Does God hate gender-queers? According to ‘God and the Transgender Debate’ by Andrew T Walker, certainly not. This is the best aspect of a book which fell into my hands via a relative and which I snatched up eagerly, hoping it might have some insights to offer me. God loves gender-queers; in fact God loves the whole rag, tag and quiltbag, and so should we.
The good news is that Walker goes to great lengths to urge Christians and churches to accept and welcome the transgender/gender queer/gender dysphoric. Apart from that, I have to report that sadly the book has little to offer the trans person or their families (I shall use the word trans as an umbrella term here, to avoid either lists or acronyms.) He even goes so far as to say that churches should use the preferred pronoun of a trans person coming to them. However, he goes on to say:
‘If and when this person desires greater involvement in or membership of the church – or if, for example, a biological male wants to attend a woman’s Bible study – a church leader will need to meet with them and talk about how they identify and what faithful church involvement and membership will look like.’
All of this sounds very open-minded and in some ways it is; but since the bottom line is ‘you must accept Genesis’ you pretty much know how that conversation’s going to go. I have been on the receiving end of such conversations (to do with other issues than this) and I can tell you it hurts just as much then, as it does if you are not welcomed in the first place. In fact it hurts more, because it signals that acceptance by a community is conditional; that if you want to go further you have to shed certain aspects of yourself and conform.
The basic tenet of this book is exactly the same as books on homosexuality twenty or thirty years ago: that God created Adam and Eve and this means that the sexes, while complementary, are irredeemably different. There is no spectrum; there is a line that cannot be crossed (in the same way, similar books twenty or so years ago emphasised that sex is between a man and a woman because god created Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve.) This is the bottom line. The Bible is the ultimate repository of truth and that’s that. It remains for the church to find ways of dealing with trans people in a spirit of love.
Now I give him full marks for the spirit of love aspect: he really does go out of his way to point out that all have sinned etc and trans people should be treated no differently from the rest of us. So far so good. What the book doesn’t posit is any kind of a solution. Churches like his (he’s a US Southern Baptist) have gotten savvy about ‘praying things away’; there are too many examples out there which show this doesn’t work and hasn’t worked (I know of at least one in my own life). Which leaves him with – well, not very much really. Basically if you have gender dysphoria you’re stuck with it until you die – at which point, of course, all your problems will be gone.
‘When it comes to gender dysphoria, Jesus is not promising that coming to him means walking away from that experience. He is asking someone to be willing to live with that dysphoria, perhaps for their whole lives – and to follow him nonetheless.’
This seems to me highly unsatisfactory.
What is at the bottom of this debate is the fundamental question of human identity. Walker does at least separate gendered cultural norms from ‘essential gender’ (whatever that is), though he hardly takes it very far: it’s OK for girls to like football and boys cooking, but men have broad shoulders whereas women have broad hips. Wow. I’m sensing a basically unaltered fundamentalism here.
The book dismisses the modern culture of individualism with a very superficial analysis and surveys history with a single sweep, concluding that ‘in traditional societies… virtually every society until the last decade or so in parts of the West – gender has been attached to sex.’
This is simply inaccurate, and as an American he ought to know more about Native American culture and its ‘two spirit’ idea. There are also African societies that think differently about gender, so the idea that traditionally this is all cut and dried is bunkum. I don’t mean there isn’t a bottom line; it’s just that where it is ain’t exactly clear.
So all in all, this book is helpful in one aspect only; in its teaching to the church to be compassionate and accepting. And for that I honour it: but the rest, I am afraid, leaves us with the same question we started out with.
I’ll leave you with some humour: