Scholarly article on gender dysphoria

On April 29, I went public with my gender dysphoria (GD). A number of Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) pastors reached out to me that day. Among them was my seminary classmate, Scott Stiegemeyer. The next day, Scott called me. He was soon to leave the parish where he had been pastor to take an associate professorship of theology and bioethics at our LCMS Concordia University Irvine.

Scott surprised me by being quite knowledgeable about GD. While I do not recall his saying what led him to study it, the topic certainly falls under his discipline of bioethics. We had a good chat. He asked pertinent questions. I expressed my greatest concerns. Finally, he informed me that he was writing an article, hoping it would be published in our seminary’s theological magazine.

Waiting for me upon arrival from vacation was what might be my final copy of the Concordia Theological Quarterly (CTQ). Since I have resigned from the LCMS, in time I will be removed from all mailing lists, so I was pleased that the CTQ found its way to me (the current issue is not yet on their website), and that our Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, Indiana, found this a worthy topic for its journal.

Scott titled his piece, “How Do You Know Whether You Are a Man or a Woman?” He made understandable a challenging topic. Deep research, methodical presentation, and good writing make for a very helpful document for every minister in the LCMS—indeed, for any Christian, clergy or lay. I have messaged Scott with my thanks for a job well done.

While I would have undertaken a few things differently, I am not concerned today with those things. My interest is to present his conclusions. In the following five quotes, I hope that I have found the main ones, and that I have not taken them away from their context. Here they are, and then my reactions.

  • “There is no form of talk therapy or psychotropic medication that can fully assuage the intense dysphoria felt by many transgender patients.”
  • “Gender dysphoria is not a matter of possessing insufficient theological information. Gender dysphoria is an enormous burden that may have little remedy this side of our final glorification.”
  • “We should not say or imply that people who have the sense of incongruity between their mind and body are necessarily sinning. They are fallen sinners, yes, but is their confusion itself a sin or the result of their inherited sinful condition?”
  • “The hypothesis that gender dysphoria is an intersex condition of the mind/brain is consistent with the evidence. It also helps explain the strong resistance GD has to all forms of psychotherapy and all current drug therapies. If this hypothesis is granted, one cannot argue that maleness and femaleness are determined exclusively by the genitals, gonads, secondary sex traits, or even chromosomes.”
  • “Though changing exterior characteristics is easier than changing the brain, this yet does not make the sex-change surgery acceptable. At present, we must conclude that there is simply no medical solution to GD.”

This is the first time that I have seen a LCMS theologian acknowledging GD to be an intersex condition. I was gladly shocked that Scott arrived at this position. However, where he recognizes that there is no talk therapy or medicine to quell the storm which is GD, he does not allow for the one known remedy: transitioning. While he did not say why, this might be because he did not find statistics to demonstrate a high rate of success for those who transition. Or, it might be as simple as his retaining the position that transitioning does not abide by God’s Word or will.

In the lone LCMS document on GD, published in 2014 by the Commission on Theology and Church Relations (CTCR), the CTCR allowed for those with intersex conditions which are physical—basically, genital malformations visible to the eye—to decide which sex/gender fits them. They did not class GD as an intersex condition. Where Scott now does class GD as intersex, he does not take the next step and allow for physical changes, so that body matches brain.

I especially appreciated Scott’s recognition that one does not continue to suffer GD for a lack of theology. I did not quote his excellent paragraphs on the need (which every Christian has) for the ongoing receiving of Christ’s Means of Grace—the Gospel applied to us through His Word and the two Sacraments of Baptism and Communion, of which every Christian must make diligent use, no matter his station in life. My particular frustration with the pastors who have counseled me is that I have been left with the impression—and I consistently made my complaint known to them—that more, better, deeper theology was what I needed. I would ask if they expected a person suffering with some “regular disease” not to also seek medical help, or if they thought theology alone should be enough for the ill person.

I did not sucker any pastor into the corner on that. Yet, when I pressed them with my question—usually asked in tears, with bitterness in my voice—“Then, what am I supposed to do?” the typical answer was “I don’t know.”

They had no answer, yet they would not allow me to take the knowable answer: transition. While I also cannot produce a poll to show a high rate of transitioning success, my study, along with personally getting to know transitioned folks, demonstrates an extremely high success rate when diagnoses are accurate and the process is undertaken properly and methodically.

Scott has made an important leap for the LCMS, making more real this awful gender dysphoria. I pray that pastors make good use of his article, studying it, discussing it in meetings and conferences, maybe even talking to sufferers of the condition. If nothing else, I pray that education leads to compassion, and if any congregation has a member who suffers, who even transitions, they recognize this one, too, is a child of God, and not an impenitent sinner.

While I certainly want the LCMS to find transitioning to be a viable solution (until something better is found), it is not my interest to win the argument, but to achieve these two things: be faithful to the Word of God and be healthy enough to be useful to my Lord and to my fellow man.

I often struggle with continuing to write and make videos. Scott’s article has both enlightened the Church and buoyed my spirits. A year ago, I could not have imagined the great amount of good that has been accomplished in 2015 to educate regarding gender dysphoria and transgenderism. I am thus hopeful that, continuing with the cause, much more good might be accomplished.

I remain in pursuit of the Lord Jesus’ good and gracious will for my life—in this and in all things.

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2 thoughts on “Scholarly article on gender dysphoria

  1. In the final paragraph which you quote from the article, I note that the author uses the term “sex change surgery.” In other posts, you clearly state that “sex change surgery” does not equal “transitioning.”
    Does the author understand the difference, or does he use the two terms interchangeably? Since there is a difference, it is not difficult to understand how “sex change surgery” could be considered not God-pleasing while transitioning, as with the removal of an inflammed appendix or the use of drugs to control or eliminate a disease of mind or body.

    Psychology has long known that there are degrees of maleness and femaleness. Tests administered in college, way back in the 1960’s, demonstrated that there were few, if any, purely all-male students and purely all-female students. No suggestions were offered to move anyone from where he/she were found on the spectrum to elsewhere on that spectrum.

    Your article mentioned polls and statistics on transitioning success. Unless such polls/statistical analyses were carefully crafted, they are meaningless. There are too many factors in determining whether transitioning is a “success” to condense the results into a poll or analysis which produces a simplistic conclusion.

    Those who consider transitioning to be a sin should keep in mind that Jesus said the only unforgivable sin is the sin against the Holy Spirit, that is, rejecting the faith and other gifts which He brings.

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    1. Thank you for your as-always splendid, well-thought-out comments, Ken.

      Methinks the author uses “sex change surgery” specifically and not as transitioning as a whole. Indeed, based on his comments, in which he demonstrates the depth and reality of the condition, he might find limited transitioning—perhaps, where I am now, living full-time as a female, on HRT, but with no surgeries—to be an acceptable way to “get by” with gender dysphoria.

      Your final thought really is the most important, especially for those who might feel that transitioning, or/and sex change surgery, is such a sin that a person cannot possibly be a Christian: we all are sinners, and the admittance of this is foundational to being a Christian. No one sin—misusing the Lord’s name, taking one’s one life, ongoing drunkenness, if transitioning should be a sin, you name it—no one sin damns the Christian, who lives a repentant life, for the Lord Jesus has paid for our sins with His life. Only rejecting the Spirit—which is the rejecting of Christ—damns.

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