The Search for Certainty: God and the Transgender Debate

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:

Kirk out


Honey I Watched the Programme

OK it’s time once more to talk about Transgender issues.  If you are totally bored, fed up, sick and tired of hearing about this seemingly ubiquitous topic, I understand.  Feel free to scroll down to the next post.  However if, like me, you are baffled and confused and would like to understand it better, read on.

But first I would like to discuss something that’s happening a lot at the moment, and that is the closing down of debate.  I’m all for disallowing a platform to those who would use it to spread hatred of other groups; to insult people or to incite violence.  These are unacceptable and besides, we have laws about them.  But this has got confused with the idea of denying a platform to people who we disagree with.  Universities have banned speakers who support the state of Israel, for example, and Germaine Greer fell foul of students who disliked her stance on transgender people.  And last week a number of people decided (without watching it) that the BBC were ‘promoting’ the views of Dr Kenneth Zucker, who believes that parents know better than children when it comes to gender issues.  Now, as it happens I don’t agree with him – but that’s not the point.  Kenneth Zucker lost his job at a gender clinic for expressing and acting on views which most people (it seems) now disagree with.  There’s a new orthodoxy: challenge it at your peril.

I find this worrying.  We have to be free to express certain views, even at the risk of upsetting some people.  This is not the same thing as abuse or hate speech: to say that parents know best about their children’s gender, is not the same thing as calling trans people names, or saying they shouldn’t exist (and there’s plenty of that about).  People like Kenneth Zucker should be allowed to express their views, provided that within the context of a documentary they are balanced by a range of other views – which in this programme they were.

So: to the documentary, broadcast last week and called ‘Transgender Kids: Who Knows Best?’  The programme featured the voices of children and parents on both sides of the argument, centring on – as the title says – who knows best: children – or parents and ‘experts’?

Now, I confess to a bit of seeing both sides here.  As a home educator I am firmly child-centred, allowing my children to choose how, what and where to learn (I don’t want to defend this approach here but I have blogged about it elsewhere:

So I am sympathetic to the idea that children know best who and what they are.  I also disagree with Kenneth Zucker’s view that the child is play-acting.  ‘You wouldn’t feed a child dog-food because they pretend to be a dog,’ he points out.  No, you wouldn’t – but play-acting is different from gender dysphoria.  A child might pretend to be another gender for a while, but gender dysphoria is, as the mantra has it, consistent, insistent and persistent.  In other words, it is repeated long and loud and it doesn’t go away.  If a child pretended to be a dog insistently over a long period of time, you would get help: so clearly something serious is going on here.  But on the other hand, childhood is a process, an evolution; a becoming.  So I’m uneasy about allowing children to make choices at too young an age which will affect the rest of their life.

What did become crystal clear to me was this: traditionally gender has been assigned at birth by the body you were born into.  This was the bottom line, and whatever thoughts or feelings the child was experiencing needed to come into line with the body.  Whereas nowadays, we tend to think the opposite: the mind and feelings express the ‘reality’ and the body must come into line with them, even if that means surgery.

Alongside this there is a demand that society should accept the transgender person for what they are.  Again, fine with me (in general, that is, putting aside my personal issues).  However, in practice this means remembering names, preferred pronouns and styles of address, and for the hapless ‘ordinary’ person it can be a minefield.  The other day I witnessed an unhappy interaction between a friend of ours and a m-to-f trans woman.  Our friend had known this woman for years as a man and was struggling to remember to call him ‘she’.  The woman really tore into him and I felt embarrassed and sorry for him because he was clearly not doing it to upset her; he just kept forgetting.

These demands that everyone accept us, remember what we want to be called and do it Or Else, are problematic.  I’ve just started doing an online course where one of the tutors, for reasons best known to herself chooses not to capitalise her name.  With the best will in the world, it’s extremely difficult to remember an individual set of names and pronouns every time you meet someone: I found this when I went to the ill-fated discussion on Gender in Nottingham (see this post:  To be honest, these days it’s as much as I can do to remember people’s names without having to deal with genders and preferred pronouns.  Yet if you forget, all hell can break loose.

So here’s the thing: no-one has the right to deny another’s right to exist.  Yeah, right on.  Totally signed up to that.  But no-one (and that includes me) has an absolute right to self-expression: we have to take account of those around us.  There has to be dialogue and interaction and discussion.  Which kind of brings me back to where I started…

Kirk out


Gone Blog: The Last Post

No, I’m not closing this blog: this is about my Mslexia residency.  My next blog post, called ‘Gone Boy,’ is up and you can read it here:

and I can’t believe my residency is nearly up – it’s been more than three months and yet they’ve flown by.  It’s been a very successful residency though – according to my supervisor I have attracted the most comments she’s ever known!  So thanks to all who’ve taken the time to comment, and please keep it up.  My next post will be submitted shortly and then that will be it.  I shall miss it.

This blog, however, will continue – and while the Mslexia blog was commissioned to be on a particular theme, lizardyoga’s weblog will continue to cover an ever-expanding variety of subjects.  From gardening to wine-making (whose season is almost upon us), from politics to TV reviews, from thoughts about poetry to feelings about religion, there is nothing (or almost nothing!) I won’t cover.

Politically speaking, I have to report that I didn’t get elected as Principal Speaker for Left Unity, though once again the vote was close: I was neck and neck with another woman until they finally divvied up the votes (they use STV which sounds like a sexually-transmitted condition but means you can rank candidates in order of preference, rather than voting for just one.  I guess it’s more democratic but it is also quite cumbersome.)  I wasn’t too disappointed as I was not entirely sure how much I wanted the post…

Socially, I have been fairly busy; on Saturday along with half of Leicester we went to Anna’s 80th birthday party where I did a poem.  I can’t believe Anna is 80!  I’ve known her for about 28 years and she was one of the first people I met when I first came here and joined CND.  It was an enjoyable party and we saw loads of people we knew.  Then last night I was all set to trot into town for the hustings at the Secular Society when I looked out of the window.  Was that hail?  It was certainly windy – so I stayed indoors instead to watch my favourite contender – a down-to-earth sort of woman – win Mastermind.  The general knowledge questions were definitely harder at this level, so to make myself feel better I switched to Celebrity Mastermind, which sort of seems designed to make us feel superior to celebrities as they seem to know so little.  I answered all but one of the specialist subject questions on ‘Harry Potter’ as well.  Which set me off on a televisual journey with Tom Felton (Draco Malfoy) travelling the world to find out what drives obsessive fans; the kind of people who will wait for hours in the rain just for the chance of getting an autograph.

These people were more human and less creepy than he – or I – had expected: most of them seemed just to want some kind of contact with someone who had meant a great deal to them.  I was struck by his caring response to his fans, and to one in particular, a middle-aged woman called Tina, who follows him everywhere.

How do people have the time and money to do this?  It’s a mystery to me…

Anyway, that’s all for today folks as I have to head off and write my last Mslexia post.

Kirk out

Do They Or Don’t They Shoot Horses?

There’s been a lot of debate over on the Mslexia blog about how people should respond to trans partners.  It seems to be split between those who think the trans person has a right to self-determination and that others should just accept it, and those who sympathise more with the partner.

I guess this is fairly typical when things happen with couples.  When a couple breaks up (not that we are) their friends usually line up on one side or the other.  A similar thing has happened with a number of couples we know – and often you can end up not seeing one partner at all.  On the other hand, I know some couples who have managed to stay friends and even come to parties and dinners together as if they were still a couple.

Anyway, I’m really pleased that so many people have taken the time to comment on this thread and I hope it continues.  Even hostile and critical comments are good in a way though at the time they are hard to read.

I’m also pleased some of you have taken the time to comment on my story ‘They Shoot Horses.’  What do you think of the title?  It has been suggested that as a reference to the film it’s misleading, but I want to keep it because I think what I’m doing is a modern ‘take’ on the film.

If you haven’t seen it, ‘They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?’ is set in the ‘thirties when dance marathons were a kind of cruel lottery for desperate people.  In my story reality TV is also a chance for the poor and desperate to break out of their situation – but it’s a kind of Kafkaesque scenario because the queue never comes to an end.  They keep hoping it will, but there’s always another twist, always another corner to turn.  Maybe I need to make that a bit clearer?

Comments welcome.

Kirk out

Decapitated Coffee

Sometimes a phrase will come to me and I have to write it down somewhere – that one came while I was having breakfast and since I’d left my notebook upstairs I’m putting it on here. Maybe it will resolve itself into something meaningful by the end of this post…

Here’s a photo of yesterday’s ‘Je Suis Charlie’ rally at the Clock Tower: it wasn’t a bad turnout considering we only had about 2 days’ notice.  Everyone was given a pencil and a candle:

Not much happened – it would have been good if someone had brought a mic and amp as a representative of the Indian Workers’ Association made a speech which no-one could hear.  It would have been good, too, to have some songs and poetry… but as I say, they only had two days to organise it, so getting around 100 people there was not too bad.

I arrived in town early and lurked in Clark’s pretending to look at shoes, not realising that Mark was also lurking in Costa having a coffee.  Perhaps, in honour of the occasion, it was a decapitated coffee?

Maybe he was sitting on what Holly used to call ‘invitable furniture’.  We had a huge blue inflatable sofa at one time, as well as a squashy red armchair.  Sadly they did not last long…

There are some more comments on my Mslexia blog, all supportive, so thanks all!

Kirk out