Transgender is one of the big topics of our day. It’s a topic that’s hard to avoid in the news and in popular media, and it’s a topic around which there are all sorts of debates: debates about access to single-sex spaces, about competitive sport, about the grounds for legally changing your gender, and about the words we should use to refer to transgender people.
Such debates can often leave us believing that these sorts of things are what transgender is about: it’s about places, policy, and pronouns. But in reality, before it’s about any of these things, transgender is about people, people made and loved by God, and people who are experiencing something that is often very difficult to navigate. The debates aren’t unimportant, but they can distract us from what is most important: people.
It’s the importance of noticing the people behind the debates that led me to write People Not Pronouns: Reflections on Transgender Experience. This short booklet gives an introduction to transgender and a three-part framework for a rounded Christian engagement with the reality of transgender experience. It helps us think about how we can engage with transgender people, not just transgender debates.
Why is such a booklet needed? I think each element of the three-part framework highlights an overlooked element of Christian engagement with transgender experience.
A Heart Response
It all starts with a heart response. How does God feel about transgender people and how should Christians feel?
Sadly, the point still needs to be made that God loves transgender people and that Christians must do the same. Stories still emerge from UK churches of trans people being rejected, excluded, and mistreated. We still need our hearts to be shaped to reflect God’s heart.
A Head Response
Next, we explore our head response. How should we think about transgender?
In the culture around us, transgender experience is understood as an identity issue. Who someone feels themself to be inside is believed to be who they really are. Therefore, the logic goes, that internal sense of self should be embraced and expressed. But is looking inside of ourselves really the best way to find who we are?
We need to step back and ask the more fundamental question, ‘How do I find who I am?’. When we do this, we find that rather than basing our identity on what we find inside, far better is basing our identity on what God says about us, including what he says to us, through our bodies, about being a man or a woman.
A Hope Response
But we can’t stop at a heart response. If who we are is dictated by God through our bodies, what about those who still live with a deep sense of discomfort with this, with a feeling that they are someone different to what their body might suggest? A Christian response must also engage with the reality of the pain of gender dysphoria.
And that is something we are well set to do. As Christians, we are uniquely equipped to handle suffering well and to help others to do the same. We can bring hope to those who live with the pain of gender dysphoria.
Let’s remember that transgender is about far more than places, policy, and pronouns. Transgender is about people and our engagement with it must put those people front and centre.
People Not Pronouns is out now. You can order your copy here.