Monday, November 14, 2011

Is It Wrong to Change Gender?

I missed this at the time, but a few months ago Channel 4 ran a series of short pieces about transgender people, from a religious viewpoint. You can see all 7 (very short) videos here: one is by a vicar, and they don't all agree.

This is something I'm trying to think through at the moment, and found Peter Oulds thoughts very helpful. He writes:

I have to be totally open and honest with you (and my other readers) at this point and admit that I am currently engaged in a rethink on this issue of transgenderism. When we lost our second son to a chromosomal disorder (in his case Trisomy 18 – Edwards Syndrome), I spent quite a bit of time exploring issues around chromosomal disfunction and other gender issues. I’m still in the middle of that exploration, but at the moment my position can be summarised as follows:

•If we lived in a perfect, Edenic, un-fallen world then issues of Transgenderism wouldn’t occur. That is to say, I am convinced that transgenderism is a result of the Fall.

•However, if transgenderism is simply one variant expression of the brokeness of all humanity, we cannot (as you rightly point out) make its experience in and of itself as disbar to ministry of any kind. We are in a sense driven back to the behaviour / orientation distinction in the issue of homosexuality.

•My current issue therefore is what “behaviour” in the life of those who have transgender issues is sinful and what isn’t. For homosexuality I think we have clear Scriptural guidelines on sexual expression. For those with transgender issues we do not.

•My key current concern is whether in assuming that the displayed sex of a person (i.e. that which they appear to be biologically) is the “correct” sex, are we actually missing the truth of the situation for some people? For example, I assume Susannah that if you are a male to female transexual, your sex chromosomes are XY. A traditional conservative approach would be to argue that since you present as biologically male that is your true gender and any attempt to deny it is to embrace fallenness rather than to reject it.

•However, might it actually be the case that your true gender is female and that the development of your sex chromosomes as XY is actually a result of the Fall (in the same way that my son having a third 18th chromosome was fallen, not “good”). If this is the case then helping you transit from male to female is actually a “good” thing rather than a “bad” or sinful thing.

•At the same time, I am aware of a number of cases where those who have presented with very clear sex/gender self-divergences have, through bringing areas of emotional and relational brokeness to God in prayer and allowing him to heal them, have seen their self-perceived gender realign with their biological sex.

I’m not decided yet on this issue, but I am in a position where I am not prepared to condemn those who have transited sex to their self-understood gender. Certainly, I cannot see the experience of transgenderism itself as a disbar to employment in a church, though I can understand why some churches would be hesitant to employ someone who has actually transited.

This whole issue is particularly hard when other people are involved, and (as the last of the 7 videos shows) it can have a devastating effect on family members. There has to be a limit on how far other people pay the price for individuals being 'true to themselves'. At the same time, it's not good enough to say that, because the whole issue makes us feel uncomfortable, there's no discussion to be had.
Channel 4 are currently showing a series 'My Transsexual Summer', which follows 7 people going through the process of changing gender. As someone who wouldn't want to be seen on TV making a cup of coffee, I admire the courage of people who let the cameras in on such a life-changing and intimate issue. I was worried that this would be a Channel 4 freak show (they do have a track record), but it isn't: these are real people, and its an uncomfortable education listening to their stories and experiences.
So, what would Jesus do? Are we made male and female, end of story? Does fallenness mess that up? Does the removal of the dividing wall between male and female have anything to do with this? Is it a symptom of an over-sexed and individualised society, or a hidden struggle that's always been there? Is it wrong to change gender, or does that depend on who else is affected?
Sorry to land this one on you on a Monday morning....


  1. I often wonder is we are trying to over-think this particular issue.

    If creation is the issue, in that sheer diversity is inbuilt (such as hermaphrodites for example) is an accident of nature, why should those whose genetic make up point to them being of the opposite gender be an issue. Perhaps we are uncomfortable with things that do not fit our perception of the 'norm'.

    In nature, some species possess both genders, and recent research seems to point towards the activities of man creating even more abnormalities in some species, particularly in fish etc.

    If we are able to accept that some things just happen through the sheer diversity of creation, we might be more comfortable with it all, instead of attempting to theorise on the rights and wrongs or causes of these very human conditions.

    Love, tolerance and a wider perspective is surely needed. If we discriminate or are prejudiced or are even embarrassed about gay, bisexual or transgender people, surely we sin, as it is clearly not their choice, but an expression of natures diversity.

  2. Thanks, that's helpful. The thinking is needed on what constitutes the 'sheer diversity' of creation, and what constitutes brokenness. And yes, our own reactions are part of that brokenness.