Christians: Be thee not discombobulated by transgender persons!

Lots of people were born with male bodies but female hearts and souls, and vice versa. Their bodies feel to them like unremovable costumes that daily force them into a role that they do not wish to play. From childhood on the world insists that they belong in one of the Two Big Gender Categories, while all along they know themselves to, in fact, belong in the other.

At some point in their lives a lot of people living with this terrible burden decide to give up trying to be John when they know they’re really Joan, to stop being Brianna when they were born to be Brian.

So they transition. They go from being and living as one gender to being and living as the other one. They move across (trans) the great gender divide.

Disliking the house into which fate birthed them, they change that house. Maybe they repaint the exterior: blue to pink (“Bring me wigs, falsies, lipstick!”); pink to blue (“Shoulder pads, a fake mustache, and a little sumpin’ sumpin’ for the front of these pants!”) Maybe they restructure the very foundation of their house, and get sex reassignment surgery.

Either way, it’s their house. They know what’s best for it and them.

Bottom line on transgender people: all of the world has everything to gain and nothing to lose from knowing, loving, encouraging, blessing, and embracing them. Transgender people have courage, vision, and a knowledge of themselves that few others ever have reason to acquire. I’ve known a lot of transgender people. I don’t want to say that they strike me as basically a superior race, but they strike me as basically a superior race. How could they not? I’ve only ever been one gender. A transgender person has been two. How is that not automatically twice as awesome as my life?

I’ve not written much about transgender people, because as a Christian writing to a (largely) Christian audience, I always knew that first we’d have to get the Christian universe to accept the truth that some people really are born gay, and that there’s nothing at all wrong or inherently sinful about that—and then, once that idea had transitioned from radical to acceptable, we could say: “See? Letting gay people get married and raise children didn’t cause Armageddon; the sky stayed right where it was. Yay! Isn’t that great? Say, you’ve heard the word transgender before, right?”

And onward we go, step by step.

Christians! Be thee not discombobulated by transgender persons!

They’re just making their outside match their inside!

It threatens you not!

When Jesus said, “The truth shall set you free,” he wasn’t talking to only some people. He was talking to all people. Woe be unto any person who attempts to use Jesus as a means of blocking anyone from living into that truth for themselves.

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  • Jan S Yoder

    “I don’t want to say that they strike me as basically a superior race, but they strike me as basically a superior race. ” Not that race plays into it exactly but/and that is the kind of writing I like! And I like the rest as well. A young man/friend of the family I know was a very small girl when first I knew h/er/im. The transition was much easier once the actual decision was made, being much like the rest of life. Once you decide something, it generally follows with great ease, for you are in alignment with it. Thank you John for your great wit and candor surrounding all things LGBT. You would fit in around here – open arms!

  • BarbaraR

    For some years a friend and I were the organizers of our high school reunion. About 10 years ago we got an email from one of our old classmates. “Hi Barb and Deb, this is Bill X. Well, you remember me as Bill X, but now I am Julie F….[long details] My question is, I would really like to come to the reunion but I don’t know how people will take it.” Our answer: “Julie, if anyone gives you any shit, we will kick their butts. Send us your check. You want chicken or beef for dinner?”

    Julie showed up and she looked stunning. As a man, Bill was… nerdly. As a woman, Julie was a babe. A few people (all men) came up to me and said, “Who is that?” When I told them, they looked taken aback, then said, “Well, okay then,” and went over to say hello.

    Julie is now on a spiritual retreat in Ubud, Bali. Now and then I get an email from her saying she’s grateful for us being there for her when she was afraid of how people who had known Bill 30 years ago would react to meeting Julie.

  • Richard

    Thank you. The T folks in the LGBT… alphabet tend to get left out in the cold, and even sympathetic comment tends to be along the “when the drag queens come to church” lines. That’s less than helpful, for those thinking about coming out one day when it’s less risky.

  • mona

    You do good work, Mr. Shore!

  • Michelle Par

    Just beautiful. Thank you!

  • spinning2heads

    For all that I mostly agree from a practical standpoint, I find something irksome about the idea that some people need to be treated as people before others are too. The women’s rights movement way back when had big fights with the Black rights movement, over who should get the vote first. The obvious answer is BOTH black people & women should get the vote, not to mention black women, who do happen to exist. And Trans folk have just as much right to, well, rights, as the rest of the alphabet soup. (LGBTQIAA etc.)

  • Sharla Hulsey

    Good post. Even we who have grown quite comfortable with gay and lesbian friends and kinfolk sometimes have some work to do in accepting transgender people.

    That said, however, the grammar stickler in me has to point out that the phrase you’re going for in your very first sentence is not visa-versa but vice versa.

    Other than that, excellent! One of these days I’m going to get my NALT video made and posted…

  • Jill

    And the trans* people I know have this damn superior wisdom thing I’m deeply jealous of, so of course I have to hang with them and learn everything they know, understand more about what they’ve gone through, what life has taught them so I can–maybe– one day claim to be as smart as my transgender friends.

  • I don’t think any sane person would argue that it’s acceptable for there to be an ORDER in which different kinds of people are granted humanity.

  • Right. of course. corrected. thanks for catch.

  • great, great, great. you’re the best, BarbaraR.

  • Thanks for this, Jan.

  • BarbaraR

    Aw shucks 🙂

  • Matt

    You all can’t help being weird. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Some of my best friends are not transgender! I swear! I really do know them and everything!

    (Don’t sell yourself so short. I hang with smart people. It’s way more fun that way.)

  • Guy Norred

    I think you hit on something that I sometimes wonder about. I have questioned the validity of the idea of transgender people. I actually wonder if being a gay man makes less willing to take at face value statements of being born physically the wrong gender. I mean, growing up I very much remember wanting to be a girl. There were only two possibilities I understood and this whole boy thing just didn’t seem right. I more or less sucked it up and pushed as much as I could of these feelings and thoughts so far back into the closet, I myself was often unaware of them. Eventually I let them out little by little and found myself to be a reasonably happy gay man. In all of this, I would hear someone talk about being transgender, especially a child, and think that they just haven’t found a way to accept their homosexuality. Now, I never said any of this out loud–at least not to a transgender person–but I definitely thought it. I especially found myself worried about children. It has taken me a long time to realize that I was doing much the same thing that straight people had done to me–not being able to take my own experience out of the mix when listening to others talk about themselves. I still struggle with this but at least now I know to work on it.

  • Hey Guy. I know a little about this. The first friend who came out to me as trans confessed it like some big secret. I mulled it over for two days. I tried to understand. What I came up with was, “Forgive me. I want to be sensitive. But this is … mundane.” Which made him laugh and made us lifelong friends.

    What shocked me was how everyone else reacted. People I’d known twenty years, roommates, lesbians and gays, kept wrestling with it. “But she was such a beautiful lesbian.” “Trying to be a boy.” “It means she disrespects women.” It was really hard because it was a framework I had no access to. You think like a boy, you present as a boy, you say you’re a boy, you’re a boy. End of story.

    I’m glad you came around, even if there are lingering questions. I’ve known four or five trans individuals well now. It’s a blessing.

  • Muslim Comments

    LGBTQI friendly Muslims:

  • Andy

    In my neck of the woods, there are enough gays to notice, and the majority of people around here seem to have no problems with them. But trans* people appear to be much rarer here. Last year I found out a girl I went to high school with is actually a guy. I haven’t talked to him since HS, but I was happy to hear that he’s fine with it and open now (like I said, most people around here are pretty tolerant of gays, but some people still seem hesitant to embrace the reality of trans* and what it means, and some others — even some who are A-okay with gays — are still pretty hostile to the idea.) As far as I know, he’s the only one I’ve met in real life, and I hope he isn’t the last.

    May one day it be the case that all of us aren’t afraid to be ourselves.

  • Guy Norred

    I think that generally what is happening here is that so many of us have spent so much time and emotional energy on our own issues of identity, gender, and sexuality, including often directly having to try to explain to straight people that being romantically attracted to one’s own gender does not mean one wants to be the opposite, that we really do take this to be something of a negation of our own hard won esteem. Of course the issue is on our side, and we absolutely should be called on it. It is not the first time people who have fought a black and white world of orthodoxy has found themselves forming a new equally closed orthodoxy.

  • Dani Smith

    Thank you John!!
    I really love this article. As a transwoman, it really makes me happy that some Christians get that everyone is special.
    I love your statement about trans* people being more than just a person. It is so true!! We’re not better people though. Way cooler, of course.
    I’ve had family and friends, all Christian, who have surprised me in their rejection or acceptance of me. Not nearly enough acceptance of course, but I’m changing who I choose to be around.
    The biggest thing I get is that I shouldn’t like certain things because I’m a transwoman. Wrestling, video games, guns, geek-stuff. I am BOTH genders, but being a woman is so much more fulfilling.
    Thankfully the gay community is finally accepting us trans* people as one of them. They didn’t know what to do about it, and rejected a lot of trans* people because we were messing up their battle.

  • Matt

    Transgender people are rarer in general. The ratio is (roughly) 5 to 1 in favor of the LGB folk. It does make it more difficult to educate and have people get to know us. You have probably encountered a few more without realizing it. People don’t know about me because I’m closeted. It happens to my partner all the time because she’s post-op. We are good at hiding in plain sight.

  • Andy

    In my opinion as an outsider to the GSD world, I suspect that perhaps the lower acceptance I have encountered of trans* people (admittedly in a really small sample) might be due to the facts that there are substantially fewer of them, and that a number of them are stealth (both points you mentioned). I think it’s unfortunate, but (sadly) not very surprising.

  • Matt

    Yes. Sometimes (bizarrely) I have heard people brush aside transgender people, just saying “those cases are rare,” as if “rare” suddenly means “nonexistent and not important.” This is usually from folks who are shaky about gay people. While I am fully aware of how much LGB people suffer, it is hard to be objectified that deeply. Luckily, things are shifting.

  • Lance Schmidt

    This is a beautiful post that has a lot to teach all of us. As an openly gay married man who grew up in a fundamental, evangelical faith tradition that unconditionally condemned me to hell with no hope of salvation save denial of my being and celibacy I am likely biased, but nonetheless those removed from the mainstream have so much to teach all of us, including me.

    Thanks be to God for his endless mercies who has drawn me back from years of atheism into an inclusive Anglican faith that has brought me back to God – no matter how fledgling and failing my faith.

    My bias aside, I think LGBT Christians have the potential to offer a rich depth of wisdom and spirituality to mainstream Christians by virtue of their having to first reach so deeply inside themselves to reconcile themselves to a mainstream that has traditionally rejected them and then to gather the courage by faith to audaciously enter back into the mainstream and live a personal, sustaining faith through the endless grace of God through our Lord, Jesus Christ.

  • Jill

    Weird is my center of gravity, this you know. Which is why you like me so much, Matt. 😉

  • JBReiter

    Your heart’s in the right place, John. Seems to me the “Biblical” case against trans* equality is even shakier than the anti-gay one. It comes down to worshipping culturally conditioned gender roles rather than the God of love. I would only add that not all trans* folks accept the gender binary. Some of them would say they’re switching from pink to blue, but others would say they were always purple inside! Genderless pronouns (zie, hir) and honorifics (Mx. is catching on as an alternative to Mr. and Ms.) reflect this “third gender” self-identification.

  • Guy Norred

    There is a huge book in some of the things your bring up

  • Hth

    I know for me, the “problem” that trans people presented to my paradigm was that little phrase — “think like a boy.” Committed to a non-essentialist view of gender, I kept stumbling over this desire to say “but can’t you be a woman and think, dress, walk, date, and live *any way you want?* What *about* you, exactly, is ‘like a boy,’ and why isn’t that a thing that a girl could also be?” And I was annoyed because people couldn’t answer that question in a way that *made sense to me.* So it was this huge challenge to my ideas about gender that no one could *explain,* and that always makes anyone anxious and defensive.

    I finally realized I was way out of line by suggesting that gender identity was something that anyone had to explain, resolve, or make sense of to my satisfaction. Who the hell am I? I want people to be happy, I want them to be loved. Living with some epistemological confusion over the biological vs. socially constructed nature of gender is a pretty small price to pay in order to just not be one more thing making another human’s life feel worse.

    Anyway, just saying that I think transgender issues hit a lot of people where they live in terms of their cherished assumptions about the world, and I always sympathize with people who are resistant. We all want to live with less confusion. But the world doesn’t really oblige us there; lots of things in life are confusing. That’s nothing even approaching a reason not to love your neighbor.

  • It can be confusing. At some level, though, it’s also really simple. I’m a woman. I’m also cerebral, tenacious, driven, and blunt—attributes many people correlate with ‘masculine’. I’ve heard it all my life. I didn’t fit expectations of what feminine was. On top of it, I’m blonde. That’s a whole different array of societal expectations on how I’m supposed to be.

    I think and act like my dad. For better or worse. But never for one minute did I doubt I was a girly girl, through and through. I posted this a year and a half ago. It’s a good précis on how we all get categorized. That trans* navigate these expectations every day makes them so empathetic, so gifted.

  • Matt

    We (transgender people) become extremely comfortable in the face of ambiguity, because it defines our lives and we cannot get away from it, although some of us tolerate it better than others. Imagine waking up every day having to perform as the gender you know yourself not to be. Imagine having to live between those two worlds for your personal safety. Imagine the walls it puts up between you and other people, when they don’t even know your real name.

    Of course, here in this community I’m just Matt. It’s a huge relief. But out in real life, I can introduce you to a whole host of people that I work, study, and interact with who have in a very real sense never met me. Some of these people claim to be my family.

    While I do my absolute best to bridge the gap for those who struggle with it, the fact remains that they are free to walk away from it at any time. I’m not. Coming out is emotionally exhausting work. Education can be equally tiring. So I have gotten better at choosing when I will speak to people about it, and when I will not. Thanks for being so compassionate, Hth.

  • anakinmcfly

    Great article!
    I’m starting to think, though, that it might actually be much easier for people to first accept transgenderism before moving on to accept LGB orientations. At the moment, accepting LGB people doesn’t necessarily help in accepting trans people – in fact, some of the most extreme transphobia I’ve seen has come from cisgender gay and lesbian folk, particularly the Trans-Exclusive Radical Feminist subculture (TERF – they actually have an acronym!), who are primarily lesbians.

    On the other hand, once people understand and accept that not all men and women have penii and vaginae respectively, all those homophobic arguments about gays being unable to reproduce or gay sex/people being ‘unnatural’ because the parts don’t fit – they’d automatically vanish in a poof of logic. Because the very fact of trans individuals existing means that some gay people *can* spawn their own kids, and some gay people have sex that’s pretty much the same, anatomically, than straight people. And vice versa. It becomes practically impossible to defend homophobia when one truly understands and accepts transgenderism, or intersexuality, for that matter. I mean, there are definitely exceptions, like a couple of my family members who were cool with me going “hey, I’m actually a guy!” but not with me going “…and I like guys!” ; but generally, the prospects are much better.

    As a bonus, it would also undermine the foundations for a lot of patriarchal stuff, because for instance it begs the question of what reason there is for men to be the ones in charge.

  • anakinmcfly

    “The biggest thing I get is that I shouldn’t like certain things because I’m a transwoman.”

    yesss. I feel you there, coming from the opposite side of things. Someone recently asked me what my interests were (writing, music, sci-fi movies, video games, theology, watching sunsets) and responded with “watching sunsets? Isn’t that kind of feminine? I thought you transitioned because you didn’t feel like a girl?” but then later admitted that his son liked that sort of thing too, and he presumably didn’t think of his son as secretly a girl.

    One of my greatest pet peeves is the conflation of gender expression with gender identity. I can understand why people do, given that I used to do the same, but… there’s no reason to expect trans people to conform to gender stereotypes any more than cis people. Lots of butch trans women and femme trans men out there who aren’t any less women and men for it.

    Heck, I’ve known of trans male drag queens who find a particular joyous freedom in doing that whole wig/falsies/lipstick thing for fun, now that people don’t expect them to or assume that they’re women because of it.

  • anakinmcfly

    I think it’s useful to point out that the reverse happens as well – I’ve known so many trans people who previously came out as ‘gay’ (or lesbian, or bi), because they just hadn’t found a way to accept that they were trans. Given that being gay is usually much more accepted in society (or at least less hostilely rejected) than being trans, it wouldn’t make sense for someone to convince themselves that they’re trans just so they wouldn’t have to deal with the fact that they’re gay. They would be opening themselves up to so much more social rejection and difficulties than if they were to accept their sexual orientation.

    Secondly, trans people have just as wide a variety of sexual orientations than cis (non-trans) people – some are straight, others are gay, bi, asexual. So the argument that trans people are just in denial about their sexual orientation doesn’t work, because some of us transition out of perceived heterosexuality into perceived homosexuality, as it is.

    I’d also think it’s all the more so for children, who aren’t yet sexually mature. I can understand how a gender-variant gay kid might mistakenly think they are trans, as you did, but doubt that they would do so because they can’t accept what would (or at least should) be, at that point, non-existent sexual attraction to anybody.

  • anakinmcfly

    I have a similar non-essentialist view of gender, and is one of the reasons I struggled so long with my trans identity, despite having experienced gender dysphoria since I was about 3 or 4.

    It’s still hard to precisely define *what* it is that makes someone trans. But one of the big things is that gender expression and gender identity are not the same thing, at all. All that stuff you mention – ‘think[ing] like a boy’, dressing, walking, talking, dating, one’s interests, liking pink over blue and so on – that’s all under gender expression, i.e. how feminine or masculine someone is.

    Whereas gender identity is about who you *are*. Assuming you’re a woman, gender identity is that part that makes it jar when someone mistakenly calls you ‘sir’, or if your parents were to spend the whole day referring to you as their son, for no good reason. Take that feeling of wrongness, and multiply it a few thousand times, and you’d probably end up with an approximation of what being trans is.

    The stereotypes of ultra-feminine trans women and ultra-masculine trans men don’t hold up in real life, where there’s no shortage of proudly-butch trans lesbians and effeminate gay trans men who nonetheless have strong female and male gender identities respectively.

    Someone once pointed out to me that embracing a truly non-essentialist view of gender would logically involve accepting trans identities. Because the whole point of non-essentialism is that our physical bodies have nothing to do with what we like or what we are capable of or who we’re attracted to or who we are… and that includes our gender identities. To claim otherwise is, ironically, to insist on some inherent maleness or femaleness that makes someone a man or woman *no matter what* they do. If one truly believes that gender is a social construct, then there’s no logical reason whatsoever to believe that trans people’s genders are any less real than those of cisgender people.

    And the usual sexist restrictions of society aside, I can think of one main thing that I could do as a boy that I couldn’t do as a girl: be happy.

  • anakinmcfly

    “so many of us have spent so much time and emotional energy on our own issues of identity, gender, and sexuality, including often directly having to try to explain to straight people that being romantically attracted to one’s own gender does not mean one wants to be the opposite”

    I’ve had those exact same conversations, though, from the other side – explaining to confused people (including some trans ones) that just because I was a trans guy didn’t mean I was attracted to women, because I’d felt like a guy since childhood, had been attracted to guys since puberty (no one believed me because they were certain I was a lesbian), and that made me a gay man, not a self-hating lesbian transitioning in order to be ‘straight’.

    I’d say that both your and my experiences in that stem from the same source of heteronormativity. People assume that all men like women and vice versa, such that anyone who doesn’t – i.e. gay people – must actually be the ‘opposite’ sex, and likewise all ‘real’ trans men would be attracted to women, and trans women to men.

    The trans specialist doctor I see still assumes I like women, and has assured me that lots of trans men manage to find wives and start families. I dare not correct him, because my past experience in that area is that telling people I like guys makes them question that I’m ‘really’ trans; because as everyone knows, no *real* man would be attracted to men. [/sarcasm]

    Homophobia and transphobia operate in a tight circle.

  • Guy Norred

    I just read through the (I think it was five) posts you wrote here this morning. I know I don’t understand everything you are talking about but I am trying to remain open as I should, understand I don’t have to understand everything, and recognize and fight the transphobia that I know still exists in my head. I worry I may not ever be able to completely overcome it. I mean, I am quite aware I have internalized homophobia issues still, and I have worked on them much longer. Thank you for you insight and patience. Someday I hope we can all truly see the great diversity of humanity as the gift from God I believe it to be and not the curse we ourselves often make of it.

  • Guy Norred

    I just want to clarify one thing about my personal journey with this topic at the moment. I realize that part of my worry about children is very much tied into my own childhood. Honestly, a lot of this is about being nearly unable to imagine a childhood without the rigidly defined gender ideas that surrounded me at that stage in my life, and knowing they exist, I find it all the harder to quite trust the adults in these children’s lives to know how to guide them through the complex possibilities involved. In essence, it is kind of like this–the adults in my life handled gender and sexuality horribly for me so isn’t it possible that the adults in these children’s lives are handling it horribly also. The short answer is yes it is possible, but I also have to realize that they are at least trying in ways that didn’t happen for me and I turned out reasonably ok so there is no reason to believe they will not turn out ok also, and probably with less baggage to get over.

  • anakinmcfly

    Understood. Although kids of all sorts have been raised by a whole variety of parents who handled things in all forms of horrible ways – those who squashed any sign of gender variance with punishment and yelling and disownment, those who actively encouraged them to be themselves, those who tried to enforce their own agendas on them, and so on. And yet through that, the kids eventually continue having whatever gender identity (and/or sexual orientation) they have.

    There are trans kids who were threatened with hell but remained solidly trans; there are non-trans kids whose parents enthusiastically encouraged them to defy gender norms but who grew up to be extremely stereotypical cisgender men and women. I know a woman who was raised by two lesbian moms who kept pushing her towards masculine activities against her will, when all she wanted to do was wear dresses and play dolls with the other girls; she’s now a firmly fundamentalist, homophobic, stereotypically feminine Christian woman who resents them for trying to make her into something she was not. Human identities are pretty resilient.

  • anakinmcfly

    Thanks! Yeah, it isn’t easy; I still have a whole lot of my own internalised homophobia and transphobia (they usually take turns: the more secure I am in my maleness, the more the homophobia kicks in, because I think I’m only really ok with my attraction to guys when I don’t think of myself as ‘really’ a guy), and it occasionally leads to some really intense self-loathing. I’m trying to work through that,

    But if you have any questions or anything, I’m definitely open to them! Ultimately I think that most bigotry stems from ignorance, so I like to do what I can t dispel that, especially in friendly environments like this blog.

  • Guy Norred

    Thank you. I am sure questions will come to me.

  • de_la_Nae


    Thanks. It’s nice to be remembered in a decent way. Well not *me* exactly, but you know what I mean.

  • Keith H. Dager

    When so beautifully written, such concise truth is essentially poetry to my intellect and I hope resonates with others as well!

  • Laurence Taylor

    Zie and Hir aren’t genderless, they’re feminine. They might be spelt differently, but they are basically She and Her. Are we talking about Trans people (whose, as John wonderfully said, inside didn’t match their outside), or we talking about people with no gender, who I would posit don’t exist?

    I know a few trans people, but they all have a preferred gender by which they are identified. I’ve never met, or heard of, anyone who claimed to have no gender and objected to being classified as mascluine or feminine.

  • Matt

    “Transgender” in a broader sense also can mean someone whose gender does not match the one they were assigned at birth. Within the trans community we sometimes make a distinction between those who are “binary” (identify as male or female) and those who are “non-binary” (some variation that is not male or female).

    So yes, it is possible for a person to identify as having no gender (“agender”). I don’t pretend to understand their experience, even as a trans person myself, but they do exist and I have met just a couple of them.

  • James Walker

    there’s the fact we all have the same human rights and there’s the fact of political will and its sister fact of cultural awareness.

    there’s an old saw about the workings of politics and the workings of a sausage factory that I think is applicable here. it’s ugly, it’s messy and it doesn’t bear close inspection (if you want to enjoy the finished product at all).

  • John, I love this post and I love you!! Thanks!

  • spinning2heads

    Oh, how terribly sad for her mothers! I mean, I get that her parents should’ve been more accepting of her gender identity, but my children becoming homophobic is on my all-time-top-terror list of things that could happen.

  • Linnea912

    I’ve always been baffled by folks who think that transgender people are somehow sick or weird. So their bodies and brains don’t match up…*shrug.* That’s not sinful, because it’s not in the realm of choice (same with being gay or bi). I don’t pretend to understand what makes some people transgender, but I’m not threatened by it, either.

  • Kimberly R

    There is an ever-growing segment of intersex persons who eschew all gender labels. You have probably interacted with some of them, since nearly 2% of the population has an intersex condition (roughly the same as the incidence of natural red hair). Most, however, do not advertise this.

  • Sandra Stewart

    The vast majority of transgender individuals do not transition and only 4% have GRS. The vast majority are crossdressers/genderfluid and many female to male may not even realize they are transgender.