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Gender Diversity & Christianity - A Defense

Gender Diversity & Christianity- A Defense

by Jennifer A Burnett, MD

May 21, 2007




A recent incident prompted me to put pen to paper. A transsexual woman, who had transitioned over 20 years ago, witnessed a verbal attack on other transsexuals. As she has been in stealth for ages, it was a difficult decision for her as to whether to speak up or keep silent.


One of the problems that we often have is that many TS people cannot readily defend themselves against such negative opinions (most of which are based on total ignorance) that people commonly express about us. This is especially true concerning attacks by Christians and devout believers of other religions.


I wrote the following essay to provide some basic facts and arguments that should be helpful in explaining what Gender Dysphoria (GD) is and that "nature" is not so binary (black and white) when it comes to sex and gender. I have tried to address most of the common arguments made by Christians against us and our choice to "transition".


The Diversity of Gender Variance in Nature & Its Implication for Christians

I was born with a congenital abnormality called Gender Dysphoria (also referred to as Transsexualism). I knew I was “different” from the earliest I could remember, at least as far back as the age of 4. I was aware from the very beginning that my body did not match what my brain was telling me- I always knew that I was a little girl. This is an extremely common phenomenon experienced by the vast majority of those born with GD—comprehension of a mind-body disunity and the display of behaviors consistent with that in the children sometimes as early as two years of age.


Even newborns show patterns of behavior that are sex-differentiated. Female infants fixate far more on people’s faces; males are attracted to bright, shiny and moving objects. This appears to be due to certain “hard-wiring” that affects our gender identity that is already present at birth. Certain areas of the brain develop in the womb in some very specific ways, making our brains truly “male” or “female” from our birth. There are actual (microscopically) demonstrable differences in certain areas of the brain that appear to be linked to our gender identity (e.g. the BSTc nucleus of the thalamus).


GD is a therefore a recognized medical condition (i.e. NOT a psychiatric illness such as Schizophrenia or Bipolar Disorder). It is estimated that 1 in 5000 male children are born with GD (i.e. outwardly normal male bodies with the gender identity of a female). The opposite condition (female bodies with a “male” brain) also occurs, though this is slightly less common.


The actual causation of GD is only partially understood and the condition is more complex than can easily be presented here. GD may very well have its origins around the 8-14 week of fetal development. Prenatal exposure to DES and certain other chemicals during this key period of fetal development is associated with a high incidence of GD. There are many animal models that also demonstrate this as a causation of reversed gender behavior.


Many Christians take the stand that such a condition as GD is not possible, for “God doesn’t make mistakes.” Yet congenital heart defects (many of which are fatal at or shortly after birth), facial deformities (such as cleft lips/plates/noses) and varying expressions of ambiguous genitalia and Intersexed conditions, occur quite frequently. Hypospadias is present in 1 in 300 male infants; they are born with the urethral openings below the tip of the penis, sometimes located separately from the penile shaft, (similar to the position in females).


Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia, on the other hand, causes the female labia to fuse into a male-type scrotum and the clitoris develops into a small penis. This occurs in 1 in 15,000 female births. True hermaphrodites (more properly referred to as “Intersexed) are actually born with both male and female sex organs- having both (one or more) testicles and ovaries, along with some form of penis and internal uterus. This is much rarer, occurring in less than 1 in 100,000 births. I have a friend who was born Intersexed and is a true chimera- half of her body’s cells are XX and the other half XY. I have also met other Intersexed individuals who have had to “choose” (or a choice [sometimes the wrong one] was made for them as a child) what sex they really are in their heart, mind and spirit.


Our chromosomes/genetics are unfortunately not a reliable indicator of our gender identity either. There are two well-known Hollywood actresses that do not have the usual XX sex chromosomes of females. There is also a condition called Androgen [male hormone] Insensitivity, a rare defect wherein male babies are born with normal-appearing external female genitalia and develop at puberty just like normal girls.


Though they have a vagina, they have no uterus or ovaries (and therefore cannot menstruate or bear children) and their internal testes produce an excess of testosterone. However, due to this genetic defect, testosterone has absolutely no effect on their bodies. In fact, their bodies actually convert some of the androgens into estrogen, which is why they develop breasts and typical female “curves”.


Those with AI grow up just like all the other girls and have all the feelings and “drives” of normal girls. AI is often not discovered until mid-teens, when their doctors run tests on them for failure to start their “periods”.  Then they find out that they are actually infertile genetic males. The psychological impact of this out can be devastating! [What would the church do in this scenario- make them switch to using the men’s bathroom because they now know her to actually be a genetic male? Wouldn’t that be a sensitive and compassionate gesture by her Christian brethren?]


There are many more rare and unusual conditions, such as a familial genetic trait in which normal appearing females begin transforming into fertile males once they reach puberty. Nature is replete with spontaneous “sex changes”, such as the ability of the alpha-male Clownfish (as in the movie, “Finding Nemo”) to transform into a female if the balance of the sexes is off. Another tropical fish, the Antheis, consists of a large colony of females and only one male, which mates with all of the others. If that male were to disappear (wander away or be lost to predation), the alpha female undergoes a spontaneous sex change to become a functional male.


I wanted to give you this background so that you may better understand that conditions such as GD, though unusual, do exist. Due to the Fall, God’s perfect world became flawed; congenital defects, death and disease thereby came into being. Yet I too also believe that God doesn’t make “mistakes”. Even though bad things happen and babies are born with serious defects, God can still use this to His glory. Jesus clearly told His disciples that the man “born blind” (in John 9) was not being punished for his own sin, nor that of his parents. He was born with this congenital defect so that “the works of God may be displayed in him” (v.2).


I believe that this also applies to me and my condition- that God can and is displaying His work in me! Some of my brethren have condemned me for having the audacity to seek appropriate medical and surgical care to correct my extremely debilitating condition. They very glibly tell me that God made me male, so I shouldn’t try to change. Others have said that I should have had “more faith” and trusted that God would heal me; and if not, then I should just “live with it”.


Yet, I would sincerely doubt that if any of these Christians had had a baby born with a serious heart defect or a disfiguring cleft lip/nose, they would have easily accepted their child’s fate if did God did not choose to heal their baby by some miraculous means. If a parent were told that a major (even potentially dangerous) heart surgery could save their baby from a sure death and/or give that child a reasonably normal and active life, I am almost positive they would pursue this means, and rightly so.


God has given mankind the intelligence to develop medicines and surgeries to save lives and restore wholeness to those with sickness and disabilities. Though some religions feel it is wrong to take any medicine or allow any surgery whatsoever, this is certainly not biblical. Luke, an early gentile convert to Christianity, was himself a doctor and the authored two books of the New Testament. Despite the Spirit’s gift of miraculous healing which was abundantly manifested in the early church, there is no record that medicinal cures were abandoned or looked upon with disdain. Paul even told Timothy to “use a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments” (1Tim 5:23).


There is much more to be said of the spiritual and psychological consequences of trying to live a life inconsistent with who you really are, deep inside. The principles that I see from the Bible that are most important when considering GD and the Christian faith are these:


God made us for a purpose, even our “defects”. Our outward appearance is nothing in God’s sight, for He “looks upon the heart” as sees us as we truly are (1Sam 16:7). God desires for us to be whole and live an abundant life (John 10:10). For those who suffer from GD, changing our outward appearance is ultimately the only way we can correct a horrendous congenital defect that we were born with. Using medicine and surgery to “change genders” (really, only changing our outward presentation, for our true gender is what is “inside our heads” and is therefore unchangeable) is no more “sinful” that having a congenital heart defect or a cleft lip/nose corrected surgically to bring a person into “wholeness” and relieve his/her suffering.


God can bring healing to us through “natural” means (medicine and surgery) as well as by the miraculous. And if by modifying the “outsides” of our body to bring it into conformity with whom God truly made us to be (in our heart, mind and spirit), we can “manifest the work and glory of God in our lives” (John 9:3), then we are living and acting in a manner consistent with God’s divine plan for us and the world.

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