I don’t actually know her but I met her father a long time ago, back when she was his son.
Nobody is born into the world hoping for a difficult life.
No kid growing up ever wants to be shunned, disowned by their own family.
She was though.
I’ve heard tell, though I don’t know how much is true and how much is rumor, that her father forbade her name to be spoken at corporate headquarters.
Having a transgender kid isn’t easy when you run a business that caters to the fundamentalist Christian marketplace. A market which barters in the Apocalypse and End Times theology. Trans people become part of those well-known too-common secrets of the faith community.
It’s the grown-up version of Let’s Pretend: Let’s pretend it’s just a phase. Let’s pretend he/she will grow out of this rebellion. Let’s pretend that when they really give their life over to Christ they will no longer be trans. Let’s pretend this is just an attack from Satan. Let’s pretend it has nothing to do with medical science. Let’s pretend a Christian kid could never grow up to be a transgender adult.
I thought about her while watching Senator Rand Paul lecture Dr. Rachel Levine during a Senate hearing regarding President Joe Biden’s nominee for assistant health secretary. Dr. Levine is a trans woman. Rand Paul intentionally compared genital mutilation, a human rights abuse, to trans kids seeking medical help.
Righteous indignation has a place in this world. Jesus expressed his on several different occasions, the most commonly cited incident was when he turned over the tables in the temple. Given the character of Christ, I imagine genital mutilation is something that might also rankle him.
For those unfamiliar with the term, female genital mutilation (FGM) is the crude circumcision of the female clitoris. Sometimes it entails complete removal of the clitoris. The World Health Organization notes that this procedure is usually performed on girls from infancy into their teens. An estimated 200 million girls and women have undergone this mutilation which has no health benefits but, tragically, is an accepted social norm among an estimated 30 countries, most notably in Africa and the Middle East. It’s often cited in these societies as a way to keep girls pure. One more way men claim control over the bodies of women.
But Rand Paul’s mock indignation wasn’t really about genital mutilation. And in no way did Senator Paul’s rantings reflect anything of Christ. There was nothing of God in the way that Rand Paul spoke to Dr. Levine, albeit he did provide a pretty good example of what it means to crucify someone in the public square. But then again, it wasn’t FGM that Rand Paul was railing against. Nope. That was just the rhetorical tool he was using in order to express his complete and utter disdain for trans people, Dr. Levine in particular:
“Dr. Levine, you have supported both allowing minors to be given hormone blockers to prevent them from going through puberty as well as surgical destruction of a minor’s genitalia. … Do you believe minors are capable of making such a life-changing decision as changing one’s sex?”
“You give a woman testosterone enough that she grows a beard, you think she’s going to go back looking like a woman when you stop the testosterone? You have permanently changed them.”
I am a writer, not a medical scientist. I could not delineate all the various medical processes a trans person endures. I have a friend from West Virginia, however, who is the mom of a trans kid. She detailed some of her family’s experiences in response to Senator Paul’s outright lies. The only mutilation her children ever endured, she noted, was an infant circumcision, adding, “But I doubt that’s what Senator Paul was talking about.” (Male circumcision is completely acceptable in American culture. It’s considered a health matter).
As an educator, I have taught trans students. I have interacted with their parents. And as a Believer, I attend church with a trans woman. She grew in the church we now both attend.
Do you want to know how the people who knew her when she was a young boy reacted to her transitioning? They loved her just as they did when she was a boy growing up in that church. During fellowship hour, they welcome her to the table. They laugh alongside her. They remark about her nails or her hair or compliment her on her heels. They scoot over in the pews and make room for her, inviting her to sit beside them. They sing hymns of praise with her. They recite the Lord’s prayer with her. They take communion with her. They may not understand what it means to be trans, but they understand what it means to love others fully.
By contrast, a classmate of my daughter’s, a boy I had in my home many times through their growing up years, came out as transgender a few years ago. At the time, he was a principal at the high school where I sometimes worked. Had she been allowed to continue in her job as principal she might have been Oregon’s first trans principal. But the community had a conniption fit when she began to transition, too many people reacted with the same self-righteous indignation that Senator Paul displayed at Dr. Levine’s hearing. Community members demanded the School Board take action. Mind you, her transitioning had nothing to do with her job performance as an educator. She ended up having to leave the community she loved. Her wife and kids stood beside her through it all. Today, she is working as an educator in a different city. In her case, the rejection came from the secular sector.
The faith community does not hold the world trade license to self-righteousness. This proclivity to think more highly of ourselves than we do others is universal among peoples of all religious persuasions and all branches of government. Self-righteousness is an infection of pandemic proportions. One only has to listen to Senator Rand Paul’s offensive grilling of Dr. Levine or to consider the ugly actions of Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene. Rep. Greene hung an anti-trans sign outside her office this week to mock another legislator, Rep. Marie Newman, whose daughter is trans. Greene claims to be a spokeswoman for God.
God, however, has not publicly endorsed Rep. Greene or her mocking of Rep. Newman, choosing instead to remain silent about the nature of their relationship. God has a long-standing tradition of speaking for his/herself.
I confess that I understand very little of the emotional, psychological, spiritual, or physical toil that goes into transitioning. But you don’t have to be trans to understand how frightening the journey must be at times. All that it takes is a little bit of empathy.
Something that Senator Paul and Rep. Greene seem to have lost the capacity for altogether.
Senator Paul and Rep. Greene seem to have overlooked the fact that God regards us all as Trans.
Transformed by redemptive, radical love.
How does that old saying go?
Walk a mile in my shoes before you criticize me and maybe you’ll see how strong I really am.
Isn’t that, after all, the summation of the Gospels?
Christ teaching us how to walk alongside others as we all head home.
There’s no evidence whatsoever that God gives two hoots whether we wear hiking boots or heels as we journey along.
Karen Spears Zacharias is author of Christian Bend: A Novel (Mercer University Press).