Friday, June 5, 2015

What about Those Who Are Trans Formed?

Things used to be so simple when it came to gender issues. Boys/men were males who liked girls/women and girls/women were females who liked boys/men or at least wanted a good one for a husband and breadwinner/caretaker.
In all the “advanced” civilizations of the world that was how things were—in public and on the surface, at least. Those who did not fit the prescribed roles had to keep their real feelings in a “closet.” Those who deviated from the traditional pattern were thought to be, and castigated as, deviants—and often called even more derogatory names.
In several previous blog articles I have written about LGBT issues, focusing mostly on the LGs (lesbians and gays). I am still at a loss to know what to say about the Bs (bisexuals). But now the Ts are being widely discussed. The Ts, of course, refers to transgender persons, now often just calls trans.
A trans man is a female-to-male transgender person who was identified as a female at birth but whose gender identity is that of a man. And a trans woman is, of course, the opposite—and perhaps the best known trans woman in the world this week is Caitlyn Jenner.
The cover story of the June 1 issue of Vanity Fair magazine was “Call Me Caitlyn,” the tale of Olympic gold-medal (decathlon) champion Bruce Jenner’s transformation from the Male Athlete of the Year in 1976 to a female who looks like a model in 2015.

Jenner says that she was trans formed (my words); that is, born as a female in a male body. Therefore, at the age of 65 she was, finally, transformed from a man to a woman. After her transition, Jenner tweeted on June 1, "I'm so happy after such a long struggle to be living my true self.”
But there are those, especially some conservative Christians, who do not approve of what Jenner did and do not believe in trans formation or affirm those who are transformed from one gender to the other. One such person is Ronnie Floyd, pastor of a megachurch in northwest Arkansas—and currently the president of the Southern Baptist Convention.
Among other things that might be said about him, Floyd is the pastor of the Duggar family, about whom many of you know much more than I. Like most of you, though, I have heard that Josh Duggar, the oldest of the “19 Kids,” has admitted to molesting girls when he was a teenager.
Even before the release of the new issue of Vanity Fair, Floyd made reference to the sins of both Duggar and Jenner, saying they were both sinners: the former because of sexual molestation and the latter because of gender transition.  
According to the Christian Post, Floyd stated that “gender is not fluid” and he emphasized that God does not make mistakes. He is also quoted as saying, “Did God make him this way? Absolutely not.” In Floyd’s view, no one is trans formed—and it is wrong (sinful) to transition from one gender to another.
But more and more conservative Christians are admitting that most gays and lesbians are such by birth and not by choice, and that their sexual orientation is due to “nature” not “nurture.” Thus, reparative therapy is largely discounted now.
So why should it be any different for those who are trans? And if they were trans formed, shouldn’t they be supported and affirmed if or when they transition into a trans man or a trans woman?
Blessings on you, Caitlyn Jenner!


  1. Thanks, Leroy, for your blog this day. I'm in agreement, but I would want to open up this discussion to a wider perspective. The notions of "nature vs. nurture" and "the way God made" things have many problems with them. But I'll get straight to the point: It's irrelevant whether what we sense that we are or even merely what we prefer to be is biological or social or (and this is more likely) some combination of the two. There is in the human species a remarkable freedom and creativity. In a different context recently, writing about social-scientific theory, I wrote this: "Human life in society is a complex reality of multiple layers of meaning and activity. And it is a uniquely creative reality, always changing. No other species generates culture and history the way human beings do. It’s reasonable to suspect that the social sciences in general and sociology in specific will never have the predictive power of natural scientific paradigms. We know, after all, that it’s not possible to predict what artists will next create, what novelists will write, what new technological innovation will change our lives. It is possible that, as the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche suggested, every attempt to reduce life to an integrated systematic theoretical whole is to try to freeze it, and thus to kill it." This would hold just as much for theological paradigms too.

    In the end, it seems to me, the "source" of sexual identities is simply irrelevant; we need only to let people be whoever they are, and embrace them with the graciousness we're called to embrace our fellow human beings. While we're at it, we might want to accept ourselves as well.

    1. Anton, thanks for reading and responding to this morning's blog posting -- and also for linking to it on Facebook!

      I agree with your concluding paragraph and your emphasis on embracing with graciousness people as they are.

      Still, if sexual identity or gender identity is seen as a choice or as a result of nurture, it is much easier for conservative Christians, or just traditionalists, to see homosexuality or transgender as a perversion (word used intentionally) of God's good creation of the person as a heterosexual with a determined gender.

      But if or when we see gays/lesbians and trans people as being formed ("created") the way they are, there is not much other than prejudice that can lead to rejection or criticism of such persons and the way they choose to identify themselves.

    2. Here is a comment (received by email) from Anton replying to my above reply:

      "I try not to play in the ballpark of conservative Christians without being clear that that’s what I’m doing, and then it’s usually a matter of critiquing their position. I do not think we should dabble in poor reasoning to debate their position. Some of them claim quite correctly that there are other things that seem to be 'natural,' that we don’t believe we should indulge in—such as aggression, rage, a sexual fondness for children, etc. In principle, they’re right. 'God made us this way' — as a biological argument — is a very problematic argument unless it comes with a lot of qualification to get away from an endorsement of every natural tendency."

    3. Anton, I don't think that trying to understand conservative Christians is necessarily "playing in their ballpark."

      Given their proclivity toward seeing the sinful nature of humans, most conservatives see all sorts of natural attitudes or tenancies to be expressions of that nature. The negative things you mention are not how God created them but rather an expression of their sinfulness.

      But when it comes to sexual orientation or gender identity, I think most conservative Christians have trouble seeing anyone with a homosexual orientation or a trans identity as being the way God created them. Since God is the Creator of each human being, they want to be able to see every person as heterosexual and as the gender which matches their genitalia. Deviance from that pattern seems wrong to them.

      I don't agree with that position, but I think we must try to understand the thinking of those who take such a position.

  2. This issue changes a great deal when you know a trans person. I hope that what Bruce/Caitlyn has done is pave the way toward the journey of this being a non-issue in years to come...much like other issues labeled as "sin" years ago.

    What is so unfortunate/maddening are the vile and uninformed things being said about trans if they don't have a personal stake in the conversation. Sadly, those who claim to be closest to God and proclaimers of his love are often the cruelest people one can find.

    1. Thanks for your comments, David, and I agree with the important points made in each paragraph.

      There is far more acceptance of gays/lesbians now than even ten years ago because more and more people have come to know gays/lesbians personally as they have been increasingly "out of the closet."

      Perhaps there is less personal knowledge of trans persons, but as they become more common in society, as they will now thanks in part to Bruce/Caitlyn Jenner, there will be greater and greater acceptance of them as well.

  3. Thinking Friend Bob Hanson in Wisconsin, shares these comments, and I am pleased that he did and gave me permission to post them here.

    "Thanks again for a wonderful witness brother!

    "I am not sure I shared our story, but a few years ago before I retired Mary (not real name) came to see me. She wanted to come to church but did not want to upset things. She was in the process of gender identity trans formation to use your wonderful poetry.

    "The way she told her story, a life of pain, broken marriage, addiction, and now fifteen years of being sober and to be trans formed was something to witness and hear. I told Karen when I got home that day I had talked to Jesus. Now, mind you I am not into that kind of stuff, but it felt that way.

    "She came, she joined, she was on the Council for a while. She traveled to Thailand to have the operation she wanted to have. She is now wandering through communities, with the tools and things needed to serve those who fall through the cracks as she says and having a ball. Trans formed in service using the recovery community as her base.

    "This experience transformed me and many around here, an never a mumbling word, but lot of support and love for all. I have a feeling that all this about Caitlyn, might bring different responses to many of us in East Central WI, 'Oh, I wonder how Mary is doing, miss her...'

    "Yes, compassion and love to Caitlyn and safety, especially for our trans teens...."

    1. Thanks, Bob, for sharing the story about Mary. As I indicated in my response to David, actually getting to know a trans person makes a big difference in what we think about "them."

  4. I read an interesting article years ago that brought some clarity to me about gender identity. It was written by an OB GYN and his experience delivering hundreds of babies into the world. He explained that it is not as black and white as we, the uneducated masses, have been led to believe. Many times, (more than we realize or ever made public) it really is unclear whether the baby is a boy or girl...It may have both organs, a female baby might have a micro penis, a male baby might have part of a vagina. This was/still viewed as a deformity and the doctor would have to make a choice as how to correct it. Societal pressure demanded they be one or the other, and so a "correction" is done surgically and the baby is raised in that sex. Some are given hormonal therapy to compensate for the correction, but they may be attracted to their denied sex in later years...It really made sense to me. Children who have not been surgically altered and grow up in a world where they must be one sex or the other really feel displaced and many times disowned and rejected. One tran wrote whenever they filled out a form that had Male or Female check boxes, wondered why there wasn't an "IT" box for her/him to check. How sad is that? It's time for us to mature as a society and accept our children as they are, and as we are, wonderous, beautiful creations in our universe.

    1. Thanks for sharing this, Gayle. I have read some about babies born with multiple (conflicting?) sex organs, but I have never personally known people with that situation in their family. But, as you suggest, there are many for whom gender identity is very complex and for whom the usual binary demarcation is not sufficient.

  5. Thank you, Leroy, for another thought-provoking article. I particularly like your language "of Trans Formation." Nice and biblical, I think. (See Rom 12:2.)

    In response to your concluding question about supporting and affirming trans men and women, I say an emphatic YES!

    I would like to raise some concerns, however, about Caitlyn Jenner's situation, especially as depicted in the photos that accompany your article and in language that she herself uses. These concerns revolve around those pesky binaries, such as male/female, true self/false self, and free/bound. To put it rather starkly, as a super-macho male, Olympian Bruce Jenner was bound to a false self, but now as a super-sexy female, Vanity Fair's Caitlyn Jenner is free to be her true self. ("Free" and "true self" are Jenner's language; "super-macho" and "super-sexy" are mine.)


    To what extent are we all "bound" to cultural stereotypes about men and women? To what extent has Jenner simply traded in one for another?

    Freedom and bondage are relative terms. (I should know because I was born in Independence and raised at Liberty!) And so are true self and false self. Freedom and bondage often come together (as in Paul's language of being "free in Christ" but also "a slave of Christ"). The same is true of true and false senses of self (if it is even helpful to use these terms).

    Ronnie Floyd says that gender is not fluid and God does not make mistakes. Of course not, God made Floyd a white, privileged male. That was not a mistake, and it's not going to change, at least in Floyd's mind. Especially the privileged part.

    I guess that we're just going to have to love Jenner and Floyd and everybody else. Sometimes it's so hard, though. So very, very hard.

    I join you, Leroy, in pronouncing blessings on Caitlyn Jenner. May she continue to be "Trans Formed" by the renewal of her mind. (I'm doing that Rom 12:2 thing again.) (I might hope the same for Floyd, but . . .)

    Here are some articles I've found helpful: (From Jenner's pastor!) (From an academic. You know how they can be!) (From a Quaker transgender woman F/friend of mine. Here I want to echo David Fulk's comment above about the importance of knowing a trans person.)

    Peace (and blessings) to all,

    1. Thank you, Michael, for making such significant comments and calling attention to the broader issue of what it means to be male or female. Most trans people do not have the fame, resources, or opportunity to change as dramatically, and as visibly, as Bruce/Caitlyn did.

      As you suggest, becoming a trans woman doesn't necessitate becoming a "super-sexy female," to use your term. So while on the one hand Caitlyn may be an encouragement to many who are struggling with their sexual identity, her transformation based on fame and fortune is not available to most and thus may be harmful to those that think she represents what a "real" women should be.

  6. Evoked by Anton: Does the social science/natural science distinction suggest that ‘social’ actions/beings are not ‘natural’ [non-natural]? You know, if it’s not a ‘gene thing’ it’s a ‘meme thing’. If you “freeze” it or “kill” it, the predictive power goes up. :-)

    Evoked by David: Yes, it looks like a major issue for us religious types is not whether this way-of-being-in-the-world is ‘natural’ or ‘unnatural’, but whether we call it ‘sin’.

    Evoked by Gayle June and Michael: Our increasing (and increasingly disseminated) knowledge of the variety of physiological and societal ‘forms’ has suggested to (many of?) us that ‘fixed’ formations are more and more subject to ‘fixing’ [is this trans formation?]. Who decides? How decided? Is the decision ‘fixed’? We are still learning!

    Leroy, thanks for being provocative. It is a significant challenge to us to allow persons to be formed into whoever they are becoming while continuing to be concerned about the social/societal effects of our actions. A central and compelling question for Nietzsche was “How one becomes what one is?” [subtitle of “Ecce Homo”]

    1. Thanks, Dick, for interacting with others who have made commments; I am pleased with that kind of response.

      "What one is" is an interesting idea to consider. Surely it includes gender identity, but it is surely much more than that--and about matters more important than that. It seems a shame to me that so many, especially so many who are conservative Christians, are concerned about gender identity and sexual orientation that they miss the main issue: what one IS as a human being.

    2. Yes, Leroy, yes! And I, too, am bothered by the effects of celebrity on our humanity.

  7. Thinking Friend Glenn Hinson send the following comments with posting permission:

    "A lovely, thoughtful blog, Leroy! On Ronnie Floyd I think it suffices to consider the source; it’s consistent with his myopia on many other issues. Sadly, it also puts the Southern Baptist Convention in the position of promoting narrow and parochial thinking on this important issue."

  8. Pastor George Takashima, a Thinking Friend in Canada, sent the following comments:

    "This may sound simplistic, but I consider everyone regardless of sexual orientation or any other kind of orientation as human beings...each person is a child of God and loved by God. I am not in the business of judging others."

    1. George, what you wrote may be simple, but I think it is not simplistic. Seeing everyone as a person loved by God regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity is a commendable position, it seems to me.

      But it is a problem (for me at least) not to be judgmental toward those who do not affirm that simple position of love and acceptance. How can I (we) love and accept them since they are, seemingly, not loving or accepting?

  9. Thinking Friend Vern Barnet, who is widely known in the Kansas City area, sent the following for posting here:

    "Thanks, Leroy, for placing God's mysterious work in an open theological context. It is hard for our culture to really notice, to to truly see and understand what does not fit within the categories of conventional thought, so the transformation of Bruce to Caitlyn is valuable precisely because we cannot overlook it. This is one reason why my forthcoming prosimetrum is entitled THANKS FOR NOTICING.

    "Here is an excerpt . . . ."


    Die Sprache verkleidet den Gedanken.

    RELAXED, you heterosexual, you!
    With sleeves ripped out, your shirt’s so hot! So we
    in thirst consume non-alcoholic brew.
    The bar is gay. You flag a friend we see.
    So bold, you grin and greet him, boasting, “I
    am Vern’s boy toy this night.” It’s comedy,
    but still I’m flattered nuts that you would try
    out, switch, explore this new identity —
    Which I myself do not accept as real.
    All labels, roles, tags, calls, are for such play,
    as from the holy Whole these parts we steal,
    all blessed thieves redeemed: straight, trans, bi, and gay.
    For you and I both know what grasps us most:
    not sex, but Love who is our sacred Host.

    1. Here is Vern's erudite "Epigraph":

      “Language disguises thought,” is from Ludwig Wittgenstein’s 1921 "Logisch-philosophische Abhandlung" ("Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus"), 4.002. This sonnet presents the perspective of the “construction of sexuality,” rather than the current politically correct view that sexual “orientation” is inborn: Some argue that sex is biological but sexuality is a cultural construct.

      Some constructionists identify at least four factors in sexual behavior: [1] possible genetic predisposition, [2] ‘imprinting’ at a crucial age of developing sexual attraction, before one’s memory is set, when one profoundly notices someone of the same or opposite sex; this also explains why goslings at a phase-sensitive time will imprint on a human as if the human is their mother, [3] social sexual conditioning such as same-sex pairing in ancient Sparta, and [4] situations such as youthful experimentation and confinement in a single-sex environment.

      Others simply say there are at least as many forms of sexuality as there are people on the planet. Instead of analogizing sexual interest to things that are relatively unchangeable, like one’s height or the pattern of blood vessels in one’s eye, a better comparison might be to the clothes one wears; different cultures and circumstances provide togas, kilts, trousers, jeans, speedos, cassocks, pajamas, and so forth, showing the extents of the statement, “clothes make the man.” The classic on this subject is David F Greenberg’s 1988 "The Construction of Homosexuality."

      "Androgynous and transgender persons may often clearly illustrate the complicated interplay between sex and sexuality. Androgynous and transgender persons may often clearly illustrate the complicated interplay between sex and sexuality. . . .

      Host, from "hostia," sacrificial victim, is a term used for sacramental bread in the Eucharist to celebrate the Resurrected Christ.

    2. Leroy, I like this Vern fellow.

      Perhaps “clothes make the [woman and] man.” Who we are becoming involves the ‘constructing’ interaction of person and culture. We are being formed and forming ourselves. I’m pretty sure I take Vern’s point.

      Wittgenstein goes on to claim that “because the outward form of the clothing is not designed to reveal the form of the body, but for entirely different purposes, it is impossible to infer the form of the thought beneath [the clothing of language].” [“Tractatus” 4.002] I take Vern’s point to be that it is [may be] impossible [difficult] to infer the ‘sexuality’ of a person beneath the ‘culturally constructible’ clothing and that the love that “grasps us most” doesn’t have to know [a fixed determination].

    3. Vern and Dick, thanks for your erudite comments. As I told my wife this morning, I am finding it difficult to respond to people who are smarter than I am!

  10. Perhaps we still have too few gender slots. High school students tend to self-identify as goth, jock, nerd, preppy, etc. How much does a heterosexual male jock have in common with a heterosexual male nerd? There are lots of possible categories, and if we see them as suggestive rather than prescriptive, perhaps we would be open to a more healthy appreciation of all. Black-and-white, carved-in-stone thinking leads to suffering and failure, not joy and growth. After all, we not only need a worldview with room for Caitlyn Jenner, we need one with room for Kim Kardashian!

    1. I think I can understand Caitlyn Jenner better than her step-daughter Kim, about whom I know (or care to know) little. My "prejudice" is not towards trans people but towards "celebrities."

  11. My Thinking Friend who lives in Orange Co., Calif., and who is a devout conservative Christian wrote, "Am I reading your message correctly that you are condoning that Lifestyle?"

    Here is my response:

    I am supporting a person who (seemingly) sincerely thinks that she has been a woman "trapped" in a man's body all of these years and who has finally been able to form a body that matches her gender identity. I see no reason why a Christian should oppose that sort of transformation.

    On the other hand, I didn't necessarily condone the lifestyle of Bruce Jenner as a privileged male celebrity married to Kris Kardashian--and I don't necessarily condone the lifestyle of Caitlyn Jenner as a privileged female celebrity.

    There are many types of lifestyle lived by heterosexual people as well as by homosexual people and by trans people--and I don't particularly condone some lifestyles by people in all of those categories.

  12. Karen Rogers, a Facebook friend, posted the following comments on FB:

    "As I have matured, I have had more opportunities to learn of historical and contemporary testimonies of good, tenderhearted people who have struggled with our culture's definitions of what is and isn't acceptable in God's sight. There's a lot I don't understand but I've certainly evolved in my attitudes toward 'nature' versus 'nurture.'

    "I appreciate your blog posting and join you in wishing the best for all our fellow travelers on this journey.

    "I think my understanding about transgender issues began decades ago when I learned that some children are born with both male and female anatomy. What a perplexing situation for all involved. As the parents make a decision about which identify to assign to their newest loved ones, there is no way of knowing what the future will hold for those precious little ones."

  13. Here are substantial comments made by a relatively new Facebook friend, Dr. Robert Cox, whom I first met in Japan as a high school boy in 1967.

    "It is a sad reality that current seminary education does not include a biology, physiology and chemistry course as part of its mandatory study. In fact, many who go into ministry have avoided such subjects because they are 'hard.'

    "Any intro into the subject of human biology quickly eradicates the notion of normalcy--too many conditions contribute in a constant changing flux! It is truly a wonder that anything like a human being occurs at all. A little too much of this hormone early in development impacts on pathways; too much of that or this can impact at the DNA level. All this, of course, can fundamentally make what it means to be a human being very complex!

    "Human sexuality is wondrous, complex, and is not easily reducible to black and white categories. If you have a faith development (read James Fowler) that construed meaning-making into black and white categories, then sexuality is going to be a topic that will constantly challenge one's core foundation. It is as Tillich termed a collection of sermons, 'The Shaking of the Foundations.' The mind of trying to construe humans into a this and that is just fundamentally flawed and creation as it is is not going to agree with any system of black and white. It is understandable that a lot of energy is being invested in trying to make the world fit into a box if our making, but it is an ancient story that life keeps tearing down such walls to encourage faith to be grasped by what is.

    "Sexuality is 'hot' and a common way of dealing with it is to regulate it by avoidance. Not that this ever works, but it is an all too human defense strategy. When we meet someone who is not like us, it is going to challenge the foundations.

    It may be time to practice the virtue of 'letting go.' or 'letting be' that the habit of 'holding on tighter.'
    The common sad reality is that despite all the surgery and hormonal administrations, a large percentage of trams gender individuals suffer. Relating to this suffering is just plain inhumane, there is no love in it! What this suffering is, if we can truly give pause to open to it, is the path I believe all who have a 'higher calling' are called to attend to.

    "We are more alike than different. If we can once again try to understand sexuality rather than box it in, we will all gain."