Let’s suppose it is a mental illness

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Dear fellow Christians: If you believe gender dysphoria is a mental illness, why do you treat transgender persons so terribly? How do you treat those who suffer any of the many other mental illnesses?

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Because I am transgender, my former church body, the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS), is keeping me from being a member of one of its congregations. I believe there are numerous church bodies, which have the same attitude toward transgender persons, because they are like the LCMS in its biblically-traditional doctrine and conservative practice.

My experience informs me that the majority of these types of Christians hold that gender dysphoria, which leads to one’s identifying as transgender, is a mental illness. I have argued against this, finding evidence for gender identity issues arising from a physical condition. Certainly, one’s mental state is affected, but I cringe at this term—mental illness—because, I have observed, it is not respected. In other words, if a person has cancer, his illness is respected—it’s real, it can be touched, surgery can be done on it—but mental illnesses are not so easily located, often are perceived as personality-driven, and thus are not viewed with the level of seriousness as cancer. One hears, “Oh, he’s mentally ill,” the words perhaps dripping with contempt.

Since I have left many unconvinced that gender dysphoria arises from a condition which is just as physically real as cancer, I will now take up the position of the traditional Christian, that gender dysphoria is a mental illness, that I might help my fellow Christians see how they are improperly treating their transgender brothers and sisters in Christ.

First, a look at some common mental disorders. I bet you are aware of all of these:

  • anxiety
  • eating
  • mood
  • obsessive-compulsive
  • psychotic
  • post-traumatic stress
  • sex

Each disorder has one or more specific conditions associated with it. For example, under eating disorders are listed bulimia and anorexia nervosa. At least one medical website places gender dysphoria under the various sex disorders.

Preparing to write this essay, I read over many of the specific ailments which fall under the general headings. I have found that I could use any of them for my point of comparison. I have chosen to begin with anorexia nervosa because, four years ago, a pastor, whom I told that I might transition, used it in his rebuttal to me.

Believing my gender dysphoria to be a mental illness, and finding that it is sinful for a Christian to transition, he said, “You wouldn’t tell a person with anorexia not to eat, to give in to that desire.”

Of course, no one would encourage the anorexic not to eat. I can’t imagine anyone saying, “Let her be. If she doesn’t want to eat, that’s her business.” No, starving yourself  is an awful thing.

The pastor made his point. I had no comeback. We both thought he had won the argument.

I would now reply to him, thus:

“No, I would not encourage the anorexic not to eat. However, if I were this person’s pastor, and she would not eat, I wouldn’t kick her out of my church. Just the opposite, I would show the deepest compassion. I would encourage and love and do everything in my power, and give Holy Communion—even if it had to be the tiniest sliver of a wafer soaked in a single drop of wine—to provide her with the love of our Lord Jesus. What I would NOT do is shun this child of God, or kick her out of the congregation. I would not make fun, or hold in contempt, or ostracize this Christian, which is what pastors and Christians are doing with their transgender sisters and brothers.”

There it is. It seems to me that my fellow, traditional Christians want it both ways—they want to call gender dysphoria a mental illness, but they want to treat it as if it were nothing more than a sinful desire, nothing different from a person’s bad habit of misusing the Lord’s name. (Funny, I know a lot of Christians who have spent their entire adult lives misusing the Lord’s name, but I can’t think of a one who has been kicked out of a congregation for it.)

I will now make this mental illness argument harder for myself to argue. It seemed impossible when another pastor, who found transitioning an unacceptable way to treat gender dysphoria, said to me, “If a person were a kleptomaniac, you would not prescribe stealing as the cure.” He’s right; I certainly would not prescribe it. However, if he continued to steal and I were his pastor, what would factor into my decision as to how to deal with him? If he told me that he could do whatever he pleased, I would find his position unacceptable. I would tell him that his attitude is sinful. But if he said, “I hate that I do this. The talk therapy helps sometimes, and other times I’m just so weak that I can’t stop myself,” I would show him compassion and have mercy on him.

Every pastor, with whom I have talked, I have told that I hated to transition, that I found it a terrible “cure” for gender dysphoria. If I have missed anyone, I say it again:

I. Hate. This.

As I have gotten to know other LCMS Christians who are in my same spot—some have transitioned, some have family members who are doing so, and some are fighting not to—every one of them has my attitude. They do not embrace this. They do not say that being transgender is normal. They hate being plagued with this awful thing.

Even after transitioning, I continue to hate this—and I am using “hate” in the biblical sense, “to consider evil.” I find gender dysphoria and one’s transitioning among the evils meted upon we human beings because of the Original Sin we inherit from Adam, through our parents. Just as anorexia and cancer are evil things and come to us because of Original Sin, so does gender dysphoria.

I am not happy to be transgender. I do not embrace it. I do not say that I can do as I please.

I will now provide a third, more challenging argument. Body Integrity Identity Disorder (BIID) describes the malady where a person has a compelling desire to have a limb amputated—often, a leg—or wishes he here blind or deaf. The person suffering with BIID feels, for example, that the leg in question is foreign to his body; it needs to go.

Thankfully, BIID is a rare condition, but for even one person to experience it is one too many. If I were this person’s pastor, my compassion for him would overflow. Now, let’s say, despite my pastoral care and encouragement that he work hard at talk therapy, he proceeds to have a leg amputated? How shall I minister to him? Should I inform him, in no uncertain terms, that he has sinned, and that he cannot come to church now because the sight of him would offend the members of the congregation?

You know how I would minister—exactly as in the two previous examples.

It was important that I work toward BIID because there are those who argue that a gender dysphoric male’s desire for sex reassignment, and the gender dysphoric female’s wish to have a double mastectomy, are cases of BIID. (In reply, I point out that the desire is not only for this procedure, but one’s entire life to be corrected. In other words, it is not the desire to have something removed, but the desire for that area of the body to be correct according to the feminine or masculine nature of the person’s gender.)

Whether anorexic, or a kleptomaniac, or with BIID—I could keep naming mental illnesses—I cannot imagine a pastor would treat his member as the gender dysphoric and transgender Christian is being treated.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Three years ago, on April 29, 2015, I went public with my gender dysphoria. At the time, I was fighting to remain male. I had the love and compassion of one hundred percent of those who responded to my post.

Four months later, I revealed that I was attempting transitioning, so that I might find some healing, to try to remove the thoughts of suicide and fears of insanity. Immediately, many had contempt for me. I was accused of being a sinner. Some longtime friends either chastised me or simply walked away without a word.

Since then, matters only grew worse with my fellow, traditional Christians.

Most of them would say my gender dysphoria is a mental illness.

If it is a mental illness with which I have to be plagued, I wish it were a different one.  Maybe then, I would not be hated by so many of my Christian brothers and sisters.

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21 thoughts on “Let’s suppose it is a mental illness

    1. Thank you, ACountryBoy.

      Most trans folks will have no part of considering this a birth defect, but I am okay with that. One of my former pastor colleagues sees it that way, so he was accepting of my transitioning, even as he wished it didn’t have to be (which I also wished it didn’t have to be).

      Liked by 1 person

  1. I have a few friends who are transgender. One of them explained it to me that something went wrong in the mother’s womb. The brain went one way, the body another.

    I definitely do not believe it’s a mental illness.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I do believe DES did upset our endocrine disruption which caused us to be transgender. I have talked to others who believe they where DES babies, but their is no actual proof because them records where destroyed. Des played a part with the brain when it was developing in the fetus.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. People don’t like to talk about transgender issues because they think it is a taboo subject. Christians argue that God created man and woman in his own image and feel transgender people suffer from a mental illness. Many view it as a fetish or an Autogynephillic issue which is a mental issue.

    Gender Dysphoria is defined by the medical community as a real life medical issue and not a mental disorder. If it was a mental disorder it would be treated that way. Nobody chooses to be transgender or wants to be transgender, but when we have this issues, we have no choice but to deal with it. I wouldn’t wish this on my worst enemy or others because it is hard to deal with. With this condition, we are left with two choices, suicide or transition.

    Hopefully in the medical future, they will find a cure for this with a simple pill and not having to put people through a medical transition which can tear families apart.

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  4. Thanks, Sara. Amen, that I wouldn’t wish this on my worst enemy.

    For many, this is taboo, and there’s the YUCK factor. They simply can’t stomach these gender issues. They get so turned off – like bad medicine in their mouth – that they simply walk away. Ugh.

    Bring on that pill for the cure! I’d take it.

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  5. I think you’re correct in believing the Christian church, and the LCMS, should be compassionate towards hurting people, including those with gender dysphoria. I think you’re wrong in saying that gender dysphoria isn’t a mental illness.

    My oldest son has OCD, on your list of mental illnesses. There’s not a doubt in my mind that he was born this way. He was diagnosed at age 17; but when I first read the list of behaviors that characterize this illness, I recognized that he had those behaviors at a very young age. It just didn’t fully manifest itself until he was older.

    OCD is an illness of doubt. When a person makes a decision, or believes something to be true, doubt shortly enters the picture. OCD is believed to be caused by some time of shortage or deficiency in serotonin. “It doesn’t stick,” when a decision is made…and the person gets right back on the track of trying to find the truth, or being relieved of some anxiety, such as washing hands again, to make sure they’re clean, or checking the door, just to make sure it’s locked. Notice the doubt.

    Are you saying that a mental illness is one that is acquired, whereas someone is born with gender dysphoria? If that’s the case, then OCD is also something that people are born with. And, I can tell you, my son would not wish that illness on anyone. And, there was a time when he talked about throwing himself out the window. He used to say, “Why did God make me this way?” I’ve written a couple of blog articles about OCD and can send you the link if you want.

    But, back to the compassion part. I think it will take time. I welcome visitors to our LCMS church, and get to know them. I was talking to a couple once, and the lady nodded to her companion and said, “She sometimes helps me with that.” I looked up and my brain said to itself, “I could have sworn that was a guy.” But, I didn’t bat an eye, and kept talking. The lady introduced her companion as “D.” They didn’t come back, but that was a lesson for me…everyone needs the gospel. Jesus would have shown love to that couple.

    I don’t know the “church” answer – of how the church should or can respond, except that it’ll take time. I know that my pastor would have compassion and welcome you. But I also suspect that some members would be uncomfortable. Then again, one of my church friends, a younger girl, has a father, a former pastor, who’s now a woman, has had that surgery. My friend is expecting, any day now – yesterday actually! – and I’m sure her father will be at the baptism scheduled later this month. It’s awkward. Prayers for you and for our church body, for wisdom, compassion, and love in handling this issue. We don’t know the answer, but He does.

    FYI – I’ll be at work today, but will respond to any comments or questions tonight or tomorrow morning. Blessings on your day.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Kathy~

      Thank you so much for this.

      I don’t know whether or not gender dysphoria should be identified as a mental illness. Perhaps, the better diagnosis is that the mental disorder – gender dysphoria – arises from the physical condition – intersex. Yet, for the reason I explained, I am loath to go that route because of how I find people are so disrespectful of mental illnesses.

      And, I suspect, that many people consider your son and his OCD and find him an emotionally weak person, just as these same people judge the person, who struggles with general depression, as emotionally weak. I so wish we had a better term than “mental illness” for these maladies which are located in this part of the body!

      Yes, people in the church will be uncomfortable with trans folks there. There will be awkwardness, as in the situation you described. There would be for the man who had his leg amputated – some folks would be turned off, and might even refuse to be in worship if he is there. When I was very young, our pastor lovingly ministered to a woman who had everything wrong with her that one can imagine. He taught her, and she became a member. I think she was in church three times. Our members shunned her. I was very young then, and not privy as to what might have occurred behind the scenes. I only know what I saw, and we failed that woman.

      Thank you so much for your compassion, Kathy, for the godly effort you are making.

      The Lord be with you!

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  6. Thanks for sharing about the woman at your church when you were young. I think it’s difficult for people to get to know and care about others who are different; that includes, not only people with disabilities, but people who are foreign, old, hard of hearing…you name it.

    It was 5 years before I talked to anyone about my son’s illness, so I understand the stigma of mental illness. But now, I call it what it is. My son doesn’t think right; he can be argumentative and critical, and he’s always trying to debate or figure out things. He’ll probably always take medication. He’s also brilliant, trying to get his PHD in physics.

    Anyway, prayers for you to know God’s peace and to find a church that is welcoming and also theologically sound and Biblically correct – meaning Lutheran/LCMS! Our prayer for our church is that it is a refuge and a sanctuary for everyone.

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  7. Hi, Gina,

    I check back from time to time to see what you’ve posted. Not looking for a response or acknowledgement, not seeking to start a conversation. Something you posted here reminded me of something I thought about, when this thing was new to me. I offer it as food for thought, for what it’s worth.

    Mental illness narrows your world; it doesn’t broaden it. I always liked Chesterton’s image of madness in “Orthodoxy,” of a circle in which the madman is confined that’s too small.

    In my life, the gender aspect of dysphoria was heavily sublimated. In retrospect, it’s not hard to see; but at the time, I was absolutely clueless. I thought my problem was incurable low self-esteem, engendered by an abusive home environment and reinforced by subsequent life experiences. One of the ways my dysphoria manifested was in my lifelong loathing of my own reflection. I thought, naturally, it was low self-esteem; I didn’t realize it was because what I was seeing in the mirror was in conflict with my gender. One might well ask, how do I know this was gender-related, and not simply low self-esteem?

    Not long after coming out to myself, I was looking in the mirror one day and suddenly realized, I loved what I saw. Not my physical features, but the “me” I saw in my eyes and facial expression. I was happy; and, not only that, I loved myself, for the first time in my life.

    This is not mental illness. This is the cure for mental illness. The illness in my life was thinking I was male, and trying to be male. That was the dysfunction. Embracing who I am and transitioning is the cure.

    As you know, I’m not a Christian. I understand the point of view that the disjunct between sex and gender is a consequence of the fall; nevertheless, in so being it is not a moral fault, any more than cancer or a withered limb is a moral fault. The only question is, which is primary? Sex or gender? Body or brain? I know the position you’ve taken; I’ve taken the other. I do not believe I’m a male with a female brain; I believe I’m a female with a male body. And I don’t see any conflict between that point of view and Christianity.

    As is often the case, I don’t think doctrine is the basis of the conflict you experience with your brethren. I think it’s fear. I think they are afraid of what you represent to them and want to pigeonhole you someplace convenient where they can dismiss you and your deviance, and they’re simply looking for an excuse. It’s rough, that kind of rejection from people you naturally expect to lovingly accept you.

    I’ve long believed that convincing loved ones that your decision to transition is right and good is not a matter of argument, but a matter of letting them witness the positive changes it brings to your life. If they love you, that will carry weight with them, and will convince them long before reasoned argument. They may not understand, but they should recognize spiritual joy when they see it. And, if they don’t love you – if they’re simply self-righteous and doctrinnaire – and your happiness won’t convince them, nothing you say will do so.

    Please don’t reply.

    All the best,

    Ann

    P.S. It’s legally my name, now; and I’m full-time. 🙂

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  8. Gender dysphoria is actually a mental illness recognized by pychiatrists. There is no excuse for violence against trans people, I do feel as if the trans community needs to play a bigger part in freedom of speech.

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    1. Thanks for reading and commenting, ConservativeTrudeau.

      Yes, gender dysphoria is categorized in the DSM as a mental illness. We know why:so that those with insurance can have transitioning covered. Otherwise, psychiatry and the trans community, almost completely, do not consider it a mental illness.

      But, that wasn’t the point of my post.

      Absolutely, there is no excuse for violence against trans people, or against any human being. Specifically, no group of people, and no individual, should be singled out that persons might take out their hatred and prejudice upon them.

      And, yes, trans folks need to play a greater part in speaking out. We’ve made a lot of progress. A lot of progress must be made.

      Like

  9. Thank you, friend.

    I sure can commiserate. I’ve had so many conversations devolve into bitter, unfair, off topic, accusatory – you name it – arguing, including with trans folks. Civil, constructive conversation is all too rare in our society.

    For my part, when I began this blog, I resolved to approve 100% of comments – and some of them have been brutal against me and trans folks – to reply to 100% of them, and to be always respectful.

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