In the American culture wars bathrooms have become fodder for a fight. The issues circle around where transgenders can legally go to the bathroom. This is not about homosexuals wanting to go to the bathroom with the opposite sex.
Given the church’s commitment to follow Jesus might it not be better to start with the personal, the biological data, the pastoral and theological rather than the political? Does the Church really understand words such as dysphoria or transgender?
A recent book by Mark Yarhouse, Understanding Gender Dysphoria discusses the complexity of transgender issues often overlooked by the church. Yarhouse is a professor at Liberty University, a very conservative Christian institution. I strongly recommend this book for its theological, scientific and pastoral insights. Nobody calls into question Mark’s faithfulness to scripture as he attempts to navigate a very complex and tragic reality.
Discussion of sex refers to the biological components of chromosomes, gonads, sexual anatomy and secondary sex characteristics. Discussions of gender refer to psychological and cultural components, such as gender identity (the subjective sense of being a male or female and how masculine or feminine a person feels.)
The intersex phenomenon refers to a variety of physical sex differences where people have male and female characteristics-XXY chromosomes or internal productive organs of one sex with the external sex characteristics of the other, for example. They sometimes result in ambiguous genitals so that doctors are not sure whether to assign the sex of male or female on the birth certificate, but other times differences show up later in life-in early childhood or at puberty. Physicians often use the term Disorders of Sex development (DSDs). This happens to a tiny fraction of one percent of all Americans (See Understanding Gender Dysphoria chapters 1,4,5. ) Gender dysphoria refers to the excruciating pain of people suffering through the reality of powerfully identifying as a female, gender speaking, while sexually living in a man’s body. Or vice versa. This group strongly desires to go to the opposite sex bathroom.
It is important to notice the tiny numbers of truly intersex people in the United States. If the issues circle around the truly transgender people going to the bathroom with us then a lot of hostility is being generated about a tiny number of people in a nation of 319 million. The danger is remote.
More importantly, we are called to first be the Church. We are not called first to legislate laws for people outside the church. This is a Constitutional Democracy-not a theocracy. We have too often shamed the gay community and now are doing the same to the transgenders. Yarhouse calls it unChristlike. I agree.
Mark tells many sad stories. One of them is the story of a sixteen year old female named Ella who tells her parents she thinks she is a boy. Her parents bring her to Mark who listens to her story and then says, “ I do not think you chose to experience your gender incongruence.” This causes a blank stare and Ella’s response, “You are the first person who has said that to me. Everybody else says your gender incongruence is the result of your willful sin.” How tragic.
The Jesus believing gender dysphoric ask us, “Do we belong in the Christian community? ” Yarhouse asks them, “ What kind of support would you like to have from the church?” “Someone to cry with me, rather than just denounce me. Hey, its scary to see God not rescue someone from cancer, schizophrenia or gender dysphoria.”
So how do we take our theological understanding and apply it to pastoral care? We see her condition as part of a fallen world. The creation story describes an alignment between sex and gender that Ella will probably not experience in this lifetime. We are called to be the redeeming body of Christ around Christ’s disciples who experience life as does Ella. Her entire suffering experience is meaningful and her identity in Christ is not lost because of gender dysphoria.
It is through the paradoxical suffering of Christ that we discover that our redeemed brokenness, never fully healed, is precisely the way we image God in the world as his redeemed.