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Friday, March 27, 2015

A Christian Defense of the Gender Identities of Transgender Persons - Part 2

In the scenario I suggested in my previous post, Wanda has both a claim and a request which raise three questions: Is Wanda’s claim meaningful (is it possible in principle that Wanda is correct in her claim)? Is Wanda’s claim true? And would the fulfillment of Wanda’s request be sinful?
Peter Kreeft isn't always right,
but he is always awesome.

It is clear to me that Wanda’s claim is meaningful. As a human person and a Christian, I experience myself as both male bodied and of masculine gender. As a matter of faith, I believe that at the death of my body, my self will persist in a non-corporeal form awaiting the resurrection of the body. To quote the Catholic philosopher Peter Kreeft, “Sex is between the ears before it is between the legs. We have sexual souls. and “Rather, in every soul there is—to use Jungian terms—anima and animus, femaleness and maleness; just as in the body, one predominates but the other is also present. If the dominant sex of soul is not the same as that of the body, we have a sexual misfit, a candidate for a sex change operation of body or of soul, earthly or Heavenly. Perhaps Heaven supplies such changes just as it supplies all other needed forms of healing.”(1)
Now I suppose the claim that we humans have a gender (or as Kreeft puts it, “sexual soul”) which is ontically distinguishable from the sex of our bodies, is one that can be attacked on philosophical grounds. A strict materialist, for instance, would deny that we have souls at all(2). But there is certainly no direct Biblical passage which would immediately contradict the claim. Consider for following propositions:

  1. Persons are comprised of both soul and body
  2. Souls are sexed (masculine and feminine are meaningful descriptions of souls)
  3. Bodies are sexed

Even Dr. Dobson should like my propositions.
See, he's smiling.
So far as I can tell these should not be problematic claims for even the most conservative evangelical, after all the Bible uses gendered language when it speaks of the incorporeal dead(3). Yet, if you agree with these three propositions(4), it is not, in principle, problematic to claim that a person’s soul and body may not correspond. Certainly you will find nothing in the Bible to contradict the claim.
So Wanda’s claim is meaningful, but is it true? I have shown that Wanda’s claim is possible and I maintain(5) that the Bible does not forbid her conclusion. This means that as her pastor, we must decide whether or not to trust her account of her soul. Given that she is the only person (other than God) who is able to know her soul directly, she is the only person who can verify her own claims, the hypothetical(6) pastor will probably feel a bit like Peter or Susan when they went to talk to the old Professor about Lucy’s claim that she had discovered another world in one of his wardrobes:

I want to be Professor Kirke when I grow up

‘Logic!’ said the Professor half to himself. ‘Why don’t they teach logic at these schools? There are only three possibilities. Either your sister is telling lies, or she is mad, or she is telling the truth. You know she doesn’t tell lies and it is obvious that she is not mad. For the moment then and unless any further evidence turns up, we must assume that she is telling the truth.’

 Just as with Lucy, either Wanda is telling lies, and does not actually experience herself as feminine, or she is mad, or she is telling the truth. If the pastor’s experience with Wanda, suggests that she is not a liar, then simple Christian charity rules out that possibility. And here we are on familiar ground since many of the arguments Christians make against the recognition of transgender people in their perceived gender identities, are based on a claim that transgender people are somehow deluded and insane. One sees many references to the fact that what is currently described in the psychological literature as “gender dysphoria” was previously categorized as “gender identity disorder”(7).
This is not you.

But the claim that Wanda is insane is unsustainable. Transgender people do not behave in the ways that delusional people do. In general, people suffering from gender dysphoria exhibit exactly the symptoms psychologists would expect with people who are forced to play an alien role for an extended period of time while facing the threat of alienation from their communities. They do not exhibit the symptoms and behaviors associated with people who believe themselves to be Napoleon Bonaparte or a boiled egg. In short, transgender people do not act like crazy people, they act like incredibly stressed and oppressed sane people. The only “crazy” thing about transpersons is the fact that they claim a gender at odds with their physical sex but since that is specifically the claim we are investigating, it would be begging the question(8) to take that as evidence of insanity or delusion.
Love believes all things.

Which means that the pastor is compelled by logic and charity, to conclude that Wanda is a person whose soul is feminine and whose body is masculine(9).

With this established, the law of Christian liberty, together with the abundant evidence that Wanda will be psychologically harmed by a refusal to recognize and relate to her as a woman, suggests that the sinful choice would be for our hypothetical pastor to refuse Wanda’s request. If our pastor is a complementarian, refusal would be further problematized by the fact that it would effectively force Wanda to act against her “proper gender role”.

In my next post I will address the Scripture passages (or lack thereof) which pertain to this subject. I look forward to discussion in comments.

Part 3 is available here.

(1) Both quotes are from the essay Sex in Heaven by Peter Kreeft
(2) though they will often maintain that gender is a social construct which may or may not “fit” the psychological experience of a given individual.
(3) Luke 9 and Luke 16 for instance.
(4) If you disagree please speak up in comments!
(5) It is foolish to try to prove a negative so if you have an argument that the Bible does forbid acceptance of Wanda’s claim, please draw my attention to it and I will respond.
(6) but often enough very real
(7) This is usually accompanied by extensive hand-wringing over the apparent "liberal capitulation" of the psychological community.
(8) circular reasoning
(9) There is a great rundown of the evidence for this over at Debunking Denialism.


  1. I never grew up with the belief that the soul is gendered, even as a conservative evangelical. Why would the soul have gender? God doesn't have gender! I grew up with the belief that, yes, certain human qualities (compassion and mercy versus just) are feminine or masculine, much the same way certain Spanish or French words are feminine or masculine, but aren't these just rudimentarily constructed dialogues to frame a point of reference? So far, I'm rejecting the notion that the soul has gender. Gender (sex) certainly has an influence on how we frame ourselves and relate to the world, and maybe more than the color of our skin, etc. but saying the soul has gender is like saying the soul has color. We can say it has color figuratively, but the very definition of soul means that it cannot have color.

  2. Hmmm.. I think I would want to ask first about the suggestion that qualities or words in gendered languages are "just rudimentarily constructed dialogues to frame a point of reference". I would actually suggest that the massive (though not total) overlap in the genders of non physically sexed objects (mountains, oceans, sky, earth, sun, and moon) between cultures would suggest (and I am working from both Kreeft and C.S. Lewis here) that our assessments of men and women as male and female, reflect a cosmic genderedness more fundamental than physical sex. Basically biological sex is only one of many things which reflect the more cosmic reality of gender.
    I am interested to know how a Christian would go about objecting to the claims of a transgender person without the attendant claim that the person was violating something fundamental about themselves (their gender). Thoughts?

  3. I don't see thought that non-gendered objects reflect our idea of gender as proof of those objects having a gender. Something in that reasoning doesn't seem sound. For the record, I disagree with certain traits being labeled as feminine or masculine. I think we have moved beyond that to understand things like mercy, compassion, etc. are what they are. Perhaps we'd like to say they're "soft" or "feminine" but that doesn't mean if you have a lot of it, you're literally soft or literally a female, so describing it that way is doing more harm than good.
    How can a soul have gender? Why would it have gender? And how would we know if it does?
    I'm not objecting anyone's claims on the basis that they are violating something fundamental about themselves. I never reject anyone's claims of gender. How would I do that? Even asking them to list the reasons is extremely rude, let alone with the motivation to argue with them. Why would I do that? How is that any of my business unless I plan on procreating with them? It seems odd that I would want to talk about anyone's privates and whatnot. Not that I'm looking down on this conversation, because it is a topic of discussion in our society, but personally, would anyone ever confront someone on this? It's time we start treating people with a little more dignity by thinking of them as actual people.

  4. Gotcha. I don't think I have a conclusive logical "proof" to offer with regard to the genderedness of the soul. It is a description that fits my experience of myself (I experience myself both as masculine and as male) and seems to reflect the accounts that many people (both cis- and trans- gender) give of themselves. Certainly others may not experience themselves in that way, and that doesn't bug me :) My point in this post is that the claim is meaningful in that it does not contradict any extant Christian theological or scientific claims and is supported by individual accounts. It would be fun to put together a full post laying out my belief and position with regard to gender as a cosmic quality (I think human bodies are only a tiny portion of the many things which participate in gender in a number of different and interesting ways).
    I suspect that we get to functionally identical conclusions along different paths here and I agree that "It's time we start treating people with a little more dignity by thinking of them as actual people". My project is to demonstrate that there is nothing inherent to even conservative Christian theology which should prevent someone from behaving towards others in a way that we might both characterize as befitting their dignity as human persons. I further, very much, agree with you that it is extremely rude (and unwarranted) to question another person's account of their own gender. Yet that is specifically what many in the conservative church - Denny Burke springs to mind - are recommending. Hence this post.

  5. As a follow up, I should probably make it really clear that I don't think anyone should be restricted from participation in Church, the family, or secular society (or anything else off the top of my head) on account of their sex or their gender. And I think we have managed to do a great deal of damage by seeing people as overly simplistic steriotypes of what I might refer to as the cosmic feminine or cosmic masculine. I suspect that peoples participation in those two archetypes could be situated along a spectrum (which would probably also work out to a bell curve since it seems like everything does) with people participating in greater or lesser degrees of femininity and masculinity, both of which are of equal value.

  6. Yes, I do see that we are getting to the same conclusion by different means. My participation in this conversation was to answer your question as to whether or not I agree with all the propositions. I know you like participation! And I know you treat everyone with dignity! That statement of our belief was spurned on by my disbelief that others could even get to the point of asking rude questions, which would be necessary for refuting someone on their own gender claims. If you ask me, THEY'RE the weirdos. :P