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.