Caitlyn Jenner’s public transformation on the cover of Vanity Fair last week forcefully pulled the “T” from the end of “LGBT” and placed it squarely at the forefront of public discourse.
This past weekend at least nine newspapers around the country published front-page stories profiling local transgender residents. On Monday Christianity Today published a seven page story on “Understanding the Transgender Phenomenon.”
As stories about Jenner and other transgender people piled up in my news feed, spread across my television screen and seeped into everyday conversation with friends and coworkers, I realized that something extraordinary was happening.
People were actually talking about transgender issues. A subject previously considered taboo in many circles and the source of awkward jokes in others was now being discussed forthrightly. Honest questions were being asked, challenging issues were being brought out into the open.
Of course the commentary on Jenner ran the gamut that one might expect.
Conservative Christians spewed their typical vitriol:
“For the very reason that homosexual practice is wrong, transsexualism is all the more wrong because it is an even greater complaint against God for the way that one is made.” — Robert Gagnon
“What he [Jenner] most closely resembles is a mentally disordered man who is being manipulated by disingenuous liberals and self-obsessed gay activists.” — Matt Walsh
Other Christians planted their flag in the squishy middle ground:
“I see value in a disability lens that sees gender dysphoria as a reflection of a fallen world in which the condition itself is not a moral choice.” — Mark Yarhouse
“Only God knows why Caitlyn is transgender, and therefore, only God can judge (a) if she’s sinning or not, and (b) if she has any level of culpability in it..” — Benjamin Corey
And yet others voiced their full affirmation and support:
“It’s insane that anyone has to say this, but, again: There is no sin in being gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, or questioning.” — John Shore
“Shouldn’t the idea of people being at peace in their own body should [sic] resonate with everyone, especially Christians?” — Eliel Cruz
Though the responses have been varied, the mere fact that this topic has risen to prominence fills me with hope. Hope that these conversations will continue, hope that the discussion won’t fade with Jenner’s 15 minutes, and hope that truth and love will win the day.
But while it’s important that we unabashedly affirm our support for transgender people and eschew the half-assed duplicity of “love the sinner and hate the sin,” it’s even more important that we listen. We need to listen and learn from trans voices, we need to hear their stories.
As we fight over pronouns and debate theology and biology, real trans people are living their real lives. When we espouse grandiose generalities about the moral, spiritual, physical and sexual identities of people — transgender or otherwise — we risk losing the uniqueness of the person. Just as every person is unique, so every trans person is unique. It’s time that we embrace that uniqueness and that inherent value, it’s time that we listen to and embrace the trans community.
To that end, I offer two starting points and one invitation:
1. Spend some time with GLAAD’s Transgender FAQ. It’s a wonderful collection of resources for learning about trans issues.
2. Spend some time on the New York Times mini-site, “Transgender Lives: Your Stories.” Featuring a series of editorials about transgender experiences, it’s an eye-opening, heart-breaking and inspiring glimpse into the lives of trans people. UC readers might be particularly interested in the story of Lisa Salizar, who was the original designer of the UC logo.
And finally, if you’re a transgender person, I’d love to hear from you, either in the comments below, or by submitting to this blog.
Dan is the Executive Editor of the Unfundamentalist Christians blog. He is a writer, graphic designer and IT specialist. He lives in Montana, is married and has two cats.