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June 05, 2014
Reconciling With Reality: How to Bring Healing to the Transgender Community
In Fyodor Dostoevsky’s masterpiece The Brothers Karamazov, atheist Ivan Karamazov booms, “It’s not God that I do not accept, you understand, it is this world of God’s, created by God, that I do not accept and cannot agree to accept. … I do not accept it and do not want to accept it.”
Although Ivan claims not to be casting judgment on God, he cannot evade the fact that rejection of creation necessarily involves rejection of the Creator. There is no way around it. When we reject God’s world, we reject God. When we judge his design to be inadequate, we subsequently substitute our own design in place of his. And, as creators of our own reality, we become subject to no higher authority than ourselves.
As Jesus noted, no one can serve two masters. We either serve God or ourselves — his design or our design.
When faced with this choice, people often opt for the latter, which should be expected in a world plagued by rampant sinfulness and disordered loves. What might be unexpected, however, is the unprecedented manner in which the media are celebrating the demolition of traditional sexual norms and amplifying the voices of people who are intent on reconciling themselves with their natural inclinations rather than God’s design. That is exactly what is happening among the approximately 1.5 million Americans who identify as transgender and who insist that biological sex doesn’t matter — that only our shared humanness is important.
But God did not create human beings characterized by sexless uniformity. In the beginning, God created them male and female. As embodied beings, our sexual complementarity is a significant part of our humanness.
For the LGBT community, however, biological sex — when not mistaken — is meaningless, and gender identity is a social construct subject to personal discernment. In their interpretation, if you feel like a man, then you are a man, even if your biology tells a different story. Transgender apologists assert that biological facts are superfluous. Your gender is subject to your desire and your choice, which makes you free to create your own reality.
According to advocates of gender choice, God did not make us male and female, we did. And we can change it if we don’t like it. In this new world of “gender fluidity,” we are the designers, and our identity is subject to our choice, which reflects our natural impulses. Alas, subjective feeling is crowned ruler over objective reality. And desire is pronounced king over reason.
The transgender crowd is promoting their worldview in media outlets that reach millions of U.S. households. A brief overview of prominent news stories featuring transgender individuals will give us greater insight into their worldview. How might Christians be able to respond to their rejection of biological reality?
Choosing to live for me
When Janet Mock, formerly known as Charles, underwent sex-reassignment surgery at age 18, he felt that for him “there was no other choice” but to be himself. And for years, even when he was a biological male, he “knew” he was a woman.
While promoting the book Redefining Realness, Janet told Piers Morgan, “I always knew that I was me. I didn’t know that it was about gender or anything other than … the inclinations I just naturally had.”
The entire process of transitioning into a woman was, as Janet recalls, “a step for me to move closer to me. It was a reconciliation with myself. … It felt validating and affirming.”
Throughout the interview, Janet routinely notes that she acted “for me” and “for myself.” “By choosing to live my life for me and cut out all the noise from … people,” Janet states, she was enabled “to live a life that was full and affirming and happy.” These statements are consistent with the entire ethic undergirding the transgender movement.
Janet’s advice to young people is: “Tap into yourself; know your truth; and surround yourself with people who affirm you and love you for exactly who you are.”
Like the Sophist Protagoras, Janet maintains that “man is the measure of all things.” Janet’s worldview rejects transcendent sources of truth and morality. For Janet, the truth is not just relative — it belongs to human beings, who can tweak the truth and toy with it however they want. Janet conceives of the truth as clay to be molded to his liking. His subjective feelings are correct. The objective facts about his biological makeup are wrong. He has taken control of his own narrative rather than subjecting himself to the biblical narrative and the direction it offers for human sexuality.
Instead of acknowledging human frailty and recognizing the need to be reconciled with our Creator, Janet assumes that he is the holder of truth and that his desires are not subject to falsehood. As a result, he believes he will be healed when he is reconciled with himself — his natural desires.
Christians, on the other hand, assert that healing is effected when we reconcile ourselves with the Creator and his creation rather than our tainted desires. Whereas the biblical worldview contends that humans find fulfillment when loving God — and living according to our nature (including our sexual nature) as it is designed by him — the secular worldview held by the LGBT community maintains that humans find fulfillment when loving themselves, which they do by affirming their native impulses. Whether or not those impulses line up with any external standard — like God’s design, for instance — is considered a non-issue.
Kevin D. Williamson writes in a column on National Review Online, “Having a culture organized around the elevation of unreality over reality in the service of Eros, who is a sometimes savage god, is not only irrational but antirational. … Sex is a biological reality, and it is not subject to subjective impressions, no matter how intense those impressions are, how sincerely they are held, or how painful they make facing the biological facts of life.”
James, the brother of Jesus, warns us that we can be led astray by our desires, which are unstable and untrustworthy when they are not grounded in God’s eternal truth. “Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death,” that is, the death that accompanies our rejection of the author of life (James 1:14-15).
“I just thought that I was a girl”
Laverne Cox is one of the stars on the critically-acclaimed Netflix original series Orange Is the New Black. When the transgender advocate was not selected as one of Time Magazine’s 100 most influential people, there was an outcry on social media (#whereisLaverneCox). In response to the pressure, Time Magazine has placed Cox on its June 9 cover with the headline: “The Transgender Tipping Point: America’s next civil rights frontier.”
In the interview, Cox says he was bullied for exhibiting feminine traits when he was young. He had no idea why since “up until that point I just thought that I was a girl and that there was no difference between girls and boys.” Now, he says, “I couldn’t imagine my life if I were still in denial or lying, pretending to be a boy. That seems ridiculous to me.”
Fed up with a “binary world” that recognizes only “two genders,” Cox offers a solution: Let go of what you think you know about what it means to be a man and what it means to be a woman, “because that doesn’t necessarily mean anything inherently.”
Growing up in a single-parent home, Cox never knew his father. Because his mother was so busy “trying to figure out how to put food on the table and clothes on our backs,” Cox says he was unable to establish an emotional connection with his mother. He simply did not feel comfortable talking to her about substantive issues.
Cox notes, “During puberty, the attraction for other boys got really strong. And I learned in church that was a sin.” Unable to connect with anyone in his family or in his church, he sought saving grace elsewhere — in performance, in creativity, and in imagination. Finally, he found affirmation in the LGBT community and felt as if he discovered his place in the world.
In his search for identity, Cox had no influential male figure to whom he could turn for guidance. Without adequate spiritual support, Cox failed to discover his place in the biblical narrative. As a result, he took control of his own narrative, and placed his hopes in the “life-sustaining” outworking of his gender preference.
According to the biblical worldview, meaning is found when we look outward — to God, to his intention for human functioning, and to his ordering of the world. But, according to the secular worldview, meaning is discovered when we look inward. That’s exactly what the transgender community has done. Cox, speaking to a young girl, Soleil, who claims to be struggling with gender identity, said, “I think about when I was that age and my gender was being policed and how deeply painful it was and how it made me feel like I was wrong, at my very core, that every instinct I had, to reach for this and be who I was, was wrong. … We need to protect our children from that and allow them to be themselves.”
Christians are well-aware that there are two selves constantly battling within us — the spiritual self and the fallen self. To which self should we allow our young to remain faithful?
“Why did God make me like this?”
At younger ages, children are admitting discomfort with their biological sex. And in many cases, parents are indulging the feelings of their children. A video currently popular on the Internet shows a 5-year-old girl named Ryland who has decided she is a boy.
Describing Ryland’s story, her parents state that “as soon as Ryland could speak, she would scream, ‘I am a boy!’” Despite her young age, Ryland’s parents began “truly” listening to their child, who would frequently comment, “When the family dies, I will cut my hair so I could be a boy.” “Why did God make me like this?” Ryland would ask. Having listened to their 5-year-old child, Ryland’s parents came to the conclusion that “although Ryland was born with female anatomy, her brain identifies with that of a boy.” From that point on, Ryland’s parents cut her hair, dressed her as a boy, redecorated her room, and started to refer to her as “him.”
Jeff Whittington, Ryland’s father, said that they are continuing the work of Harvey Milk, whose work on behalf of the LGBT community broke down barriers, “allowing people to see them for their authentic selves and be true to themselves.”
The confusion surrounding gender identity will only increase as transgender individuals bolster their presence on television. On MTV and Logo this fall, Trans Teen: The Documentary, hosted and produced by Laverne Cox, will share the stories of four transgender teens who come out to friends and family. Tyra Banks is producing a show for VH1 – TransAmerica – that will follow the lives of five transgender women. And Laura Jane Grace, a singer for punk band Against ME!, will be featured on an AOL web series, So Much More.
How would Jesus heal our sexual brokenness?
“Now a leper came to him, imploring him, kneeling down to him, and saying to him, ‘If you are willing, you can make me clean.’ Then Jesus, moved with compassion, stretched out his hand and touched him and said to him, ‘I am willing; be cleansed.’ As soon as he had spoken, immediately the leprosy left him, and he was cleansed. And he strictly warned him and sent him away at once, and said to him, ‘See that you say nothing to anyone; but go your way, show yourself to the priest, and offer for your cleansing those things which Moses commanded, as a testimony to them’” (Mark 1:40-44).
“Jesus answered and said to them, ‘Go and tell John the things which you hear and see: The blind see and the lame walk; the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear; the dead are raised up and the poor have the gospel preached to them. And blessed is he who is not offended because of me’” (Matthew 11:4-6).
“Now it happened, as Jesus was dining in Levi’s house, that many tax collectors and sinners also sat together with Jesus and his disciples; for there were many, and they followed him. And when the scribes and Pharisees saw him eating with the tax collectors and sinners, they said to his disciples, ‘How is it that he eats and drinks with tax collectors and sinners?’ When Jesus heard it, He said to them, ‘Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance’” (Mark 2:15-17).
In scripture, when Jesus healed people’s bodies, he restored proper functioning. By enabling the eyes to see and the ears to hear, Jesus eliminated flaws, deficiencies, and abnormalities, thereby allowing existing bodily components to perform the tasks they were designed to perform.
In Mark chapter 1, when Jesus heals a leper, he tells the recipient of his grace to present himself to the priest, to follow the Law of Moses, and to officially re-enter society. Jesus has cleansed and restored this outsider precisely so that he can participate fully in Jewish community life in accordance with the divine law. Here, Jesus shows that the healing he offers is consistent with the divine law. When he restores the leper, he makes it easier for him to live out his faith.
A few verses after Jesus is depicted restoring the leper, the scribes and Pharisees criticize Jesus for dining with tax collectors and sinners, that is, outsiders typically shunned by faithful adherents of the Jewish religion. In response, Jesus says, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I did not come to call the righteous, but the sinners, to repentance.” Here, Jesus acknowledges that the people with whom he is conversing are, in fact, sick, and their path to redemption requires repentance.
Thus, Jesus vindicates his strategy by noting that he is not encouraging his dining partners to indulge their most basic impulses, but to rise above them and to find restoration in godly living. Jesus’ message was not, “Reconcile yourself to yourself for the kingdom of heaven is near,” but, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.” Repentance requires us to reconcile ourselves — and our desires — with God’s truth and to bear fruit in keeping with that 180-degree turn from sin to salvation.
A person whose gender at birth is contrary to the one they identify with is diagnosed by the American Psychiatric Association with “gender dysphoria,” according to the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5).
Let’s suppose that a transgender individual, that is, someone with gender dysphoria, sought hope, healing, and reconciliation in the person of Jesus Christ. How would Jesus respond? Would Jesus heal him in accordance with his bodily constitution (as he did every other person whom he encountered by helping their existing features to function optimally)? Or would Jesus miraculously effect a change that is impossible even for modern science and change the person’s biological sex so that it is more consistent with his perceived gender identity?
There is no scriptural indication that gender identity and biological sex are distinct. That is a modern concept. An encounter with Christ restores us so that we are better equipped to adhere to God’s designs, not our own designs. Since our sex is a divinely instituted feature of our humanity, it is reasonable to believe that Jesus would heal those with gender dysphoria by enabling them to live comfortably within the masculinity or the femininity they were granted at birth.
Some statistics indicate that 1 percent of humans are intersex, meaning they have indeterminate sexuality. Meanwhile, about 0.5 percent of the population is transgender. Just as, in the medical field, doctors use the ideal, healthy specimen as the standard, we too should use the ideal case as our norm.
For Christians, the norm for healthy sexuality is established in the Genesis creation story, where masculinity and femininity are not social constructs but designations made by God. From a scriptural standpoint, our maleness and femaleness are two ways of being human. When a man and a woman form a one-flesh union in marriage, the fullness of our sexuality and — to a certain extent — our humanness is realized.
Even after sex-reassignment surgery, it is impossible for a Y chromosome to be turned into an X chromosome. Even after a sex-change operation, transwomen cannot have children. Biological realities can’t be altered. No matter how hard we try, we can’t change the truth to match our desires.
Perhaps we should try a different strategy. Perhaps we should change our desires to match the truth — God’s truth — even when it doesn’t suit our existing tastes and preferences. Then, looking outward instead of inward and accepting the world that God has made, we might finally find the fulfillment — the inner peace — we are looking for.