It needs to first be clarified in any discussion of transgender issues that it is primarily a medical discussion, not a moral issue. This does not mean that morals are not involved, but it does mean that that should not be our primary concern in our discussion.
Sadly, some try to oversimplify the discussion with statements like “God makes everyone male or female,” or “If the chromosomes are XY, it’s a male, if they are XX, it’s a female.” This ignores the lived experience of intersex people, a group that, when taken as a whole, make up more of the human population than people with red hair.1 Some will quote Genesis 1:27 and 5:2, “…He created them male and female…,” overlooking the fact that the “them” here refers to Adam and Eve, NOT the entire human race. God only created two humans from “scratch.” The rest of us were born according to the rules of biology and genetics.
Some will even bring up an incorrect reading of Deuteronomy 22:5 to invalidate transgender people. In the King James Version, but also in many other translations, this verse roughly reads as, “The woman shall not wear that which pertaineth unto a man, neither shall a man put on a woman’s garment: for all that do so are abomination unto the Lord thy God.” Ignoring for now the fact that applying this verse to transgender individuals starts with the assumption that they are not the gender they claim they are (something discussed in more detail later in this page), this verse still would not apply because of its mistranslation. A more literal translation from Hebrew reads “The weapon of a warrior shall not be on a woman, nor shall a warrior put on the robe of a woman, for all who do these things are a hateful thing to the LORD thy God.” The word “robe” is translated from the Hebrew word simlah, which was a garment worn by both sexes. Clearly, this cannot be referring to cross-dressing. What could it be referring to then? A much more likely answer to that question is that it is about ritual purity and the mixing of blood. Both warrior’s swords and women’s garments would get blood on them, one from battle and the other from menstruation. To have a man wear the robe of a woman, or vice versa, would mix blood, which was considered an abomination under the law.
We can continue to argue ourselves in circles, taking bits and pieces from various completely unrelated verses to construct a flimsy at best argument against transgender individuals, but the fact is that many people experience a gender identity separate from their apparent birth sex. This is not something people are just making up; instead it seems that all people have some subconscious gender identity. We are often simply not aware of it, and have no reason to become aware of it unless there is some incongruence, and it can sometimes take years for this incongruence to become noticeable. It’s sometimes obvious from childhood, but often it only noticeably takes the form of an inexplicable case of depression or anxiety or both, one that proves difficult to treat through other means. Often the only treatment for the negative effects of such a case of incongruity, and certainly the only permanent treatment, is to transition. If a person decides that their dysphoria is too difficult to live with they can transition medically, taking hormone therapy or even getting surgery. Alternatively, they can decide to just transition socially if they are unwilling or unable to go through medical transition. Whether they are the gender their identity tells them they are or if they are the gender their body appeared to be at birth is irrelevant in terms of how we should care for transgender individuals.
It would be careless, however, to not say something about gender theory. As stated earlier, the attempt to reduce gender to just genetics is ill informed. Part of the entire point of modern medicine is that sometimes genetics are insufficient to live a comfortable life, or sometimes even to live at all. Take, for example, near or farsightedness or cancer, two conditions with genetic origin. There isn’t anything inherently holy about genetics. They are simply instructions for your body on how it should release hormones as a person develops.
Critics, in response, might try to base gender on reproductive capability, but this would also be ill informed. If we base gender entirely on genitals, then how do we categorize people who have somehow had their genitals removed (eunuchs, etc)? How do we categorize intersex people whose genitals might have traits of both sexes? We could say that it’s less about genitals and more about reproductive capability, but that’s even worse! What would that imply for people who are barren? Was Sarah not really a woman until she had Isaac? Or Rachel until she had Joseph? How do we account for all the many people in the Bible who couldn’t have children even if they wanted to? What about those struggling with this same issue right now?
If we cannot rely on our genetics, or on our genitalia, what can we rely on then for a definition of gender? Some hold to a view that you are whatever gender you claim to be.This approach is not without its fair share of weaknesses. If a person can define their own identity, how much meaning is there in that identity? You don’t become an astronaut or a pastor just because you say you are, after all. There has to be some consistent determiner for gender, and the only thing that remains constant throughout all this variation and nuance is one’s subconscious gender identity.
Some might bring up other things: “What about neurology?”, “What about bone structure?” etc. Yet even these things are changeable, at least a little bit, by hormone therapy.2, 3 The only constant across all cases is your subconscious gender identity, no matter how uncomfortable that might be.
This is only briefly touching on gender theory without going too far in depth into the complexities of the issue; this should at least begin to illuminate the true complexity of this issue, as well as just how many theories exist that fully allow for the existence of transgender individuals within its framework. Even the gender theory presented here is not the full pardon it may sound like to some evangelicals. As said before, one’s gender identity is subconscious and therefore difficult to determine. Only God can see into the human heart, after all. It can take decades for someone to become aware of even the possibility of having a mismatched gender identity, let alone the years of self-determination, experimentation, and counseling to be able to go through any kind of medical transition. The path of transgender persons is difficult, and it won’t get any better if we reject their very existence and experiences as legitimate. Our calling, then, is to love them and to respect their identity and calling, even if we do not fully understand the nuances of it.