their mothers’ wombs where we are fearfully and wonderfully made, it’s absurd to suggest that God has made an error in something so important as one’s reproductive organs. Because genitals form in the womb as a part of the reproductive system, it seems fitting to gender a person at birth. In the rare cases of ambiguous genitals, doctors should do everything possible to ensure that the child has a reasonable chance at reproducing.
However, this “Back to Genesis” approach to gender identity overlooks a substantial Biblical witness about gender minorities. Even when Jesus affirms the Genesis narrative, he creates space for gender minorities:
And Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?” He answered, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” They said to him, “Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce and to send her away?” He said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.”
The disciples said to him, “If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry.” But he said to them, “Not everyone can receive this saying, but only those to whom it is given. For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let the one who is able to receive this receive it.”
From where I sit, it’s clear that the Bible bears witness to the reality of gender minorities, but the Scriptures bear limited witness to how gender minorities should navigate present social realities.
For the sake of discussion, I’m going to talk about hair length because I view it as a culturally benign issue. I personally believe that hair style should be a nonissue in the 21st century. It’s socially acceptable for men and women to wear their hair at any length. I regard my hairstyle in much of the same way I regard my glasses. It’s a general part of my presentation to the world that I much prefer to keep static rather than dynamic. Recognizing 7th grade as an exception, my hairstyle has been the same since I was five years old. There are a lot of reasons my hairstyle suits me, and I’ll likely be wearing the same hairstyle for at least 20 years more.
But Christians can do strange things when their dominant views of gender get challenged. Some Christians go the route of talking with me about certain Scriptures addressing hair length. However, uncomfortable Christians will more frequently talk to me about the hazards of identifying with LGBT language and try to coach me back toward gender conforming behaviors. I don’t express myself the way that I do in an effort to attract attention. For me, my self-expression hinges upon having a desirable from-bed-to-door time in the morning, modestly covering my body, and staying thermally regulated. Social pressures to violate my own priorities can create intense discomfort. I hate feeling like I have to choose between other people being uncomfortable looking at my self-expression and me being completely detached from my own skin.
Many people on the transgender spectrum spend considerable time, energy, and effort trying to connect with their own bodies. Complete medical, legal, and social transition is often treated as the gold standard method for establishing this connection. However, I think that there’s some correlation between what’s socially acceptable relative to gender norms and when people feel like they have no choice but to transition completely. People socialized as men often confront narrower views of gender than people socialized as women. Nonetheless, if people push too hard against gender expectations, they are increasingly likely to experience violence. Anyone making the choice between beginning hormone replacement therapy and trying to survive increasingly hostile forms of violence needs to be treated with compassion. As we rapidly approach the Transgender Day of Remembrance, we ought to remember that far too many people have had to pay for their physical presentation with their lives. That level of violence is completely unacceptable and should be appalling to anyone claiming to follow Christ. For my part, I’m so grateful that growing up I had family and friends who robustly affirmed me as Lindsey where I was able to feel insulated from many of the social expectations around gender.
If we’re going to discuss gender thoughtfully as Christians, we should be mindful that Christ himself affirmed the presence of gender minorities. We would also do well to investigate ways where we needlessly use gender as a strong dividing line in society.
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