I admit, when MJ first came out to me I did not take it well at all. I went through stages of grief, mourning the loss of the child I thought I knew. In order to find peace, I also had to reconcile what I believe about God and the Bible with what I believe and know about my child. The process took a long time but I finally feel like I have reached a level of understanding where I can verbalize my thoughts… at least in writing. I am sure that God used this situation to get my attention and push me to work through them.
Back when MJ first told me about her distress, I considered myself to be strong in my faith. But, I also tended to follow along with whatever my church told me was true. I wanted to believe whatever my ministers said, and believe the same as my Christian friends believe. As I’ve been researching, reading about different viewpoints, studying scriptures, praying… listening to and hearing from God, I have come to realize that it is really OK if I don’t agree with my church.
To get a full understanding of our situation I would also have to listen to psychologists, medical doctors, scientists, and the experiences of other people who have been where I am. I have to listen to my child and to God and the answers He’s giving to my prayers. To close my ears to them and listen only to what the church tells me would be unwise. And not that I would let the ways of the world cloud my judgment, but I would have to prayerfully consider everything. And let me be clear, that I have been diligent about that and cautious about the places I go for information. In fact, I pray for God to show me what he wants to because there is way too much information on the internet. I have to believe only what the Holy Spirit directs me to believe while I pray for God to grant me wisdom and discernment.
In the next few weeks I will attempt to share some of the things I’ve learned and experiences that have brought me to a place where I feel at peace with however things go with MJ. I know God is in control and has a plan. I hope and pray that my story will help you process your thoughts about what it means to be transgender. I also pray that you can see MJ through my eyes, as a real person and not a freak or a curiosity. She’s a child of God, worthy of all the love and riches God offers to each of us. I pray that God will use my story for good, to promote understanding and generate compassion. It’s taken me 5 years to get to this point. So, it may take a few posts to say what I need to say.
Before I go there, just a quick update on MJ’s progress. Our career navigator was away on training all of last week, so nothing happening there. MJ used her time to plan out her portfolio and is working on another 3-D model of a spacecraft. We tried to have her recommit to getting on a more reasonable sleep/wake schedule but only minor progress being made there. Apparently she needs something more structured, like having to get to a job, in order to get moving, at least until she finds some other internal motivation. We’ve been encouraging her to go out and drive now that she has her license and insurance. But that hasn’t happened either. And shaving is still a big issue but she seems to have resolved to deal with it until she can afford laser hair removal.
One of the articles I read is from Christianity Today called “Understanding the Transgender Phenomenon” In it, author Mark Yarhouse describes 3 lenses we can view gender dysphoria through with the goal of offering the Christian community a Christian response to it. I’ll excerpt from it here as a starting point for those of you who are interested in thinking this through and to help you understand the progression I made. But, I hope you will read the article in its entirety because I left a lot of it out and it does a good job of explaining.
Lens #1: The Integrity Lens
The integrity lens views gender identity through the “the sacred integrity of maleness or femaleness stamped on one’s body.” Cross-gender identification is a concern because it threatens to dishonor the creational order of male and female. … While it may be challenging to identify a “line” in thought, behavior, and manner that reflects cross-gender identification, people who see through the integrity lens are concerned that cross-gender identification moves against the integrity of one’s biological sex—an essential aspect of personhood. … simply urging persons with gender dysphoria to act in accordance with their biological sex and ignore their extreme discomfort won’t constitute pastoral care or a meaningful cultural witness.
Lens #2: The Disability Lens
This lens views gender dysphoria as a result of living in a fallen world, but not a direct result of moral choice. … When we care for someone suffering from depression or anxiety, we do not discuss their emotional state as a moral choice. Rather, the person simply contends with a condition that comes in light of the Fall. The person may have choices to make in response to the condition, and those choices have moral and ethical dimensions. But the person is not culpable for having the condition as such. Here, the parallel to people with gender dysphoria should be clear. … Those drawn to the disability lens may value the sacredness of male and female differences; this is implied in calling gender dysphoria a disability. But the disability lens also makes room for supportive care and interventions that allow for cross-gender identification in a way the integrity lens does not.
Lens #3: The Diversity Lens
This lens sees the reality of transgender persons as something to be celebrated, honored, or revered. Our society is rapidly moving in this direction. … The disability lens may lead us to shout, “Compassion!” and the diversity lens may lead us to shout “Celebrate!”
Initially I viewed MJ’s dysphoria through lens #1 but gradually progressed to lens #2. Keep in mind, people who have Asperger’s Syndrome tend to perseverate on things. For the first few years I prayed desperately that God would help her let go and free her from her thoughts. I wondered whether she found acceptance in the online community she found and then decided she was transgender, or if she sought support after she thought she might be. I thought for sure she was confused and didn’t understand the implications of what she was saying. I responded to her with anger. Things were really ugly between us.
There was not much good fruit being produced during those years. How could there be? If people feel loved by a sense of worthiness and belonging, I was certainly not making MJ feel loved. We fought all the time about everything. We had an especially rough time getting through school, which was normally difficult for her, even without my anger to deal with. And knowing that the suicide rate for transgender people is a whopping 45% had me on my knees begging for God to save my child. I remained faithful and prayed without ceasing for wisdom and clarity, for our relationship to be restored, and for MJ to find God’s path for her life.
One of the prayers that God answered so clearly, was the prayer for a friend for MJ. Most of her current friends are people she’s met online and has never actually met in person. I prayed for someone to come alongside her and be someone she could confide in and mentor her. Almost immediately, she met someone at school who was also an art student, someone who is also cross-dressing and suffering with dysphoria. But tragically, this person does not have the love and support she needs from her family. She struggles to make ends meet. She has a job, a car, pays rent, and is putting herself through school. They have become good friends. I’m glad that MJ has a peer that is managing her independence. I praise God for bringing them together.
I searched for other cases of people with Asperger’s Syndrome that also had gender dysphoria to see if they could help explain it away. This past year I met a therapist at a transgender conference who shared a paper she co-authored on gender dysphoria and co-occurring autism spectrum disorders. The authors wrote in their conclusion, “ASDs do not preclude gender transition and that individuals with high functioning ASDs are capable of making informed decisions regarding their medical care and life choices.” It also said in the abstract, “Gender Dysphoria (GD) and ASDs have been proposed to share etiologic mechanisms and there is evidence that ASDs may be more common in transgender and gender nonconforming people.” At the same conference, I attended a session specifically for people on the autism spectrum who also identified as transgender. I was blown away by the number of attendees.
Yarhouse concludes his article with thoughts on how the Christian community might respond. “We are witnesses to redemption through Jesus’ presence in our lives. Redemption is not found by measuring how well a person’s gender identity aligns with their biological sex, but by drawing them to the person and work of Jesus Christ, and to the power of the Holy Spirit to transform us into his image.” … Christians are to foster the kinds of relationships that will help us know and love and obey Jesus better than we did yesterday. That is redemption.”
“…it might be us as laypeople who are called into a redemptive relationship with the transgender person. After all, Christians are to facilitate communities in which we are all challenged to grow as disciples of Christ. We can be sensitive, though, not to treat as synonymous management of gender dysphoria and faithfulness.”
“Certainly we can extend to a transgender person the grace and mercy we so readily count on in our own lives. We can remind ourselves that the book of redemption in a person’s life has many chapters. You may be witness to an early chapter of this person’s life or a later chapter. But Christians believe that God holds that person and each and every chapter in his hands, until that person arrives at their true end—when gender and soul are made well in the presence of God.”
I’ll have to leave off here for now. It was my intention to get you to start thinking about the lens you look at transgender through. But I’m just getting the conversation started. I hope you’ll join me in my next post as I continue to reveal my path to peace.