Using the past to inform the present

I do not have all of the answers regarding gender dysphoria and being transgender.  I have learned that we have much to learn.

With this essay, I seek to present the past as instructor for the present, that we might remember that we have been wrong and ill-informed about many things over the years, and we have changed our position on many.

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I suspect that you know of this fellow, Copernicus.  My friend, Rick, does, and his referring to Copernicus to me provided an impetus to write about things of, pun intended, astronomical proportions.  Thank you, Rick!

Copernicus was that troublemaker, er, mathematician and astronomer who, in the 1500s, proposed that the earth revolves around the sun, when the accepted belief—and a biblically-quoted one at that—was the other way around.

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Some listened to Copernicus—even in the Church—and were favorable to learning from him.  Others were not.  It took others over the years—who doesn’t know of Galileo?—to promote Copernicus’ sun-centered idea and move it forward. Eventually, our abilities for observing the solar system, along with more people being willing to listen, combined with time for things to progress, got us to where we are, with full acceptance of how the planets and stars orbit.

How many things could we name, throughout history, which were rejected, considered foolishness and worse, because they were too unusual, even seemingly impossible to be anything different than the current accepted belief?

With gender dysphoria and a person’s transitioning sexes, I find us in this spot with many in society and, as is my especial concern, among Christians who hold a traditional reading of the Holy Bible, that one’s being transgender cannot possibly be different from the perspective which has always been held.

Recalling the maxim, “Those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it,” I urge all to practice caution and remember the attitude of Copernicus’ day, who believe the case is settled regarding gender dysphoria and being transgender.  To further my cause, I present situations from far more recent history to help us see what we once believed and how we changed.

As recently as fifty years ago—the 1960s—depression, interracial marriage, and dramatic surgical procedures were viewed as differently as we once watched scratchy images on black and white TVs to where today we walk around viewing vividly high definition videos on our phones.

Depression

From antiquity, depression was not understood.  Even by fifty years ago, we did not know anywhere near what we now know of the physical nature of this awful malady.  People who are depressed do not simply have the blues.  Their problem is not laziness.  And, when they are Christians, theirs is not a case of not having enough faith.

(When, last year, I talked about this with some ministers, and commented that fifty years ago a pastor might tell his parishioner, “You need to have a stronger faith,” one of the ministers very soberly interjected, “Some pastors today would still say that.”)

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When depression was not understood, sufferers were not respected for the ailment which plagued them.  We’ve come a long way, but we have a long way to go.  Today, finally, most of us who do not suffer depression can listen to others describe it, truly hear them as having the real, physical trouble they have, and have compassion for them rather than ridicule and disrespect them.

Because medical science worked to understand depression, we have learned a great deal about how  it works in us, even providing medicinal treatment to give relief to many sufferers, which was not possible for centuries.

Interracial marriage

In the 1960s, if a white man took a black woman’s hand in marriage, the couple very possibly would have been excommunicated from their Christian congregation.  These marriages were not legal in all fifty states until a US Supreme Court decision in 1967.

Is it against the Holy Bible for Christians of different colors and cultures to marry?  No.  In the Old Testament, it was forbidden for Israel to marry outside of Israel, but in the New Testament it is not forbidden for any Christian to marry another Christian whose skin color, culture, language, nationality, you name it, is different.

So, what was the problem for blacks and whites marrying?  In the USA, it was racial prejudice which influenced secular laws, and this flowed into the Church.

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Today, we have millions of mixed-culture couples in our country, and these couples marry and are members in good standing in our churches.  What changed?  The Holy Bible didn’t change.  The country and culture changed, and the Church changed in response to it.

Dramatic surgical procedures

It rings in my ears: “They’re playing God.”  I was a young kid and heart transplant surgery was in the news a lot.  “You can’t give one person’s heart to someone else.  That’s playing God.  It’s sinful.”  The “playing God” card has been tossed onto the table many times over the years in situations akin to heart transplants.

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Today?  I have never heard a minister say that receiving another person’s heart is playing God or is sinful.  When I was a minister, and a car accident left one of our members brain-dead, her heart was given to another person, who was given a renewed chance at good health.  There are a host of other similarly dramatic procedures that are carried out—even face transplants—and we Christians praise God for the good that is done for those who suffer.

Putting it together: medical, cultural, and church

I use these three examples to show where we were fifty years ago to where we are today, hoping all can see that it is easily imaginable that we are

  • only at the beginning of understanding gender dysphoria (the medical part),
  • finding transitioning acceptable (the cultural part),
  • and recognizing that a Christian (the church part) could transition, doing so as any person makes use of medical services, and not be sinning.

As for the past two years I have been making my appeal to all, and especially with my fellow Lutheran Christians, the singular wall which has been erected before me has been when people have decided they know all they need to know about one’s being transgender, yet they have done little to no study on the topic.  Sadly, my discussions with them continually show that they base their decision on long-held beliefs, and these beliefs do not allow for advancing in learning.

I appeal to all, both secular and in religion.  Let us do what we always say we want, but when it comes time to apply it so often fail: Let us put ourselves in the other guy’s shoes and say, “Wow, what a tough spot.  I know nothing of this, but I can imagine this is very hard for people with gender dysphoria and who have transitioned.  Well, I am not going to make it harder by assuming that I know anything.  I will remember the past, and how much we thought we knew, and how much learning has changed our thinking and our behavior on so many topics.”

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5 thoughts on “Using the past to inform the present

  1. Thanks for this and for the utter vulnerability with which you share it. You’re taking (and have taken) great risks in opening yourself up in this way. May your tribe increase as the knowledge you share grows within the rest of us!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Well said! While you listed the items that you did as examples only, one could add numerous items to the list. One of those is fibromyalgia. 20 years ago, it was thought to be just a head disease, or even just an excuse not to work or to do life’s tasks. Now it is recognized as a disease with both mental and physical components. Researchers look for an effective treatment. Interestingly, this spelling of this disease is not in WordPress dictionary, so it is flagged as misspelled.

    There is material available for those who want to begin to understand what gender dysphoria is and what might be its causes. Those who want to learn certainly can begin to do so, even if they cannot grasp the whole nature of this issue. Some don’t understand it, and therefore will not believe that it is a real mental/physical issue. Yet most of us don’t understand how a TV remote control works, but we don’t let that stand in the way of our believing that it works (if we remember to put the batteries in, the right way).

    It still seems to be true that, if it has to do with sex, most people will not want to discuss it or try to understand it.

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  3. Thank you, Ken, and thank you for this. Your thoughts on fibromyalgia are spot on, and a perfect addition.

    “Those who want to learn . . .” Ah, yes: WANT to learn. Heavy sigh.

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  4. Thank you, Gina. I studied the Copernican Revolution in college and understand how we, as a culture & society, can become virtually locked into an erroneous worldview paradigm. I suspect, that like the understanding of depression, it will take us another 40 or 50 years to grasp the physiological causes of gender identity dysphoria. Most people whom I’ve spoken with have assumptions, presuppositions and usually rely on the opinions of others regarding this issue. Few people seem willing to examine those assumptions and presuppositions, and take the time and effort to ferret the truth for themselves, especially those who purport to know THE Truth.

    Liked by 1 person

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