Dialogue between an evangelical Christian leader and a person who has transitioned
For basic Q & A's about transition and some of its issues, click here
This is a record of an extended dialogue between two people of Christian faith, with in some ways different theological convictions. It arose out of a genuine desire on the part of the Christian minister to understand better how a local church could welcome and support people who suffered from acute gender dysphoria and were going through gender transition.
Although I transitioned many years ago, I have been a committed Christian for 42 years, and because of an underlying trust between us (which had previously been established) we both felt that we could attempt a conversation together: committed to kindness, respect, decency and goodwill. I have not been disappointed.
Our encounter took the form of a series of questions, answers, and sometimes follow up questions. I believe it was characterised by grace, and speaking for myself, I felt dignified by the honesty and genuine goodwill of the person I shared with. For me, I found a spiritual opening up in our dialogue, and in some ways he helped me renew the ardour for my faith.
In short, I believe I grew because of our meeting and sharing. For that, I must thank him for his sincerity of concern and his willingness to listen. Whether we share identical theologies (we don't!), we do both believe in the power of God's love. His questions throughout were asked in his capacity as an individual - none of this discourse was solicited by a church.
This little website is intended as a resource for any Christian community, should they want to reflect on the issues around gender transition, and particularly if they encounter people at Church (or relatives, colleagues at work, neighbours) who are transitioning, or already have. There is a huge need for compassion and support, but we should also be very mindful that this may not be simplistic for church communities. The hope for this website is that it might, at least, contribute to understanding.
On the pages that follow, you may read the questions asked, and the answers in response, by clicking on the links:
Question 1: Can you detail what led you to transition, and what that was like?
Question 2: You were born and grew up male - biologically. Yet had from an early age had a powerful desire to be in the world as a woman. How do you make sense of this? How do you understand God's creation of you? How do you understand this apparent 'contradiction' in you between gender & sex - between 'feeling like a woman' whilst biologically 'male'?
Question 3: Do you believe God ordained, designed and created this? Or is it brokenness of a world since the fall? Or something that occurred in the womb? Or something that developed through environmental nurture? Did you see yourself as a woman born in a man's body?
Question 4: What did the experience feel like of this gender/biology dissonance? Has surgery and being in the world as Susannah healed all the feelings of dissonance?
Question 5: You felt gender dysphoria and a desire to be in the world as a woman, but how do you know what being a woman feels like?
Question 6: Was it the whole 'feminine' presentation of woman, mother, sisters etc that you identified with?
Question 7: I recall reading about you as a mountaineer - that all looked fairly macho and rugged and of course you married and had children. How does one juggle that maleness, male sexuality and yet also desire to be female in the world? Were you faking or following the expected 'way it is' in marrying a woman? Were you stepping into a caricature of socially prescribed maleness or did your sense of dysphoria increase in your 30's/40's?
Question 8: What I don't understand is: why the trauma? why the dissonance? is it physiological? Psychological? Spiritual?
Question 9: I am intrigued by your response to some who ask: "Why would God make you with all these contradictions to the norm?" To which you replied: "Children with cancer (who I've met in my work), young women with breast cancer (likewise), or sterility, poverty, hunger, war." But surely Susannah, God didn't make those things, they are all a consequence of the fall or brokenness or sin etc. If I've understood you rightly, you wouldn't regard, or would you, that your dysphoria is such?
Question 10: How does gender body dysphoria connect to sexual desire?
Question 11: If someone has body dysphoria, a man transitions to being a woman - if they still are attracted to women sexually, are they gay or what?
Question 12: How do you respond to those who may think your actions negate God's creation of you?
Question 13: Someone I read said that those who signed the letter questioning the Oxford Bishop's 'guidance' on welcoming those who have transitioned were in fact 'waging war' against transgender persons. Your response seemed far more understanding if not agreeing. How should the church respond and should they formally welcome transgender members?
Question 14: I cannot imagine - just cannot - what it must feel like to be at odds with one's body in terms. That is trauma - physiological dis-ease and psychological trauma - and I see now what I hadn't really understood until reading you, that transitioning comes because of trauma within one's being. People seek to transition out of trauma. Is that correct?
Question 15: But what about those who have transitioned and have surgery and then regret it? What was going on there? Do you think young people should wait? Clearly you carried your dysphoria from childhood into adulthood and it never ceased, only became more traumatic, as it was ontological. But do you think such dysphoria can be transitory? Part of physiological/psychological development?
Question 16: You talk about the importance of a 'sensitive welcome' from churches being incredibly important. What should that welcome look like? And for those whose theology is more conservative - how do they truly welcome trans persons when there are theological differences? What would you suggest practically a conservative church like mine offers?
Question 17: Could you tell me how a local church can address a situation where a person transitions while (already) a member of your church, considering the situation of the church and, in particular, the issues if there are other family members involved.
Question 18: Three years ago liturgical suggestions were offered that employed baptism liturgy and a letter was sent to the Bishops asking for a revision of such, because baptism is a sacrament of initiation for salvation and many who signed that letter felt it was a misuse of the sacramental rite. What are your views on such liturgy for somebody who is transitioning?
Personal Exchanges: These are not part of the trans content, but give some insight to the way we related together, and sought grace and trust, even though we held different theological views. Trust is such a valuable dynamic when it comes to communication... and better understanding. I think we both gained from our interaction.
Basic Questions and Answers, not included in original discourse:
Question 19: Are all 'trans' people the same?
Question 20: Why do people want to transition?
Question 21: What do people mean by 'cisgender'?
Question 22: Is there a risk of restricting ideas of gender within stereotypes?
Question 23: What is the most common route for someone who decides they need to transition?
Question 24: Why is it critical to support people in the early stages of their transition?
Question 25: What is actually achieved by hormones?
Question 26: Can a transsexual woman get rid of facial hair, beard, and need to shave?
Question 27: What does genital surgery achieve?
Question 28: What are the concerns of transsexual people with regard to groups that seem to threaten their integrity and lives?
Question 29: What is the view of most people towards transsexual people??
Question 30: So which groups have put pressure on transsexual people?
Question 31: What about hospital wards?
Question 32: Isn't transition reckless, because people de-transition?
Question 33: How should young people exploring their identity be supported at school?
Question 34: What about puberty blockers for young people?
Question 35: What about trans people and sport?
Question 36: Should the rights and access for 'trans' people be defined and divided into categories, given that diverse groups fall under the trans umbrella? What about the contentious issue of self-certification?
Question 37: Is gender just a social construct? What is a 'woman'?
Question 38: Do all churches have the same views on trans issues and transitioning? What happens when Christians disagree?
Question 39: Why is church recognition and affirmation of the transition journey so precious?
Question 40: What are the challenges for a local church if it wants to help someone who is transitioning?
contact: Susannah Clark email: thecommunity (at) gmail (dot) com
If you have a partner who's a nurse, GP, or other healthcare professional, they might be interested in my paper on Cultural Competence and the Care of People who are Trans