Imagine for a moment the size and weight of the cross of Christ. Bulky, awkward, and heavy for sure. Jesus learned obedience in carrying it (Hebrews 5:8), but not before He fell three times beneath its weight. Simon of Cyrene, too, had to learn to bear its weight, to shift the weight, through trial and error, so that they could eventually make it to Golgotha. For the person with gender dysphoria, much like Christ himself, no “how-to” manual on carrying the cross is provided. Only grace will be sufficient here. Yet, this is Good News. Jesus promised that His grace is sufficient for us, and He certainly knew some would experience gender dysphoria when He made that promise. This means there is sufficient grace for the person with gender dysphoria, and grace offered to others who are willing to learn to bear the weight with them.
Does this mean that the Christian should forego other interventions or management strategies in response to gender dysphoria? We are not taking that position at this time. Instead, we are inviting the Christian to spend more time in the questions of whether meaning and lasting joy can be found through enduring hardship, even though we cannot ask these questions as they might of themselves. We are not in their shoes. We do not ourselves suffer as they suffer; besides, gender dysphoria varies in severity from person to person and can vary in strength and severity in the same person over time. We also know of others who have suffered with severe, life-threatening gender dysphoria such that more urgent management strategies were also on the table.
We also want to ask whether insights into etiology will shape pastoral care. We do not know what causes gender dysphoria, but there are some interesting brain scan studies1 that appear to support a neurodevelopmental theory in which the brain of a person with gender dysphoria may include both male-typical and female-typical brain characteristics. When thinking of this theory, we call to mind the reality of those with physical intersex conditions, in which one is born with ambiguous genitalia (due to shared male/female sexual characteristics) that makes it difficult to determine the child’s biological sex. Subsequently, there has been a practice of medical consultation and possible surgical intervention to “assign” a sex to the child. Some have suggested that, if the current line of brain research were to find additional support, we may be entertaining the idea of something closer to an intersex condition of the brain. If so (and we are not claiming that this is where the research is just yet), in what ways would this have implications for counseling and pastoral care and the morality of particular interventions? Or would it?
A final point: Many people we meet with have wondered whether their experience of gender dysphoria precludes them from a life in Christ. In their angst, they may ask, “Why does God love me less than others? How am I a beloved child of God when this is my life?” These are weighty questions, shared by many in moments when we feel forsaken by God. In journeying with one another through these difficult moments, we can be reminded, once again, to ask Christ our questions and to listen for His answers. He is no foreigner to suffering, and to the human feeling of being forsaken by His Father. But Jesus knew He was the Son of God. His entire ministry was dedicated to revealing this profound truth. “Son though He was, He learned obedience from what he suffered” (Hebrews 5:8). He was the Son of God and He suffered. He remembered this. Maybe, the best thing is to be reminded of this, too. We are beloved children of God, drawn close to the cross so we can be kissed by Jesus. This kiss may be bitter, at times, but this kiss is sanctifying. Sanctification brings glorification, and ultimately, endless joy. We remember that, “…if we are children, then we are heirs: heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ—if indeed we suffer with Him, so that we may also be glorified with Him” (Romans 8:17). The first door we enter—suffering—leads to our final home, Eternity.
Suffering makes it hard to remember Eternity. In the midst of suffering, the glorification we are made for feels inaccessible. As Christians, we grieve our suffering, but not as those who have no hope (1 Thessalonians 4:13). We maintain our hope that the Lover will return for His Beloved, and will make all things new (Revelation 21:5). In suffering, we might feel broken, weak, and anything but lovable. So, gentle reminders that we are beloved may help. Many people with gender dysphoria are never told that they, too, are beloved. Who will remind them when pain makes them forget this fundamental truth and the source of their dignity? If anywhere, that’s where you come in.
ReferencesAntonio Guillamon, Carme Junque, and Esther Gomez-Gil. A Review of the Status of Brain Structure Research in Transsexualism. Archives of Sexual Behavior 45, no 7 (October 2016), 1615-1648.
Mother Teresa of Calcutta, Whatever You Did Unto One of the Least, You Did Unto Me. An address at the National Prayer Breakfast, February 3, 1994. Retrieved from https://www.ewtn.com/library/issues/prbkmter.txt
Pinckaers, Servais O.P., Morality: The Catholic View. South Bend, IN: St. Augustine’s Press, 2001.
Mark A. Yarhouse, Understanding Gender Dysphoria: Navigating Transgender Issues in a Changing Culture. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2015.
Mark A. Yarhouse & Dara Houp, D., Transgender Christians: “Gender identity, family relationships, and religious faith.” In Sheyma Vaughn (Ed.), Transgender youth: Perceptions, media influences, and social challenges (pp. 51-65). New York, NY: Nova Science Publishers, 2016.
see Guillamon, Junque & Gomez-Gil, 2016 ↩