By Shannon Ashley
Photo by Sharon McCutcheon
“God doesn’t make mistakes,” is a popular argument among evangelicals to promote various opinions. In the case of transgender people, I have repeatedly heard them say that “There are only two genders–male and female. And God doesn’t make mistakes.”
Except, of course, when he does.
I am 36-years-old, and I have long known about the existence of intersex people, aka hermaphrodites. I first learned about them by reading books and looking up backstories to various international films.
As much as the evangelical leaders of my youth demonized homosexuals and “crossdressers,” they never talked about transgender people. And despite all of the teachings surrounding Christianity and the (often rigid) gender roles, nobody once brought up the reality of intersex people.
In my experience, evangelical Christians simply pretended that intersex people don’t exist. Much like they pretended that ectopic pregnancies or spontaneous abortions didn’t exist. It’s pretty damn abhorrent when they’re so insistent that only male and females exist.
Over the years, I’ve read about a number of occasions where doctors have encouraged parents to choose a gender for their child. Sometimes the kid is genuinely gender ambiguous. Other times, there’s been a botched circumcision.
Many of these parents have been advised to make a decision about whether or not they are raising a boy or a girl when their child is only days or weeks old. And of obviously, the parents don’t always get it right.
It’s an enormous burden to place upon any parent, but after hearing the painful stories of intersex or otherwise misgendered children, it seems the obvious answer is to allow them to choose their own gender once they are older and have had time to form an individual identity.
Despite my strictly evangelical Christian upbringing, it’s hard for me to imagine what could be so offensive about that, but believers find a way. Mainly they insist that God doesn’t make mistakes.
If God doesn’t make any “mistakes,” I’m not sure how evangelicals can support any kind of medicine, surgery, or medical treatment. According to the CDC, congenital abnormalities (birth defects) affect 1 in 33 babies born in the US each year.
How can anyone account for that number, or even agree to medical interventions for any child if they sincerely believe there are no biological errors in “God’s perfect design?’
I have a very good friend with a partial uterus. Nobody knows why the uterus doesn’t always form fully in utero, but there are many women with such uterine anomalies. Luckily for my friend, she was able to conceive the children she wanted, but it gave her a unique perspective about transgender issues.
One night while discussing the issue and how so many evangelicals are against basic human rights for transgender kids, she brought up her uterine condition. Basically, she thought that if a woman could be born with an incomplete uterus, why can’t a person be born with the wrong reproductive system altogether?
I have to admit that I agree. Through brain imaging, scientists have discovered that the brains of transgender youth better resemble the brains of the gender they identify with–not the gender recognized at their birth.
Data like that means something.
This is not some conspiracy of researchers falsifying their findings. And it is not some liberal agenda. Trans youth attempt suicide more than their cisgender peers, and we should be talking about why that is the case.
And why is it that we have a large faction of people who claim to be all about love (ahem, evangelicals), yet they find basic human rights for transgender people to be so offensive.
Whether or not you believe in “intelligent design,” we all know that mistakes, anomalies, and defects do occur. Biological diversity is a part of human life. I have PCOS and lipedema. I didn’t ask for either condition, yet I demand to be treated like any other human being.
Transgender people don’t wake up one day looking for attention. They don’t decide that they’d just like to be trans. When a transgender individual is brave enough to tell us who they are, it is not our job to play armchair psychologist and demand they rethink their own identity for our comfort.
Our job is to believe that they are who they say they are. Our job is to welcome their truth. There is literally no benefit to denying human rights.
I’m still waiting on an answer from evangelicals about how they can explain the existence of intersex individuals when they can’t seem to accept the basic dignity of a person who identifies themselves as transgender or non-binary.
Despite my growing up surrounded by the bible, no one has yet to answer me beyond the whole notion that “humans aren’t supposed to play god.” Well, humans make life or death decisions every day. So how long will they pretend that transgender rights are not human rights?
I grew up in a part of American culture that was (and still is) obsessed with sexual purity and distinctive gender roles. And people often think that line of thinking doesn’t impact secular worldviews, but clearly, that isn’t the case.
Even liberal people have been known to make jokes at the expense of trans folks. We keep talking about how Sex and the City was such an enlightened and progressive series, but it contained negative messages about transgender people, like when Carrie called a group of trans hookers in Samantha’s neighbourhood “half-man, half-woman, totally annoying.”
It’s not lost on me that as a parent, my daughter may one day have a secret she feels the rest of the world will not understand. Am I comfortable with the idea of my child keeping secrets from me just because she’s afraid of how I might react?
And what about how I teach her to treat others? If I am just one more person to bulldoze the needs of a trans person to be identified properly, I’m teaching my daughter to treat others as if they are invisible and their needs don’t matter.
Who wants to be that person? Not me.
Back in the day when I still had a foot in the evangelical world, I had to make a choice about supposedly hot button issues. I had a problem with the fact that trans people could be considered issues rather than actual people.
And I decided that wherever I stood on any “issue,” I wanted to land on the side of love. Years later, I can now easily navigate our would without that knee-jerk offense I once carried with me as an evangelical woman.
I walked away from the judgment and bulldozing beliefs to wind up on the side of love and reason. That’s how I know there’s only one way to respond to transgender people.
I believe that they are who they say they are.
I support the best for them and encourage their journeys.
I believe them, because I see them as fully human. Male, female, non-binary–it doesn’t hurt us one bit to accept the gender they identify with.
Furthermore, transgender people are not mistakes. People with depression are not mistakes. Or babies with cleft palates. I’m not a mistake for having lipedema. Medical conditions don’t make people less valuable.
And believing transgender individuals is a vital part of their treatment.