A few weeks ago Eerdmans Publishing asked me to write a blog post on the transgender bathroom debates. Since I find myself more and more in the cross-hairs of the culture war, this was no surprise. I wanted to share it here on my blog for you. Not surprisingly, it had generated a fair amount of push-back so I am adding a few more links to this post for context.
On FaceBook, I recently reposted what I found to be very helpful article outlining why these conversations are so difficult, the title: What is Gender Anyway? It is a longish summary of the fraught debate trying to untangle gender from sex from gender identity and sexual identity. Don't be put off by the length of the article. Trust me, its much shorter than my book, Sex Difference in Christian Theology: Male, Female, and Intersex in the Image of God, but it is a helpful introduction as to why these conversations are not going to be settled any time soon.
I have a dream that one day
my intersex, trans, and queer siblings
will be judged
not by their conformity to gender
by the content of their character
(and be able to pee in peace).
Not long ago Jonathan Merritt of the Religion News Service argued that Christians are going to lose transgender debates in much the same way as losing the fight against equal marriage. Why? Merritt gives three reasons:
1) a focus on ideology rather than people: “God’s law” or “historic institutions” vs. “real transgender people with real struggles who experience real oppression.”
2) proof-texting the Bible while ignoring science: Beginning and ending the conversation with Genesis 1:27 “male and female [God] created them” while ignoring scientific evidence for those born in-between male and female—in particular, intersex people or people with Differences of Sex Development (DSDs) for whom we have evidence in the Bible and Christian history.
3) relying of fear rather than facts: Raising concerns over the endangerment of women and children while ignoring statistics showing no increase in risk toward women and girls in public bathrooms. In Massachusetts, where I live, schools have been making accommodations for transgender kids since 2013 and according to this news source: "In the years since , the Massachusetts Family Institute has not recorded any instances of what it calls 'transgender bathroom abuse' in K-12 schools, either here in Massachusetts or elsewhere around the country."
Meanwhile, there is ample evidence of the danger of harassment and assault which transgender people face, health complications from efforts by trans people NOT to use bathrooms in public, and an increase in suicide ideation and attempts in the wake of bathroom bills like North Carolina's HB2.
Of course, some counter that the danger is not from transwomen but from straight men and boys pretending to be transgender so as to gain access to women and girls in bathrooms and locker rooms. So, while women and girls may not be endangered by transwomen, they are put at risk because allowing transwomen into bathrooms will also allow male predators easier access to these public spaces. At least, in this argument we are getting closer to addressing what is true—the real problem is predatory men.
As a petite woman and mother of girls I certainly understand the fear of sexual assault. Statistics show that 1 in 5 girls/women are sexually harassed/assaulted during their lifetime (1 in 20 boys are also victims of sexual abuse). There is real and present danger in simply being female (or a boy—often for perceived effeminacy). Still, I (and others) have been quick to counter that the statistics are much more dire for transgender people (64-65% report experiencing physical or sexual violence and 57-70% report experiencing discrimination and/or victimization by law enforcement).
We must not pay for the safety of one group by endangering another.
Bathroom bills endanger transgender people, intersex people, and gender non-conforming people. They do not seem like the kinds of laws Jesus would vote for.
Why do I think this?
Because Jesus acknowledged male and female as well as people born in-between: “naturally born eunuchs” or “eunuchs from birth” (Matthew 19:12). I don't think he would be willing to sacrifice the safety of the latter for the former.
Because when Philip preached to the Ethiopian eunuch he was concerned with the state of his heart not the presence, absence, wholeness, or mutilation of his genitalia. Because our eunuch, transgender, intersex, and queer siblings deserves a safe bathrooms.
I have a dream that one day
all of us,
intersex, trans, queer, and cis-gender people,
will be judged not by our conformity to gender
but by the content of our character
and that we will all be able to pee in peace.