Now that Bruce/Caitlyn Jenner has blown the door wide open on the transgender discussion, and having witnessed the horrors of judgmentalism being thrown in that general direction, it’s my turn to enter the conversation. I’m not entering the discussion to debate the moral implications of a person being transgender. I’m not entering it to take sides either way. The reason I am entering it is a bit more complex.
First, I’d like to point out that both the ultra conservatives who are screaming through their keyboards about sin and repentance and those, such as psychologists on the other side who push for sexual reassignment surgery on those who are questioning their gender, seem to be missing something. And that something is a whole demographic of people who are not wanting breasts in place of a flat chest or vice versa. They are simply confused—confused about why they want to dress like a woman if they’re a man or why they have so many male tendencies and characteristics if they’re a woman.
There are many transvestites who have no desire to change their anatomy. They just like to wear the clothes of the opposite sex. George Sand, the French writer who was romantically involved with Chopin and a host of other men, dressed in suits and men’s clothes. “George” was a woman, by the way, but had to use a pseudonym because female writers weren’t taken seriously in her day. In her day, dressing like a man was controversial. Now women are expected to wear men’s clothes and “power suits” in certain office settings, especially in managerial roles. Now it’s the norm. But George Sand wasn’t confused and wanting to be a man. She just decided she liked men’s clothes and that they were cheaper and that was the end of it. Nowadays, in Western cultures especially, women are so used to wearing men’s clothes that they don’t give it a second thought.
Another thing that needs clarification and is often misconstrued by ill-informed people is: just because a person likes to cross-dress or identifies as a transvestite, it has nothing to do with their sexual orientation. There are many transvestites (some famous ones) who are happily married to the opposite sex. Some are homosexual. Some are not. But being transgender does not automatically mean someone is gay.
Both sides of the debate seem to have silenced, or ignored, this whole other group of people—those who are gender dysphoric. The conservatives have silenced them with one kind of shame. The liberals have silenced them with another kind. It is as if, on the liberal side, there is an assumption made that those with gender dysphoria need or want a movement to speak for them. Many with gender dysphoria don’t want or need that. They just want to figure themselves out without drawing any more attention to themselves than they already do for their perceived awkwardness and eccentricity. What they want is acceptance, and most often the acceptance they are most in need of is self-acceptance. And that is a deep and lifelong work for any human being. But it isn’t helped by exclusion and ridicule.
The main reason I am writing this, and the reason I can write about this, is because someone I know and care about very deeply struggles with just that—gender confusion. To protect this person’s anonymity, I won’t say whether the person is male or female or who they are. But I will say that I have seen firsthand the pain, confusion and mental torment this person lives with on a daily basis. They are not wanting to join the LGBT movement. They just want to have peace in their mind and heart about who they are. Lest someone from the Church start with the “They just need to seek God,” thing—they do. But they’re still confused. Lest the LGBT crowd say, “They just need to embrace their sexuality and examine whether they might need reassignment surgery.” Please. They’ve been down that road and had the discussion with psychologists, psychiatrists, etc. It doesn’t go away. And no, they don’t want to “reassign.”
So instead of entering into a debate about what’s up with Caitlyn Jenner and why she looks better in a tight dress than most women, I would rather open up a different kind of conversation, one that reaches out to those who are thoroughly confused as to who they are, including what gender to identify with. I want to open up to both sides—the conservatives and the LGBT community—an invitation to a deeper compassion, a compassion that looks not just at those getting the headlines, not at the street marches and movements, but toward individual people who may be living through their own private hell while the two sides of the debate waste time throwing mud at each other.
Consider this: the transgender community has an attempted suicide rate of 40%.
Now for just a few moments, please take yourself out of whichever side of self-righteousness you are on, and imagine living just one day tormented with a confusion so great that it makes you want to take your own life. Stay with that image for a bit and if it starts to bring you to tears, stay there a little longer. Then imagine that this is what every single day is like, hour after hour, minute after minute, for a person with gender dysphoria. And often, with that confusion goes a lot of dissociating from a possibly abusive and brutal past—sometimes physical and sexual abuse, and more often than not, psychological abuse.
There is a way other than the “live and let live” mentality or the “repent” mentality. That way is compassion. That way is connection. That way provides a safe space for someone to wrestle with their confusion in an atmosphere of love. Please: create a space of welcome, of acceptance, of belonging, because that is what all of us need most. And someone’s life could depend on it.
* Image credit: Gustav Klimt, Bronze Autumn