Recent events in both the culture and the Church have prodded me this week to post, in a five-part series, an article I wrote on transsexualism six years ago for the Christian Research Journal. (You can find it in its original form here)
Yesterday I began this series by describing my client Kim (not her real name) who came to me shortly after she’d accepted Christ at a Harvest Crusade. Kim was born female but had lived as a male for years, even developing a long term relationship with a woman, while working and living as a man. She’d had “sexual reassignment” surgery and was known by all friends and associates as male.
Kim had come to me wanting to know if, since she’d become a Christian, she should also revert back to living as a woman, though she was clearly more comfortable in the male role. In this series I will attempt to answer that and other questions that often arise in any discussion of transsexualism, gender identity, or sex change surgery.
My special thanks to Kim, by the way, for giving me permission to write about our conversation.
The Innateness Argument
Kim was weeping while I scrambled for an answer to the questions she’d just poured out. (See yesterday’s installment) “Let’s start with this premise, OK?” I began. “We’re born male or female by design, not accident. So we have to assume your assigned sex is your intended sex.”
“Intended?” she gasped. “That’s like saying God intended me to be a frog, so I should hop and croak! From day one, everything in me has said I’m a man, and you’re saying God made me a woman? Either you’re wrong, or God messed up.”
Most transsexuals feel, from early in life, “trapped” in the wrong body, hence the American Psychiatric Association’s definition of transsexualism as “strong and persistent cross-gender identification… and… persistent discomfort about one’s assigned sex.” With time, it is common for transsexuals to develop a form of depression called gender dysphoria. “I’m so mad at God,” a seven-year old laments in the Barbara Walters special about young transsexuals. “He made a mistake.” The torment of gender dysphoria expresses itself in the question, “How can I be one way yet feel another?” Lest anyone dismiss the seriousness of this depression, it should be noted that suicide attempts, drug abuse, and horrendous efforts at self-mutilation are commonly reported among young transsexuals.
Those Stubborn Chromosomes
The solution, many conclude, is a process called sex reassignment, through which the transsexual’s body is altered to conform to his or her self-perception. The sex a transsexual wants to be is the target gender, as opposed to the assigned gender with which he or she was born. Reassignment can include injections of hormones, facial reconstruction, breast implants or removal, and reconstruction of genitals. This process is widely available, although most states require a person to live (dress, work, and self-identify) as a member of the opposite sex for a prescribed period before undergoing surgery, accompanied by extensive psychological counseling to determine suitability for the procedure.
The impossibility of truly becoming the opposite sex seems obvious, but so does the desperation a person such as Kim must feel to make such an attempt. Surely, castration, implants, and hormones still leave a man unable to ovulate; penile implants and breast reduction likewise won’t delete a woman’s womanhood. Chromosomes stubbornly remain unchanged, immune to surgical intervention.
Knowing all this and more, thousands still attempt reassignment, believing, as did Kim, that they were born not for the body they inhabit, but for the one they’re trying to create. At one time such a belief held little sway, the testimony of the body overriding the mind. But as we move further from the influences of Scripture and Judeo-Christian tradition, embracing a more subjective grid for decision making, however, feelings often trump facts.
Traditionally, if a man felt like a woman yet inhabited a male body, his feelings, not his body, were viewed as the problem. They were considered something to be resisted, modified if possible, and contrary to what was. Currently, what one is, is being determined by what one feels – an ominous trend when one considers its implications. It is, in essence, an attempt to define reality by desire, knowledge by intuition. “I know I’m a man because I feel like one!” Kim screamed at me as our session continued, leaving me stunned that an intelligent, educated woman subordinated a verifiable truth—her born, inalterable state—to subjective (though strongly held) perceptions.
Transsexualism’s increased acceptance, combined with its early developmental appearance, leaves many professionals and laity convinced that it is an inborn trait. The jury, after all, is still out on the question of homosexuality’s origins—inborn, acquired, or a combination of the two?—and compelling arguments are made on all sides. Biological or genetic factors thus may create, or at least contribute to, this mystery as well. (As of this writing, there is no single, universally accepted theory on the origins of transsexualism.)
Does “Inborn” also Mean “God Ordained”?
Whether inborn or acquired, however, the transsexual dilemma is more agonizing than anyone untouched by it can appreciate. If from early childhood one feels like a member of the opposite sex, and if that feeling only grows with time, doesn’t the feeling’s innate status normalize it? Kim’s “I feel this way, so I’m meant to be this way” argument has to be considered. Does “inborn” or “innate” also mean “normal” or “God ordained?”
“I can’t say it does,” I answered when Kim asked that very question. “There’s such a thing as birth defects, right?”
“I’m a defect?” she retorted.
“Unfair, Kim. I said a person can have an inborn defect. That doesn’t make the person a defect. Think about it. Aren’t some people born without limbs, or with chronic conditions?”
“Not in their heads! They’re not born feeling something they can’t stop feeling.”
“Some would disagree,” I countered. “Plenty of studies have shown addictive tendencies may be inborn. Depression seems to run in families, so it could be in the genes. Ditto for violence—did you know there are attorneys basing their client’s defense on a genetic tendency to violence? All of those are problems of the ‘head,’ as you say, but they’re not normal just because they’re inborn, are they?”
I couldn’t blame Kim for glaring at me. I was, in essence, saying that her lifelong, deeply held feelings were an error. “All I know,” she sighed, “is that God made me. Doesn’t that count for something?”
“You bet,” I nodded, “We’re all created by God, but we’re not all He created us to be. We’re a fallen race. Adam sinned, remember? Then everything about him changed, body and soul, and he passed on his corrupted nature to the rest of us. We’re all struggling with conflicts and tendencies we’ve had from day one.” (See Gen. 3:17–19, Ps. 51:5, and Rom. 5:12–19.)
“This isn’t the same as your average tendency,” Kim protested.
“No, it’s not. Some people, including you, have to deal with tendencies that are huge, and make life awfully hard. I appreciate that. But it doesn’t give you a divine permit to alter what God fashioned. In the long run, Kim, it matters less what we feel, and more what He intends.”
Tomorrow we’ll be looking at Part Three of this series, covering the “Irrelevance Argument” and examining why the sex we are born with matters, and hugely, in God’s sight, and why His choice for our gender must be ours as well. I hope you’ll join us.