I will never forget reading the six-page letter to our senior leadership team from a mom of an 8-year-old boy that was identifying as a girl. She recounted with painstaking detail the years-long journey they had been on with their child and the crossroads they had reached. Having pushed gender conformity for years, they had decided to allow him to identify as a girl like he was imploring. Desperate to save him, they finally relinquished. She quoted the suicide statistics that were addressed in “The Transgender Experiment on Children” essay by Davies-Arai. I deeply empathized with her and wondered what I would do in similar circumstances.
Here was a church-attending family in our community with a name and a story of gender dysphoria. We confidentially passed the letter around in a nondescript envelope till each of the addressees had read it. We were subdued in our subsequent meeting; the letter had disquieted us. And it raised questions of our children’s ministry philosophy and preparedness around this issue. It brought what seemed “out there” and on the fringes to right under our noses. A kid’s ministry worker had referred to the child as a boy and put him with the boys during the break-out time after the mom had specifically asked to have the child join the girls. Perhaps our church was not ready to receive their child, she asked? We spent the better part of the hour talking about bathrooms, protocols, etc. We knew we would not do this perfectly but we were determined to love this family the best we could. Sometimes that is more complicated than it appears.
This is a heavy and convoluted topic and another reason to be grateful for the LGP program. I am fairly certain I would have not encountered Transgender Children and Young People: Born in Your Own Body otherwise. There is a great deal to learn in these related but stand-alone essays.
A comment in the response section to Bird’s “A Must-Read Feminist, Queer, Disability & Psychoanalytic Critique of Transgenderism” made me wonder about the natural consequences of a religion of self. If selfhood is the highest order and highest good, then there are no absolutes and everything is fluid. It was a short line that caught my attention from a transgender person-
Only because our mental existence resembles the platonic forms and Gnostic view of the self over God, does our existence trouble Christian metaphysics.
Why are Christians troubled? In part because our culture holds self over God. Several of our previous assigned sources came flooding back to me. I think of Taylor’s A Secular Age. The question of what God thinks or wants for these precious children is not factored in in the age of secularism. Or at least it is only an option among several instead of the assumption. Why would it be? The question is what does the child want or what does the self want now. That a book from thousands of years ago would have any relevancy to today’s sexuality is passé at best – dangerous at worst. In Douthat’s Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics, he discusses the heresy of “The God Within” which is tangential to secularism. We did not get here accidentally but with great intention by championing the self.
Instead of being troubled and lamenting our losses, what is a better way to steward our energy? How would James Davison Hunter want us to remain a faithful presence knowing that the culture will never return to what it once was with Judeo-Christian views of sexuality and gender? What does it look like to practice faithfulness on behalf of children struggling with gender dysphoria? What would it sound like for Christians to not vacate these discussions and controversies and to do so without complaining and bemoaning our current reality?
My final thought is about the universality of the protection of children. I am not convinced that these authors are correct in their views but I am grateful they risked their reputations to publish this work. My working assumption it that with all the polarization and fragmentation in our world, there is only one thing that all humans can agree upon – safeguarding and advocating for our children. If this is true, then there should be no topic in relation to them that is off limits. Of course there will be a plethora of perspectives, but so be it. It is worth it. Hearing all sides helps us to consider it well and act with the most wisdom possible. This side of the conversation about transgender children is crucial and should be heard – especially since this whole issue is ultimately about what is best for kids and not any other agenda.
Heather Brunskell-Evans and Michele Moore, Transgender Children and Young People: Born in Your Own Body(Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2018) 17-19.
Michael F. Bird, “A Must-Read Feminist, Queer, Disability & Psychoanalytic Critique of Transgenderism,” Euangelion (Patheos Explore the world’s faith through different perspectives on religion and spirituality!, May 11, 2019), https://www.patheos.com/blogs/euangelion/2019/05/a-must-read-feminist-queer-disability-psychoanalytic-critique-of-transgenderism/.
Charles Taylor, A Secular Age (Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2018).
Ross Gregory Douthat, Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics (New York, NY: Free Press, 2013), Chapter 7.
James Davison Hunter, To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity Today (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010).