The upcoming proposal to ban recognition of transgender (including intersex) identities by the Southern Baptist Convention, though put forth by a college professor of ethics, is neither well-educated in its understanding of the complex biology of gender nor ethical. Those of us who are transgender or intersex are frequently and falsely accused -- merely by our very existence as ourselves -- of implying that God has made a mistake regarding our gender. Such bullying often drives my transgender and intersex brothers and sisters not into "gender conformity" but simply into atheism or isolation from other "believers." It is also based not only on faulty science (many of us have verifiable medical conditions that make our gender more complex that that of the majority) but worse on flawed theology. As a Christian pastor, theologian and university professor myself (who is intersex but not allowed to live that way openly until recent changes in medical and psychiatric diagnosis and treatment for people like me), I want to correct this all too common misunderstanding of theology of gender.
Trans* people are not "God's mistake"! Although other forms of human diversity may also wrongly lead to oppression by the privileged majority (differences of race, ethnicity, socioeconomic class, nationality, physical ability, sexual orientation, and religion), they often don't seem to cause the moral / theological outrage that gender diverse people do as if their very existence blasphemes against God. Yet to be born outside the gender binary really isn't any different than being born with any other form of diversity. To explain to others that we are transgender doesn't inherently suggest that God made any sort of mistake in creating us as transgender. Even if we seek medical treatment to help us overcome gender dysphoria (which in many ways is a reaction to others' expectation that we conform to heteronormative, binary gender norms of masculinity and femininity), we are no more suggesting that God made a mistake in creating us than anyone else who undergoes medical treatment for a medical condition. For example, most religious people wouldn't think of forcing those born with a cleft palate that required surgical correction to defend their existence theologically, as if their very existence on the planet is some kind of blasphemous allegation of God's incompetence. Yet the religious routinely attack those of us who are transgender not only on the basis of gender but as heretics, which many of us find even more painful.
Some people are clearly ambiguous, and that is no oxymoron. Rather "clearly ambiguous" can be an accurate description of some of us who are trans*, enough to make the point without ignoring the great diversity of trans* identities or forcing all to disclose their private medical histories (as Janet Mock, LaVerne Cox, and others so rightly remind us is inappropriate to expect) that transgender identities, whatever their origins, are real. The experiences of those of us who are ambiguously gendered share of medical malpractice and being socially outcast raise significant questions regarding the mistreatment of all transgender people. Why, for example, as has been argued at the expense of my career and ability to support my children, is seen as more "natural" to force an intersex man to take female hormones from puberty through middle age to feminize him, even when doing so renders him chronically suicidally depressed beyond any ability of medicine or therapy to ameliorate? It frightens me for the sake of the Church and my transgender human family that literally not one Christian has ever questioned the feminizing medical treatments that delayed my natural male puberty until middle age as a moral or theological issue. Transphobia clearly has nothing to do with whether or not one takes sex hormones, as if merely taking estrogen or testosterone implies God lacks control over one's body and made a mistake in allowing one to age naturally or to function for reproduction. (I am fairly certain some middle-aged Christian cisgender men may supplement their testosterone for various reasons and that cisgender middle-aged Christian women may take hormone replacement therapies or use hormone-based birth control methods.)
I for one am certainly not implying that God made a mistake in creating me when I acknowledge that although I looked female as an infant externally, my particular transgender configuration is such that I developed physical qualities of both genders at puberty and required treatment with high doses of female hormones for thirty-five years to function passably as if I were a cisgender female, and that my physical ambiguity reasserted itself when I was allowed by recent changes in medical and psychiatric diagnostic and treatment standards to live as myself, male. Without hormone treatment, I am ambiguous, complex, androgynous, and understand myself to be male. In faith, I believe that God made me that way, fearfully, wonderfully, and with unconditionally and infinitely loving purpose, and I have no regrets about it. What I do regret is other people's transphobia -- an indescribable, incomprehensible hatred and fear of what they don't understand of God's glorious creative imagination when it comes to creating us gendered: The many expressions of gender and sexuality that we find in human beings occur in all species. Diversity in creation is Godly, and to deny it is to question the power of the Holy Spirit --which Jesus once taught was the only unforgivable sin (Matt. 12:31-32).
As a Christian educator and pastor, I try to use each opportunity to teach, preach, write, or speak to help people understand that nothing in the Bible denies the existence of transgender individuals nor assigns a moral or theological evaluation of it (as "sin"). In fact, the passages on "natural born eunuchs" in Isaiah, Matthew, and Acts as well as the original human (ha'adam) being bi-gender and declared good by God (binary gender isn't created until verse 22 of the 2nd chapter of Genesis) seem to suggest God's affirmation of transgender identities, even though we are now somewhat uncommon. Either way, I am certain God does not hate or question the existence of anything or anyone that God has created, no matter how unusual that creation may be. As a transgender friend recently reminded me, we know that a tree with a grafted branch is not hateful as "unnatural" or blasphemous. For example, when we graft a lime and lemon tree together, they may bear both fruits. Such diversity, though unusual, can be lovely and a great gift. And that, indeed, is how I feel as a man who bore and nursed two children. How then can I see God's making me and others uncommonly gendered as anything but a precious gift of God, no matter how anomalous?
Start your workday the right way with the news that matters most. Learn more