Transgenderism is the topic of the day – increasingly in the news and increasingly debated by society. It is not however directly mentioned in the Bible, so what is the right Christian response? This article aims to consider what is meant by transgenderism from both a legal and a medical perspective, and then to explore some clear Biblical principles which apply to it.
What is Transgenderism?
Transgenderism is an umbrella term for the situation when a person feels that they have been born in a body of the wrong gender, they identify with a different gender to the one assigned to them at birth. This can be lived out in practise in a variety of ways in people’s lives – they may wish to live as the other gender or have gender reassignment surgery, or cross-dress etc. There are two major subsets within the population of those who would identify as transgender:
- Those suffering from gender dysphoria – dysphoria is medical term for distress. A person with true gender dysphoria will experience significant psychological distress from feeling to be in a body of the wrong gender.
- Gender non-conformity is a broader term which includes those who make the choice of identifying with a gender other than that of their birth, but they do not suffer the true psychological distress of someone with gender dysphoria.
True, involuntary gender dysphoria is thought to be caused by a combination of genetic, neurodevelopmental, and psychosocial factors, but is very poorly understood. It must be emphasised here that although an individual suffering from gender dysphoria may not choose to have these feelings and consequently be very distressed by them, to act upon them is the choice of the individual for which they are responsible before God.
Why discuss transgenderism?
It is estimated that fewer than 1/10000 males and 1/30000 females suffer from true gender dysphoria, so why is this issue so relevant? It is a subject which has been given a lot of media attention recently both due to celebrity endorsement and a number of legal battles. As Christians it is something that we need to understand from a Biblical perspective. A little background, both from a legal and medical perspective will help us to understand how we have reached the current situation.
- UK Gender Recognition Act 2004 – gave transgender people legal recognition in their new gender. This required medical and legal certification. To acquire a Gender Recognition Certificate a person must have been medically diagnosed with significant dysphoria and lived as their acquired gender for 2+ years.
- The Equality Act 2010 – made it unlawful to discriminate against transgender people in areas such as employment and housing provision.
- The Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 – made marriage between two people of the same gender legal. A result of this being that heterosexual marriage could continue following one partner’s gender transition, given the agreement of the other.
- Prior to 1994 Gender Dysphoria was medically known as Gender Identity Disorder – this change to the ‘label’ appears to be an attempt to de-medicalise the condition and remove the negative connotations of the term ‘disorder’.
- In 2015-16 a parliamentary committee called for a move away from viewing transgender identity as a disease of the mind. They have suggested that the acquisition of a Gender Recognition Certificate should become a purely administrative procedure for those age 16 and over – you would ‘self-declare’ your change in gender – rather than going through a medical/legal process.
- These recommendations would make it easier for people to legally identify with the opposite gender and possibly remove some obstacles from the pathway to gender reassignment surgery. This risks being a move towards a pathway of seeking to fix a broken mind by breaking a healthy body.
Why is this a challenge today?
These shifts in the law have brought about a situation where it is not only becoming increasingly socially acceptable to identify with, live as, or transition to a gender different to that which you were born with but those who identify as transgender are fully protected and recognised under the law.
From a medical point of view, those who would once have been helped to cope with life in their birth gender, even though this caused them distress are now given the option of gender reassignment therapy/surgery – this poses a particular challenge for Christian doctors who do not wish to prescribe or recommend such treatment.
The shift in society is for gender to be viewed more as a matter of choice than a fact of birth, even to the extent of being fluid rather than fixed. Transgender issues have moved from being something of a taboo subject and a medical condition, to something to be celebrated and honoured as part of normal human diversity. As Christians we need to be ready to respond biblically.
The Biblical perspective
Biblical teaching is that gender is binary – humans are born either male or female (Genesis 1:27) – they are identified as such at birth by examining their external anatomy. Genetically, males have XY sex chromosomes, females have XX. Hormonally, males produce more testosterone, females produce more oestrogen which trigger different changes during puberty. Thus, our biological gender is written in the DNA of every cell in our bodies and we cannot change it.
We are also clearly taught that “one thing is needful” (Luke 10:42). True ‘wholeness’ will never be found in gender identity – birth or otherwise – but in relationship with Christ. All the brokenness in our bodies stems from the fall – sin entered the world and death by sin – transgender feelings are no different. Transgenderism stems from the fall and the temptation to sin in this way must be resisted like all other sin.
A Christian response
It is vital that we recognise that these are real issues for some people. True gender dysphoria in adults is associated with an elevated prevalence of depression, mood disorders, anxiety disorders and suicidal tendencies. We need to understand that these are genuinely troubled people who require kindness and compassion in our response to them. Although we cannot condone or endorse a lifestyle which denies birth gender, the Christian response to individuals struggling with transgenderism must be one of love.
The only real lasting help that we have to offer is the message of the gospel – hope, forgiveness and restoration through Jesus Christ. We are all sinners and the gospel is the message everyone needs whether transgender or otherwise.