Note: Since it has been a couple of weeks since I posted to this series (I’ve been a bit distracted), I thought I should reset the context. These posts are revisions of a paper that I wrote as I first began to openly explore my transgender identity. The project looked at my faith, scripture and the social and church cultures that surround me. Be sure to check out the whole series!
While there are many, many more scriptures that I will continue to study and write about here, I want to shift direction a little bit and examine the concept of being transgender in the current social and “church” cultures that I operate in daily. When I first started writing this project a year ago, I was a part of a small evangelical church – and by small I mean less than thirty people meeting in the pastor’s living room. I’ll tell the story of opening up to the pastor and elder (yes, singular) another time. That church has since folded and I have been in search of a spiritual community where I could feel both theologically and culturally at home. There are some good candidates on the table right now and I look forward to seeing how God works that out in the months ahead.
As I attempted to reconcile these two cultures, it occurred to me that the church knew very little about the LGBT community. The following section was intended as a “101” course to introduce some basic concepts to those I was in spiritual community with at the time. I’m including here with the understanding that some who have come to this blog may be at the beginning of their own journey, either on their own behalf or on behalf of someone close to them.
The “LGB” v. The “T”
While Transgender is the “T” of the LGBT community, there is a very distinct delineation between sexual orientation and gender identity. In fact, issues of gender identity seem to be often misunderstood even within the community.
In trying to understand the psychology of the LGBT culture I have found it helpful to explore some basic definitions. For some, this may fit into the category of too much information while for others, this may be rather mundane and basic. In either case, please feel free to skip the definitions and move on the the cultural discussions.
- Gender – the mental identity an individual has leaning toward traits culturally attributed to either male or female, or somewhere in between.
- Sex – often used to describe ones birth or biological gender
- Transgender – an inconsistency in mental gender and the physical sex one is born with.
- Homosexual – An individual who is physically and emotionally attracted members of the same sex. The preferred descriptions include “gay” (men) and “lesbian” (women). “Homosexual” is most often used by those outside the LGB community.
- Bisexual – Individuals who are equally likely to be attracted to members of either sex.
In addition to the focus of ones attraction, there are many differences between transgender/transsexual people and homosexuals/bisexuals. I attempted to write this list myself, but came across this very complete list from psychologist Ami B. Kaplan. You can see the original post here.
- Transgendered Individuals have at some time experienced gender dysphoria (confusion), whereas gays and lesbians do not.
- Transgendered Individuals have to jump through many “hoops” in order to “transition”, whereas gay folk just “come out”. Coming out is also part of the transgender experience, but there are many more steps involved to transition. Transgendered Individuals deal with body dysphoria, as well as social acceptance issues.
- Transgendered Individuals use medical services much more. Trans folk may need hormones, surgeries, voice training, facial hair changes, therapy, etc..
- The sexuality of a Transgendered Individual might be “straight”. If a transman is attracted to women, then he’s straight, if a transwoman is attracted to men, then she’s straight.
- Gay and Lesbian are variants of sexuality, whereas transgendered individuals have variants of gender.
- Society has become a little more accepting of Gays and Lesbians, and the acceptance of transgenderism lags behind. (My note: this is improving as politics and media have begun to address the issue more openly.)
- Gays and Lesbians don’t have problems using bathrooms, whereas Transgendered Individuals can have problems. When one is in transition or has transitioned, but elected not to have SRS (sex reassignment surgery), it can be very uncomfortable (and possibly dangerous) to use a bathroom that does not offer sufficient privacy.
- Family members of a Transgendered Individual do a little more “coming-out” than with a Gay or Lesbian family member. Example, someone who discovers they have a gay son, can decide to share or not share that information when asked about their son, but someone with a son who has transitioned to a woman, now has a different decision to make when someone asks them about their “son”.
- The Transgendered Individual has to deal with name changes, legal documents, titles, etc for example explaining historical anomalies, such as why one’s degree was granted under a different name.
The world and gender
As the LGB (and sometimes “T”) community has gained more cultural acceptance, the openness to gender issues has begun to catch up in the world. Many companies have adopted policies for accommodating transgender people. Media coverage is becoming more balanced and fair. Medical and personal services are more readily available (though there is still lots of room for improvement).
I have personally experienced very little push back from the general public. Business are open to serving, with few exceptions – which I have noted on other blog posts – other people are at least accepting if not affirming. I am currently in the middle of a job hunt and have yet to see how the transition will impact my ability to find suitable work while attending school, but hopefully I will at least get a few good blog posts out of that adventure! (The Human Rights Campaign publishes a survey each year that includes a measurement of corporate acceptance of any type of gender variance. The past several years have shown increased acceptance of transgender people in general, though there is still a long way to go. You can see more about that here.)
The acceptance of the world has not been the focus of this project, though. I bring it up only to show the shift that is happening in the world around us. That is not to say that those who are honest about their identity don’t face risks from people who are not completely understanding of the mental and physical issues they have dealt with most of their lives. There are still frequent reports of attacks on transgender people. As with attacks on the general population, there is often a correlation between the attack and the victims lack of caution or cultural sensitivity. I am not suggesting that it was the victims fault, but rather that a little awareness can go a long way.
The Church and Gender
The bulk of my initial target audience of this project is as qualified as I am to assess the general thought and attitude of the western church toward varying concepts of gender. As I mentioned in the introduction, the organized church is a man-made institution. As such, we need to keep in mind that we are ultimately responsible to the teachings of Christ and scripture not the church as a whole. Also, the church at its core is a community of individual believers. As I wrestle with the idea of what “the church” might think about gender, what I am really asking is what those I am in particular fellowship with believe.
Just like the church as an organization should not be allowed to speak for individuals, so to LGBT organizations should not be presumed, expected or counted on to speak for any one person. This is a very individual journey and is worthy of individual, personal conversations.
One thing that seems to consistently miss the mark in communicating the transgender struggle and identity to the church community is the notion that we have a psychological gender that is separate and potentially unique from our physical sex. When this possibility is opened it allows for ideas such as the possibility that God has created us this way; that the effects of generations of separation from God may have had separate impact on our physical and mental selves (what I refer to as “de-evolution”) and that in our drive to find wholeness through our relationship with God, He may allow these truths to be revealed to us, freeing us from preconceptions that are inconsistent with who we have found ourselves to be.
This doesn’t apply only to transgender people, but to anyone who has felt the pangs of being outside of some societal norm. I don’t ultimately see the scriptures as the roadblock to wholeness – I see them as the key to it. I do see a roadblock in the boundaries created by culture and society, including the church in all its incarnations.