As a parent of an adult child who recently came out as transgender, I have found myself in unfamiliar territory. As a Christian, I’ve approached this by seeking God’s wisdom first. Secondly, I’ve sought help from others who are familiar with the area. Taking advice from someone who has no experience has proven downright useless and can be quite harmful.
Years ago, I was in Kenya, East Africa, with a group on a short-term medical mission. Everyone on this trip was from the United States. The success of the operation relied more heavily on our Kenyan guides, drivers, and translators than it did on we, the American volunteers. Traveling halfway around the world, entering an unfamiliar culture where we did not speak the language of the people we were to serve, we heavily relied on people to help us successfully navigate, and understand the differences. Any time one of the Americans thought they knew better than the expertise of our hosts our whole mission was put in jeopardy.
“Pride goes before destruction and a haughty spirit before a fall.” Proverbs 16:18
When my child announced themselves as transgender, I felt as if the world was spinning. I didn’t even know what transgender meant! Like many others, I thought gender identity was black and white, but it turns out it’s not that simple. There are gray areas that complicate biology and the human experience. There are multiple factors that need to happen to “tell” a developing fetus it is male or female. Any disruption in that process can cause anomalies that can effect human physiological and psychological development. So, suddenly, with this declaration I was in new territory. It’s scary to be in an unfamiliar place, but the truth is that it wasn’t uncharted wilderness, it was just new to me. I needed God’s wisdom and help from others to navigate this new-to-me place.
Just as there were native Kenyans wanting to help the naïve Americans, there have been experts in this field of gender incongruence ready to share with me. And as with my African experience, those with the most helpful and insightful advice on understanding the transgender community are the people who have dwelled there.
The most significant help came from my own doctor. A medical practitioner, mother of two children with autism, one of whom is transgender stated, “You know there is a connection between autism and gender identity conflict.”
Yes, I had read research showing a significant percentage of people with gender incongruence are also challenged with autism, OCD, depression, schizophrenia, and several other brain affecting medical conditions. Since identifying Autism as a neurological and developmental disorder, shunning those individuals coping with it is a morally and socially unacceptable practice. And, like those in the research, my child has recently been diagnosed as being on the spectrum and positive for some of these other disorders.
Thankfully, this caring medical professional and native in the territory of raising a transgender child gave me a map to help me navigate this space! Other parents of transgender children have also come forward in compassion to support me in this journey.
Today I understand that I have a child who has been bravely treading through a host of biological anomalies all their life, without knowing what they are, but just feeling something was wrong. Gender identity conflict is not the same thing as being homosexual, but the question of gender certainly muddies those waters. There’s not been enough research to understand any one of these diagnoses singularly, let alone how they are connected. So, with only minimal data, this is when a compassionate parent practices care and patience. A space for curiosity rather than criticism. I’ve attempted to do this by spending long hours studying on both autism and gender incongruency.
The more common reaction many Christians respond with is judgement, calling trans people sinners and ostracizing them from church. Often parents, in the name of Christ, kick their children out of the house and cut them off from belonging. I’ve experienced pressure from believers to maintain culturally created “lines” of behavior that have nothing to do with morals. This hurts!
Currently in our western culture, there are many public voices with strong opinions on this topic, spreading uneducated and inexperienced guidance to Christians. This grieves me deeply because after listening to these beliefs for years, I see how hurtful speaking without insight or wisdom is. It has made my life more difficult by creating confusion and distrust.
As Christians, we must be able to ask those who influence our thinking where do you get that information? A humble leader will share their source and engage in dialog. Pride often shows itself in phrases like who are you to question my authority? Especially in today’s internet age, it is important to fact check and cross examine the data that is being circulated.
I have found the book, Ministering to Transgender Christians by Greg Eilers well worth reading. It is written by a transgender person who was a pastor in the Lutheran Church for 18 years prior to transitioning. Other books on the topic written by cisgender individuals (those who identify with their biological sex are called cisgender) lack the understanding of what it is like to live with gender dysphoria (a distressed state arising from conflict between a person’s gender identity and the sex the person has or was identified as having at birth).
I don’t necessarily agree with Mr. Eilers theology on our heaven experience, but I take to heart his painful transgender experience. The anguish he describes in his book is impossible to ignore.
My transgender adult-child is a Christian, raised in a home full of faith, and would love to be accepted into a church family, free to worship and grow in the Lord. But Milo is afraid that the Christian community will treat them with hate and rejection. I don’t blame Milo for that concern, but neither do I want my kiddo to be without a faith community. This is the plight for the transgender Christian…Church is not universally a safe place for hurting people, especially people with gender incongruence.
That hurts my heart!
I am inviting you, my fellow Christians, into new territory. A place where God leads us away from ignorance and fear and into compassion and trust. Please understand that the transgender community is a people group that are navigating life’s challenges, as are we all. It’s not “us and them,” but we. Remember, Jesus has given us a map of how we are to live and friends who will partner with us in loving His beloved children.