Last month there was an swarm of transgender news coverage:
- NBC premiered a two part special on trans kids
- Bruce Jenner* came out as trans to Diana Sawyer.
- Author and trans activist Janet Mock sat down with Oprah to discuss her New York Times bestseller Redefining Realness
- The New York Times unveiled an editorial series on topics surrounding the transgender community.
This whirlwind of trans stories doesn’t seem like it will stop anytime soon.
The secular, and even religious, communities have become increasingly accepting of sexual identities. Lesbians and gays have had decades of conversations on sexuality while the trans community was pushed back into the shadows.
And yet, despite this new wave of positive trans narratives, many Christians are responding with a level of ignorance reminiscent of the response to lesbians and gays in the 1950s.
Even the old jargon is getting revived.
The 1950s and 1960s were a dark time for American homosexuals. Almost 50,000 Americans were institutionalized for being homosexual, many of them receiving lobotomies. At that time, homosexuality was considered a mental illness, something many Christians still believe is true. It wasn’t until the 1970s that the American Psychological Association declassified homosexuality as a mental illness.
Visibility was key. Once gays and lesbians began coming out in great numbers, becoming visible as our family members, friends, and co-workers, views begun to shift. But for the trans community, the public vocabulary of respect and acceptance is lagging far behind.
Christians haven’t had the same exposure to trans stories that they have with gay and lesbians. This has led a visceral and violent response to the trans community. As if we’ve stepped back in time, Christians are calling trans people “crazy.”
“He Is A Sick And Delusional Man,” wrote alleged Christian blogger Matt Walsh calling Bruce Jenner a “mentally ill cross dresser” in a piece for the Blaze to violent to even link. Owen Strachan, professor of Christian theology at the Southern Baptist theological seminary, calls trans identities a “false gospel” while making a laughable correlation between feminism and trans identities.
In a more compassionate tone, Russell Moore of the SBC wrote we shouldn’t see trans people as “freaks” but discourages transitioning.
What these three Christian leaders have in common (besides all being white, straight, non-trans men) is having little to no knowledge of trans identities. They themselves are ill prepared to engage the trans community, let alone give advice to other Christians on them.
Their advice is based in their ignorance and not in any reputable science.
Despite Walsh’s uninformed diagnosis, actual medical professionals agree that trans identities are legitimate and not a mental illness.
Moore’s discouragement of transitioning can actually be harmful as the majority of trans individuals, who are informed on the process, live healthier and happier lives after transitioning.
Strachan, should be well versed enough in scripture to understand that it doesn’t really say anything about transgender identities. Where Christians have held on to a handful of verses that are interpreted to be on same-sex sex, scripture turns up zilch on trans communities.
That isn’t to say that trans identities are a new phenomena. On the contrary, there is historical evidence that trans identities have been around for centuries.
If Strachan understood these things, he would understand that Deuteronomy 22:5 (which contextually was meant to discourage prostitution) doesn’t touch trans identities. Cross-dressing isn’t the same as trans identities. Citing the Edenic model of creation doesn’t discount trans identities either. Yes, God created made and female (theologian Alan Hooker does a fantastic queering claiming that “Adam and Eve” isn’t binary but a continuum).
Still, sex and gender are two separate things. Sex is biological and gender is societal based, and neither are binary as God also creates intersex individuals.
These are elementary concepts that seem to have escaped many Christian responses to trans people who fail to understand the impact of their denigrating and inaccurate language.
Using archaic, demonizing language towards God-created individuals like Bruce Jenner isn’t representative of Christ. Speaking out of ignorance does damage. It only adds to the dehumanizing narrative that leads to trans people dying at a depressing rate.
Yet, there’s hope.
We can do better but it’ll take Christians like Walsh, Moore, Strachan and the rest of the church to familiarize themselves with the trans community for who they truly are.
It’s going to take humility to venture into this unknown territory, to admit perhaps they don’t have all the answers, and being willing to learn.
Most of all, they must be willing to let our trans brothers, sisters, and those in between, step our of the shadows to lead this conversation.
*Jenner decided to continue using He/Him pronouns for the sake of the viewers. He has made clear that he intends to go by female pronouns in the future. But until he makes that decision or announcement, I’ll be using he pronouns