The following post is from Trista L. Carr, Psy.D. Dr. Carr is a Clinical Psychologist and has a private practice in San Francisco, CA. She completed her doctorate in clinical psychology at Regent University in Virginia Beach, VA, where she was a research assistant for the Institute for the Study of Sexual Identity. She obtained an M.A. degree in Community Counseling from The University of Akron in Ohio. Her research and clinical interests are in the integration of Christian faith, psychology, and sexual identity concerns. She can be found at http://www.tristacarr.com.
Often when we speak of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community we do so speaking primarily to the LGB individuals and not as much to or about the transgender folks—who, by the way, are also great stakeholders in these discussions. Today I would like to write about the transgender (TG) community—and specifically, transgender Christians.
Why TG Christians, you might ask? Well for a few reasons. Not the least of these is that I have been analyzing data from a study that I started as a research assistant a few years ago while still getting my doctorate—btw: I will be presenting that data at the National Transgender Health Summit put on by the World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH) this weekend, May 17-18, in Oakland. Another reason I think it helpful to speak about our TG brothers and sisters is because they often get lumped in with the gay community and treated as though their concerns and issues are exactly the same when in reality, though there are similarities for sure, they are not identical. Thirdly, I recently consulted with a colleague regarding a client, and presented a case study at a different conference, both of which have gotten me thinking more clinically and theologically about the conundrum in which some TG Christians may find themselves. And lastly, the TG community is one that, like sexual minorities, has been misunderstood, oppressed, marginalized, and at times literally tortured in the name of Jesus.
So, I’d like to dedicate this post to my brothers and sisters in Christ who do not experience their gender in the same way as most others do.
I’d also like to dedicate this post to everyone within the church who would like to intervene against oppression and seek understanding and justice for the outcasts, aliens, strangers, orphans, and widows among us.
When I was a child, as young as 3 or 4 years old and even up into grade school, I experienced tremendous gender dysphoria. I would later learn that from such a very early age I used to tell my parents that I wanted to grow up to be a boy. But I distinctly remember that I would frequently get upset that I wasn’t allowed to run around outside without my shirt on like the other boys, that I had to wear a shirt and they didn’t. I was also very adamant that I was a cowboy not a cowgirl and would wear my cowboy vest and chaps proudly while saving the damsel in distress. I even tried to stand in the woods like the other boys to relieve myself, but that didn’t work out too well for me, or my pants.
I could go on…but you get the idea. I felt like I was a little boy inside; but outside, I was a girl.
Somehow and somewhere along the way my story changed. I went through a long androgynous phase and though I still feel quite masculine in some ways, I embrace myself as a woman and have sought—and continue to seek—to be the woman God wants me to be.
But for my friends, clients, research participants, colleagues, and countless others, their gender dysphoria wasn’t and isn’t a passing phase. It has not been something that they have grown out of—it has stuck around, and continues, for some, to be a source of internal and/or external conflict.
Much like the experiences of same-sex attraction, no one REALLY knows why TG individuals experience their inner gender to be different from their biological or assigned birth sex. There are various research studies on the etiology of gender dysphoria but the data have not conclusively shown one factor to be the root. Most likely there are multiple factors that play a role: hormone discrepancies, brain structure differences, childhood experiences, environmental factors, societal pressures, and so forth. And some TG individuals would proudly say that God created and intended them to be the way they are, thus etiology is a mute point.
But regardless of why and how someone ends up with a persistent inner gender that is incongruent with his or her outer body, it is. Now this individual has to figure out how to be in this world that tends to be very set in its dichotomy. Add to this then growing up in a church environment that places even more emphasis on God’s created order in terms of the sexes, gender, and gender roles, and you have a recipe for potential cataclysmic distress.
While I, and others like me, struggle to understand our same-sex attractions in light of the 6 or 7 “clobber passages” in Scripture, TG persons often struggle to understand their experiences of their gender in light of the creation account in Genesis 1-2, the command in Deuteronomy 22 about wearing clothes of the opposite gender, and Jesus’s mentioning of eunuchs in Matthew 19. Granted, for both of these issues—sexual identity and gender identity—there are more passages in the Bible that need to be considered, these particular passages are the ones that come up time and time again in discussions with TG folks, pastors, counselors, healing ministry leaders, and anyone else that participates in the dialogue at hand.
Unfortunately, what seems to be lacking in this dialogue is just that: productive dialogue between TG persons and church leaders. Many of the participants in the study I have been spearheading, which consisted of 32 male-to-female TG Christians, seemed to feel as though the church has not typically done a good job of extending them grace, mercy, nonjudgment, open hearts, ears willing to listen, or trustworthy others with whom they can share their stories. The folks in our study encouraged other TG Christians to first and foremost seek out a trustworthy person to talk to about their concerns. The sentiment was that people within the church are not, by in large, safe to talk to about this issue, so be wary. Yet on the flip side they also wanted to encourage others to keep seeking after God and know that each and every person has worth and value in God’s eyes. The sentiment here was that God is indeed trustworthy, loving, full of grace, and faithful to handle their hearts well.
My hope is that we can start to rectify this unsavory response that the church historically has had towards TG individuals and create a space in which our brothers and sisters in Christ can experience safety and respect in such an honoring way that they are able to share their stories and be heard.
Being a minority is difficult, but not without reward when we remember that trouble and trials produce “patient endurance, and patient endurance, proven character, and proven character, hope, and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us” (Rom. 5:3-5). But let’s be honest, most often suffering just sucks stinks. It is not fun. And it is extremely difficult to see any sort of silver lining around our circumstances when it feels as though everyone is against us.
This is where our Hope comes in.
Regardless of your gender identification or sexual attractions, if you have Jesus, you have Hope.
Somewhere along my journey from childhood into adolescence and ultimately adulthood I came into my own as a woman—biologically and internally experienced as such. But all along, my desire has been to seek the Lord with all my heart—and he has indeed directed my path as promised in Proverbs. When we press into Jesus, when we seek truth, when we examine our lives in humility and with a contrite heart, our eyes can be opened in ways that we never expected. My prayer is that our eyes will see and hearts will be open to hear the stories of our TG brothers and sisters so that they too can feel like have a place at the table of grace. Because, in all honesty, they already do. Keep on keeping on…