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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.