A group of people from the church show up on your doorstep, and when you invite them in they proceed to tell you that because you are transgender you are going to Hell. A brother or sister in the church calls you up to share what “the Lord has shown” him or her about your situation and how you need to change your ways or else. Someone hands you a brochure from the local ex-gay ministry as you walk out of church on Sunday morning.
For many of us these are all too common scenarios. They cause great pain and unwarranted feelings of guilt and shame. They make us avoid the fellowship of other Christians or turn our backs on church and, sadly, sometimes on God. Frequently, once the pain has subsided we experience anger and resentment toward the people involved and use words like hatemongers and bigots to describe the people involved.
They have crucified us and we want to strike back. However, we need to remember another who was falsely accused, misunderstood, and crucified. In his dying hours he spoke words which have such a ring of truth for transsexuals as well as others when he said, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
When we look at these hurtful situations, we often ask how can I forgive the way Jesus did? The answer lies in the words, “for they know not what they do.” These are not people who have evil intent involved. And, while that does not ease the pain, it can relieve the anger. Very often, their unkind words and actions actually flow from a misguided concern for you.
Remember, that for the most part, they really do want the best for you. Now, their idea of the best may not actually be the best. But to impute evil motives to someone who has none is unfair. It’s easy to label someone a bigot or homophobe because they honestly and truly believe that what we are doing is endangering our soul salvation because we know it is not and we assume that they should know so as well.
Why should they, though. Sure we have studied all the Bible passages and the various translations and exegeses of the scriptures, the historical background etc. But we had a vested interest in understanding these scriptures. Being transgender is a core part of my life, but for most people it is an interesting or disturbing oddity and nothing more. So, they have a legitimate ignorance and that ignorance is compounded by media representations of us in both the secular and the Christian media.
They also don’t know how much it hurts to be transgender. How could they? They have lived their whole lives congruent between physical sex and internal gender identity. They cannot know how it tears us apart to live most of our lives caught in a twilight zone between the genders in which the body and spirit do not match. They don’t know that most of us would give anything NOT to be transgender. They don’t know how many hours many of us have spent on our knees sincerely praying for God to remove this affliction. They don’t know the relief that comes when you realize that there is a way to bring congruency between body and spirit and the joy which follows achieving that congruency. They don’t know how long we have battled shame and low self-esteem and what for them is simple concern is for us another “confirmation” of our own self-loathing of the present or previous time in our lives.
People also don’t realize that being transgender is not a matter of sexual promiscuity. They don’t even understand that it isn’t about sex (i.e. the sex act) at all but about gender identity. Certainly, there are those within our community who are promiscuous, just as there are those among non-transgender folk who are. But many of us remain celibate until after we marry and then remain faithful to our spouses. Others of us have chosen to remain celibate for personal or ministry reasons. In fact, some studies indicate that celibacy is a bit higher among transgender individuals than the general population.
Our challenge in dealing the offenses of ignorance is two-fold. The first is to forgive, to set aside the offense understanding that it flows not from hatred, but from love, not from bigotry, but from ignorance. We need to restrain our natural tendency to become angry with the person (or sometimes with ourselves). Anger will not change ignorance. Which brings us to the second part of dealing with offenses of ignorance – Patient Instruction through a Godly Lifestyle. I would like to say that you can go to my web page and click on a link and print out a document which once memorized would have all the right words to say to educate others in a few minutes and immediately they will cease thinking you are going to hell. I’m sorry that I cannot say that. The process of education is longer and more difficult than that. Yes, on my web site and on others such as the Grace and Lace site and the Whosoever site, you will find Biblical exegeses which can be helpful in explaining the Biblical aspects of this issue. But the best apologetic of all is your life. How do you respond when criticized for being transgender? How do you react when people are not ignorant, but cruel? How do you conduct yourself in your business dealings? How are you involved in your local church? Do you take brownies to the bake sale, help out on work days, attend regularly, support the church financially, engage in ministry activities, pray for others including those who have opposed you? Do, you love unconditionally those who have hurt you both intentionally and unintentionally? Do you forgive?
There’s a little acronym making the rounds of the church world I like. It goes WWJD – what would Jesus do? Well, we don’t have to guess about this one. When people have crucified us on a cross of ignorance, we have the words echoing down the centuries from another cross. What we need to do is sincerely pray for them: “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”
A retired college instructor, Terri Lynn Main holds a masters in psychology and has provided counseling for scores of transgender individuals. For eight years she directed an online ministry to Christian transsexuals called Emergence Ministries. She has written more than 20 transgender-themed short stories. She currently lives in Reedley, Calif., with her four cats. She continues to write, publish and teach online courses.