No, they didn’t walk into a bar and, no, this isn’t the start of a joke. Each of these walked into my life in the past two weeks, and they come together very nicely for this piece.
It was at Grandma Morrison’s party for her one-hundredth birthday that the seventy-nine-year-old man, whom I’ll call John, somehow managed to sit down next to me. I thought, “Didn’t he get a good look at me? He never would have sat here if he had gotten a good look at me.” Julie’s mom introduced us, and that I had been a Missouri Synod Lutheran pastor. This man and Mom’s family had long ago been in the Missouri Synod, but left in the 1960s for the Church of the Lutheran Confession because the Missouri Synod had some leaders who were teaching new, modern ideas.
John and I began to chat. Early on, I said that being transgender was not a mental illness, but from a real, physical condition. He said, “I understand,” which was nice, and then followed with, “But I don’t agree with it.”
“It.” Typically, “it” means transitioning, “it” often is the perceived sexual perversion aspect of this, or “it” means “living that lifestyle.” I stored his words and waited for an opportunity to speak to them. But, first, I wanted to show him what I was made of.
John and I talked shop.
He impressed me with a keen knowledge of the workings of Lutheran church business, with God’s Word, and with his resume as an involved layman. I hoped I impressed him with my responses to everything he brought up, that I knew my stuff. I also hoped he was finding, in what likely was the first trans person with whom he’d ever spoken, a genuine human being and not some caricature.
After ten minutes, I made my way into explaining about being transgender. He listened intently, giving me good eye contact. He didn’t respond to anything I said or asked any questions, but clearly he was taking me seriously.
In all, we talked for nearly a half-hour. We shook hands and spoke friendly so-longs and nice-to-meet-yous.
I found in John a typical Christian, one who knows nothing and misunderstands much about one’s being transgender, but one who will give you his ear and listen. Maybe, John’s attitude will change, as has the pastor’s who has become a hot topic the past few weeks.
Mark Wingfield is a Baptist minister in Dallas. On May 13, his piece was published on baptistnews.com: “Seven things I’m learning about transgender persons.” It went viral. Wingfield has been the subject of many interviews. I heard him on NPR. He spoke very well.
Wingfield had been in the same camp as John, not understanding and misunderstanding. He undertook listening to two friends, a pediatrician and a geneticist. He still claims he doesn’t know much, but his seven points demonstrate that he has learned much and, perhaps even better, that he has an open mind to learning.
I hope you read his essay. I will only quote one item. I quote it because it is the one that sticks in my craw as I continually have Deuteronomy 22:5 tossed at me: “A woman must not wear men’s clothing, nor a man wear women’s clothing, for the Lord your God detests anyone who does this.”
Wingfield wrote: “4. Transgender persons are not ‘transvestites.’ Far too many of us make this mix-up, in part because the words sound similar and we have no real knowledge of either. Cross-dressers, identified in slang as ‘transvestites,’ are people (typically men) who are happy with their gender but derive pleasure from occasionally dressing like the opposite gender. Cross-dressing is about something other than gender identity.”
Pastor Wingfield has gotten a foot in the door for the Church which can only be helpful. I am very thankful for him, and for news stories such as the following.
On Sunday, my best friend, Tim Todd, sent me this video:
In this piece, Jackie Judd presents an informative story about the science behind transgender. No sensationalism. No bias. No preaching. Nothing but the even-handed presentation of information.
After Judd introduces us to a trans boy, University of Washington psychology professor Kristina Olson is quoted, “Your biology determines a lot of your psychology,” and adding that there likely are biological contributors to our sense of gender identity.
We are then moved into a discussion of the now-abandoned practice of males who were born with ambiguous genitalia on which surgery was automatically performed—the parents might or might not have been informed of the situation—and then presented as girls, given hormone therapy when they reached puberty, and reared as girls. (The genitals were surgically formed into female genitals because constructing a respectable penis is not possible.) The majority of these people rejected their being girls, insisting they were boys which, of course, they were. The lesson? Gender identity if hardwired; it cannot be manipulated or taught.
Next, we are told of post-mortem images of brains of cisgender males and females, and of those who were transgender, with the brains of transgender females having areas resembling cisgender females. (Cisgender means that gender identity and sex anatomy match.)
It has been commonly thought—and I have had suggested regarding me—that trans-identity likely results from being sexually abused, or having a domineering or overly-doting mother, or an absent mother, or a domineering father, or an absent father. Everything in this story, all of the science presented here along with, perhaps most importantly, the testimony of trans individuals, completely dismisses these as factors for those who are truly transgender.
With young children—as young as three—many are concerned that “I don’t want to wear dresses” or “I am a girl!” are just passing phases. They certainly can be, but what of those who persist? Professor Olson, explains the text which accompanies the video, “conducted a long-term study with children using tests that use image and word association to measure the strength of their gender identification. The results showed the children’s thought processes align with the gender they identify with, even if it is not the one they were assigned at birth.”
I most value this news story for its objectivity. It came off as having no agenda other than to provide accurate information.
I value Pastor Wingfield for his attitude, that he knew that he knew nothing and was willing to learn, and even more, by publishing his essay, that he freely placed himself in the firing line of the many Christian detractors.
And I value Christians and fellow Lutherans like John who appear to know nothing, reveal that they likely have misconceptions, but who treat me with respect and give me a fair hearing.
The fight to be understood is difficult, but we are making progress. And progress gives me hope.