There is a great deal of controversy about the transgender community, most recently brought about by the governmental restrictions that have been imposed. I, like most of the public at large, was unaware of, or had little information about this segment of society. And like most things unknown, we tend to be uncomfortable with this group because of our lack of relationship and understanding. I hope to bring a touch of clarity to this void in our perceptions.
My inspiration to write this was brought about by a person I briefly encountered. I am going to call him Bob, because there is no way of getting permission to use his real name. Bob is no longer with us. Bob was a fairly short man of Mediterranean decent with a heavy-darkened face, even after shaving. He was well-educated and a medical doctor by profession. Bob also suffered from gender dysphoria, or, to describe it in everyday terms, he was uncomfortable in his gender assigned at birth. He had expressed his concerns with numerous colleagues who encouraged him to seek professional help. He took the first step on his own by having an ultrasound of his internal organs only to be informed that he had been born with ovaries and an under-developed uterus, and was an intersex* individual. This was the very confirmation that he had sought. He no longer had to question his own reality. He consulted medical professionals who deal with these issues and was told that in order to have gender reassignment surgery, he would first have to live as a female for a period of a year or more prior to any physical modification.
Bob began to dress as a woman. Unfortunately, Bob simply did not make a presentable woman. I have since learned that this process can be successful with hormone therapy, but it takes time. When you’re hurting, time seems like an eternity. Seemingly, God had truly burdened Bob with a very acute male appearance with obvious female insides. Bob was unable to continue in her practice of working with patients. She was well aware of the fact that some patients were uncomfortable working with someone who presented as being in women’s attire but, quite obviously, did not look like a woman. The organization that she worked for tried to fit her into an administrative position, but after a brief period of time Bob decided to leave her position and move to a city which had a large LBGTQ+ population, thinking that this would be a more welcoming society. Bob stayed there for a while only to find that even there, finding acceptance was very difficult. Over the course of this struggle to find a place where she could fit in, Bob took her own life.
There is a wide disparity in the presentation of intersex and transgender individuals within society. The variations are both emotional and physical. The subsets are so numerous that it would not be possible to cover them in the context of this article. Transgender individuals* do not present physically as having either genitalia or internal organs which differ from their outward presentation. Intersex individuals, like Bob, have obvious ambiguities both internally and externally. Because of my brief encounter with Bob, I was compelled to do a bit of research into just how numerous these ambiguities are. I was very surprised to find that the number of individuals who are living among us is far more common than most people would think.
In one major study of this particular population I found this conclusion:
“In cases where the presentation of a child that is born with so noticeably atypical genitalia that a specialist in sexual differentiation is called in, the number comes to between 1 in 1,500 to 1 in 2,000 births.”1
I will try to give some perspective on the actual number of births that physically (externally) present as gender ambiguous, having minimally, both male and female genitalia. I will use the most conservative estimates of this population. This, by no means, covers the entire intersex community. It doesn’t even touch upon those who have internal differentiations such as in the case of Bob. In the world as a whole, the number would be approximately 9,000,000 births. That is greater than the entire population of many countries. Bringing it closer to home, there are between 450,000 to 500,000 births in the United States alone which are alive today. That would equate to approximately the entire population of Long Beach, California, a city that ranks #43 in population within the U.S. This simply is not a small segment of our population. These statistics only became available within the past two to three decades.
Fairly or unfairly, the intersex and transgender populations are often lumped into the broader population of the LBGTQ+ community. And, although I am absolutely convinced at this point that virtually all of these individuals were born with their particular orientation, unfortunately, confirmation for the transgender population isn’t as unequivocal as it was for Bob, as an intersex individual. According to virtually the entire scientific community, our brains are as varied as our bodies. It would only seem reasonable that our brains, presented at birth, are equally as diverse as our physical bodies and can just as likely present as a gender different than that of the body. I believe, with absolute certainty, that the brain plays just as large of a part in our sexuality as our bodies. Just because medical science has not evolved to a point where we can quantify these mental difference does not negate their existence. As is often expressed by those in this group: “Why would we choose to put ourselves through this unless it was who we really are?”
In another study by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s Youth Risk Behavior Survey:
“The number of youth identified as transgender is 1.8% of the population. This is more than double the previously available estimate of 0.7%.”2
Numbers alone do not change people’s minds, but they can make us question our understanding. Intersex individuals like Bob are born with both male and female physical elements. Similarly, the brain chemistry of transgender individuals creates a discrepancy between their gender identity and the sex they were assigned at birth.
Prior to meeting Bob, I had reservations as to whether transgender individuals were born or consciously made a choice at some point in their lives to become who they are. The introduction to Bob has forever changed that thinking. What is now ingrained in my mind is that we must not judge. If there are almost 10 million people on earth who are born with physical genital characteristics of both sexes, then how could I possibly question those who were born with a mental and emotional understanding of their gender that differs from their outward appearance? That would mean that I accept only what can physically be proven and reject those who are emotionally and mentally certain that they are a gender different than their bodies present. I would like to hear someone’s explanation on how these physical irregularities are normal, but a mental and/or emotional dysphoria is not. I have great difficulty in understanding how anyone could come to a different understanding.
I have just recently read that the current administration has argued before the United States Supreme Court that:
“In an August brief, the Department of Justice asked the court to set a legal precedent that would make it legal to fire a person for being transgender, arguing that Title VII only protects against discrimination based on a person’s biological sex.”3
So, how would that have affected Bob? Would Bob have been at the mercy of his employer? Remember, Bob had hard, documentable evidence that she was internally a female. Fortunately, the people that Bob worked for were medical professionals with a much greater degree of understanding than those who currently run our government. But where does this leave those who, just like Bob, were born with an absolute certainty that they were the gender other than the one their body displayed, yet had no physical evidence proving the same?
It seems absolutely unreasonable to expect them to continue in the gender their bodies displayed at birth. There is little question this population is a vastly larger number of individuals than I would have previously thought. For those like Bob, this number presents undeniable evidence that this was not simply a choice made by that individual. In years past, the only choices that were made were by the parents, who decided to alter the infant to conform to one or the other gender. More recently, the physical modification has been postponed until the child has developed to a point where they have some understanding of what gender resides in their mental and emotional being as well as their body.
In many parts of the world, there are no professionals to consult. Many births take place in the home without any medical assistance at all. In some places in the world, the infant is mutilated or even euthanized. A very important point here is at birth, when the parents decide to intervene, there is a 50% chance that they will get it wrong.
For much of the evangelical community, acceptance has been slow in coming. The majority of evangelicals believe transgender individuals made a “choice.” And they believe that choice is unacceptable to the tenants of their faith. The very fact that there are literally millions of individuals on our planet right now who have demonstrative presentation of gender dysphoria, should give us pause before we jump right in and deny anyone their gender identity and even their very existence. Yet these individuals are often ostracized from their workplaces, houses of worship, and even their own families. In some parts of the world, these individuals are even murdered at birth or later in life when they try to express their identity. The comments I have heard within the very confines of my own church about these people are, to me, a moral disgrace. Bob was not allowed to continue to attend her house of worship. She was told that she was no longer welcome. I can only imagine what role that played in her decision to take her own life. When does our Christianity, even our very humanity, kick in?
It is common to hear clergy and laypersons alike rolling out Bible verses from the writings of Moses or Paul, the only two biblical authors to remotely touch on this issue, to substantiate their inhumane utterances about these individuals. The scriptures actually do not even mention transgender individuals. From this basis, a secular culture has evolved that mimics this same rejection of this population. Recently, these individuals have been removed from participation in our military services by our current administration. They have been barred from working in many public and private places of employment. They have not been allowed to participate in many of our churches, synagogues, mosques or temples. They often even find it difficult to use public restroom facilities. Is it enough to simply quote a Bible verse or two to justify a lack of acceptance of these individuals? What was the context in which these admonitions were written? Weren’t these biblical authors also flawed human beings who lived in a time in which they believed that the world was the center of the universe, that the sun, moon, and stars revolved around the earth, and that the earth was flat? I would venture a guess that neither of these two biblical authors had ever encountered a gender-ambiguous individual. If only Moses would have known Bob, but he would have needed access to an ultrasound machine as well.
Can you imagine how difficult it must have been for Bob to sit down in a public place and feel the rejection from those surrounding her just because she did not appear like the woman she was? Put yourself in her position and imagine the fact that the person that you were seated next to was obviously uncomfortable with your very presence. Multiply this experience an infinite number of times and you might begin to understand why Bob, and so many of those like her, have taken their own lives rather than suffer the continual rejection.
I did not know Bob well and only met her a couple of times. She was not the first person I have encountered who dealt with gender dysphoria. I have known two other individuals who were also dealing with the same issues. I am sad to report that of the three people I have personally encountered, two of them are deceased by their own hand.
“Though the actual numbers vary, suicide attempt rates ranging from 19 to 25% have been reported among clinical samples of transgender individuals seeking surgical gender reassignment.”4
Another article posted that 41% of this population had either attempted suicide or had successfully completed the act. These suicide rates are frightening. The numbers can only be attributed to the despair that they must be feeling by the rejection of the population in which they live. That is where our responsibility for these deaths begins. This is why it is so essential for us to have a better understanding. At what point should we come to a realization that the world has millions of people like Bob who are struggling to survive? Often, in attempting to correct the ambiguity in which they were born, these individuals find themselves in a condition which doesn’t adequately lend itself to either gender reality. Today, medical science has made major advances in our ability to help these individuals to conform to their real gender, but this often takes time and many within this community find the rejection they experience so unbearable that they take their own lives before they are able to realize this transformation. We have the moral responsibility to give them that time. We owe it to them and to God.
Our places of worship, the very institutions which were set up by God to give love, comfort, and a safe place to exist, have become the very places which have caused the most harm and despair for the Bobs of this world. I have wondered if we have completely abandoned our understanding that we are all God’s children. We are all flawed in one way or another. Yet, we all deserve to be respected, nurtured, and loved because of who we are, and not because of what others think we should be. Perhaps we should ask ourselves: what responsibility must we accept, personally, for the staggering number of these individuals who have decided to end their own lives because of our lack of compassion and understanding?
*Definitions of Intersex and Transgender (from glaad.org):
Intersex: An umbrella term describing people born with reproductive or sexual anatomy and/or a chromosome pattern that can't be classified as typically male or female. Those variations are also sometimes referred to as Differences of Sex Development (DSD).
Transgender: An umbrella term for people whose gender identity and/or gender expression differs from what is typically associated with the sex they were assigned at birth.
Additional Notes & References:
2. Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s Youth Risk Behavior Survey
3. “Interior Department Cut ‘Sexual Orientation’ From Anti-Discrimination Guideline,” HuffPost.com, December 27, 2019
4. Dixen, Maddever, van Maasdam, & Edwards, 1994. “Psychosocial characteristics of applicants evaluated for surgical gender reassignment.” Archives of Sexual Behavior, 13(3): 269-276.
Lynden Williams is a 74-year-old retired broadcast engineer who lives in Tehachapi, California. He has been a Sabbath School teacher for more than 25 years—currently as one of the adult Sabbath School leaders at the Lancaster California Seventh-day Adventist Church.
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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/10173