Last week, I dove into gender dysphoria, explaining what it is and hopefully helping fellow Christians understand that individuals who are confused regarding their gender or who don’t identify with traditional gender roles are just as in need of love and grace as anyone else – they’re not some suddenly created outcast group that God doesn’t care about. We, too, should, must care for them.
But how do we care for them if we think they’re constantly living in sin? Or are we approaching them from the entirely wrong angle?
Mark Yarhouse, referred to in my last article as really developing my outlook on this issue, tells of three frameworks regarding gender incongruence. Most evangelical Christians might fit into the first, which identifies people who see gender dyphoria as simply wrong. Others might see gender incongruence as a disability (Nitori’s sister, for instance, says about her brother, “He’s sick.).” And finally, there are those that would celebrate it and even to a radical extent, try to wholly deconstruct sex and gender.
Instead, an integrated approach, Yarhouse suggests, makes most sense when approaching the issue. It also allows us, I think, to break our own walls of hypocrisy and pride and to graciously approach individuals on the transgender spectrum with love.
But how does such an approach work within a Christian perspective? I think we can see part of that answer in Hourou Musuko, where the main characters are looking to establish relationships and community with people that understand them. Unfortunately, gender dysphoria mixes with teenage angst to make it difficult for Takatsuki and Nitori. Neither is particularly happy as they struggle with their gender identities.
Indeed, gender dysphoria by definition is a struggle, a wrestling with feelings – often very heavy and painful ones – that one’s sex doesn’t match his or her gender. It reminds me of other conditions that we might deal with, like anxiety or depression. When we’re overcome by these conditions, are we sinning? Are we more specifically dealing with the repercussions of the fall?
Perhaps this lack of connection between gender and sex isn’t always willful rebellion, cultural influence, or any type of choice, but a mismatch resulting from the condition our world suffers from – sin. An imperfect world leads to imperfect conditions, such as the feeling that one doesn’t belong in his or her body. Then, having feelings of gender incongruence might instead be approached with empathy, since we all live in this imperfect world.
And with that in mind, we should engage these folks with the gospel message as we would anyone else. They are no more or less in need of grace than anyone. But we must be careful to not hoist our biases and expectations on them as we minister. We must treat them similarly as we do others. We can’t flip the message for this group and expect transformation before salvation, when the latter must always precede the first.
If we have a heart for the lost, for those dying without Christ, we must approach transgender individuals and those working through gender dysphoria with the gospel, as much as any other group. But first, we need to earn our way into the debate, demonstrating compassion, kindness, and caring. Otherwise, we’ll never be given a chance by a individuals that already often feel lonely, maligned, or hated.
Instead, these individuals will find their “truth” from other sources. Note that the church plays a minor role in Hourou Musuko as a place Saori occasionally attends. But it’s not pictured as a house of grace (or anything much, really). Imagine if Saori, who already cares about Nitori, was armed with gospel truth from her church, what kind of impact could she, after having been transformed, have made on Nitori! Instead, he and Takatsuki receive love and wisdom outside of the church in the form of older friends, a man and his transgender wife, who almost certainly aren’t Christian and can offer mere acceptance (as comforting as that might be) without the answer all our hearts need.
Are Christians driving gender dysphoric individuals away because of their lack of compassion? Maybe. We’re certainly not making it easy for them to walk into the doors of our church when they’re already encountering so many other difficulties.
Ultimately, we need to see the transgender community and those who have gender dysphoria as sinners – they are sinners, just as we all are. And in the same way, they need God’s amazing grace. They need Christians who act like Saori, engaging them in truthful conversation and understanding their feelings, and like Takatsuki, who thinks of Nitori and offers him a hoodie in episode one, clothing him when he’s at his most vulnerable.
And then…maybe then we can have a voice in the conversation. We can honestly dig into scriptural truths and the choices individuals have in regards to their gender dysphoria. And with that voice, we can help these men and women seek God through the difficulty journey they’ll certainly take, as true brothers or sisters in Christ.