Helping transgendered Christians
by Anthony Bradley
Posted on Friday, January 8, 2016, at 1:29 pm
The fall of Adam not only affected the ways humans behave in this world, it also distorted how the natural world functions. Physical and mental disabilities, ranging from cleft palates to autism, are consequences of the fall, affecting children all over the world. Remembering this aspect of the fall came in handy recently when a Christian friend of mine revealed to me he was transgender and suffering from gender dysphoria.
Initially, my only response was to cry, as I thought about how painful his life has been. I wanted to know more about his condition, so I hit the books. After extensive research, I realized that very plausible scientific evidence tells us something could have gone wrong with my friend while he was in his mother’s womb. While his physical genes expressed themselves with a male body, possible hormonal changes in the embryonic stage may have resulted in his brain developing a mental experience as a female.
My friend has lived his life as a Christian in a conservative Bible-believing community with an internal conflict between how his brain processes what he feels and how his body developed. As Mark A. Yarhouse, a psychology professor at Regent University, explains in his book Understanding Gender Dysphoria (IVP Academic, 2015), the distress resulting from having one’s psychological and emotional identity not correspond to one’s biological sex because of gender dysphoria is not a choice, nor is it “willful disobedience.”
I asked my friend what it was like growing up with this condition. “Imagine yourself in a black box with not a speck of light to orient yourself,” he told me. “You feel as if you are in a plunging elevator while your stomach twists and turns into knots; your sense of balance and direction melt away. You are in a constant state of vertigo as time has become irrelevant. An uneasiness builds up in the core of your stomach, rising up through your throat, until you wake up gagging, sweating, and shaking all over.”
I have witnessed his distress with my own eyes. After multiple hospital visits over the years for what I thought was a severe anxiety disorder, my friend was actually suffering from gender dysphoria. Living with gender dysphoria is hard. According to recent data, 41 percent of transgender individuals attempt suicide. Because we do not know everything about the causes of gender dysphoria, Christians with the disorder need the church to help them manage their condition, since, like autism, there are no drugs or spiritual disciplines that automatically abate the psychological disorientation.
For many Christians, the fall tragically affected them in utero in ways that make their daily lives difficult. For my friend, his gender dysphoria is drawing him closer to Christ, but he needs the church to be a community offering hope instead of shame. Yarhouse doesn’t endorse the way society has embraced and encouraged transgenderism, but he believes, as he explained at a recent lecture at Calvin College, that Christians should respond to it in ways that take into account the fullness of the Bible’s creation-fall-redemption-restoration story, because transgendered individuals are not only in society at large, but are also in the church.
Anthony is associate professor of religious studies at The King's College in New York and a research fellow at the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty.