When the anime version of Hourou Musuko (Wandering Son) aired in 2011, much of the reception in the blogsophere was lukewarm. A lot of folks, having anticipated the adaptation, were disappointed in how different it was from the manga. I, on the other hand, without any previous connection to this story of a boy who wants to be a girl and a girl who wants to be a boy, absolutely loved it. It touched me and made me reconsider how I thought of individuals who identify as transgender.
However, I don’t know if I was ready for it.
I left the story feeling I should change, but I didn’t really. Fast-forward a few years, and my experiences on Tumblr caused me to research the topic, which then led me to read Understanding Gender Dysphoria (Mark A. Yarhouse), a study that informed me even further, and which forms the basis for much of this post and the one that will follow it. Like Eddie Redmayne, “my education continues,” but in the meantime, I want to introduce this topic to our Christian readers, many of whom probably flee from it, like I have my whole life.
Part of my issue that I was totally confused by the terminology – what does cisgender mean? Why would someone prefer to be called they? Is it still LGBT, or have other letters been added to the acronym?
I won’t go into all the definitions, but there are a few important terms that I think will help confused Christians understand this issue better:
- Gender dysphoria – Part of the title of this post, and a term I’ll refer back to, gender dysphoria is the distress an individual experiences when that person does not feel their biological sex matches gender identity.
- Gender and sex – Gender is what it means to be male or female; sex is biologically whether you’re male or female. Note this distinct but significant difference.
- Transgender – As Yarhouse notes, this is an “umbrella term” describing a diverse audience of people who live out a gender different from their sex.
- Cisgender – This is what perhaps most Christians would view as “typical” – the state of gender matching sex.
- Transexual – An individual who wants to or has transitioned from the sex to which he or she was born.
There are a host of other terms as well, like genderfluid, genderqueer, and intersex, which I encourage you to research. But the ones above are a good starting point for getting into the conversation.
It’s also important to note that gender dysphoric or transgender does not equal homosexual. Though one might be both, they are separate things, and many, many people with gender dysphoria are not gay. I remember this first clicking with me when I wrote a post about Hourou Musuko discussing Makoto’s feelings for his male teacher. Because I was vague in addressing homosexuality and never mentioned Makoto at all, a commenter was wondering why I was connecting the show’s transgender themes with homosexual ones, when I had never intended to.
But more importantly than understanding terminology, of course, is to understand people. Unfortunately, a common Christian response to individuals who feel this incongruence between their gender and sex is one of judgment and disgust. It’s taboo almost, an attack on morality for many, representative of all that might go wrong in a person’s life and all that’s gone wrong in culture. That, of course, is wholly the wrong reaction for a people who claim to follow Christ, who taught us to love everyone (and why we should).
Especially for those that don’t have friends who are transgender or are suffering with gender dysphoria (and it’s important to note here that many Christians, too, are gender dysphoric), it’s hard to empathize. Returning to Hourou Musuko, though, we have a series with characters that help us feel that way, I think, and that can function as a bridge of sorts for seeing these individuals as people instead of through the sin-blackened eyes we might currently view them through (Note: Genshiken Nidaime does the same through Hato).
Nitori is of course a good example – he’s a kind, smart, and sensitive kid, one not unlike many we may personally have known (or who we might be). His character might also cause us to question what masculinity is.
In American culture, masculinity is about being rough and tumble, but that’s perhaps more of a cultural definition than a “God” one. If we look at the personage of Christ, we see someone who was as equally adept at turning tables and taking hypocrites to task as one who wept for his friends and spoke poetically. That is, Christ was both traditionally (in America) masculine and sensitive. So when we see Nitori notice things only a sensitive boy would, like Takatsuki’s smile in episode two, or when he cries after Anna grabs his script away from him, we shouldn’t see a less masculine character, but one masculine in a different way. Nitori, too, sees himself as not very masculine (“what are girls made of?”) instead of occupying a different role on the spectrum of masculinity – after all, he and Takatsuki don’t occupy traditional gender roles (the two, in fact, comment on how he is better at domestic activities than she).
We can also hopefully identify that Nitori has internal struggles (even if our struggles might not match). Many of us don’t like physical features about ourselves – Nitori is the same (“I don’t smell like boys”). And certainly, we all have sins that we find hard to root from our lives, and Nitori is likewise flawed.
And I hope, too, that we can see him as someone we care about. In episode one, he runs through the streets half-dressed in women’s garments but clearly a boy. And in that moment, viewers connect to his internal dialogue and feel for him, and he devalues himself, “I’m sick. I’m sick. I’m sick. People are staring at me.”
If we can see Nitori as a “person,” I hope there’s room for us to also see real life people as people. They’re not a caricature developed by society and religion, but real people with real struggles and real hearts and real minds and souls. And if it’s a better example to you, look toward Takatsuki, one of my all-time favorite anime characters, as likewise someone with gender dysphoria who we can relate to, or even better, admire.
And imagine that – an evangelical Christian admiring an unbelieving transgender boy? Maybe such a feeling can be a step on a bridge toward treating members of this community with love.
The question, though, is how to love as a Christian? I’ll talk about how I think we should approach gender dysphoric and transgender individuals (and why we should) in my concluding article, next
Thursday Friday. I hope you’ll return then, and in the meantime, feel free to chime in below!