My introduction to ‘transgender’ ideas took place in 1974, when I sat watching David Bowie on ‘GTK’ on our TV. My first album was The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. It’s still one of my go to and favourite albums to this day! But it was the appearance of Bowie that messed with my head. It was hard for me as a 12 year old to look at this man. Was he man or was he woman? What did it mean to be somewhere in between? I felt uncomfortable with the image, but I loved the music. It wasn’t really transgender, but it made me feel that something was askew.
And there was Lou Reed with his mascara, high heels, stockings and the seedy haunting lyrics of Take a Walk on the Wide Side with Holly, Candy, Little Joe and the others. Like most people, I sang along: ‘Doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo…’ Impossible not to, really! ‘Hey, babe, take a walk on the wild side’. I find myself singing along today when I hear this song. Why would I be singing along to a song about transvestite prostitution? A disturbing fact of music is that it sticks in your head, even when the lyrics might be distasteful. (Just ask any parent or grandparent who has heard the Baby Shark song—don’t kill me for mentioning it.) Why would I be singing along to a song about transvestite prostitution?
Back then such images were brash, confronting, distasteful (to me), and yet sometimes curious and seductive. Fast forward to 2018. Transgender is a big thing. It’s become a growing cultural and political avalanche. People don’t fit in their own skin. Growing numbers of people transitioning. Isolation and oppression. Arguments over pronouns. Debates over the rights of children, parents, teachers, doctors, governments. Identity politics. Cries for freedom. Chaos in sport. Confusion over toilets. Parents out of their depth. Fears of speaking up. Religious oppression. Male/female/other/custom forms. What does the future hold?
Transgender: A Talking Points Book by Vaughan Roberts is a users guide to transgender from the perspective of an intelligent, sympathetic, well-researched Christian writer. The Talking Points series of books is particularly designed to encourage Christians to understand today’s big issues with a view to encouraging meaningful, gracious, and intelligent discussion on a range of ethical matters. Tim Thornborough, the series editor, writes:
The world is changing. Fast.
And not just about politics, technology, and communication, but our whole culture, morality and attitudes. Christians living in a Western culture have enjoyed the benefits of being in a world which largely shared our assumptions about what is fundamentally right and wrong. We can no longer assume that this is the case. (p7)
Roberts suggests that there are two common responses to the issue of transgender: ‘an unquestioning “Yuk!” and an unquestioning “Yes!” (p18) He warns us to avoid both superficial responses and work to understand people and what’s going on for them. The first point of understanding for many of us, is to understand the language, terms, and ideas that are being used. He quotes from the Stonewall website to explain terms such as trans, cis, gender dysphoria, gender identity, transitioning, and more.
Our post-modern, post-Christian world has elevated subjectivism and the rights of people to define themselves, rather than be defined by others. This is certainly the spirit of our age and an undergirding conviction for those who define themselves not by the gender they were born with, or ‘assigned’ at birth, or the composition of their chromosomes, but how they feel inside. Facebook has gone with this view of individual personal autonomy, and now offers over 70 gender options for people to express their ‘authentic’ self. Huge debates rage over how to respond to gender dysphoria, especially in children and adolescents. Should puberty-suspending hormone treatment be provided to pre-adolescent children experiencing gender dysphoria? What if such dysphoria swings, changes, or disappears over the years that follow? Does a child have the right to seek such treatment against parental wishes? Does the education department, medical system, or another state body have the right to override parental permission? Such questions are highly charged, politicised, and deeply distressing to many. How are we to think through and decide on these things?
Transgender offers a Christian perspective on human identity, where it comes from, how it has been damaged, and some of the implications for human struggle and human flourishing. Roberts engages well with the teaching of the Bible and the implications of creation, fall, and regeneration. His book offers a framework for careful reflection on the matters of gender confusion: who I am, how I am, and what I can be?
I recommend this book for all Christians who desire to be better informed and equipped to understand people and society, who want to be able to engage on passionate matters without coming across as bigoted, unkind, or even hateful. It’s a helpful book for those who aren’t Christian, but want an insight into how Christians might be grappling with these matters. This book should be read by parents whose children are facing a world far more confusing than the one they grew up in. And this book is also designed to be read with others, and discussed together. If you are part of book club, then when your turn comes around, why not suggest a Talking Points Book, such as Transgender. You could read it one week and discuss it the next, and the next, and likely the next.
4 thoughts on “Transgender”
Hi David. Acc to an article in today’s Sydney Morning Herald, it may be genetic. https://www.smh.com.au/national/scientists-find-dna-clues-to-gender-identity-in-transwoman-database-20181002-p507cj.html They say that 1% of people are transgender. I understand that is grossly inflated, and closer to the number who are same-sex attracted, which may be as high as 3% but definitely not the popular 10% figure. David McKay
Sent from my iPad
The SMH article highlights the importance of a conversation in society to better understand one another. I think this book will help with such conversation.
I was born in 1948 with Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome, and have female internal organs, but back then we had no diagnostic imaging, and so I was mis-gendered as male. I knew at age 2 that I was wired wrong, and my family stood behind me. I had surgery at age 27 with SRS (vaginoplasty). I did not tell anyone, and I’ve met many of us along the way who are very quiet about this. It’s a privacy issue, and I continue to believe that it’s my business and no one else’s. Why must I wear a sign?
David, maybe that’s why you’re saying 1%. The truth is that you’ve met us many times, as the check-out girl at your local market, as the woman who cleans your teeth, as the man who sold you insurance . . . trans-men and -women are an increasingly large part of the society in which we live, and how we accept them is a barometer of how we will by judged by the future. The kids are our most important resource, and I cannot stress enough: be a good role model. We fight for freedom for our children. At least I do.
Many or most of us “pass” in society very well, and do not look or sound anything like our famous “spokes-people” on television and internet. That is the media’s idea of us, but in reality, even our neighbors will never know unless we tell them, which is ALWAYS a bad idea.
We are seeing increased numbers of autism and transsexuality (as opposed to fetish-based variance such as cross-dressing) among our children. The “popular” number of 10% is simply an admission that we cannot count who we cannot identify as “trans”, and no one can predict the future. No matter how many there are, we must learn to accept all people of all stripe, as long as they’re decent, law-abiding people.
Let’s remember that this is about our children and the future of our world. Continuous war does not work. They will know how to fix what we cannot.
Thank you for the article.
Jessica, thank you for your openness in sharing this. You remind me that there is so much I don’t know as I seek to understand what people go through in grappling with issues of personal identity.