The subject of transgender has been in the news a great deal lately, with much attention focusing not only on famous athlete Bruce Jenner (and his ABC News interview), but on young children who have known that their perception of their own gender was different from what they were defined as because of their anatomy.
I think one reason why this issue has not seemed to me to be as difficult a problem as some make it out to be is the mere fact of having had a long time to think about it.
In 1983, the band Kansas released its album Drastic Measures, and as a fan of progressive rock in general as well as Kansas in particular, I bought the album and listened to it over and over. One song, “Andi,” written by then lead singer (and Evangelical Christian) John Elefante, is about the experience of a transgender individual. I’ll include the song on YouTube below so that you can listen to it, but for now, here are some of the lyrics:
Andi won’t dance, Andi won’t sing, Andi won’t play
She sits in her room hiding away, hiding away
She hasn’t a friend, they think she’s a boy, they leave her alone
But what they don’t know, Andi has dreams, all of her own
She’s waiting for the dream of her life
To be a lady, that’s all she wants to be
Andi you’re not just anyone, don’t be ashamed
Open the door, don’t hide away, your dreams will awaken
Andi you’re not just anyone, don’t take the blame
Though you’re scared and all alone, you’ll be there someday
It is no surprise that some conservative religious people are opposed to young people being exposed to ideas they disagree with. Having a chance to know about a subject, to think about it, to empathize with those different than oneself, already in one’s youth, is arguably more powerful in combating fundamentalism than the arguments that one encounters in adulthood.It seems to me ironic that some respond to the subject of transgender by saying “God doesn’t make mistakes.” Because people are born in all sorts of ways – as clearly male or female, with self-perception matching genitalia, but also as intersex, or with a self-perception that does not match society’s perception of them and their genitalia. People are, for that matter, born as conjoined twins, or missing limbs, and sometimes are not born at all, at least not alive. If someone is going to say “God doesn’t make mistakes” then they had better apply it to all the different ways that people are born, and do so consistently.
But a better approach seems to me to be to recognize that, even from a religious perspective, the idea that God creates each individual in a particular way is morally and scientifically problematic. We understand the natural processes that are involved in the development of embryos, just as we understand the processes that create weather patterns. And sometimes the results of those natural processes are tragic, when a child is stillborn or a tornado destroys a home and all those living inside. Insisting that the precise course natural processes took were ordained by God leads to very dubious interpretations of natural events.
And so the bigger tragedy, in my opinion, occurs after such events, when people superimpose their theologies on events and interpret them in ways that harm those who are already suffering, depicting God as a monster in the process.
It is better, I think, to not blame God for everything that happens, and to focus instead on how we are supposed to approach other human beings. The calling of Christians is not to spout theological interpretations of events, or to deny that people genuinely have the experiences that they do, but to offer comfort and support and love. The Bible itself (especially the Book of Job) recognizes that life does not fit into the nice neat categories of theology that we seek to superimpose on it. And so why should life not also fail to fit into the nice neat categories of gender that we seek to superimpose on it? We today – like John Elefante, the Evangelical Christian who wrote the lyrics to Andi more than 30 years ago – should be able to recognize that our role as Christians is to echo that voice which the song says is calling in the distance: “don’t be afraid…you’re not just anyone, don’t be ashamed. Open the door, don’t hide away, your dreams will awaken…you’re not just anyone, don’t take the blame. Though you’re scared and all alone, you’ll be there someday.”
Have a listen to Andi by Kansas: