Nitori is Not Going to Hell For Wanting to Wear a Bra, Part I: Understanding Gender Dysphoria as a Christian

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.

hourou musuko 1b

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.”

hourou musuko 1a

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!


31 thoughts on “Nitori is Not Going to Hell For Wanting to Wear a Bra, Part I: Understanding Gender Dysphoria as a Christian

  1. Wow. I have to say, this is a new way of looking at the whole gender issue, and I’m glad to see you’re not shying away from it. I do agree that as Christians, we need to love everyone. We aren’t ever called to hate anyone: hate the sin, not the sinner. But I think the fine line that a lot of people seem to trip over is where love stops and where acceptance begins. We aren’t called to accept the homosexual lifestyle, despite being called to love them. But…where do we draw the line with people who identify as transgender? How do we reach them, when we know that God “made them male and female”, but they don’t feel that way? So many questions, and the church hasn’t really provided many answers in the past that most Christians just default to knee-jerk reactions because its easier. But the questions still remain. I look forward to how you explain your thoughts more in-depth as time goes on, and I’m looking forward to next Thursday. 🙂

    1. I definitely agree. There’s too often a very divisive line – you either accept the sinner’s lifestyle or you reject the person. There’s too little “hate the sin, love the sinner” going on. And how do you do that with people suffering gender dysphoria? It’s very difficult, and I don’t presume to know the answers, but we’ll at least broach the topic next week and I may give some general principles as we try to understand these individuals a bit better.

  2. “But…where do we draw the line with people who identify as transgender? How do we reach them, when we know that God “made them male and female”

    The question I have here is: Did He, necessarily?

    You see…I was born with a neurological variation or disorder called autism. Autism causes me to perceive the world, likely, in a way that is quite different from the way most people who post on this site perceive the world. It means that I had great difficulty controlling my emotions in childhood, and the world remains an uncomfortable place to me. It means that talking about objective, absolute Truth tends to come across as bullshit to me. When I say I see the world differently than you do I mean that in a physical sense as well. I can feel more and less than you physically, I see more and less, and I can picture things with a vivid clarity most will never in their lives possess. It also means that many things, including some non-verbal communication, I quite literally cannot perceive.

    ….how can you really know that the “boy” who “wants to be a girl” actually isn’t, neurologically speaking, a girl? Is not the state of the brain the inner heart of the soul? The wiring in her head, just as it tells you that you are male, might be telling her that she is female despite her body. Her wiring does not necessarily mean that God made a mistake. In fact the Bible says absolutely nothing about transgender people. In fact it may mean He gave her a trial she must overcome.

    Because I myself am truly different than you are, I am inclined to give the trans-gendered person the benefit of the doubt. Denying the reality of the internal perceptions of another because they are not your own, calling people defective or a liar…Is one of the big reasons I cannot become a Christian. 🙁

    1. I agree Christians should show love all people (Bible even mentions bless your enemies, bless those that persecute you, bless those that take advantage of you), but at the same time there has to be a line drawn with certain matters. As in you still love people, but you don’t support certain ideas, lifestyles and other circumstances that would be too complicated to all list right now. Also mercy and grace too.

      The Apostle Paul who was taught by Christ and used to persecute Christians and turn them in to be killed was changed by Christ. Paul talks about how all mankind has changed the truth of knowing God & humankind has other problems that they need help with and basically suppressed it & rejected God. To fix all that is accepting God’s help and growing in that relationship with Him through Jesus Christ.

      Besides that there is spiritual stuff in the background/world that messes with/influences people and also some people that are supposed to be serving God don’t teach well enough because neglecting spending time / learning from God and as a result people are affected in a negative way, unprepared, or can’t get the help they need. This also can result in people being ignorant what the truth really is regarding God, how defend against spiritual warfare, and other important matters. Following Christ is tough and he even said that his disciples would be hated from all nations.

      1. Forgot to add about how God doesn’t really have a set way of how a man and a woman should act like woman should be super feminine or super macho.

        Just look at the story of Jacob and Esau. Completely different ways of expressing themselves and living their lives. Deborah to be a judge during the time of judges and lead Israel. Rahab was about to be part of the genealogy of Jesus.

        1. Edit: ^ like a woman shouldn’t have to be super feminine or man shouldn’t have to be super macho.

        2. The examples of plenty. For instance, the one that comes most to my mind is the Proverbs 31 woman, who exhibits characteristics that many might overlook in their definition of what a good Christian should be.

    2. Thanks for your comments. I’m thankful that you mention your autism – I worked in education for a while and had students who were on the autism spectrum and my spouse currently works with special needs students, most of whom are on the low-functioning end of the autism spectrum. While we can’t experience what you have, I think we have an understanding of (and maybe compassion toward) people with autism that many don’t.

      I want to try to flip the script about how we approach such conditions. A trial? Perhaps. A liar? Absolutely NOT. Defective? Not more so than anyone else. And I’ll try to dive into this next time – and I hope we can discuss it some more, especially as I totally understand where you’re coming from, because for me, even one without autism or gender dysphoria or any of a number of diagnoses that might make me question God and his grace, I’ve struggled with this question.

      1. It’s a complicated question to face, and it’s been the question that has been haunting me in one form or another for a long time. That we are all in need of God’s grace is self-evident. That we are all bad people in a lot of places, sinners, is self-evident. But that the default state of one whose mind is forged under strange conditions is “normal…” ….I am not so sure of that at all.

        There are too many things that I and many of my friends can only do because we have a disability that wires powerful visualization circuitry into place. My specific communion with God is only possible because of that. And the legendary Temple Grandin could only create her machines because she could see them in her mind’s eye.

        I’m not really convinced that God would want to “fix” all that, or even that it’s a byproduct of sin. Maybe in Heaven the benefits come without the deficits or something.

        But what does then, in fact, happen to the person who believes he or she was born in the wrong body for the gender? Is that person’s conundrum really so different? And I wonder if you, even, have moral quandaries and aspects of your personality that defy easy classification into “wrong” or “not wrong,” “broken” or “divine.”

  3. With that said, excellent post on the complications Christian face on this issue. And I still yet wish to believe in a Truth that cannot be seen….

  4. It’s nice to see this blog open up these topics to its readers. Even within my church denomination, the UCC (which is, by and large, very progressive and has a long history of warmly embracing non-cis and non-straight people), there are folks who still don’t know how to best embrace their transgender children or friends. I’ve had the privilege of sharing with them all that I’ve learned, which I’ve gleaned from listening to my own transgender friends and acquaintances. But I’m always learning more because in the end, it’s not my daily experience.

    I look forward to reading your post next week. Horou Musuko is actually the only anime I’ve seen that, in my opinion, has good transgender representation. If trans characters exist (explicitly) in other series, they tend to be stereotypes or jokes or minor characters.

    If you’re interested, I can see if the UCC has some easily accessible resources about transgender terminology, acceptance, issues, etc. I’ve gotten print versions of some resources, but would just have to see if they’re online as well, XD.

    One language note about “transsexual.” In my understanding, it’s a bit of an outdated term/one that older generations use more so than younger ones. It might even be pejorative for some folks, so I think it’s best to avoid using it unless a trans individual uses it themselves.

      1. Transgender people and organizations supporting transgender people have expressed that “transsexual” is an older term that sounds clinical and many people now don’t like it for that reason, even post-op trans people. That said, some people still use it to describe themselves and that’s perfectly fine. It’s just a good idea to make sure someone prefers it before using it to talk about them.

        GLAAD’s definition acknowledges the term’s medical roots.

        Trans Equality’s definition cites the overly clinical connotation of the term as a reason why many people don’t prefer it these days.

        “Pejorative” may be a strong descriptor, but regardless, when it comes to language describing marginalized groups of people, I personally do my best to take my cues from the communities themselves. Between my personal friendships with transgender people, seminars I’ve attended led by transgender people, and information I’ve read, the overall vibe I get is that “transgender” is a good umbrella term and “transsexual” should be used with caution. It was more commonly used several decades ago, but not so much anymore.

        At the end of the day, though, terminology is really just about getting to know the person and using the descriptors they ask you to out of love and respect for them.

    1. Thanks for the comments, Taylor (and specifically for the information about the connotation of “transsexual)! And yes, any and all resources that help inform are welcome.

      You also bring up another interesting point – how a progressive church still struggles to determine how to embrace transgendered individuals. Evangelical churches have a long, long ways to go in making such individuals welcome in their congregations (if even possible), which only leads me to think that we need to be approaching this topic now, when it’s already quite later, rather than later when we’ll all be light years behind.

      1. Thanks, Charles! Yes, as safe as progressive churches can be for non-straight and non-cis individuals, this doesn’t mean they’re perfect and even the UCC, which waves the banner of LGBT inclusion in addition to many, many other social justice initiatives, has individual, local congregations that are not O&A (open and affirming). In other words, on a denominational level, the UCC is 1000% supportive, but because the UCC lets congregations be autonomous, it does not require that EVERY single congregation is O&A. For example, my own church is O&A, but two other local UCC churches in my area are not.

        I have to pick on you again a tiny bit! “Transgendered” is most definitely NOT preferred.

        Language is tricky and fluid, in part because it’s a bit safer now for these communities to explore and come to terms with themselves (pun absolutely intended) rather than being defined by society at large.

        So! I dug around on the UCC’s website and found some resources.

        1) “Call Me Malcolm” is a documentary about a trans boy and his walk with God. I haven’t actually seen it yet, but it’s one of the first things people mentioned at the UCC’s General Synod this year. It’s on Netflix and the UCC has some guided discussion resources.

        2) transACTION PDF: This is a resource specifically focused on helping churches and organizations understand and welcome transgender people. It’s full of activities as well as information! If you’re interested, you can probably find even more at the main URL.

        Hope these help!

  5. Your post is beautifully and kindly written. I have never read your work before but will from now on. Thank you for wonderful insight. Being transgender is a part of you. When you deny being transgender you deny the person you ae. i am 57 and have spent my life denying who i am…………..sigh this just won’t go away! When i think about being me would be such a release but am not brave enough to do anything about it……..just yet.

    1. Thank you for sharing! I hope we can continue to encourage you with our words, though in some cases (and perhaps ultimately) we may have contrary viewpoints, though in terms of compassion and understanding, we’ll be on the same page.

  6. This is the problem with postmodernism. I’m of the belief that words have meanings. Postmodernism, which has taken over the church, is of the belief that anything can mean anything to anyone. And that’s where the problem is with this analysis.

    The idea is that we can take what’s in the Bible and twist it any way we want in order to be more inclusive. Sadly that’s not the way God works – he is the same yesterday, today and forever. So when he created male and female and forbade homosexuality back in the Torah, that’s still the way he operates today. All the postmodernism in the world can be used to change the meaning of “male” and “female,” yet God doesn’t change.

    Just remember: the first sin came from the question “Did God really say?”

    Whether we like it or not, God’s definition of morality is still the same as it was in Paul’s day when he wrote multiple letters forbidding this behavior. I don’t like it, I’ve struggled with it myself. But when what I want goes against what God’s Word, I must bend the knee to God’s Word and act according to it.

    What to do then about “acceptance”? It’s quite simple. Jesus told the apostles to preach repentance and the forgiveness of sins. Everyone likes the second part of that; the first part, not so much. But Jesus preached repentance, and that’s what we are to do too.

    And if you’re LGBTQ, then I feel for you, because I’ve struggled with the same sins. Christ has died even for those sins; repent, and believe this good news.

    1. Tommy, I really surprised by your commentary…I wonder if you read my post in it’s entirety? At no point did I say sin was to be accepted, nor did I say homosexuality was NOT a sin (and in fact, tried to distinguish homosexuality from gender dysphoria). You know me – I’m not postmodernist and I accept not such thinking here on this blog; the word of scripture is true, though we should always approach it with the complexity it deserves as the word of God.

      Two of my contentions here are that A) being gender dysphoric is not a made-up phenomenon – even conservative Christian psychologists admit as much and B) we can’t leave them out to dry – we must love them. Love does not necessarily equal acceptance.

      Let me equate gender dysphoria to depression – an imperfect comparison, I admit, and one offensive perhaps to those who experience either. But why does either exist in the world? Perhaps it’s because we live in a fallen world. And can you be a believer and still be depressed? Of course you can – I have. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t seek God, that you aren’t seeking God, and that Christians shouldn’t reach out to you.

      It’s same for those who struggled with their gender identity. We must not let culture color our view of the Bible – we need to share the gospel with a fallen world and love the transgendered community even if they sin – for we’re just as heavy with our sinful guilt. And I’ll detail more of this next week.

      1. Hi TWWK,

        I think the issue is that this kind of posts attract the posters who go “Trans is no big deal” which is then a red-flag for conservative Christians. Your response to Clare below seems to suggest that you approve of that view, or at least see no issues with it.

    1. Thank you! We’ll shift a little off the line next week, though to be honest, my ignorance (and perhaps our general ignorance about gender dysphoria from all angles) will keep us from going too in-depth.

  7. Happy in God’s love I see
    Male and female God Made Me!

    We are all a bit of both. Trans is not a big deal. Lots of people are like it. If Evangelicals like thoughtlessly to condemn, and bring forward odd verses of the Bible: Deuteronomy 22:5, for example- they are not using the Bible properly.

    If you want to understand more, come and look at my blog(!)- I wrestle with Christianity and Trans issues.

    1. Thank you for your response and for pointing me toward your blog – I found a number of your post fascinating and informative, especially your recent response to “Nancy.”

    2. Clare, it is not only Evangelicals who criticize the concept of trans. They are in fact relative newcomers to the criticism. The same criticism is offered by the much older Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox (including Russian Orthodox) Church.

      Are you able to answer all the arguments from Natural Law?

  8. Great post!

    I once heard somewhere that biological sex aside, regarding the various cultural concepts of being male or female, our own gender identity is a combination of what we accept and reject from those concepts. For example, I definitely reject the whole “being rough and tumble” part of being male, while I do accept stuff like holding the door open for women (though I would also do that for guys). My own anime tastes are also kind of like that; I’m not particularly a fan of big action shows like guys are stereotypically big on, but all those moe shows I like? Most of them are seinen, a.k.a. aimed towards young men.

    Point is, in learning to get to know people, including the transgendered, we can look into just what their ideas of what it means to be male and female are, which parts of those they have accepted and rejected, and how that has made them the person they are. Even among cis people, two males or two females can view their own gender quite differently because they have accepted different parts of their gender. It’s definitely something good to keep in mind.

    Of course, for Christians, a big part of this comes down to what the Bible says about what it means to be male or female, since that obviously has particular weight for us compared to other cultural concepts of gender. I have my own thoughts on that but I think I’ll wait for part two first.

    1. I’ve always figured it was a lot more….literal….than all that. A lot of people with this problem describe it as having a phantom limb, but that phantom limb is everything. They know how their body physically “should” look and that’s “not how it looks.” They move into the wrong school lines for their gender at the age of four.

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