The big hullaballoo in the media this week has been “introduction” of Caitlyn Jenner. Frankly, you’d probably have to have been living not only under a rock but in a veritable subterranean magma cave not to have heard it by now. All kinds of perspectives are flying all over the place, the dominant one in the media being a tone of congratulations and applause for being “true to herself.” But of course, because this is the Internet, opposition has come from all sides: some minority groups have taken issue with things like her magazine cover in comparison to Laverne Cox on the Time “Transgender Tipping Point” cover last summer, circulated with substantially less fanfare. Others have pointed out issues of age and cisnormativity (i.e. the fact Caitlyn/Bruce/whatever looked like a woman on the Vanity Fair cover is an example of cisnormativity, i.e. feminine-looking women or masculine-looking men), especially regarding her clothing choices. Then, of course, many Christians have spoken out in opposition to the change in gender in the first place from a moral standpoint. It seems everyone has something to say. Especially within the church, issues of atypical sex or gender expression seem to take on a tone of novelty. Obviously, ours isn’t the only religion in the world with a prohibition on homosexuality; however, ours is the only religion I can think of that purports a majority of adherents in a country where the majority also generally accepts homosexuality as a normal lifestyle. This puts the church in an awkward position. Both Testaments do explicitly name homosexuality as a sin; the New Testament even does so in a context that is applicable to the church in any time period. However, math tells us that if most Americans (>50%) profess to be Christians and most Americans (>50%) also accept homosexuality as okay (i.e. not being a sin), then there must be some overlap between people who claim to be Christians but hold inaccurate ideas that homosexuality isn’t a sin.
The thing is, the way the church talks about homosexuality, it’s abundantly clear that few people in positions of leadership truly understand the issue. The same is true of gender dysphoria, i.e. the feeling that one is trapped in a body of the wrong sex. Casting these things as sins when practiced is an accurate and appropriate thing to do. However, what isn’t as well understood is why there even are people who are homosexual or gender dysphoric in the first place. Probably the only science that can give us a hard answer to this question is neuroscience; I don’t think genetics can answer this, because it’s more of a mental issue than a physical one. And the reason I say that is because the way the church deals with homosexuality and transgenderism is a lot like the way it has historically dealt with depression: with remedies such as “you need to have more faith,” “you need to choose happiness,” or, my personal favourite, “just snap out of it!”
The fact is, what Christians, especially Christians who have gut reactions in aversion to homosexuals or transgender individuals, need to understand is that people don’t choose this. I didn’t choose to be depressed; my serotonin levels are all out of whack, and that’s why I’m depressed, not because I don’t have enough faith. Similarly, people who are gay, bisexual, gender dysphoric, and what have you do not choose to be that way. That’s ridiculous. I had a gay friend of mine explain a couple of years ago that if he could have chosen to be heterosexual, he would have, in a heartbeat—being gay, he faces social stigma, judgment, and, frequently, ostracisation in the very religious establishments that should be the ones fighting the hardest for his soul.
For some reason, though, we as a culture—not just the church, but the whole of American and Western culture—has come to view issues of sex and gender as immutable. To an extent, that is true: in addition to being depressed, I discovered last year that I am also asexual (meaning: I don’t experience sexual attraction), and this condition is something I can’t change on my own. However, to an extent, it’s also a distortion of that view. Just because something is immutable doesn’t mean it must operate the way it’s inclined. Living an asexual life would probably drive my husband crazy, and it wouldn’t be fair to him. As such, we compromise, and in no way shape or form do I believe I’m not “being true to myself” because there is a lot more to me than my sexual orientation. Similarly, I have heard countless stories this year of gay and lesbian people in the church choosing either heterosexual marriage or abstinence and living beautiful and glorifying lives for God. Sexual orientation is not an identity; it’s brain chemistry, and it’s not impossible to work around.
Gender identity is a bit harder, because this affects things like what toys you play with as a child, what bathroom you use, how you dress—things people immediately see. That said, even though this does affect what I believe is a deeper identity than sexual orientation, the same workaround can apply. Seeking to change one’s gender is sinful because it demonstrates a lack of trust in God. And as Christians, we’re taught that satisfaction and joy ultimately come from Him and only Him—literally nothing else can ultimately provide them, not even having your sex match your gender.
The reason why I believe this workaround is still largely seen as novel and unusual is because of a cultural obsession with sex that has gone extremely out of control. Yes, it’s true, there have always been LGBT+ and gender dysphoric people in the population; never before, though, has delineation by sexual orientation reached such a moral clamour in the United States. Similarly, until recently, we in the church have never talked about “homosexual lifestyles” or other such nonsense. The fact we even use this term—which, if you break it down, makes absolutely no sense—makes it clear that the church in this country has fallen into exactly the same tendency as the culture at large: because issues like sexual orientation and gender identity are such powerful issues right now, many in the church inadvertently end up defining people by their sexual or gender identities. That is a mistake. This is why there’s a gay character in my YA novel: If we’re going to talk this much about things like homosexuality being sinful, it’s important to understand them first.
There is nothing inherent about being attracted to people of the same sex that traps people in a “homosexual lifestyle.” Similarly, there is nothing inherent about gender dysphoria that forces such individuals to “live a lie”—not when the truth of life is found ultimately in God. And, though this may be a controversial view, I would go as far as to say there is nothing about these orientations that are in themselves sinful. The sin comes into play when people choose to act on these things, even when they entertain lustful thoughts. But this is true of heterosexuals as much as homosexuals, cisgender folks as much as transgender. In much the same way as people who are sexually attracted to one gender don’t necessarily have to have relationships with people of that gender, it isn’t really fair for the church to pigeonhole people with alternative sexualities or gender identities as being sinners for things they can’t control. They are sinners, certainly—we all are, but fornication is a sin whether it’s homosexual or heterosexual. And it’s important to understand these complicated issues the way they are, not the neat and tidy way we think them to be.