Debating transgender

One of the most difficult debates facing General Synod when it meets in July arises not from the main business agenda, but from a diocesan motion from Blackburn Diocese, which will be proposed by Revd Chris Newlands:

That this Synod, recognising the need for transgender people to be welcomed and affirmed in their parish church, calls on the House of Bishops to consider whether some nationally commended liturgical materials might be prepared to mark a person’s gender transition.

I was approached to discuss this with Chris on last weekend’s Sunday programme on Radio 4, and if you want to see how complex and challenging this debate is going to be, then you can listen to our discussion on iPlayer starting at 30 minutes into the programme. The difficulties start (as is often the case in such debates) with the language; the question here is less about ‘gender’ (that is, socially constructed roles of men and women) but ‘sex identity’ (that is, whether someone is a biological man or woman) as is evident from Chris’ own language. That is why, in informed discussions, the situation we are faced with is described as ‘gender identity disorder’ or more commonly ‘gender dysphoria’. Chris is right to emphasise the serious and distressing nature of the pastoral issue—but unfortunately my agreement with him on this, and my explaining my personal experience of that amongst friends and family was edited out (the discussion was pre-recorded) in order to create a sense of ‘liberal pastoral care’ versus ‘traditionalist dogma’ on the programme. There is no doubt at all that this is how many will seek to configure the Synod debate.

But very quickly quite serious theological issues arise as well. Chris explains how this issue has arisen, because someone approached him who had transitioned from female to male, and he wanted to be ‘reintroduced, because he didn’t think God would now know who he was.’ The assumption of a fundamental change of identity also falls foul of basic science; our biological sex is not determined merely by our external genitalia or our social roles, but by our chromosomes, and no amount of medical intervention will change that. Given that all this has been raised within the first minute of the discussion, you can see why everyone else approached by the BBC declined because they did not feel well enough informed!

There are four very useful resources that I think members of Synod—and anyone else concerned about this issue—needs to explore if we are to have a debate of any value. The first is the BBC2 programme shown last January, Transgender Kids: who knows best? which centred around the views of Kenneth Zucker, a Canadian psychologist whose controversial approach with transgender children led to his being sacked in 2015 from a Toronto gender identity clinic—he claims because he challenged the ideological consensus. It was fascinating in the way it presented the cases sympathetically from both sides, but sadly is not available on iPlayer at present. *Update* The programme can be viewed on Vimeo here. (My references to the evidence presented in this programme were also edited out of the Sunday discussion.)

The second is a web site which featured in the BBC2 programme, Transgender Trend. The site does not post new material very often, but there is a fascinating archive looking at practical implications of current approaches, and critiquing them primarily from a research point of view. The site describes itself in clear terms:

We are a group of parents based mainly in the UK, who are concerned about the current trend to diagnose ‘gender non-conforming’ children as transgender. We reject current conservative, reactionary, religious-fundamentalist views about sexuality. We are also concerned about legislation which places transgender rights above the right to safety for girls and young women in public bathrooms and changing rooms.

We come from diverse backgrounds, some with expertise in child development and psychology, some who were themselves extreme gender non-conforming children and adolescents, some whose own children have self-diagnosed as ‘trans’ and some who know supportive trans adults who are also questioning recent theories of ‘transgenderism.’

The third resource is the excellent discussion in Mark Yarhouse’s book Understanding Gender Dysphoria which I reviewed two years ago. Yarhouse offers some clear thinking through the maze of complexity on this issue, including being clear about the difference between gender dysphoria (which is a psychiatric issues) and intersex conditions (which are a medical issue), a difference that Chris Newlands did not appear to understand. Yarhouse offers a considered proposal for Christian engagement in this issue:

The Christian community has several ongoing responsibilities moving forward. These have to do with thoughtful scholarship in this area, which includes:

  1. critical analysis and engagement with the work being done in the area of sex and gender
  2. thoughtful engagement with best practices in clinical service provision to those who have been diagnosed with Gender Dysphoria
  3. listening to the experiences of faithful believers who are navigating gender identity conflicts in their own lives
  4. identifying the best way to be a faithful witness to a broader culture in which norms regarding sex and gender are eroding
  5. engaging with “convicted civility” those who are actively deconstructing norms related to both sex and gender
  6. identifying and implementing best practices as the body of Christ and, in particular, the local church in relation to unchurched and dechurched transgender persons
  7. providing sensitive pastoral care to those in the Body of Christ who are navigating this terrain

What is striking in all this is the Yarhouse’s profound sense of awareness. He is acutely aware of the stories of those experiencing transgender inclinations; he is aware of different theological responses; he is aware of what is at stake within culture; and he is even aware of the impact of his own responses to all the different groups who have a stake in this. I think this is what makes early readers see this book as so valuable in shaping our understanding of and response to the issue. And it is this which shapes Yarhouse’s own response:

Certainly we can extend to a transgender person the grace and mercy we so readily count on in our own lives. We can remind ourselves that the book of redemption in a person’s life has many chapters. You may be witness to an early chapter of this person’s life or a later chapter. But Christians believe that God holds that person and each and every chapter in his hands, until that person arrives at their true end—when gender and soul are made well in the presence of God.

The fourth resource specifically relates to the Synod motion, and is a detailed analysis of the issues by Martin Davie, published as a Latimer Briefing paper. It is free to download, either as a full study or as its concluding chapter. I suspect that some reading this might feel Davie does not give sufficient attention to the practical, pastoral issue, but his analysis of the debate is excellent, and has real pastoral implications.

The claim that gender transition is the best way to help someone with gender dysphoria is called into question by the available evidence which fails to demonstrate that transition is successful in resolving the mental and physical health issues experienced by transgender people. Scepticism about gender transition is expressed both by well qualified experts in the field of mental health and by a growing number of people who are explaining the reasons why, having gone through gender transition, they then decided to revert back to living in their birth sex.

Whatever happens, this debate is not going to be an easy one. But unless those in the discussion are well-informed, we are in danger of having the kind of polarised, truncated and ill-tempered exchange that often marks such debates.

Follow me on Twitter @psephizoLike my page on Facebook.

Much of my work is done on a freelance basis. If you have valued this post, would you consider donating £1.20 a month to support the production of this blog?

Signup to get email updates of new posts
We promise not to spam you. Unsubscribe at any time.
Invalid email address

If you enjoyed this, do share it on social media (Facebook or Twitter) using the buttons on the left. Follow me on Twitter @psephizo. Like my page on Facebook.

Much of my work is done on a freelance basis. If you have valued this post, you can make a single or repeat donation through PayPal:

For other ways to support this ministry, visit my Support page.

Comments policy: Do engage with the subject. Please don't turn this into a private discussion board. Do challenge others in the debate; please don't attack them personally. I no longer allow anonymous comments; if there are very good reasons, you may publish under a pseudonym; otherwise please include your full name, both first and surnames.

77 thoughts on “Debating transgender”

  1. I must admit that I am pretty clueless about transgenderism, and preferred language, but I find myself confused about the question of how one decides that their physical sex does not match their felt gender.
    Have they internalised gender stereotypes which say “if you like A then you must be B”, or “men are unemotional but I am emotional therefore I cannot be a man”? How does one know what the other gender feels like, and given the breadth of human experience does the idea of their being a distinctively gendered psychology make sense?
    Yes, most men and women have sets of shared experiences which are uniquely gendered, as Germane Greer pointed out certain formative experiences of womanhood are simply not available to you unless you grew up physically as a girl.
    It seems to me as if there are some falsehoods about what it means to be a man or woman that have taken root in the mind of those who experience gender dysphoria, and it means that if they do transition they often seem to just them attempt to live out the stereotypes which formerly gave them pain.

  2. Excellent summary Ian and very important to raise this issue now. Thank you for being brave in tackling it when others wouldn’t. There is so much misinformation on this topic and manipulation of the arguments – as you experienced in the presentation of the interview. You also had to face the inevitable accusation of phobia once you started winning the arguments and people need to be prepared for that card to be readily played in the transsex debate as well as the homosex one. In pre-records I have found one needs to be aware of how what you say may be edited – so you can try insisting on a balanced reflection of your views in the final version before agreeing to do the interview.

  3. I’m glad to learn of the BBC editing. As you know I’m a Paul fan! – but I felt that you weren’t answering the initial question, which seemed to me to be more about the pastoral approach to such a person, rather than the whole bangshoot tangled web of opinion, experience, information and disinformation of body dysmorphia. I would have no difficulty in pointing out to the person Chris cites that of course God knows them, both as they were, as they are, and as they will be. It seems to me to be in the same pastoral category as those people who ask for a renewal of baptismal vows. So it came across as using a sledgehammer to crack a nut. Having now learned of the massive and biased (of course) editing, I now realise that the whole debate was much more extensive and detailed than came across on the radio.

  4. Five points.

    (1) It is certainly discriminatory to give preference to gender dysphoria over racial or height or age dysphoria. Therefore if I feel inside (at least at this second of this day) that I am a 6ft11 Chinese woman born in 1950, then it is no less triply discriminatory to tell me I am not than to tell a self-identifying woman (male ‘genetically’, in other words male) that they are a man.

    (2) XY and XX chromosomes are real. These other things, however real they are or are not, will always be *less* real than XX/XY.

    (3) Why is gender dysphoria not found in all races and eras? We are supposed to feel pity for very many in regard to something that no-one even complains about in most cultures and eras, to our knowledge. To show the large contribution of local culture: in 20 years, culture alone can so change people’s perceptions of normality, that the number of UK women experiencing same-sex sexual relationships can quadruple 1993-2013 (Social Attitudes Survey). That is culture not nature. If you constantly flag something up in the media, then its normality in media translates into its actual normality. This is manufactured (or perhaps in some cases engineered).

    (4a-b) If someone was assaulted and found with their passport, the fact that their passport said they were female when they were male would just delay things, as well as making a nonsense of ‘identificatory marks’. If even large-scale identificatory marks can be imaginary, not to be found upon inspection, then what is the point of small-scale ones?

    (5) Who signed up to gender being a different thing from sex? If people are saying we just have to accept this change in what words mean, what right have they to say so?

    • “Who signed up to gender being a different thing from sex? If people are saying we just have to accept this change in what words mean, what right have they to say so?”

      Indeed, sex is your biologically determined status as XY/XX, though it is worth pointing out that in an extreme minority of cases -exclusively that of genetic abnormalities- scientists can and do designate people as XXY/XXX/XXXX (and a range of others) as well. These have little impact on the debate being had here, given that they often still classify these in binary terms (an ‘XXX’ person is still ‘XX’ person, if you understand…), but it is not quite accurate to talk about chromosomes in such a binary sense if you intend on accuracy, as you do.

      Sex is not synonymous with gender, though I understand what you’re trying to say. Sex is biologically determined and inviolable, a ‘scientific status’ if you will. Your gender, in contrast, is about first; physical norms resulting from your sex (genetics) and second; behavioral norms resulting from the first. Both. They are intimately connected, but the one is an objective word of science, of classification even, whereas the other is a subjective word of description or identification (increasingly, only self-identification). An additional complexity arises from similar words meaning quite different things. ‘Male’ and ‘Female’ (classes) are part of the former group, while ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ (traits) are part of the latter.

      So I’m both agreeing and disagreeing with you on point 5 here. The problem is that the definition of sex has remained the same, but the definition of gender has not. They have always meant subtlety different things while remaining intimately connected, but now that connection is meaningless.

      I’m not so sure about the reading material Ian has listed (in the sense that I’ve not read it), but unless Synod have an agreed glossary of the meaning of words, and of their precise use in debate, any endeavor it embarks upon in this area is doomed to fail in a sea of mutual incomprehension.

      • I think you’re right, Mat. Synod should not agree to any motion of such paradigm-altering significance without definitions being clearly pinned down. They should also be clear on what is meant by ‘affirm’, and what precisely is being affirmed. Really though of course this motion should be rejected outright, but either way what is meant should be absolutely clear.

        On sex and gender: the idea that these aren’t synonyms is a recent invention of gender studies. In common usage most people use gender simply because they don’t want to use the word sex e.g. they don’t yet know the gender of their baby.

      • Mat, that’s a misunderstanding. I didn’t talk about chromosomes in a binary way at all. Not did I in any way exclude intersex. Rather, I was saying that when it comes to people who are in fact XY or XX (when we restrict ourselves to those people alone) then we should not treat them as though they were any other gender than the gender indicated by their chromosomes.

        • Then I stand corrected.

          I was interpreting your (2) as if a distinct and exclusive polarisation is what you intended, rather than a comparative one. Likewise, I was not accusing you of deliberately ignoring/sidelining intersex people, I simply thought you were being uncharacteristically vague.

          In any case, I was writing from a position of agreement.

          • Sure. My position may seem common sense but it is a world away from alarming present proposals.

        • This is a long thread, so I ask forgiveness if I am repeating a point previously made. As far as treating XX or XY individuals only as indicated by their chromosomes, please look up CAIS (complete androgen insensitivity syndrome).

      • Mat, you speak as though the meanings of sex and gender (and the discrepancy between them) were commonly agreed ground. But do you not agree that the different way of using ‘gender’ has very suddenly been sprung upon us, so why are we required to accept it?

        It is all very well saying that usage determines meaning. But what about when usage is engineered?

        • On the first point, “…..the different way of using ‘gender’ has very suddenly been sprung upon us…”, I suppose it depends on what you mean by ‘sudden’? I would place it somewhere in the 60’s, or in first wave feminism. The cultural revolution is the place all these things were first questioned so publically. If that’s ‘sudden’ then I agree, but I certainly don’t agree it’s suddenly appeared out of nowhere in the last 10 years or so….

          The second point is harder, “so why are we required to accept it?”, because we’re not, but actually it’s pretty helpful to a have a usable word that means what I’ve outlined above, a distinction between classified ‘sex’ and the way that is characterised in physical attributes and behavioral characteristics. That it is engineered doesn’t bother me very much.

      • In speaking of ‘binary or not binary’ we need to distinguish two quite separate questions:

        (1) Is every human individual without exception either clearly male or clearly female?

        (2) Is sex/gender binary?

        To (1) the answer is ‘No’, but the exceptions constitute a tiny minority, so:
        -the picture is basically binary;
        -even the non-binary individuals are defined in terms of the binary model which is presupposed;
        -there is no reason at all to see the exceptions as a different sort of mutation than e.g. 6 fingers. Therefore, we are inconsistent if we see some as delightfully ‘diverse’ and others as needing corrective surgery.

        Regarding, (2), there are 2 sexes male and female, and we learn this in 2 ways: (a) observation, (b) it always by nature takes one of each to reproduce the species.

        In a way I am pleased when people start treating this as an issue (a preoccupation that would not be indulged, for example, in wartime) because it shows that people are now so well provided for that they have no problems more pressing than that. But we need to be warned: it is only the privilged classes (what used to be called the aristocracy – though modern aristocracies like ancient ones can take the shape of being allowed to live well without working, the only difference being that you used to have to be so-called ‘high-born’) that have the leisure to indulge themselves in such obsessions.

    • I’ll add briefly, that this is deliberately not even touching on the subject of sexuality; a third issue distinct from either of the above (Sex and Gender). On your other points.

      1. I agree, though I think this is a really odd way to put it.
      2. Agree.
      3. Agree.
      4. Can you clarify what you mean? I’m not entirely sure what point your making or what question, if any, you’re asking, though it could just be me being dense.
      5. See above.

      • Thanks, Mat. The point (4) is that we are being bullied into saying things are not as they appear (in cases when in fact they are). Unless we want to have a lower IQ than the little boy that said the emperor had no clothes, then obviously the bullies should be exposed as bullies.

        I have also a point (6). If people say that they feel like the opposite gender inside, how is it entirely possible for them to know how the other gender *does* (on average, or most typically) feel inside? That is something they can only try to imagine or construct, maybe not wholly accurately.

        I also have a point (7). It is often precisely the people who want to minimise the differences between men and women who go down this (transgender-maximising) route. This is a self-contradiction. If we cannot meaningfully talk about men and women at all (because they are much the same) then how can a ‘man’ feel that they are a ‘woman’ (or vice-versa)?

        • Also an 8th point.

          (8) It is precisely at the point of male/female distinction that the culture wars (damaging as they have normally been statistically since the 1960s) have been at root fought.

          If we now see people querying the evidence of our senses on points of gender but *not* on points of height, age, etc., is this not evidence that the same (apparently biased) gender-issues-emphasising ideology is at work as has been at work throughout that time period?

          (9) Relatedly, it is only on issues of parenting and of transgender that actual lies are being written into law. People can have parents named on birth certificates who are not their parents; even, who are both of the same gender; and the two questions of (a) why then parents cited on the BC should be restricted to two unless parody and counterfeit is at work and (b) how to decide exactly which person shoudl be cited if it is *not* the parent(s) are pressing. Likewise we are supposed to refer to people who are XY or XX as though they were not.

          The natural endgame of relativism, and the exposure of the fact that the relativism in question always had been selective and ideological with ends and targets in mind.

          • Good to see people asking probing questions. I’ll lob in a few more.

            Why is something called ‘gender’ in law at all? How did it get into law? When? Why is the state interested in who I think I am? Why has gender replaced sex in law, rather than running parallel to it? If ‘gender’ signifies neither ‘the sex you are’ nor ‘the sex you think you are,’ then it has no connection to sex. In which case, why does it use the language of the body – male, girl, he, and so on?

            These basic questions have, so far, gone unasked by both ‘sides.’ No wonder there’s confusion.

          • Let’s got through these quickly again, and thanks for clarifying what you meant in point 4.

            4. I agree, but with the caveat that we need to be very careful about not labeling everyone pushing for change as ‘bullies’, though some undoubtedly are.

            6. Exactly right, I agree.

            7. I’m not so sure, I would agree with David Cavanah’s comment, and while I think you are right I recognise this would very hard to substantiate.

            8. I agree. We’ve both said this repeatedly, in different contexts, all over this blog’s comment section. You’ll not find me disagreeing in lament over what the Cultural Revolution has cost us. On the second part you’re right that there is hypocrisy there, but you’re repeating point (1), a standard/pattern is being followed in terms of sex that isn’t applied to other aspects of a person’s physicality.

            9. I agree, it is troubling.

          • I’d like to add that the Latimer Briefing Paper (that Ian linked to above) does address many of your points. Particularly on the subject of ‘self-determination’ the report is explicit:

            “It is not clear why we should accept the claim that transgender
            people make about their sexual identity given that we would not
            accept a similar claim about someone’s race or species. ‘I say I am
            X’ is not in itself a convincing argument.”

        • In response to your point 7……..

          I would be interested to know what evidence you have to back this up. In his 1980 essay, Oliver O’Donovan argues that transgender people, in marked contrast to the LGB constituencies, tend to make very strong distinctions between the genders. As you point out, the basic dynamic of transitioning essentially requires this.

          There may, of course, be a distinction between actual transgender people and their supporters – especially if they are (or advocate for acceptance of) LGB. If so, it is a distinction worth keeeping in mind.

          A little more tangentially: classic Christian theology would agree that men and women are essentially the same. We are all members of the human race – to suggest otherwise would raise immense soteriological issues because a male Jesus could not then be the Saviour of women

          • Men and women are essentially the same in certain respects, and essentially different in others. Man and woman (male and female) are integral constituents of the natural created order, united in humanity, but opposite in sex.

          • I agree on much of that, and the Oliver O’Donovan distinction is a new point to me which is illuminating.

        • Re point 6) I agree there is a problem with the idea of what the other sex feels like, and why the way one feels does not correspond with the way one “ought” to feel. I’m male, but I can’t tell you how a man ought to feel, let alone how it ought to feel to be a woman. My wife would say I have enough difficulty explaining how *I* feel, and that’s the only thing I can speak on with any authority.

          • lol.
            Good comment.
            In fact it is worse than I said. One can *neither* know that one is not feeling as a male should feel *nor* know that one is in fact feeling as a woman feels. One can only guess.

    • Christopher (3) perhaps you should read about gender dysphoria or gender fluidity in other cultures. The Hijra, Dogon, or Two Spirit people, for example.

      • Penelope, how is that relevant? I said that gender dysphoria is not present in all cultures by any means; that is miles away from saying it is not present in any at all.

        • You spoke about culture (in the U.K.) being engineered. I wondered how this fitted in with trans cultural and trans temporal instances of gender fluidity.

          • OK, again that is not what I said. I said that media-stoked behaviour shifts are manufactured, and ‘in some cases perhaps’ engineered!

            Nor was the shift in question from zero fluidity to some but from some to more.

            This Chinese whispers however was not as egregious as your saying that I am obsessed with AS without further clarification. I had said I was obsessed with publicising the fact that *any* given thing caused disease or death if such publicity was not otherwise sufficiently forthcoming – AS no more nor less than anything else. And so would any sensible person be obsessed with doing that. That clarification, which I had already given first-up, not at a later time, conjures up a very different picture indeed from the picture of someone being obsessed with AS. You therefore reminded me in this instance of the way in which a small phrase is taken out of context (e.g. in school playground) to tar someone’s identity without regard for the explicatory wider context. That was highly disappointing. I had given broader clarification; whereas you withheld it and ended up with a simplistic and insulting caricature. This forum is obviously one for debate, not for that.

          • You haven’t answered my question about the instances of gender fluidity in other cultures. You have, however, rather egregiously, brought up anal sex again. Which has no relevance to this discussion. I rest my case.

          • I did not bring up AS. I brought up your and arguably insulting simple-summary of what I *said* on it (C is obsessed with AS).

            The only reason I brought that up was your doing not mine: you did not revise what you said at the time to make it more accurate and less oversimplified and potentially insulting.

            The instances of gender fluidity in other cultures: I answered that twice so far above, as can be ascertained by scrolling up slightly:

            -First, by highlighting the distinction between ‘it has never been heard of in *certain* cultures before’ and ‘it has never been heard of in *any* culture before’ -a large difference;

            -and secondly, by by saying ‘nor was the shift in question [in our own culture] from zero fulidity to some but from some to more’.

            On another topic, what is the ‘case’ that you ‘rest’?

  5. I’d like to offer a fifth resource for General Synod members – the book ‘Dazzling Darkness’ (published 2012 by Wild Goose). This is Rachel Mann’s autobiographical account of her own experiences with gender, sexuality, illness and God.

    Rachel is is an Anglican transgender priest.

    The book itself is honest, thoughtful and at times witty.

  6. I’ve had a brief look at Martin Davie’s resource. On the science it is at best flawed and at worst positively deceptive. For example, it cites the discredited, non-peer reviewed New Atlantic article as its main evidence about the biology of transgenderism.

    I wouldn’t recommend this resource on this basis alone. It is utterly misleading.

      • I don’t know how to respond to this. I am amazed that Will is suggesting we give up on peer reviewed scientific articles and instead rely on opinion pieces as our guide to science.

        • I’m amazed that you think you can dismiss the well-documented flaws of peer review so airily. The article is just one recent piece highlighting the well-known problem with the supposedly rigorous quality control of peer review in contested areas of research.

          It is well known that many areas of academia have become heavily biased in favour of ‘progressive’ ideology.

          Of course, as Christopher says, the review article cites only peer-reviewed papers so the point is moot in this case. But no discussion of science based on peer review should proceed in naïve ignorance of the present crisis in peer review.

        • See my response on why this seriously misrepresents the true situation. The authors of the survey did not do any of the actual research. The actual research papers *were* peer-reviewed, which is, after all, the point. Do you disagree?

          • Hi Christopher. Is this to me? I don’t have any dispute with you. I was just making a largely incidental point about some recognised general problems with peer review, with a cheeky link to a recent Spectator article. You may be more convinced by the credibility of peer review than me. I accept it is all we have though.

          • It’s not a reply to you, Will. Yes, no-one said peer-review is perfect, but what better can we have?

    • Jonathan, how is it relevant that a summary article is not peer-reviewed when the articles cited are peer-reviewed (or if ever they are not, ignore them)?

      The summary article is not even research, so all the research and conclusions it contains are the peer-reviewed ones. Am I wrong in thinking that?

      • If studies are cherry-picked (ignoring ones which are inconvenient), the results misinterpreted, and the authors’ own explanations of significance and limitations are ignored, it doesn’t much matter if the original studies are peer-reviewed or not. Which is why reviews of where the science is up to should also be peer-reviewed.

        So, yes, it is relevant. The New Atlantis article should not be treated as a source for the science.

        • Which ones are inconvenient, Jonathan? There are of course ways of producing a hierarchy of studies (which others more competent than I have outlined): how random; how large a sample (mata-analyses are best); how up-to-date. It is best to have in one’s purview *all* the studies that one knows and then try to summarise what matters there seems to be consensus on, and how large the discrepancies are between the amounts of evidence pointing to different possible conclusions.

          Could you name the main culprits in the category of studies that ought to have been cited and were not? (I take it that as we are talking peer-reviewed, there are no culprits in the were-cited-but-ought-not-to-have-been category).


        • In addition, to make such a general and sweeping summary re an article that after all covered a lot of ground and several sub-issues looks dangerously unnuanced.

  7. Following Jonathan’s recommendation of the excellent ‘Dazzling Darkness’, I would like to add: ‘This is My Body’ by Tina Beardsley. (Which, unlike DD, I have not yet read.). Recommending only resources written by cisgender Christians takes us down that dangerous path of conversations about us, without us.

    • Tina is also an Anglican, transgender priest. BTW the correct term is transgender not transgenderism.

    • Also, if we’re speaking about helpful resources for Synod members, I haven’t read Yarhouse or Davie. But the BBC documentary featuring the discredited Zucker was condemned by the trans ‘community’ and by the vast majority of professionals who study gender dysphoria (GID).

  8. This is a fascinating blog. For the last two years I have driven for an outreach group who work in a red light district, and we meet constantly with a group of transgender people, mainly from Brazil. This has challenged my thinking, and I am grappling with the issues. Coming from an essentially conservative and evangelical background, While taking note of some of the comments above, I have downloaded Martin Davie’s paper, and a quick scan of the contents pages suggest it is worth reading. So, I am still thinking these issues through, but I think the following more or less sums up where I am at the moment:

    1. The phenomenon of dymorphia (the clash between biological identity and subjective identity) is a symptom of the Fall, and was no part of God’s original good creation;

    2. I am rather wary of attempts to privilege biology (you are what your chromosomes say you are) against the subjective sense of identity (who we feel we are)

    3. The fact of experiencing dymorphia is not in itself sinful – it is more akin to the distorted impulses with which we all battle, and may be a “scar” that we will bear even in the redeemed creation (just as the Risen Jesus still bears the marks of the nails);

    4. Might it be useful to draw a distinction between “orientation” and “action” akin to that often drawn in the debate about sexuality? Transgender people are not responsible for how they “are” (and are not necessarily rebelling against a God-given order in accepting how they “are”). They are responsible for what they “do” and in this sense, the Church should not bless wholesale embracing of transgender orientation/identity.

    5. It would therefore be inappropriate to develop liturgies and ceremonies which celebrate transitioning, but it is valid to develop resources that affirm transgender people as deeply loved children of God

    • The fact that self-styled transgender people congregate so disproportionately in certain cultures (Brazil, Philippines, modern west) is precisely what gives one pause.

  9. Ian wrote ….
    “The difficulties start (as is often the case in such debates) with the language; the question here is less about ‘gender’ (that is, socially constructed roles of men and women) but ‘sex identity’ (that is, whether someone is a biological man or woman) ….”

    I cannot understand how anyone can expect Christians to get involved with such hate and misogeny? There are now several examples of where a biologically male athlete claimed through transgenderism that they were a woman and then beat all the women athletes, when they wouldn’t have beaten male athletes.

    We have a wrestler in New Zealand who claimed he was a she and proceeded to beat all the women wrestlers … no real surprise there.
    We have a male runner in the USA who has claimed to be a woman and now beaten all the women athletes in his/her US state.
    We even have a UK transgender athlete who has just been convicted of attempting to kill a sports official in a row over her need for transgender drugs.

    How does any of this make women athletes feel? Are we really developing a society in which we have to tell women that they are wasting their time training in athletics as any man can simply claim to be a woman and beat them? Surely none of us should be schooled in such hatred for women? So it’s not really just about safety and security issues at all. Instead we are spiraling down the plughole of our societal logic and intelligence collapse.

  10. Do you have a recording of all your contributions which the BBC cut? If so, can you make it available? If not, (1) did the BBC refuse to provide you with a copy of a full recording, and/or (2) refuse to allow you to make your own recording?

    I seem to remember that the late Anthony Neil Wedgwood Benn quite sensibly recorded all conversations with those visiting him – I don’t know what he did, in other circumstances.

    • No surprise, but this kind of cutting and selectivity demonstrates not only bias (which is dishonest) but also a determination to fit data into a prepackaged agenda (which is ideology). If they are framing and cherry-picking to that extent, they cannot claim to be investigators only proselytisers and advocates.

  11. There are some key underlying definitions that keep being glossed over in such discussions.

    Firstly, biological (human) male and biological (human) female are a real thing. The core genetic code is fundamentally different, and it’s not possible to viably hybridise it via breeding. You can mix skin colour, eye colour, hair colour, size, strength, intellect, etc, but sexual reproduction requires one mature male and one mature female and each resulting child is either male, female, or has a clear chromosomal abnormality.

    Some people express a desire to have a sexual biology different to the one they have. Cosmetic surgery and hormone treatments can simulate some aspects of the opposite biology, but they are reproductively non-functional in the simulated biology and there is always an ongoing conflict between the native and introduced hormones. A biological male cannot “become” a biological female, or vice-versa, although they can simulate some aspects of it.

    But it’s not just about biology. Very, very few males who want to be women want to acquire female biology but otherwise function indistinguishably from other males. Rather, there is a set of cultural, social and behavioural markers that are attributed to “men” and “women”, and the desire is to adopt some or all of these markers as well as (or even instead of) full biological transformation.

    Which leads to the obvious but strangely ignored question: what does it mean to be “man” or “woman” apart from sex-biology? Are our cultural, behavioural and emotional expressions of male and female an outworking of biology or merely culture? Is the connection between sex and gender nothing more than a historical accident, maybe biased by the biological observation that “males” tend to be larger and stronger?

    Until we know what it means to “be a man” and “be a woman”, and to understand whether these ideas are actually connected to biology or whether this is purely an accidental correlation, we aren’t really in a position to sensibly comment on “men who identify as women” (or otherwise). Is the biological experience of manhood or womanhood essential to being a “man” or “woman”? How far can our experience deviate from some norm before it becomes “atypical”? Is there such a thing as a “dysfunctional” experience, or is it merely “more atypical”? How culturally conditioned are these norms anyway?

    The various strands of feminism have always contained a core tension between being “about women” and minimising the distinction between man and woman. Yet for transgenderism to say anything meaningful, it must treat “man” and “woman” as real social categories.

    Any attempt to resolve transgender discussions that does not first delve deeply “whether the categories of ‘man’ and ‘woman’ real, and what defines them?” can only end up in incoherence.

  12. I may be completely mistaken in this, but it seems to me there is a fundamental conflict between the ways homosexuality and transgenderism are promoted. The standard mantra for homosexuality is that “you are born gay”, i.e. it is basically genetically determined. In contrast, the basic premise of transgenderism is that “I am not what my body/genes determines”.

    The latter is very interesting philosophically, as it distances the self from the body. I’m not sure a Christian anthropology can support that. We are not embodied spirits – spirits placed temporarily in bodies – but animated bodies – fundamentally physical creatures into whom the breath of God has been breathed. The resurrection and ascension are physical. One might add that the risen Christ carried his scars in his risen body.

    What the two positions hold in common is the elevation of the autonomy of the individual – “I can decide who I am and therefore what I do”. This is also in conflict with a Christian understanding. The clay cannot tell the potter what to do.

    I hope those wiser than I will correct me if I am mistaken.

    • I think the born gay genetic argument is not now a central contention of the movement, or of scholars in relevant fields. It’s more about it being fixed (not changeable by choice or treatment), regardless of its origin, plus considerations of autonomy.

  13. As someone, who has worked in both Psychiatry and Psychology for quite a few years, I have to ask “Does

    an omniscient and omnipotent God of Scripture make mistakes?”

  14. Hi Ian Paul, firstly I’d like to thank you for this article and for the sensitivity you have used in expressing it. It seems however, that some of your commentators are less sensitive in their remarks. I can only assume that it is because they are still struggling with the basic presuppositions inherent in this context.

    I understand the need for social institutions and faith communities to think carefully about such matters, but I feel that many commenting here have lost the crux of the situation that exists at a very personal level for those facing this dilemma, and for their families.

    I am the mother of a transgender child who medically identified as transgender more than 20 years ago. Many of the arguments put forward here, lose their impetus over that period of time. When faced with the reality of the situation within one’s own family, one tends to see things very differently.

    I had no desire to reject my child who was already an adult when the decision was made. However, it did present enormous problems – not least in regard to language – What pronoun do I use?? As a worshipping Christian, I was equally dismayed with the response of other ‘mature’ Christians who rejected the person because of the act.

    It seems to me that in the arguments over dogma, we lose sight of the fact that Jesus commanded us to love one another, not to judge one another. Much of what I have read here is at best, judgmental. Perhaps it is time for the Anglican Church, of which I am a member, to draw back and reconsider what our definitions of “love” and “judgment” are, before continuing to pursue this topic.

    • Hi Marie

      Could you just clarify the meaning of ‘medically identified as transgender’, and the meaning of ‘medically’ here.

      Also, were they (physically) one or other gender to begin with?

      Very many thanks, CS.

      • Hi Chris,

        Thank you for responding. To answer your second question first, yes, my child was identified as a girl at birth. I raised her as such to adulthood, but from a very early age struggled to persuade her, that this was so. I ended up with a “tomboy” who was always very angry, but with no obvious cause.

        We had intermittent contact during her earl adulthood, partly due to my employment taking me away. I live in Western Australia, and worked as a teacher in many parts of the State. During my time in the Pilbara, I received a phone call, telling me that ‘she’ had been diagnosed with gender dysphoria. Normally, in this State, the condition requires medical examination by a doctor and at least two psychiatrists, and takes about 4 years for completion. It also involves DNA testing.

        As I was more than 2,000 kms away, I had to accept what my adult child reported, but have no doubt of the veracity of the statement. I have since seen the paperwork and accepted the situation. I am aware now, in hindsight, that many of our arguments during childhood, related to gender assignment situations.

        The testing for Chromosomal evidence usually takes most time to complete, but my child received confirmation that the evidence was complete within 4 weeks. (S)he was now affirmed as being male and was medically accepted as such; underwent a double mastectomy within a month of diagnosis, and ha since received hormonal treatment. All this took place more than 20 years ago,

        My understanding was that the Chromosomal evidence was very clearly male, despite all other signs to the contrary.

        i hope that this answers your queries.

  15. That’s interesting, and goes some way towards answering my question. I am a bit clueless on scientific issues, while you are not fully aware of every detail.

    So presumably what we’re saying is that your child’s chromosomes said XY (male) rather than XX or any intermediary option, while your child had a female body.

  16. Thank you Will. I can confirm this in regard to my own child’s experience. At the time, we simply thought that she was sterile.

  17. Hi

    The resources highlighted appear to have been chosen to solidify the opinions of people opposed to the idea of transgendered people.

    I don’t understand why people are so against it. Most want to blend in and live in peace. If a religious argument is needed to justify disliking and excluding a group of people then you should remove that argument and examine why that dislike is really there. If people should love each other and live in harmony can we not all accept that the common thing among each other is the differences between us and that those differences make everyone amazing.

    Anyway it is unlikely anyone will read this or take notice, but it really upsets me when people talk like this about anyone or any subset of society.

    • Thanks for the comment. As someone who has transgender members of my family and friends, as well as church communities in the past, I can assure you that this is not about dislike.

      It is about looking carefully at what is true and what is best for people. The whole discussion is mired in ideological assumptions which I think are ultimately highly damaging, and we need to move beyond being upset by each other’s views to actually considering what is happening.

      Thanks for contributing.

  18. Ian,

    I found it somewhat suprising that of the “resources” you felt members of the Anglican synod should consult before having “a debate of any value”, a BBC programe was included but somehow the Bible itself didnt make it on to your list.

    To me that very neatly encapsulates a key problem of the Anglican church.

    “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.”

      • Ian,

        I have just found your blog today and have only read a few articles so far.

        On reading this particular article I was surprised that rather than going straight to scripture you were recommending TV shows and other papers on psychology.

        While that sort of information is potentially interesting in providing some context on how the world thinks about these issues, surely a synod of the C of E should be primarily guided by scripture.

        It was that omission I found surprising.

        Best regards,


Leave a comment