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North Side Notes

Notes from Transgender Pub Talk

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Here are some rough notes from my talk on transgenderism at the Pub Talk on 9/24/17.

Definitions and Understanding

From the perspective of a transgender scientist

Here are some definitions and quotes from Thomas Bevan, Being Transgender: What You Should Know. Bevan is a scientist and transgendered person. We can dispute quite a bit of the following, but it's very important to listen to what the other side's saying.

  1. "Cisgender": gender system where gender behavior category is assigned based on birth sex

  2. "Crossdresser": One who dresses in clothes of non-assigned gender behavior category

  3. "Gender": gender behavior category determined by culture

  4. "Gender behavior predisposition": biological predisposition with regard to gender behavior categories

  5. "Gender dysphoria": unhappiness with assigned gender behavior category; pathological term when person is distressed or unable to function because of being transgender

  6. "Gender fluid": person who moves between or combines behavior categories

  7. "Gender identity": verbalization of congruent gender behavior category

  8. "Genderqueer": those not having a congruent gender behavior category

  9. "Nonbinary gender system": gender system having other than two gender behavior categories

Some more quotes from Bevan that helps fill out some important ideas:

In spite of what some people say, being transgender does not mean that a person is broken or diseased or immoral or has made a conscious lifestyle choice. Being transgender is a natural behavior that is based on biology. It is part of the healthy diversity of nature that has allowed human beings to survive and be successful so far.

Being transgender is behaving as a girl when people say you are a boy or behaving as a boy when people say you are a girl. Acting as a girl or a boy is called gender. A grown-up girl is called a woman, and a grown-up boy is called a man. People sometimes say that you are a boy if you have male body parts or a girl if you have female body parts, but, as we will see, that is not true for transgender people." 

Most transgender people subscribe to a slogan that 'sex is between your legs and gender is between your ears.'

Being transgender is showing behavior that is incongruent with your assigned with your assigned gender behavior category and congruent with another category. Being transgender involves several things:

A gender system that includes gender behavior categories (Western culture has two categories and so it is binary)

A gender system that assigns gender behavior category based on sex but not on gender behavior predisposition (a cisgender system)

An inflexible gender system that does not allow movement between gender behavior categories

A biological gender behavior predisposition that does not fit well with assigned gender behavior category but fits better with another category

Knowledge of gender behavior categories, usually acquired in childhood by age 2-3

Being transgender is independent from sexual orientation.

Because gender behavior predisposition is not under the control of a transgender person, they cannot be blamed for being transgender." 

From a Christian perspective

Vaughn Roberts has a very helpful book called Talking Points: Transgender. Here's his charitable way of describing what it means to be transgender: "Assuming someone's sex has traditionally been based on biology - their chromosomes and anatomy. But for some people, their sense of gender - their inner feelings of being male, female, or both - doesn't always match that sex." 

"Transgender" is different from "intersex": "Intersex is a physical condition affecting a very small percentage of people whose chromosomes, genitals or gonads do not allow them to be distinctively identified as male or female at birth. The great majority of them do not identify as transgender, but rather as male or female. By contrast, transgender is to do with how people think or feel. They are born either male or female, but their feelings about their gender don't fit with their sex." Jeffrey Eugenides novel Middlesex describes the experience of an intersex person, whose chromosomal disorder was caused by his grandparents' incestuous relationship.

How did we get to this cultural point?

In my view, it was a combination of two things: cultural and technological development. Roberts writes regarding the philosophy underpinning Western culture: "As the English philosopher John Stuart Mill, the founding father of modern Western liberalism, wrote: 'Over himself, over his own body and mind, the individual is sovereign.'" Similarly, Andrew T. Walker writes in his book God and the Transgender Debate: What Does the Bible Actually Say About Gender Identity?"And all this means that there are two unforgivable sins in a postmodern, post-Christianized, individualist world. The first is to judge someone else. The second is to fail to fulfill your desires." 

However, my belief is that one technological development actually makes the sexual revolution possible with transgenderism riding the coattails of that revolution: the pill. In the 1950s, birth control becomes mainstream, cheap, easy, and effective. For the first time ever, sex and reproduction are separated. Without birth control, sexuality incentivizes monogamous, heterosexual, lifelong marriage. But with the pill, sexuality becomes an expression of individual pleasure and preference. Divorce, cohabitation, casual sex, and homosexual practice increase and become mainstream. Gender identity issues are the latest thing to ride this wave. 

What causes transgenderism?

The short is answer is that we just don't know. Bevan argues for biological causes, but her evidence is extremely tenuous. Transgender people have a predilection for left-handedness. Similarly, 

There are various biological markers that support the idea that being transgender is due to biological genetics. For both males and females, a prominent biomarker is the ratio of the lengths of the second and fourth finger. Transgender people have been shown to have different ratios from non-transgender people. Finger ratio differences are due to DNA genetics. They vary from geographic region to geographic region, and various ratios can be actually be bred in animals [sic]. We have even identified one of the most important genes that determine finger length, but it is not one of the genes that have been examined as potential transgender DNA markers. Some people claim that finger length ratios are associated with the influence of testosterone, a sex hormone, in the prenatal brain, but the evidence does not support this but instead supports a genetic correlation.

She concludes, "The biological evidence presented in this chapter supports the idea that we all have a biological gender behavior predisposition that develops from two factors: genetics and epigenetics. These factors are the ones involved in the Two-Factor Theory of Being Transgender." Part of her argument is to argue against the view that transgenderism is "unnatural":

So the next time you hear someone say that the Western gender system rejects being transgender because it violates the 'natural state of affairs,' you will know that they are using the traditional sex-based evolutionary theory. But the evidence does not support this theory. Rather, the human species has survived and progressed because of its diversity, including its gender diversity through kinship group survival and intrinsic fitness. Any gender system that seeks to reject transgender people on the basis that the traditional sex-based theory is the natural state of affairs is incorrect and ultimately interferes with our progress and survival as a species.

In my view Bevan's argument is not convincing at all. It's certainly possible that there are biological factors with a person's sense of incongruence with his or her biological sex. But if those factors are at play, we just don't know yet what they are. 

Is transgenderism treatable?

It's often noted that transgender people have much higher rates of depression, suicide, and other mental health issues. Bevan, however, insists that these are caused by not being accepted by Western culture rather than issues directly related to their own internal experiences. She says, "Transgender people mostly seek counseling for things other than being transgender. All people need counseling sometimes, but transgender people have some additional burdens because being transgender is a violation of our culture. Transgender people sometimes need help with the rejection that comes from this violation. Evidence-based practice does not mean that being transgender can be changed or 'cured.'" Transgender people no doubt feel distress from lack of acceptance from friends, family, or the general public. However, this seems to ignore that gender dysphoria goes deeper than that - that the sense that I'm in the wrong body can be deeply painful and require professional counseling. 

Paul McHugh,distinguished professor of psychiatry at Johns Hopkins University, has researched and written extensively on treatments for transgenderism, including surgery. His findings have made him a pariah to the LGBT community. Here are three important findings:

When children who reported transgender feelings were tracked without medical or surgical treatment at both Vanderbilt University and London's Portman Clinic, 70%-80% of them spontaneously lost those feelings.

It is a little-reported fact that people who undergo sex re-assignment surgery do not, statistically, report higher levels of happiness after surgery. That is ,acting on the desire to live as the opposite gender to the one that accords with biological sex does not bring peace to a heart.

Transgendered men do not become women, nor do transgendered women become men. All (including Bruce Jenner) become feminized men or masculinized women, counterfeits or impersonators of the sex with which they 'identify.'

How should we respond?

 Here are two very helpful quotes from Vaughn Roberts:

We need to begin by remembering that we are not simply talking about 'issues' here, but people: precious individuals, each created and loved by God. Most of them don't have a strong political agenda or any desire to fight in a 'culture war'; they are simply trying to cope with feelings that may well cause them great distress.

There are two common responses to this issue: an unquestioning 'Yuk!' and an unquestioning 'Yes!'.... Christians should avoid both these reactions. Rather than turning away from people in disgust with a 'Yuk'!, we need to remember that they are made in God's image and deeply loved by him. We should share his compassion for them in their pain and confusion. Most of us can only begin to imagine the distress that might be associated with gender dysphoria. Certainly no one ends up in an operating theatre for a radically invasive surgical procedure having taken the decision lightly. We have to recognise that there must be a huge amount of prolonged distress and struggle behind that decision. So it's vital that we Christians take care never to think or talk of those who struggle in this way with any kind of disrespect. We must speak with compassion and affirm the dignity of every human being. We are all made in the image of God.

Similarly, Andrew Walker notes something positive about the transgender revolution: "This revolution is flipping over the tables of centuries-old norms. And there's some good that can come from it. It is good, for example, that people who experience distress about their gender identity are able to talk more openly and honestly about their struggles and feelings without everyone in society thinking they are a freak. Society is now attempting to help people who experience doubts and struggles with their gender identity, rather than push those people to the margins." 

In light of passages like 1 Cor. 6:9-11, can a transgender person be a Christian? Walker writes, "That doesn't mean that someone who struggles with gender identity conflicts is not a Christian. As we've seen, all Christians wrestle with life in this fallen world in one way or another. Let me underline that experiencing gender dysphoria does not mean you are not a Christian. But it does mean that a settled rejection of God's purposes for us as male or female cannot be reconciled with following Christ. Someone can embrace a transgender identity or find their identity in Christ, but not both." 

Walker finishes his book outlining the Christian response of love. Love promotes dignity, requires empathy, shares truth, produces compassion, and has patience.

So what if someone born John but now called Joan walks into church? Should you call him John or should you call her Joan? We think that the compassionate response at first would be to call her Joan. If Joan, by God's grace, comes to faith, we would not insist upon her living as John immediately upon conversion or as first necessary to conversion. However, over time the truth of God's Word must have its way, and eventually Joan should see that God created him John and should therefore live as John. This is a long road and requires much patience from the church.

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