November 16, 2021

The Gospel, the Church and Transgenderism: Part 4

1. Identity Given

God created man and woman, male and female. That design is about far more than just our sexual organs and hormones. Our male and femaleness is in our DNA—our brain structure and chemistry and many other areas. All of this is part of what God declares good.

However, we also need to recognise that there is no one picture of masculinity and femininity in the Bible. Rather, God in his wisdom has given us his Word, which shows us lots of different expressions of manhood and womanhood. In other words, there is no one biblical gender stereotype of a man and a woman, and so as a church we mustn’t have one either.

Jacob is at home around the tents, he’s smooth skinned, and has no clue where to start hunting when his mum suggests they prepare some game for his dad to eat. Yet Esau his brother, by contrast, is a hairy man who is always found with a bow in hand and out in the open country.  David is at home composing songs as he strums on his lyre, and he is at another time with a sword in hand hacking off Goliaths head. Jael and Deborah are both women at home in battle or driving tent pegs through someone’s temple and into the ground, whilst Esther enjoys the spa days and pampering of the Persian court. Lydia excels in business as does the woman of Proverbs 31. The Bible doesn’t deal with stereotypes and so neither should we.

It’s worth us being aware of these stereotypes and why they may exist in our church and our teaching so that we don’t perpetuate them. We don’t want to shrink masculinity and femininity into something the Bible doesn’t say they are.

2. Identity Abandoned

But in a fallen world, everything is impacted by sin, including our bodies, our minds, and our sense of identity. And for some people their gender. Their inner feelings don’t match their physical reality.  That’s called Gender Dysphoria. It affects between 1 in 10,000–13,000 men and 1 in 20,000–34,000 women[1]

Some others have a vague feeling that they aren’t in the right body. A tiny percentage are born with an ambiguous sex at birth (0.02%). There are others who have no particular desire to be either gender and consider such concepts as outdated or who simply cross-dress without a desire to be anything. [I’ve included some key definitions at the back, though these change every so often and they are according to Stonewall, and often reflect how they want them to be rather than what the law says]. 

Tragically, according to a 2014 study, 41% of those who identify as transgender will attempt suicide at some point in their lifetime, compared to 4.6% of the general population[2]. They are also more likely to suffer depression, anxiety disorder and substance abuse. The brokenness that sin has caused ought to cause Christians to react with compassion, not judgment, towards them. 

We also need to remember that if we’ve met one transgender person we’ve met one transgender person, and their stories are not all the same. In a broken world, we need to work hard as the church at compassionate listening. These problems are individual and complex, and despite what is often claimed, they do not seem to be alleviated much by sex reassignment[3].

Our society says be true to yourself, and so increasingly in this area (though not others) medicine intervenes to change the body to align with the mind’s sense of identity because it wants to help these people in their suffering. But the consequences of that aren’t clear. There is some evidence that suicide rates of those who have transitioned are no different from those who do not. Some who make the transition end up wishing they had not. They ‘detransition’, or re-transition, but are, in reality, left permanently stuck. And they are often betrayed by the very trans community that once lavished love and acceptance on them.

As our society has lost its fixed position on truth, identity and human nature, any manipulation of it can be defended as legitimate. As our society has lost its sense of community and compassion, loneliness and isolation have become endemic. Is it any wonder, then, that those who are struggling will seek a community that will affirm them if they adopt its beliefs? And much of what is bring proposed and carried out in this area is based not on science, but ideology. Despite a lack of medical research and evidence about the long term benefits or side effects of gender blockers and surgically attempted gender reassignment, such programmes are being promoted out of a desire to ‘help’ those who are suffering.

However, there is considerable consternation about current treatments and claims, as is evidenced by recent cases in the High Court[4] and concerns expressed by other medical professionals.

The centers for medicare and Medicaid in the US released a report that stated: “Based on a thorough review of the clinical evidence available at the time, there is not enough evidence to determine whether gender reassignment surgery improves outcomes for [those] with gender dysphoria.”[5]

And a Swedish study found substantially elevated rates of suicide and other mental health problems among adults who identify as transgender even after hormonal and surgical transitioning treatments.[6]

This battle is being fought particularly furiously in the area of children and teens. And yet there is evidence that 70% of children with gender dysphoria grow out of it if they aren’t encouraged to transition.[7] There is also evidence that chemically blocking puberty interferes with developmental mechanisms, also creating a self-fulfilling prophecy. And there have been big shifts in recent years within this, with a huge rise in the number of referrals and a huge swing from being mostly boys presenting with this issue to now mostly girls.

And yet there is no discernable evidence that professionals can know whether a child will persist in trans identity into adulthood. Jesse Singal, a trans-friendly journalist, wrote “Every single study that has been conducted on this has found the same thing. At the moment there is strong evidence that even many children with rather severe gender dysphoria will, in the long run, shed it and come to feel comfortable with the bodies they were born with.”[8] And yet we live amidst a rush to socially transition and give pubertal suppression without considering how damaging this can be in the long term for these children.

And the treatments themselves have potentially damaging side effects and outcomes. Dr Michelle Cretella states that there is “not a single large, randomized, controlled study that documents the alleged benefits and potential harms… from pubertal suppression and decades of cross-sex hormone use.”[9] And yet huge pressure is put on parents by the media, trans activists and others to put their children on puberty blockers or follow a path of social transitioning when we know that children’s brains are particularly plastic and malleable.

In fact, Dr Cretella feels that putting a child on a path of social transitioning and pubertal suppression is a self-fulfilling protocol. And she concludes “A protocol of impersonisation and pubertal suppression that sets into motion a single inevitable outcome (transgender identification) that requires life-long use of synthetic hormones, resulting in infertility, is neither fully reversible or harmless.”[10]

All of this is based on ideology, not scientific evidence. And it is a very real battle being fought in our schools, offices, and which families in our congregations face every day. But children are very different from adults and we need to accept and reflect that in the way we pastorally engage in these issues.

The battle for identity has always been fierce. Satan does not want to us to accept our God-given identity because that will lead us to worship. But as the church, we need to recognize the particular ferocity with which this battle is being fought in our day and age. And we need to call it out. We need to be compassionate to those who are suffering. We need to discern those who are really suffering from gender dysphoria from those with other issues so that we can care well for those affected. We also need to support parents and teachers and others in telling this story, raising these questions in schools and with social workers.

We need to see the wisdom in dealing with children as children and allowing them time to grow and develop and change without labels and without us panicking or knee jerk reacting.

This is the fourth part in a weekly series of blogs on the topic of transgenderism. You can read part one herepart two here, and part three here. Stay tuned on our FacebookTwitter & Instagram for the subsequent articles.

[1] Mark Yarhouse, Understanding Gender Dysphoria, p 92

[2] Anderson ‘When Harry became Sally’ p 93

[3] Mayer and McHugh, ‘Sexuality and Gender findings’ III, quoted in Anderson ‘When Harry became Sally’ p 103.

[4] See Kiera Bell case, Bell v Tavistock [2020].

[5] Centers for Medicare and Medicaid services, “Proposed Decision Memo for Gender Dysphoria and Gender Reassignment Surgery (CAG-00446N).”  Quoted in Anderson ‘When Harry became Sally’ p 13.

[6] Ibid p 22

[7] Abigail Shrier ‘Irreversible Damage’ p xxvii

[8] Anderson ‘When Harry became Sally’ p 123

[9] ibid p 131

[10] ibid p 125

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