Transgender parenting

3116690684Question : When a human with XY chromosomes contributes sperm towards the conception of a child, are they are the father or mother of the consequential child?

Answer : It’s a bit complicated…

Peter Ould writes: The news this week that transgender model Fay Purdham is asking for donations to help her conceive a child with her sperm that was frozen before surgery raises a number of interesting ethical and theological questions for Christians to grapple with. Caroline Farrow has already accused Purdham of a “disturbed mentality” in wanting to be both (biological) father and (nurture) mother to her child. Others have use the language of narcissism, in that this appears to be a highly self-indulgent act on behalf of Purdham.

I want to step away from the immediate case at hand and instead ask us to consider the wider implications of what is being proposed, especially within a framework of Christian anthropology. The notion of parenthood and procreation lies at the heart of the biblical motif of marriage. The sexual union of husband and wife is used as an allusion to the union of Christ and his Church, and for centuries, nay, millennia we have understood that it is the combination of the male (sperm) and female (ovum) gametes that creates life. At the heart of this understanding is the idea that it takes a man to make sperm and a woman to make ovum. Life cannot begin without first a man and a woman seeking to bring it into being.

Modern gender theory changes all that. Now we have a 21st Century society where gender and sex are not the same and where some choose to “change” their sex to bring it into alignment with their perceived gender. Of course, whilst some sex change surgery and medication (including hormone therapy) does bring about visual changes, any individual undergoing such a transformation still remains chromosomally who there were before. An individual transiting from male to female for example, may be able to remove their male genitalia (and replace it with a physical vagina), have some success in permanent hair removal, and with the assistance of surgery and/or hormone treatment can even have breasts, but deep within their sex chromosomes are still XY and crucially they do not have any functioning procreative female sex organs. Behind a vaginoplasty there is a lack of a womb and ovaries.

This basic physical fact is at the heart of the dilemma in the Purdham case. Fay wants to conceive a child, but she is anatomically incapable of doing so. For this reason she has stored her sperm (from when she had male genitalia) and now she wants to use that to help produce her child. Is this an appropriate thing to do?

Let’s take a step back and consider what the Christian views of transgenderism are. There are broadly three main positions that I am aware of (though there may more and of course individuals hold these stances with subtlety). The first is a very “traditional” stance which says that God made people male and female and that therefore any attempt to change one’s sex is an act of idolatory and rebellion against God. In its favour, this position takes a high view of Scriptural anthropology and seeks to honour it. Counting against it, this position appears not to engage with the reality of a fallen world.

A second “liberal” position would be to say that God has created human beings in a number of diverse ways and that some people are born with a disconnect of gender and sex. Sex change restores the union of the two. In its favour, this position appears to be pastorally sensitive, though of course there is increasing disquiet even amongst the pioneers of sex change surgery as to whether it actually achieves the mental health outcomes it sets out to achieve. In criticism, this position appears to have a far too dualistic view of the divide between body and mind, and there is also the lack of a real engagement with a coherent doctrine of the Fall in the assumption that the natal diversity of humanity is a good thing per se.

A third position lies somewhere between this, a view described as “redemptive”. It views experiences like gender dysphoria as part of the Fall and remains open to the possibility that sex change surgery might actually be a good thing because it is seeking to make better that which is corrupted. Besides this openness to transformation, it also questions whether what does experiencing reporting as gender dysphoria is actually a physical phenomenon, or whether it might actually be purely psychosomatic, a result not of mismatched gender and sex but rather rooted in childhood trauma that has caused a detachment from one’s core (genetic) sexual identity.

What you think is happening in gender dysphoria will ultimately shape your view of what sex, procreation and parenthood is about. For those who take the second position above, the diversity of gender and sex in human experience means that strict traditional boundaries of male and female in procreation and family structures are not necessary prescriptive for modern society. Whilst this liberation appears attractive, it raises a major challenge to Christian anthropology. The distinctness of male and female, of husband and wife, is a vibrant motif running throughout scripture. From the first couple in Eden, distinguished in their sexual difference and commanded to utilise it in procreation, to the icon of marriage of husband and wife as the union of Christ and his Church, to the great Wedding Feast at the end of time, men being men and women being women is core to an understanding of these icons of salvation. In the Bible, marriage is not just about the union of two people; it is about the procreative union of two differing individuals who, in their potential to create new life speak powerfully of Jesus bringing new life to his people where they are dead in their sins. Take away the possibility of procreation, remove the duality of the sexes, and the metaphor fails.

So we return to the possibility of a transgender woman providing her previously frozen sperm to be one constituent part of a conception. How does this scenario interact with the Biblical motif of procreative union as the icon of the saving work of Jesus? Is Purdham here operating as the male or the female in the picture? If she is providing sperm, is she acting as the male, the image of Christ? If she wishes to live as a female, is she now acting as the female, the image of the Church? Does the Church need someone beyond itself to create new life? Can it exist without Christ? Is Christ determined to bring new life outside of the Church? Does he even care about her?

Perhaps a fuller Christian answer, faithful to the Scriptural icons of salvation but also open to the possibility of restoring a fallen world, is found in our third “redemptive” perspective. It understands that the Bible does have clear imagery of the separation and distinctiveness of male and female, of their sexual procreative union as a powerful icon of the work of Jesus. At the same time, it recognises that we live in a fallen world, that for some people their sexual identity is corrupted or frustrated, and that a sex change may actually be a path towards completion in Christ, not a rejection of it. However, this redemptive view understands male and female to be (ideally) two distinct identities, so the attempt at redemption is not to mix the two as though the differences are unimportant, but rather to accept the differences and to live them out. This means that a male to female transgender person should seek as much as possible to be the sex they have chosen to transit into. If you are now female (as perhaps you should be), why do you need to keep your sperm? If you are male, why keep ovum? These are acts of holding onto the past, not living in the now and future of Christ’s resurrection life, changing us to the perfection we were created for. If as a male to female transgender person my resurrection identity will be truly female, why am I holding on to the corrupted former self?

Of course, this means that practically everyone who transits sex will not be able to conceive their own biological children, but this is already the case for many who have never struggled with sexual identity issues but still find themselves unable to conceive. The reality is that we do live in a fallen world, that we are all broken people in a number of different ways, sexually, relationally, genetically, psychologically. Christ redeems us and makes us who he intended us always to be and sometimes we are privileged to see part of that in our mortal lives. At the same time though we are not yet in that eternal kingdom of perfection, and as faithful disciples we need to live within the constraints of this fallen world. Our aim as followers of Jesus is to speak of his saving work, not just with our tongues but with our very lives, including our sexual lives.

new-peterTo try and merge male and female identities is to destroy the very distinctiveness which is at the heart of basic Christian anthropology. In the Biblical world view, men are men and women are women, even when modern technology and understanding has helped those whose maleness or femaleness needed a helping hand getting there. The perversity of what Purdham is asking us to help her do is not the act of changing sex, but rather in not living out that which she has now, at possibly great personal expense, already achieved.

Fay Purdham is now a woman and women have a particular role in the icon of Christ’s work with his people. To want to be a man again in fathering a child rather undermines everything she has gone through, and Christians who support her in wanting to father a child rather undermine everything Christ has gone through.

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16 thoughts on “Transgender parenting”

  1. ‘If as a male to female transgender person my resurrection identity will be truly female, why am I holding on to the corrupted former self?’

    Good point, but the aspects of sexual identity that you’ve described are not part of the resurrection identity. The on-going redemption of our minds precedes the redemption of body, one that will transcend earthly sexual behaviour: ‘When the dead rise, they will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven.’ (Mark 12:25).

    This piece, perhaps intentionally, generates more questions than answers. For instance, why should the perpetuation of medical science’s paltry attempts to align bodily characteristics with perceived gender through re-assignment be deemed redemptive? How does that square with St. Paul’s contentment with the ‘givenness’ of his intractable discomforts and hardships (Philippians 4:11)? What makes ‘gender dysphoria’ distinct from any other ‘thorn in the flesh’ that the Lord might require some to bear?

    There is really no basis for the claim that redemption involves affirming and aligning sexual characteristics with a perceived gender as ‘a path towards completion in Christ, not a rejection of it’.

    The approach may have ample broad church ‘via media’ credentials, but has no coherent support via scriptural inference.

    • David,

      Yes, I am attempting to raise as many questions as I answer. The point of my piece is that even *if* you do accept that what Fay has done (sex change) is attempting to heal some brokenness that has happened because of the Fall, it is still absurd to then try and procreate with her frozen sperm. You can make an argument for a generous response to transgenderism within a conservative framework but you cannot at the same time support this attempt to then “have your cake and eat it” on sexual identity.

    • David ‘the aspects of sexual identity that you’ve described are not part of the resurrection identity’. I wonder if I disagree with you here.

      When Jesus says ‘They will be like the angels, not marrying’ I don’t think he is saying we will be without sex identity i.e. male and female. After all, surely the resurrected body of Jesus had all his parts intact, including his genitals?

      I am not sure I can picture an androgynous future for resurrected humanity.

      • Hi Ian,

        Good point, but I didn’t refer to sexual identity in totality. In responding to Peter, I narrowed this to ‘the aspects of sexual identity that you’ve described’.

        I (unsuccessfully) sought to clarify this by adding: ‘the redemption of body, one that will transcend earthly sexual behaviour’.

        Christ’s own resurrection did not result in androgyny, he was still ostensibly male. We should assume that our own will be the same.

        The scripture appears to imply that the generative purpose of sex will be vestigial. Much of Peter’s focus was on the generative aspects of sexual identity, e.g. sexual union, parenthood and procreation.

  2. “Fay Purdham is asking for donations to help her (sic) conceive a child with her (sic) sperm”.

    Given that Fay was once able to have sperm frozen, Fay was once a Man – Man being the name we use to signify a sexually mature body of the male sex. Given that Fay was once a Man, Fay still is a Man. Therefore it is he, not she, who is asking for donations. If the article is read with the correct pronouns – ie those that are determined by (his) sex – the story is a lot less confusing/convincing.

    If we are to suppose that something name Male can indeed ‘become’ something named Female, then Male and and Female become interchangeable. Therefore ALL people would have to be understood to be capable of being Male or Female. Therefore everybody is identical. But this makes it impossible for anybody to be a Father, Wife, Son, Widow, and so on, since those terms exist only to represent differences flowing out of sexual difference. We cannot collapse the categories of Male and Female into each other whilst retaining their linguistic difference. We either believe in body-based fixed sexual difference (and linguistic difference) or we accept mind-based fluid ‘gender’ sameness (and ‘gender’ neutral’ language). When words go missing from language, something has gone wrong. When those words are ones that flow out of the body’s nature, something has gone badly wrong.

    • Daniel, your argument that sex identity cannot be changed is a good one, and I think Peter his highlighting just this question.

      Whether or not we should respect the gender pronoun people ask us to use is a related but separate question. Robert Gagnon would agree with your position, though Mark Yarhouse argues for the opposite pastoral response in his recent article in Christianity Today.

      • But ‘genders’ do not have pronouns – sexes do. When we peel pronouns off of the body/sex and attach them to the mind/’gender’, we leave ourselves with no set of names through which specifically to refer to sex and sexual difference. We linguistically ‘hide’ the body, yet we still have a body!

        Gagnon has an excellent grasp of the nature of sexual identity, enabling him to steer clear of anything which contradicts the reality of sexual identity, whereas Yarhouse has been hypnotized by this idea called ‘gender’ to such an extent that he has lost sight of sex, and is now prepared to refers to a member of the male sex as ‘she’ (as is Peter, and Caroline Farrow). Yarhouse would do well to examine his definitions of ‘gender’, ‘gender identity’, ‘gender identity disorder’ and ‘gender dysphoria’, and to recognise their incoherence. As a matter of respect to both males and females, a male should always be addressed as He. That is a pastoral response to identity confusion.

        The key in all of this is Difference, since it is difference which allows us to know the nature of things. Sexual difference allows us to know that everybody is (either) ‘male’ or ‘female’. Gender says males and females can be males or females. Therefore we are no longer ‘male’ or ‘female’ (two types) and are instead ‘male or female’ (one type), with the problem being that it is not possible to have one ‘type’ of anything. If everybody is ‘male or female’…how would anybody know?!

          • The hypnotism bit referred to Yarhouse only, whereas being prepared to refer to a member of the male sex referred to Yarhouse, Caroline and yourself. I raise the point about pronouns simply as an illustration of the mess we are in. It cannot be courteous to misuse pronouns, unless the meaning and function of pronouns has been redefined?

            Note that Yarhouse first talks about somebody ‘sharing’ their name with him, but then jumps to names and pronouns. At a push we could justify referring to the person in this story as Fay (because first names are not inherently male or female), but to call a male a ‘she’ is, again, to misuse words and to expropriate the concept of pronouns.

  3. Not all Christians believe in a fall (since humanity evolved over millions of years, it’s hard to reconcile that interpretation of the Genesis myth with the evidence), but in any case, the existence of transgendered people illustrates how gender isn’t nearly as fixed as we’d once believed.

    The crucial thing is less the theology, over which we’ll always disagree, than the welcome the church gives, which hinges on theology not being used as a means to exclude.

    • The crucial thing *is* the theology that clarifies what constitutes the apostolic faith, instead of liberal syncretism.

      Without resistance, our theology can end up diluted out of deference to a heterodox minority, bent on shoring up that ‘welcome’ with the re-purposing of sacraments, e.g. transgender baptism, and then demanding church-wide affirmation of the liberal position on any and every innovation as just another ‘integrity’.

    • James, I have just been teaching on this today. I think all the mainstream ‘orthodox’ traditions would affirm the fallenness of humanity—but that does not mean reading Gen 3 historically.

    • “The crucial thing is less the theology, over which we’ll always disagree, than the welcome the church gives, which hinges on theology not being used as a means to exclude.”

      One might say that your statement about “not being used as a means to exclude” is itself a theological position. Our practice flows from and reflects our theology.

  4. I would just like to thank you Ian Paul for a really well written article and indeed explanation of a difficult and sensitive subject. You explained your position well but most importantly kept close to God’s Word which is the final authority which everyone will answer to. Keeping to the image of Jesus Christ and His Church was absolutely correct. I would just add that in these last days we are going to encounter every conceivable (sorry, no pun attended!) problem known and unknown to man – every deception, perversion, corruption, confusion and evil that satan can throw at us. However, love conquers all and I know as a church ourselves we welcome everyone in, regardless of the mess their life might be in. We don’t judge anyone and yet we don’t compromise God’s Word. As we love and help them and as we worship we allow the Holy Spirit to work in their lives and bring healing and transformation. Man doesn’t know all the answers but God does. ”For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will separate us from the love of Christ that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. ( Rom 8 vs 38.39). Let’s love people into the Kingdom, never compromise God’s Word nor be judgemental and let’s pray for and allow God The Holy Spirit to bring about completeness and wholeness into all our lives.

  5. The terrible confusion involved in a person’s life when they are suffering from an identity crisis is a pastoral matter. However, this case opens a whole new dimension which has been touched on. The natural formation of family and the words and structures – mother, father, grandmother, grandfather. Birth certificates in western countries are being airbrushed to remove these names and replaced with titles such as parent a or b.
    The terrible idea that a father can store sperm, ask for donations to pay women for their egg and for surrogacy is bad enough. But to add to that the father then wishes to be known as the mother is so warped as to be incomprehensible. The tragedy is for any child to be the outcome of this- the terrible damage to be done to a child living in these circumstances is heart breaking.
    This goes to the heart of biblical teaching on sexual ethics and Christian marriage. Sex is between One male and one female within the bond of a lifelong Union, in the security of a family unit where the child learns and grows. The child has the mother and father and God places this work in this hands of mankind for the flourishing of each individual. Our society is in the mess that it is in because we have taken personal autonomy over fidelity and self control.

  6. Hi Ian, I’ve just discovered Psephizo and am loving your work here, particularly for its faithfulness to God’s Word in moral matters.

    That said, I would take issue with some of the assumptions being made in this post. (I can’t claim to be as well-read as some of your correspondents here, but FWIW…) (Apologies too that it’s an old thread, but I find the topic fascinating.)

    I think I am probably in part represented by your “first view” of transgenderism, and in part by the third view. If it is claimed that the first view does not appear to take account of the reality of a fallen world, could one also point out, per the third view, that transgenderism does not appear to take account of the realities of biology?

    It is here that I think a false assumption has been made in the line of reasoning employed in this article: that of taking a biological man to be accurate when he says he is really a woman. Chromosomally (and with apologies for insensitivity to any trans persons who may be reading this), this is still a man in a dress. The root causes of the desire to change sex are in psychology, not biology. Meanwhile, so much of “gender” is best explained by personality – it is only the trans lobby that insists so forcefully that this has to be addressed by surgery.

    It is only by convention (out of politeness, compassion, being all things to all people – call it what you will) that we refer to somebody like Purdham as “she”. No matter how strongly “she” self-identifies as female, it is still a convenient fiction – she has never menstruated, nor can she ever bear children. Even should technology advance so to permit her to do these things, the situation would still be artificial

    Having produced sperm, Purdham would be any putative child’s father in the sense that really matters, no matter how much she claims the womanly, motherly role.

    I think, therefore, that trying to shoehorn Prudham’s situation into the traditional roles of father/mother – and indeed attempting to align this with the relationship between Christ and the Church – is futile. Children do best when they have a biological father and a biological mother who fulfill, to a certain extent at least, the roles in nurturing and developing their child for which each is traditionally and generally known. (See for Katy Faust’s excellent commentary on these issues – she was raised by two lesbian “Moms”.)

    Any deviation from this pattern is surely an opportunity for grace and compassion in pastoring, rather than for attempts to categorise the players according to traditional means, since they have by their very nature decided to override those categories.

    One might add also that we need to keep in mind that transgender/transsexuality is a fiction that appears to work more for some than for others. The suicide rate among post-op transsexuals is still massively higher than for any other group – even in accommodating, liberated Sweden. Johns Hopkins University went back on its policy of offering the surgeries it had developed as they perceived that performing surgery produced no better outcomes than not performing it.

    “Sex-change regret” is also a huge issue for many transsexuals (see For one thing, many found that it did not produce the acceptance or the peace with self that they craved.

    Surely the better (i.e. biblical) approach in pastoring transgender and transsexual people is to be loving, to stand alongside them with the help of the Holy Spirit, and to trust God to lead them to wholeness and sanctification. Also to hope that they find healing for the very real psychological wounds that cause many to feel they would be better living as the opposite sex, and fulfillment in God rather than in “identity”.

    Any other view surely requires us to be complicit in helping trans people to pursue a fiction that causes many of them to be “pierced through with many griefs”.


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