Last month, I wrote about some of Mark Yarhouse’s perspectives on transgenderism. As a reminder to the reader, he is a Christian researcher, scholar, and clinician who works with the transgender and homosexual population. His new book, “Understanding Gender Dysphoria” is an excellent read for someone wishing to expand his or her understanding.
This month, I will share his description of the four available paths that a transgender person can choose from, what might contribute to the person’s choice of path, and how we can best minister to the transgender person. Although brief, I hope this overview will be helpful.
The four available paths the Yarhouse lists are as follows:
- Unresolved outcome.
- Resolve in accordance with their birth sex
- Engage in cross-dressing behavior and role intermittently (often in private or in distant venues)
- Adopt cross-gender role and identity, which may include hormonal treatment and sex reassignment surgery.
It is important to note that there are several other options besides getting surgery and living full time as the experienced gender. Popular culture is exerting tremendous pressure to say that this is the only way to cope. But that is not the case.
Several contributing factors influence which path a person is most likely to choose. Yarhouse indicates that a person’s sense of gender incongruence is experienced on a spectrum of intensity: from very low, to low, moderate, high, or very high. The person’s ability to live with the gender incongruence is likewise experienced on that same spectrum, ranging from low to very high. In addition, many factors can influence where the person is on either scale over time. These factors include the amount of social support the person is receiving (acceptance and love from friends and family), family relationships (warm, inclusive, or otherwise…), personal faith (is there a faith crisis, or is faith strong?), corporate faith community (what is the stance of the larger religious community in regards to this person’s transgenderism?) healthy coping activities (hobbies, self-care, etc.), and co-occuring mental health issues (ADHD, depression, anxiety). The point is, there is no way someone from the outside can possibly know all of the many factors that either strengthen or weaken a person’s abilities to cope with their feelings of gender incongruence. This leads to the third topic: appropriately ministering.
To quote Yarhouse on the topic of ministering, he states:
“I imagine some readers will be thinking to themselves, I just want the person to choose the right path. I can understand that thought. However, paths are chosen with reference to a number of factors, not in isolation. People choose paths in the context of the community they have been able to form around themselves. If you want a person to choose a path that seems more redemptive, you will want to be part of a redemptive community that facilitates that kind of decision making for every person who is a member. Recall, though, that redemption frequently takes the form of making meaning out of suffering. With gender dysphoria, there is meaning to be found in one’s gender identity and the state of tension experienced in gender dysphoria.”
In the above quote, Yarhouse reminds us that many factors contribute to a person’s path, and that if we want to be of any help to encourage our brothers and sisters who experience gender dysphoria to choose a path that is in the greatest harmony with Christianity, we should “be part of a redemptive community that facilitates that kind of decision making.” This bears emphasis.
So what does it mean to be a part of that “type” of community? Let’s start with what it is not: exclusion and judgment. A dear client of mine, a male to female transgender person, is greatly distressed because her brother-in-law now forbids contact with my clients’ nieces and nephews now that she has come out. How can that possibly persuade this sweet soul to lean on Christ, when the brother-in-law, who is an active Mormon, has cut her off?
I have to insert here, that, as this client of mine has currently been searching for a place to rent, I have seen first hand the wonderful fruit of the church’s efforts to encourage fairness in housing and employment. I have been so grateful to know that she can get a place without prejudice against her gender status. She has similar concerns with work, and I am likewise grateful for laws that will protect her. (But…. she STILL is afraid of prejudice even though there are laws…. and I can’t say I blame her.)
Being the type of community that facilitates the most Godly decisions in our transgender friend’s lives means that we must be the most Godly people we possibly can. Christ was more than willing to spend time with people who were struggling with all kinds of issues that others misunderstood. He would have listened rather than lectured, and would have given time and space for people to make their own decisions.
And so it would be in keeping with Christ’s example to be willing….nay…. very willing…. to smile, be friendly and kind, to be inclusive, to offer dignity and love and friendship. To listen and listen and listen…. to “bear with” and to pray for. To keep our mouths mostly shut.
A priesthood leader, such as a bishop, does have the mantle of judge in Israel, and therefore must make certain judgments in regards to worthiness due to specific commandments. That is their job, and in the best case, they listen and offer kindness and friendship even in the act of having to, at times, make a judgment call. But for the rest of us…. sweet relief!! We have no duty to make any judgment calls! Our ministration is to be kind and to listen and to learn alongside our transgender friends.
So, although there are several paths available to transgender people, there is no one “perfect” way to get to the “right” path. Each person experiences their transgender feelings uniquely. Our job is to provide space, in love, for that person to make their choices. Otherwise, a person could easily be pushed away from the members of Christ’s church who ought to be the most ready with open arms to receive all of those who feel down-trodden and in need of love. May we never be guilty of such. But if we have been, my experience is that some of the most loving and willing to forgive among us have experienced some of the most pain, and readily accept our apologies and attempts to improve.
May we respect the complicated paths that we all travel, respect what contributes to those paths, and do our part to minister in love.