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?

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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.

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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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