He or She? How Should I Refer to Transgender Friends?

This is the title of a podcast by Pastor John Piper – He or She? How Should I Refer to Transgender Friends?

What do we do when a transgender friend wants us to call them a new name, and we know that the new name does not fit their actual sex?  This can be very complicated for a Christian who on the one hand believes sex/gender to be given by God and not chosen, but on the one hand the same Christian wants to show others the same compassion and mercy that we also have received from God.

Piper handles this issue fairly well I think.  He talks about how names are culturally arbitrary on the one hand, so in some ways it’s not that big of a deal.  Piper admits certain cases that he would indeed go by calling a transsexual person by their preferred opposite sex name.  But he goes farther I think than most Christians, in that he says he will not “lie” by calling a transsexual person using their preferred pronouns, even at a workplace, even if it cost him his job.  In summary he makes a small deal about names, given their arbitrary nature, but he will not lie to transsexuals or other people by identifying transsexuals as something they are not.

John Piper does a good job discussing the very real and painful reality of those born with sex anomalies, such as hermaphrodites, and how it is a very different issue from transsexual phenomena today.

The name and pronoun issue is a thorny issue which I’ve talked about before.  I’m trying to think of other analogies that don’t involve transsexualism that may be helpful.  Perhaps as Christians there are other issues in which we are or are not making concessions.

When a coworker says he is married, but I know he means something different from my Christian view of marriage, do I still refer to him as being married?  Yes.  I don’t think this would be inconsistent with Piper’s view.  Marriage is a thing I recognize across all cultures as part of God’s common grace, part of the structure of even non-Christian society, but I also recognize that there is more to a Christian marriage than only that cultural structure.

If a coworker claimed he was white, when really he has dark skin, I would not concede to call him “white.”  (But actually I can’t think of any reason why I’d ever need to make a comment about his race or color of skin).  It is not nearly as complicated as an issue like sex, in which even in a simple email we have to use pronouns like he or she.

If a coworker claimed that she was fat, and she wanted me to admit she was fat (even if she was anorexically skinny), I would not admit it, but instead try to help her see how thin she is and the need for counseling.

If an Indian coworker was worshipping an idol at his desk, I would respect his freedom to do so.  But I would not refer to the figurine as the real God of the universe.  Even if he tried to tell me that his god is the true God who I also worship, I would openly disagree with him.  I might be willing to go so far as to say, “your god that you worship.”

If a coworker changed his name, I would be willing to call him a new name of his choice.  If he chose a female name and got sex reassignment surgery and started trying to live as a female, it would be more difficult for me to use his preferred name, because I would feel like by doing so I would be communicating that I agree he is now a female.  But I don’t know what I would do until I got to that situation.  Perhaps I would use the preferred name but still not use the pronouns of his choice.  Or perhaps I would use the pronouns he wanted as a concession to avoid needless offense, while he and everyone else knew what I really thought about his sex.  It’s hard to know what to do.

As I’ve written before, I lean towards Piper’s position, of not lying, of always speaking truth, but speaking it in a gentle and loving and compassionate way.  But when you get down to the reality of different situations, you first can try to avoid needless offense while also avoiding lying at the same time.

I’m stumped in coming up with more analogies.  Anyone have any good analogies that would argue against this position?  It seems to me that the only exception I can think of that our culture has made on these issues of denying reality, is this one issue about sex.  On every other issue when a person is completely denying reality and wanting us to go along with it, I think our culture is still not willing to do so on those other issues.

Biblical Manhood and Womanhood

**April 4th, 2015 – Quick Addition – I had forgot to mention that there is also a chapter of the book that explores such issues as androgyny, crossdressing, and transsexualism, especially among ancient cultures.  The author of that section explores how in each of these cultures the androgynous or transsexual people had roles of being the ones to have contact with the pagan religious world in some way.  He talks about how these cultures (and modern New Age religion), believe that everything is part of everything, so these cultures would celebrate those who could combine various things into one unified monad, like the person who could combine masculine/feminine.  It was an interesting chapter especially in light of the many crossdressers today who speak of how their lives show the ideal of a perfect balance of masculine and feminine.  I strongly disagree with such reasoning, and agree that it is a pagan idea contrary to the Bible’s teaching.


One of the most helpful books I’ve read on the topic of what it means to be a man or woman is the book – “Biblical Foundations for Manhood and Womanhood.” I want to recommend it to all of you. If you click on the link you can read it for free. It’s by Wayne Grudem as well as some other authors.

Over the last few years I’ve been changing on my view of sex/gender. I wrote about that change in this recent blog post – “Gender Sameness and Difference.” Because of the liberal schools I went to for both grade school and university, I was taught that men and women are mostly the same, and that we shouldn’t overemphasize the biological differences. In a way, that was true and helpful and it showed me how much unhelpful gender stereotypes have contributed to my problems with crossdressing as well as other people their problems with transgenderism. I realized that being sensitive or emotional or gentle or a lover of beauty did not make me less of a man. I realized that being someone who exhibits the fruits of the spirit does not make me feminine, but makes me the kind of man God wants me to be.

But what I’ve found through my healing from my crossdressing addiction, was that this understanding of gender is severely limited. Over the past few years, as I have recovered from crossdressing addiction, I have also been growing in my understanding of men and women, male and female, masculinity and femininity, and the biblical roles of men and women. My growth in that area has helped me to recover from crossdressing. And my recovery from crossdressing has helped me to grow in my view of gender and the discovery of male and female differences. They have grown in a reciprocal way I did not expect, and did not fully realize until now.

I have grown in my appreciation of the differences between men and women, emotional, physical, and in our different roles. God made two sexes for a reason, and I am finding great beauty and complementarity in the differences. Men and women are suited to be together. If God wanted to, he could have made only men, but he didn’t. Clearly he wants a man and a woman to be together, not two men, not two women. As I have understood this, and understood my role as a man and my role as the biblical head in my marriage, I have been able to be much more successful against crossdressing temptations. I know who I am as a man, and can be content in living out that identity, instead of trying to be something I am not.

I think back to my times of crossdressing and much of it was about wanting to be submissive and wanting to flee from my role as a man and husband. I know I am not alone in this. If you read crossdressing fiction, you will quickly see that many crossdress to escape the feeling of stress and responsibility, or to be able to feel demure, passive, and submissive. I think because of our broken sinful natures, men are tempted to distort their leadership role either through domination or through passivity. And women, because of their sinful natures, have a temptation to distort their supportive role through either being a doormat, or by trying to take the husband’s place of authority. For some of us, it sure is difficult trying to do what God has called us to do. But I am finding great freedom in my role as a leader and finding more peace in it. Instead of fleeing from responsibility, I’m focusing on being a good leader and a dedicated servant to my wife.

As an aside, I’ve also changed on my view of women in church leadership through these past years. This book clinched it for me. I now think that in the church, as well as in marriage, men should be the ones in authority. I think this is faithful to Scripture even though at times it can bother people or even me that women are not allowed to be in those leadership roles. But I think there is godliness in leadership and godliness in submission (Jesus was submissive to the Father and that wasn’t a bad thing!), and God has called us to those different things. In striving to fulfill the role that God has laid out for us, both for us men, and for women, we learn holiness and learn to do what God wants us to do, rather than what we might be comfortable with.

Biological basis for transgenderism?

In various posts on my blog I’ve looked at studies and articles about whether there are truly brain differences between transgender men and non-transgender men.  It’s something that interests me and every article I read seems to say something different.  It’s clear that that there are indeed some differences, but why are those differences there?  This blog I found is dedicated to exploring these issues, and the argument there is that the brain differences exist because of the female hormones that transsexuals take, and it is not that those differences existed from youth.   It is an interesting blog with a lot of well researched content.  If you are curious about this issue, it’s a good place to start.

The blog also clearly articulates what “intersex” is all about, and how it is completely different from transsexualism, and should not be used to argue for it.

John Piper on Transgender

I thought both of these audio interviews with pastor John Piper in the USA were good.  He doesn’t say anything a whole lot different than what I have said.  But it’s nice to hear these things from another pastor.

One point I thought was especially interesting was what he said about men being prone to violence.  This can be easily proven biologically and scientifically.  And yet I have never heard anyone say that it is morally okay for men to commit acts of violence, just because they are prone to do so because of their testosterone.  Biologically we are hardwired to desire and commit violence.  Yet it is not okay to do so.  Being born with a desire does not mean it is morally okay to give in to that desire.

Yes, clearly, some people are born feeling like they are the wrong sex.  They want to live as the other sex.  But being born with this desire to be the opposite sex does not entail it is morally good (or good for the person), to try to then live as the opposite sex.

I also appreciated what he said about people born with intersexual conditions.  He said similar to things to what I have already written in other posts.

Testimony of Dr. Berger

I find this to be a powerful statement about how no person is scientifically actually “transgender.”  It is written by Dr. Berger, a psychiatrist in Toronto.  The truth is that people have feelings of unhappiness or unease about their gender.  The solution is not surgery but rather psychological help to address the feelings instead of altering the body.


Intersexual conditions – There is still a binary

The occurrence of people born with bodies that have some biologically male traits and some biologically female traits have led many people in common culture to reject a sexual binary and of course also a gender binary.  It is common to hear people argue that we are all on a spectrum, and there is no such thing as true males and females but just a bunch of people at various points in a spectrum, and so there should be no need to have to label people as either male or female.  Some people could choose these labels but many people could choose something entirely different, something in between, or nothing at all.

Some of justification for this view comes from a false understanding of inter-sexed conditions.  This recent scholarly article (Unfortunately we don’t have access to the whole article, but the 1 page preview explains quite well and gives a nice summary) by Leonard Sax explains –

Anne Fausto-Sterling’s suggestion that the prevalence of intersex might be as high as 1.7% has attracted wide attention in both the scholarly press and the popular media.  Many reviewers are not aware that this figure includes conditions which most clinicians do not recognize as intersex, such as Klinefelter syndrome, Turner syndrome, and late-onset adrenal hyperplasia.  If the term intersex is to retain any meaning, the term should be restricted to those conditions in which chromosomal sex is inconsistent with phenotypic sex, or in which the phenotype is not classifiable as either male or female.  Applying this more precise definition, the true prevalence of intersex seems to be about 0.018%, almost 100 times lower than Fausto-Sterling’s estimate of 1.7%.”

In addition to this article, both Fausto-Sterling and Sax are mentioned in wikipedia on “Intersex.”  Sterling’s view is well reported at the site, but Sax seems to be only briefly mentioned.

Although intersex is popularly used to refer to any person whose biological characteristics are not fully female or not fully male, I believe, as Sax seems to be arguing, that it is more helpful to use the term only for those whose sex is truly ambiguous.  And that number of people is very small.  People with conditions like Klinefelter syndrome or Turner syndrome are still clearly male or female.  It is just that they were born with these unhelpful abnormal conditions.  People like this deserve our compassion and help and we should not criticize them for being different.  However, their existence does not justify a whole culture rejecting that there are two distinct sexes, male and female.  The occurrence of people born truly ambiguous in their sex is more of a genetic irregularity happening very rarely, than it is proof that we are all on a spectrum of sex.  In fact, I think these genetic defects help to prove the existence of the norm.  They would not be such difficult emotional and physical conditions, that happen so rarely, unless indeed there really exist a sexual binary, of males and females.  In fact, to define these intersexual conditions we have to compare them against the normal genetic and biological binary.

What do we do with the few people who are truly ambiguous?  This is a tough one.  If I was counseling them, I’d first ask them to tell me about themselves, and see if they feel like one sex or the other.  If they clearly perceived they were male or female, we could consider options for surgery.   But I would not necessarily push them into some kind of corrective surgery.  I think in these very rare cases it would be okay to allow them to just be themselves, if they were able to live comfortable not fitting into either sex.   That seems like it would be very hard in our culture though, and so they might want to consider still dressing like one sex or the other, instead of purposely appearing ambiguous.  I am not a expert as to what to do to help these people.  I’ll leave that to others wiser than me.   But I really wish that transsexuals and crossdressers would stop using these people as justification to reject the sexual binary, or as justification to get sex change surgeries or as justification to portray themselves in public as the opposite sex.  These people were born in a specific way to have this ambiguity.  It is not justification for us to live ambiguous lives when we were not born in the same way.

Thoughts?  Ideas?  Feel free to teach me, point out flaws in my argument, or tell me something new.

“Transgender Tropes 101”

**12-10-13 edit – I don’t condone the anger and seeming hatred that come out in many of the shared posts.  As Ralph points out in his comment below, they become not so helpful posts after all because of their tone.  Perhaps they were not worthwhile to share because of this.  In the future I shall post articles that not only have logically persuasive arguments, but that are also said in a loving, or at the very least civil way.  I apologize for my poor judgment in this posting. **

A blog I follow had this post – Transgender Tropes 101 – which is actually him sharing what he read from yet another blog which is called by the same name.  He suggests reading the 10 links on that blog, and I must say, I found the arguments helpful.  Again, as I’ve said before, I disagree strongly with much of radical feminism, but on this area of transgenderism we seem to have very much agreement.

I’ve heard the first one a lot, “you should educate yourself on the subject” when dialoguing on the blogs of transgendered individuals.  Of course, many of them have been very civil with me.  But unfortunately, many have said that I’m an ignorant bigot otherwise I would not have dared to ask such questions which they find offensive, and they end the conversation with this.  I confess, that at times I do feel very uneducated on these subjects compared to others.  But then I think about all the books on transgender and crossdressing topics that I’ve read, and countless blogs and articles, and then I wonder – how much do I have to read about this stuff before I’m allowed to talk to others about it and ask questions in debate?  Are there books and articles on this stuff that I haven’t read yet?  Of course there are.  Some are probably really good or important.  But I’ll never be able to read it all.  And I’ve read more than 97-98% of all other Americans on this stuff I’m sure.  I think that qualifies me to speak about it.

The third one is worth commenting on.  Transgendered people say they are subverting gender roles or stereotypes.  But as I’ve always argued, they are actually keeping them going in our culture and giving in to them.  We need to realize we can be real men, or real women, even if we are different than the average man or average woman.  In contrast to some feminist beliefs, I do think the biology of our sex plays a large role in our gender expression, so that most men can be said “to be like this” and most women can be said “to be like this.”  It’s sort of a delicate balance.  There are true biological sex/gender differences.  But each person is still unique and so there is no set grouping of stereotypes that will fit every individual.  So in the end, be a man, or be a woman, and be yourself, knowing that each man doesn’t totally fulfill all the gender stereotypes.  We all fit some and don’t fit others.

The fourth one I’d like to comment on as well – Denying gender “identity” denies our very existence.  A transgendered person is still very much human whether or not I recognize them as the sex they want to be recognized as.  Further, I don’t see why there is so much offense taken when I do not assent to how they want to be recognized.  Being a Christian is THE most important part of my identity.  But if someone thinks I’m not a true Christian, I still know I am, why would that need to offend me?  If a Muslim said I’m not a true worshipper of God, why would that offend me?  I know it’s his belief that is different than my own.  If I disagree with a transsexual about whether they have truly transformed into a woman or that they are still a man, why should that offend them?  Why do I have to pretend that I agree with them?

Number 8 is so important, which talks about how the existence of intersexed people do not in any way truly support the claims of transgendered individuals.  Best line from this one – Plenty of people are born with birth defects. Some are born with no legs, some missing an eye, etc. But no one claims humans are not a bipedal species. No one claims that sight is not a human trait (barring grave disability). The reason we can safely say that hominids are a bipedal species is because -except in case of developmental disorder or amputation injury- humans are born with two legs. Roughly one in 400 humans is born with some sort of congenital anomaly (birth defect). About one in 800 is born with Down Syndrome. About one in 14,000 is born with a disorder of sexual development or “intersex”.

Number 9 is a bit raw and uncomfortable to read.  But the main thesis of it is true.