Before turning the floor over to Savannah Wolfson (who has also written the popular Women Who Breastfeed in Church for RubySlippers) I’d like to explain that this question of “What is normal?” combined with questions of gender and sexuality provide fertile ground for . . . cruelty or care. Add the sparse but confidently over-quoted verses on sexuality from Scripture and we find fertile ground for spiritual abuse. Soulation, and thereby RubySlippers, is a place where we continue to foster care for others while we scratch at the glass to see light and beauty together. Please carefully read Savannah’s journey, questions and engage with all the kindness God has put within you. I invite any honest question to this roundtable discussion. I will join you in the comments.
Transgender Questions: An Ex-Fundamentalist Asks
by Savannah Wolfson
I grew up in a bubble. My neatly packaged ideas of gender roles didn’t include anyone that didn’t fit into an idealistic (and often unknowingly privileged) box. When I went off to college, I debated with my roommate about whether or not we were still under our fathers’ headship, as we were without husbands to lead us. In my bubble, permanently single people weren’t often talked about because marriage was an assumption. I can recall many a sermon on gender roles in the home, but never a sermon that included blended families, because, well, divorce just wasn’t an option. I can’t imagine how fried my brain would be if I could tell my younger self the questions I am asking today.
Questions like, what does the “T” in LGBT mean?
By now I’ve moved out of my fundamentalist culture and I’m seeking to understand, learning how to be sensitive, and respond fittingly to the unfamiliar. I’m wondering if you can help me along this road. I’ll have to put in a disclaimer ahead of time—if I say something insensitive, I’m sorry. Please be patient with me and know that I wish to recognize where my idealistic bubble held me back. I’m ready to learn more.
As you’ve probably already figured out, I’ve been researching the transgender community. Up to this point, here’s what I’ve figured out on my own. I am cisgender. That means that I have always considered myself to be the same gender that others considered me to be at birth. I was born in a female body and I feel female. Of course, we wouldn’t need this term if there was no alternative, and the alternative to cisgender is transgender.
From what I understand, “transgender” includes a few concepts, but I’ll try to explain what I know so far. A transgender person can feel like they were born in a body that does not reflect their true gender. They can also feel like gender terms used to describe a cisgender person are too limited to describe themselves. Some transgender people undergo hormonal treatments and surgeries to help their bodies reflect who they feel they are on the inside.
As I researched these options, I was struck with the impression that the genders, which I had been raised to believe were polar opposites, are far more similar than they are different, even physically.
If you’re like me, you’re willing to accept that people are different from you, even if it’s not something you understand. Reading the Christian transgender, Lisa Salazar’s story, I believe her, because she knows more about her experience than I ever will (Salazar’s book). The problem I have is that when I mentally assent to one thing—that some people are transgender—I quickly start seeing more and more of what I don’t know. I start asking questions like . . .
- Is gender really so fluid that hormonal treatment and surgery could change a female body to a male body?
- Why would God allow or what purpose would he have for someone’s soul to be a different gender from their body?
- Does surgery really fix that? If so, what did trans people do before the age of plastic surgery?
- Are there historical examples of trans people, or did the communication age reveal this problem?
- Does the Bible have anything to say about this?
- And what does the Christian community need to learn most about transgender people (keeping in mind that there are many transgender people who are part of the Christian community; the two are not exclusive).
- Most importantly to me, how do I respond in the most loving way that I can to transgender people? I suppose I would have to follow God’s example for that, but I don’t claim to know how God feels about this issue.
While you’re at it, you can consider my bubble popped.
Lisa Salazar’s book Transparently: Behind the Scenes of a Good Life