Love your (Transgender) Neighbor as Yourself

How should we relate as Christians to those who genuinely feel they are trapped in the wrong body?

We should treat them with compassion. Gender dysphoria is a very real cause of suffering for those who experience it. More than 60% of people who suffer gender dysphoria also suffer mood disorders, anxiety disorders and suicidal thoughts. A 2011 study found that 41% of transgender people attempt suicide at least once. That is a tragic figure. Real gender dysphoria is a terrible affliction, and so we should be full of compassion for those who experience it. We should especially have compassion for transgender people because there is no human solution for their pain. Changing their name and their clothes, identifying as the opposite sex, taking hormones and even subjecting their bodies to sex-reassignment surgery doesn’t work. 

 

The decision this week by English parents Nigel and Sally Rowe to remove their 6-year old son from primary school and homeschool him instead has started a media storm. Why the fuss? Because their reason for doing so was the confusion their son experienced when a boy in his class came to school dressed as a girl and was treated as a girl by all the staff. Pupils at this school are free to ‘change’ their gender from day to day as they wish.

This comes just a week after one of the UK’s leading department stores, John Lewis, made the controversial decision to remove signs identifying children’s clothes in their stores as either ‘boys’’ or ‘girls’’. They now sell dresses for boys and ‘gender neutral’ clothing.

There is no doubt that an extreme transgender agenda is being pushed and rapidly accepted by our culture. How should we respond as Christians? Al Mohler describes the transgender revolution as ‘…one of the most difficult pastoral challenges this generation of Christians will face.’

How should we relate as Christians to those who genuinely feel they are trapped in the wrong body? I’m not thinking here of those who have a passing sense of ‘gender incongruence’. Many children think they are the opposite gender to what their biological sex says, but studies show that these feelings pass in 70-80% of cases without any intervention or treatment. No doubt there will be those who declare themselves to be transgender or gender queer (neither male nor female but somewhere in between) because they are seeking attention or notoriety. They are not my concern here. How should we respond to people who experience what is now called ‘gender dysphoria’ – someone who is deeply distressedby the disconnect between their sex and their sense of gender.

How should we respond? We should do as Jesus commands and love our neighbour. That’s what we’re called to do no matter who we’re engaging with. But what does it look like to love your transgender neighbour in particular? Let me suggest several things:

  1. We should treat them with dignity. Transgender people are image bearers of God and so they are entitled to respect and honour, regardless of what we may think about their self-identity. Go through the whole (ever growing) equality alphabet – LGBTIQA – every human being is created in the image of God and should be treated with dignity and courtesy.

 

  1. We should treat them with empathy. Try to imagine what life is like for that person. We have all experienced something of the pain of feeling out of place – that you don’t belong somewhere. It’s a horrible feeling, isn’t it. Can you imagine how agonising it must be to feel that you don’t belong in your own body? That it’s not really you? If we don’t know any transgender people we should read their stories so as to better empathise with them and understand what life is like for them.

 

  1. We should treat them with compassion. Gender dysphoria is a very real cause of suffering for those who experience it. More than 60% of people who suffer gender dysphoria also suffer mood disorders, anxiety disorders and suicidal thoughts. A 2011 study found that 41% of transgender people attempt suicide at least once. That is a tragic figure. Real gender dysphoria is a terrible affliction, and so we should be full of compassion for those who experience it.

We should especially have compassion for transgender people because there is no human solution for their pain. Changing their name and their clothes, identifying as the opposite sex, taking hormones and even subjecting their bodies to sex-reassignment surgery doesn’t work. It doesn’t really change anything – they are still the same sex and the same gender as before. And they will still be just as confused and alienated as before.

A 2011 study by the Karolinska Institute in Sweden followed 324 people after sex-reassignment surgery. The study found that ten years after surgery there was a significant increase in mental difficulties and, appallingly, that the suicide rate rose by a factor of 20. As long ago as 1979 Dr Charles Ihlenfield, an endocrinologist at a gender clinic recommended that 80% of those who want sex reassignment surgery shouldn’t have it because of the high suicide rates among post-operative patients. He made the following painfully honest but devastating comment: that sex-reassignment surgery was never intended to be a lifelong treatment – only a temporary reprieve. Paul McHugh, chief psychiatrist at Johns Hopkins Hospital which pioneered sex-reassignment surgery, said that all you end up with after surgery is ‘feminized men and masculinized women.’

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