Friday, March 27, 2009

Focus on the Family Takes On Transgender Issues

After reading this article over at Pam's House Blend talking about the latest round of shrieking insanity to come out of Dobson's organization, I found the following series of articles on the FOTF website talking about their position on trangender issues.

Part I: Transgenderism

This first essay is pretty lightweight, but it attempts to establish the basic position of FOTF with respect to transgender people by talking about the wonderfully ordered world described in Genesis:

We also learn that His creation and ordering of the world involved a series of "separations." These separations include heaven and earth, light and dark, day and night, morning and evening, clouds and seas, water and dry land, and sun and moon.
Specifically, in humans we see not only a separation from the animals, but also a separation of mankind into two sexes – male and female – wholly complementary, yet each uniquely and mysteriously bearing God's image – the imago Dei.

Of course, if we sit back and think about these separations rationally for a few moments, they are nowhere near as clear as FOTF's writers would have you believe.

Consider Night, Day and Evening. Evening is really the transition between Day and Night, is it not. Perhaps even more perplexing is the duration of evening. At latitudes closer to the equator, the transition between day and night corresponds almost precisely with the sun passing below the horizon. More northerly climes, the sun can set and there is still evening light for a full hour or more. Even more ambiguous is the question of when day becomes evening? One could argue that evening begins the moment the sun begins to move towards the western horizon after its midday peak. But I digress. Knowing what we do today about the way that the Sun's light is received on our world, evening (and dawn) are really nothing more than gradual transition times between night and day, and a far from absolutely delineated.

From this, they leap into the inevitable claim that man and woman are absolute and distinct. Of course, one only has to raise the issue of physiological intersex conditions to realize that there is a fairly serious logical problem here. We know that there are a myriad of conditions that result in someone being Intersex, and these are all naturally occurring (and therefore, are a natural part of God's creation).

Some will claim that Intersex people are so rare as to not be relevant in the conversation. To me, that makes about as much sense as saying that the brevity of evening at the equator is such that evening does not exist there. It does, and to claim otherwise is intellectually dishonest.

Part II: Cause for Concern (Transgenderism)

In the second essay, FOTF's writers start pounding on the drums of fear and otherness, attempting to demonize transgender people as a whole:

For decades, gay activist leaders worked hard to keep those who called themselves "transgender" or "transsexual" as far out of the public eye as possible. By their own admission, the last thing they wanted was a bunch of "drag queens" and cross-dressers to scare away potential allies and ruin any hope for their community to achieve its political goals. So, the activists only portrayed homosexuals in favorable and non-threatening ways.

This is a somewhat inaccurate portrayal of the situation. Transgender people have been part of the GLB scene since the dawn of time. Historically (pre-Stonewall), it was one of the few social contexts where a transperson could go and feel at least some degree of acceptance.

After Stonewall, the shape of the GLBT world became much more public and through a mixture of reality and misperceptions, the public at large associated transgender people with the much larger GLB community as a whole. This can hardly be seen as anything intentional. At the time, there were only a handful of transsexuals known in the world, and the subtle colourings of gender expression across the transgender spectrum were nowhere near fully understood. (The term 'Transsexual' didn't even enter the DSM until the DSM II was published in the late 1960s, much less the broader term "Gender Identity Disorder" which was introduced in the DSM IV)

To be sure, there are many people, both GLB and T, who are uncomfortable with the political association between subjects of gender identity and sexual identity. The reality is that many in the GLB community are just as perplexed by transsexuals as the straight community is. Similarly, the desire of many transsexuals to blend into the fabric of mainstream society often makes them uncomfortable with the symbolism of the GLB community and the events they use to raise their public profile.

That said, the political association between the two communities was mostly forged in the fires of public perception, and not by the willing consent of either group.

Of particular concern when it comes to the creation of protected class status for "sexual minorities" through hate crimes and employment nondiscrimination laws is the sobering reality that in increasingly secular societies, when "gay rights" collides with religious liberties, religious freedom nearly always loses.

Oh yes, the classic "religious freedom" saw gets pulled out. What I would like to know here is how it is that these people can justify in their hearts the very discrimination and hostility that in fact freedom of religion was embedded in our laws to stop in the first place? Freedom of religion or conscience does not exist in a vacuum, and the freedom to believe something does not automatically grant the right to project those believes onto others.

Part III: Our Position (Transgenderism)

* We affirm God's design for the two sexes – male and female – and sexuality as between one man and one woman. what? Rational inspection of reality shows us that in fact things are far from so cut-and-dried. Further, this first point of their position mistakenly combines the issues of gender and sexuality, and therefore quite misses the point of the transgender narrative in the first place.

* We disagree with pro-gay and pro-transgender revisionist theology as contradictory to foundational Christian doctrine and the Judeo-Christian sexual ethic.
* We oppose the ordination of "transgender" and "transsexual" individuals and the celebration of "transgenderism" as one of God's gifts.

Well, that's a matter of theological debate. I'll leave that to those who are more interested and passionate about it. Frankly, from my perspective, using theology as a club to beat someone else down socially is reprehensible.

* Because "transgenderism" violates God's intentional design for sex and sexuality, we believe that this is a cultural and theological battle that we must engage and win. The modern "transgender" movement is systematically working to dismantle the concept of gender as the Bible and the world have always known it to be. If the transgender lobby succeeds, there will be striking consequences for marriage, family and society at large.

I argue that they have grossly misunderstood "God's Design" by relying solely upon the words in Genesis, and failing to look around at the world in which they live objectively. Transgender people have always existed, and will continue to do so for the forseeable future. It seems foolish indeed to argue that transgender people violate any "design" (if in fact there is a design in our world at all)

As for the "consequences" for marriage, family and society at large, I can't imagine what those ominous "consequences" might be. Transsexuals in general are a very small percentage of the population, it seems highly unlikely that the basic concepts of family will change dramatically simply because a few people transition to live a live more suited to their natures.

Even when I consider the much larger population of transgender people, it strikes me that the numbers are still so small as to be inconsequential when compared with the breadth and depth of human society.

* While God's intent for sexuality and gender is being turned upside down, we must remember that those who struggle with their gender identity have lived lives of great pain, confusion and rejection. And, just as Jesus went out of his way to reach the outcasts of society, we're called to humbly share His love embodied in the Gospel, to lift them up in prayer and to allow the Holy Spirit to bring about conviction, healing and transformation.

This is nothing more than a recycling of the old "love sinner hate the sin" routine. It is an aphorism used to self-justify treating others as second class citizens.

* We affirm the Christian view that to be human is to be holistically united as body and spirit. Indeed, Scripture teaches that even in heaven believers will have gloriously redeemed physical bodies. In contrast, pro-transgender revisionists hold to the pagan view that the body is a container that the spirit is poured into. As such, they erroneously conclude that either God has mistakenly put an opposite-gendered spirit into the wrong body or that the body is not the real person – that only the spirit is real. As Christians, we believe that God can heal these disconnected, gnostic views and bring restoration and wholeness – where body, soul and spirit are in unity.

If "God can heal" people who are transsexual, then please explain to me the surprising number of ordained members of the clergy who have transitioned their gender, and are amazingly comfortable and whole in their post transition lives - often in ecclesiastical roles after transition.

The fact is that no matter how you twist scripture, it has very little, if anything meaningful to say about transsexualism. Even the much broader concepts embodied by the term transgender are not really addressed by scripture.

I think the reality for most transsexuals (in particular) is that each makes their own peace with their lives. While some may find solace in prayer, few who need to transition will ever find that such techniques do more than delay the inevitable.

* We call upon all parents to take a proactive role in their children's development by providing them with a strong, Christian example of what it means to be male and female. Many of the problems associated with transgenderism, like confusion and pain, stem from a lack of parental involvement and guidance. Children must be taught that, just as each individual life has inestimable worth, so too each gender brings its own unique characteristics of inestimable worth to relationships, family and society.

Bzzzt! Disconnect FOTF's buzzer for that answer. The sheer variety of family backgrounds that transsexuals come from proves beyond any reasonable doubt that there is no meaningful relationship between upbringing and gender identity. This is a false bit of reasoning that does not stand up to any kind of objective analysis.

Part IV: Talking Points (Transgenderism)

Coming from a group that has badly mangled scripture repeatedly, all the while advocating an extremely literalist interpretation of it, I find FOTF's first statement in this essay quite laughable:

Attempts to subjugate objective biblical truths to subjective human experiences lead men and women to accept lies. Those with a personal interest in the pro-transgender theology often twist the Scriptures in ways that defy logic and common sense to support their behavior.

The term "objective biblical truth" lands quite firmly in the category of bad comedy. There are so many ways that scripture has been interpreted by so many, and every last one of them claims to be correct. Somehow, I'm not buying into the idea that Dobson's clan has a lock on "biblical truth".

The gender confusion embodied in the pro-transgender revisionist theology is a direct result of living in a fallen world. And as with the temptation of mankind in the Garden of Eden, the spirit of "transgenderism" casts doubt on God's clearly articulated ordination by acknowledging a well-known truth and supplementing it with a blatant lie. In this case, this acknowledgment of the two sexes (the truth) is supplemented with the view that male and female are merely two possible genders along a completely "fluid" gender spectrum (the lie).

To call the concept of human behaviour and identity existing along some kind of spectrum a "lie" is to blind oneself to the reality of the diversity of our world. Those of us with our eyes open to the world in which we live see that diversity and recognize that the rigid binary of Dobson's reasoning draws a false line that does not exist in any real sense.

Part V: Next Steps and Related Information

This is little more than a bunch of links to various other pages on the FOTF website that go on about homosexuality. They are neither helpful nor relevant to any meaningful discussion of gender.

In summary, FOTF uses a highly debatable interpretation of scripture to argue that anybody who is transgender does not deserve to be treated as an equal human being. Worse, they ignore the broad diversity of the world in which all of us live, preferring to cling to a very narrow, limited understanding of both gender and sexuality.


Nicky said...

So What's your take on Intersex people and those born with a Genetic DNA medical condition.

MgS said...

I think all of them represent a concrete counterpoint to the absolutist rhetoric of the religious right.

Their very existence calls into question the kind of logic that claims that male and female are some kind of magical absolutes.

As an aside, since so many Intersex conditions have interesting genetic characteristics, I'm not sure I understand the differentiation you are implying by distinguishing the terms.

Nicky said...

What I am saying is, what do you think of intersex people and what's your view on them

MgS said...

I don't hold any specific views regarding the Intersexed.

As far as I am concerned, they represent a small group in the population that is often misunderstood, and mistreated simply for the "Otherness" of their condition.

From a political perspective, they have good reason to object to the treatment that they have received at the hands of the medical community.

Lori D said...

Based on FOTF's arguments (and that's all they seemed to be...arguments, nothing that would indicate HOW to actually "fix" a transperson), even the intersex are 'not in alignment' with God's bimodality of the sexes.

That being said, I just wanted to thank you for calling them on these mindless arguments. All along while reading their "talking points" I never once read a sensible SOLUTION or true understanding of what they viewed mostly as a political arm of the gay rights movement.

I guess I'll leave my medical and pshychological issues to the pros, and my faith issues to...well, me and God.

MgS said...

Well said, Lori!

From what I've seen, FOTF believes that you can cure anything with enough prayer. In other words, they reject any biological roots to transgender identification, and claim that it is purely a matter of "free will".

From their apparent POV, creepy characters like Jerry Leach represent the ideal way to handle transfolk.

PS - I really like the personal approach to spirituality you express. It makes a great deal of good sense.