Should We Allow and Promote Transgenderism?
By David Metcalfe
November 26, 2018
Although there may be many uses and implications that come with the term “transgenderism”, I am restricting its definition to mean an individual born a biologically determined gender, and throughout the entirety of their youth and even into adulthood, feeling a profound sense of being the opposite gender from which they were determined at birth. Or, in simplest terms, someone whose gender identity differs from their assigned sex.
Since, in this article, I don’t bother to cover the basics of transgenderism and accompanying terms and concepts, you may wish to first skim this Wikipedia article if you are not familiar with the subject: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transgender
There is so much to consider when it comes to this topic that this article is not even close to comprehensive, but hopefully serves to aid a process of contemplation that both precedes and succeeds the content written here. I am thankful to have met transgender people in this last year and hear their struggles, hopes, and opinions, as I am equally thankful to have heard and read from religious leaders, lawyers, psychologists, sociologists, and philosophers. I hope to fairly represent all of their views, as well as my own.
Whether or not it is acceptable to identify as transgender has become a contentious national debate in recent years. It is a polarizing issue between the left and right, the religious and non-religious, between generations, and within each of these different groups. There are, of course, a wide range of views on the subject, but we may be able to limit it to two main groups: progressives and resistors.
The progressive movement toward allowing and promoting transgenderism is based upon mental health research, personal freedom, protection of minorities, and reducing the antiquated rigidity of gender norms in light of modern, more inclusive ideals.
The resistor movement against allowing and promoting transgenderism is based upon societal norms, rigid gender binary paradigms, religious interpretations, superiority of dominant groups, and a negative attitude toward tolerance.
The first group has reason to be optimistic, as transgender rights have dramatically expanded, and social inclusion in media, politics, business, education, and other areas continue to increase in policy and representation. The second group, obviously, does not contain the same kind of optimism. Their view has been dominant for majority of human history, and is intrinsically built into many of our social and legal rules, assumptions, and ways of life. Because of the past dominance of those against transgenderism, we may say that the resistors have everything to lose, and the progressives, everything to gain.
We will look at three main aspects of this issue:
- The Christian View
- Legal Perspective
- Mental Health and Society
Christianity and Transgenderism
Western society has been influenced, at times even dominated, by Christian ideas. For this reason, I think it is nearly impossible to properly examine any social or moral issue in society in absence of its consideration.
Bertrand Russell famously said that “Christianity, as organized in its churches, has been and still is the principle enemy of moral progress in the world.”
His statement is correct in certain cases, and limited in others. More importantly, we should recognize the importance of “as organized in its churches”. Christianity as an enterprise has not been primarily a personal philosophy of embracing and following the teachings of Jesus Christ, but rather manifested into the formation and maintenance of authoritarian and collective cultures, from the politics of the Catholic Church to the social austerity of the evangelicals to the subcultural superiority of the Mormons, and so forth. This makes it very difficult to separate primitive or source Christianity from the cultures it exists in.
The Bible has very little to do with social or legal ethics. The Old Testament has a social and legal code of conduct, known as the Mosaic law, but it is commonly thought to be a temporary measure, and relinquished upon the fulfillment of the higher law in the arrival of Jesus Christ. The law becomes very simple in principle, as Jesus states that the law is summed up in “love God and love others” (Matthew 22:36-40, and reiterated by Paul in Galatians 5:14). This is a personal, spiritual ethic, and is far from establishing an authoritarian or collective enforcement of conduct.
But sometimes, Christians, in their ignorance of or refusal to employ secular reasoning to social and legal ethics, insist upon deriving it from the Bible, which makes for desperate contrivance. Abortion, for example, is never explicitly mentioned in the Bible. However, Christians take a poetic passage, with no implications of ethics, to support their already held assumption that abortion is wrong (Psalm 139:13). They attempt to turn this ambiguous personal ethic into an enforced social and legal one. They often do the same thing with transgenderism.
In the creation story, God creates humans as “male and female”. However, God also made them able bodied, and one might be just as logical to say that disabled people are equally immoral as transgender people, considering they are not made as the original creation was. The Bible, if it was intent on prohibiting transgenderism, could have easily contained a verse saying, “God assigns people a certain gender, and their physical body should always correspond with their gender identity.” And yet, it does not state that. For Mormons, however, the Bible’s ambiguity is made clearer by modern day revelation, most notably in the “Proclamation on the Family” which suggests gender binary essentialism, but has been interpreted otherwise, at times.
But there is, in Christianity, something I call “consistencies of principle” that may lend towards gender essentialism. The Bible would be an infinitely long book if it contained every possible prohibition, and its ethic is not as much a right or wrong as it is a process of internal virtue development through certain eternal, transcendent principles. In this ethical determination, one does not look for specific commands in the Bible, but rather concepts, and judges the rightness or wrongness of a thing by whether it is supported or contradicted within the grander narrative. For example, we may examine homosexuality this way. The New Testament of the Bible lacks a specific prohibition on homosexual behavior. However, one would find significant contradiction in the Bible if they were to accept homosexuality as morally good. From Adam and Eve being the ideal basis of creation, to Jesus saying a man should leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, to Paul’s disdain for the homosexual practices of the Romans and Corinthians, to the descriptions of romantic love in Song of Solomon, to the 5th commandment’s mention of one’s “mother and father”, and much more, we see a strong, overlying narrative towards affirming heterosexual marriage relationships as the only good forum for sexual expression.
The same can be said of transgenderism. While no specific prohibition is given, being male and living in accordance with that, and being female and living in accordance with that, does seem to be a strong feature of the Bible’s grander narrative. One finds great consistency in reading the Bible with the assumption of gender essentialism, and would find significant difficulty in using the Bible to affirm otherwise. From God creating the entirety of humanity in two binary genders, to Paul setting out different gender roles in marriage and church conduct, to the gendered implications of sexual ethics, to the complete absence of transgender affirmation, and much more, it appears as though the Bible is affirming of gender expressions in accordance with one’s physical body.
Although in my personal view, and the view of the majority of theologians, transgenderism is not affirmed by the Bible as morally good, this interpretation is not the ultimate authority, and room for other honest interpretations is certainly allowed. People who identify as transgender may very well feel a strong connection to Jesus Christ and the teachings of the Bible, and desire a community with which to share that. For this reason, the Metropolitan or United churches offer a valuable service in affirming transgender people as Christians. My own interpretation of the Bible is subject to change based on where the evidence appears to lead, as should everyone’s.
As for whether a Christian should be transgender, the verdict generally favors against it. However, in treating transgender people who are not Christian, the ethic seems fairly obvious: fulfilling the commandment to love others means affirming the value of every person in recognizing their dignity and agency, and empathizing with their struggles. Christianity, born out of obscurity and persecution, ought to have significant compassion for the marginalized, rather than seek to crush them in self-serving superiority. Seeking the detriment or degradation of transgender people would be so profoundly against the core message of Christianity that anyone who does so would be operating on a separate ethic from Christianity, even if they personally identify as such.
The core concept of law in Western society is a simple one: all people have individual rights to life, liberty and property. There is nothing to debate in regards to the right to life: transgender people cannot be murdered, and their murder has the same legal ramifications as the murder of any other person. There is nothing of significance to debate in regards to property: transgender people can purchase and own property just as any other person. The debate centers around liberty: for transgender people, progressives, and resistors.
Liberty For The Transgender Individual
If the exercise of one’s liberty does not infringe on the liberty of others, they are acting within the law, no matter how peculiar the act may be. For example, if someone wished to wear an orange hat all the time, we might consider that strange, but we could not limit that person legally. However, if the person said that all people must wear orange hats all the time, and would hurt them if they didn’t, then they are infringing on another person’s rights, and it is no longer lawful. So too, we cannot say it is illegal for a man to wear a dress, even though we may find it odd.
But often times, peculiar behavior, although not punished by the law, is punished socially. The social punishment, of say, not inviting a transgender person to a party, cannot be legally remedied. However, in matters of public policy, such as the workplace, hospitals, education, and others, social punishment can be classified as legal discrimination, in which case it does become a legal matter. Legal rights are enacted to protect the natural rights of people when they are under attack. Since transgender people are vulnerable to social punishment in the form of discrimination, their liberty to live as they choose is under attack, and legal rights must be enacted and upheld to protect them.
Liberty Between Progressives and Resistors
Generally, the progressive movement seeks to educate others and, in doing so, promote transgenderism as an acceptable identity and lifestyle. They advocate for the legal rights of transgender people through protests, campaigns, online support, etc. and work further to make systemic changes to institutions that contain discriminatory policies or cultures.
Generally, the resistor movement seeks to maintain traditional education on gender, and uphold existing policies and cultures that promote gender essentialism. They advocate for the legal rights of those who discriminate against transgender people, and work to undermine the legitimacy and efficacy of gender fluidity.
These groups clash in a variety of public spheres, making mutual appeasement impossible. While it may be an adult’s individual right to change their gender if they so choose, how should we teach this concept to children? Should teachers tell them transgenderism is a normal part of gender expression? Should gender segregated policies, such as those in bathrooms, locker rooms, and sports teams, be removed?
Should tax payer money be used for sex changes? Should transgender be considered a third gender on legal documents? Should transgender people be able to adopt children?
We can quickly see how these contentious questions permeate through every sphere of public policy and the accompanying social lives of the people in it. Since neither group can be appeased, the law focuses on what is most consistent with the values of the constitution, which in this case, is the right to liberty. Necessary for a society to maintain the right to individual liberty is not only legal protection, but a culture of tolerance. For this reason, the legal system and the institutions governed by it ought to act in accordance with tolerance for transgender people, and also allow freedom of belief for both progressives and resistors. Since the progressives are more consistent with tolerance, their side will inevitably be favored in policy development.
Mental Health and Society
A problematic tendency of certain theories in psychology is their conception of the self as a closed system, resulting in a failure to properly account for the incredibly important social interactions intrinsic to one’s self. Or, in regards to the topic of transgenderism, we cannot make the claim: transgender people have more depression and suicide than other people, so it is therefore psychologically damaging to be transgender.
In the Soviet Union, people who lived out a belief in democracy had much worse lives, but does that mean democracy is a bad thing? Or, if you are around a bunch of Edmonton Oilers fans who hate the Calgary Flames, you might get insulted for being a Flames fan; but does that mean the Flames are necessarily a bad thing? After all, if you were around a bunch of Flames fans, you would undoubtedly find that the Oilers are the bad thing.
What I mean to suggest is that the goodness or badness of a thing can often be culturally relative, and there are effects of any culture on one’s self. A 2016 study published in Pediatrics, found that transgender people had significantly worse mental health than other people. However, upon separating those who had been accepted by their communities, they found almost identical mental health to other people. In other words, the detriment to a transgender person’s mental health is not so much intrinsic to transgenderism as it is to the societal attitudes around it. You can read the study here: http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/137/3/e20153223
Transgender people have more difficulty getting jobs, medical treatment, and a variety of other opportunities that would advance their life achievement. They are also socially ostracized by many social groups, so having friends can be limited, and it is much harder for them to have dating relationships, since many people are not interested in dating a transgender person. https://www.psychologytoday.com/ca/blog/the-truth-about-exercise-addiction/201612/why-transgender-people-experience-more-mental-health
This is where the legal and social ethic move consistently towards tolerance and acceptance of transgender people. It is necessary, legally, to maintain the rights of all people. It is necessary, socially, to act with kindness and acceptance to all people. “All people”, of course, includes men, women, and whatever else people may identify as.
I suppose I ought to actually answer the question I first posed, “should we allow and promote transgenderism?”. The answer depends on whether you are asking me in terms of Christianity, the law, or mental health and society.
In terms of Christianity, I would say, “no, but with great compassion and kindness.” In terms of the law, I would say, “yes, but not by trampling the rights of those who dissent against the progressive movement.” In terms of mental health and society, I would say, “yes, but with appropriate reservation and unbiased interpretations of research.”
I hope that whatever view you have on the subject, that you hold it humbly. People have a tendency to get dogmatic on a certain view, and to then huddle in groups that agree with them and hate on the “others”. This has been the cause of all kinds of evil and stupidity. Instead, we can build our views with a healthy skepticism as we do what we can to limit our own bias in favor of quality research. We can interact and form positive relationships with people of all views and identities. We can understand and embrace empathy to those who act and believe differently than us.
Transgenderism is proving a trying issue for our culture, but whether it will damage us or improve us is based on much bigger issues; one’s that humanity has always faced. Rather than a trial, we can view the difficulties associated with transgenderism as opportunities to improve the quality of socially contentious discourse, remind us that human rights are universal whether we prefer it or not, and bring us to a better understanding of gender in the human experience.