No one would argue that the transgender topic has become increasingly discussed in the world today, In fact, according to this article, the top Google search in Utah for 2015 was “transgender.” This increasing dialogue is received by some with open arms and a feeling of “it’s about time!” while others receive the dialog with the reaction, “I wish this would go away.”
Mixed feelings about public discourse on newly debated topics is not a new thing. Any time in history, we can look back and observe that such discourse always has pioneers, martyrs (metaphorically or literally), opponents, and slow hold-outs. Such is the nature of social change.
As members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, we have watched our leaders recently advocate for #FairnessForAll in regards to equal access to employment, housing, and public service accommodations for everyone regardless of gender status or sexual orientation. In my mind, this marked a time and space where we cannot be neutral and uninformed anymore.
In my work to become more informed on the transgender topic from a Christian world view, I recently finished reading “Understanding Gender Dysphoria” by Mark A. Yarhouse. Dr. Yarhouse is a Christian career academic whose aim is to bring treatment and understanding to gays and transgender people who wish to follow God. I don’t know if that is how he would describe himself, but that is how I see his work. He has written several books, but his latest, released only a few months ago, deals directly with transgender issues.
Dr. Yarhouse divides approaches to transgenderism into three categories: Integrity, Disability, and Diversity. Below are brief descriptions of each:
- Integrity: This world view posits that a transgender person is keeping with the integrity of the creation of God when he or she chooses to live out life in their natal (birth) gender. This choice honors God.
- Disability: God created all of us in his image, but he also allowed for a great deal of variation in the “fallen world” (referring to the changes in the world after Adam partook of the apple). One variation that can cause great difficulty for a person is the transgender experience.
- Diversity: All people are to be appreciated in their rich variation of experience. This diversity of experience is to be embraced and even promoted. Hence, the transgender experience is to be embraced and promoted.
If you look around, you will surely see the presence of each of these world views. As discussed in the book, the integrity viewpoint used to be the default viewpoint of the world in general. It promotes traditional values and bending ones will to God. These ideas are comforting and comfortable to people with traditional values and non threatening to such ways of thinking. A drawback of this viewpoint is that it lacks compassion on the transgender individual.
The disability world view is also easy to find. It existed in greater abundance 10 and 20 years ago, when transgender individuals were diagnosed as having a painful disorder. Diagnostic categories have only recently ceased from disability wordage. The strength of this worldview is that it promotes a great deal of compassion. For instance, if I believe a child is willfully refusing to read, I feel angry. If I believe the child has a learning disability, I feel compassionate.
The diversity world view is becoming more and more common. Dr. Yarhouse suggests that there is a weak form and a strong form of this way of thinking. The weak form basically points to the importance of a person following their true self and engaging with their identity through embracing transition to their psychogical gender. The strong form is represented by those who wish to totally deconstruct sex and gender; those who promote a completely genderless society, and who look at gender as an opressive construct. The strong viewpoint is quite obviously against the direction of the LDS Church’s standards (my insertion – Yarhouse doesn’t address the LDS Church). The weak form of this world view has a strength in that it provides identity and community for a person who feels previously disenfranchised by society.
Yarhouse ties up his discussion of the three world views by suggesting that as Christians, we need to draw from the strengths of each in order to approach this issue in a balanced and informed way. The integrity view contributes the need to honor God, and to do our duty that he designed us to do. The disability view contributes compassion and understanding to the struggles of another person. And the diversity view (weak version) contributes affirmation of a person’s strength as a unique person with a special identity. (Yarhouse – and I – do not see anything particularly helpful as a Christian in the strong version of the diversity view).
I have a great appreciation for how Dr. Yarhouse encourages us to take the best from each world view. We can learn from eachother even when we feel that we disagree at times. Each view has something to contribute. It is in being flexible and learning from eachother that we grow, while maintaining enough balance to not give up the lessons learned from one viewpoint or another.
I’ve heard it said recently that each person on this planet is incompatible with every other person on this planet, but that the inevitable and eventual clash of personalities (whether a week down the road, or many years), is the exact space in which we grow. Our remaining open to people while sharing what we have and learning from the other, is one of the wisest ways we can become. Yarhouse’s book helps remind us of that truth.