When the Transgender Comes Home

Josh Bishop has a really helpful article at The Gospel Coalition telling how he and his family responded to the revelation of his sister’s transgender identity. He writes:

Jessah is 19 years old, 12 years younger than I am. I was in the hospital when she was born. I spent my middle-school years changing her diapers. She beamed with pride and excitement when my then-fiancée Becca asked her to be a bridesmaid at our wedding, and during the ceremony she looked just as beautiful and twice as proud as the older girls. Becca offered advice when she was learning to put on makeup, when puberty arrived, when she first started noticing and crushing on boys.

Today, though, Jessah identifies as a man. “I am not female,” she declared in her coming out announcement. She is legally changing her name to Jace and plans to undergo hormone treatment therapy and gender reassignment surgery as soon as possible. In the meantime, she is presenting herself as a male.

What was once a distant and theoretical discussion—How do Christians respond to the transgender issue?—suddenly became immediate and practical. Abstract became concrete; impersonal, personal. This isn’t just the cover of Time magazine, it’s Christmas dinner. It’s e-mails and phone calls, weddings and funerals, kids’ birthday parties and Mother’s Day luncheons. This big question facing me and my wife is wrapped up in a hundred smaller questions:

Do we speak of my sister or my brother? Jessah or Jace? She or he? And what exactly is the Christian witness on gender issues, anyway? How do we affirm a biblical sexual ethic and our love for my sister at the same time? Even more difficult: How do we resolve the tensions between loving my sister on the one hand, and, on the other, training up our children in the way they should go?

This piece is very practical. Read it here.

15 Responses to When the Transgender Comes Home

  1. Don Johnson July 5, 2014 at 10:42 am #

    What I find sad is that Josh does not even consider the possibility that he might be interpreting Scripture incorrectly, even thought all the books of Scripture were written in far away places in far away times and cultures.

    Psa 104:5 He set the earth on its foundations, so that it should never be moved.

    When Galileo claimed that the earth actually did move around the sun, there were many possible responses, but to keep insisting that that “Scripture clearly says it, therefore it must be true” bypasses the possibility of the reader misinterpreting Scripture.

    • Karen Twenhafel July 5, 2014 at 5:49 pm #

      I disagree — He states that “from the get-go” this issue was out of his league. He discusses seeking counsel from his pastor and elder. He advises the reader to seek their own counsel. The author is employing his gift of discernment in a loving manner.

    • Denny Burk July 5, 2014 at 7:06 pm #

      Don, I’m not following your argument here. Are you suggesting that the gender binary of Genesis 1-2 (reaffirmed by Jesus in Matthew 19) is no longer valid?

      • Don Johnson July 5, 2014 at 10:28 pm #

        One faithful way to read early Gen is as functional creation, see John Walton’s books and videos on this, they are well worth reading/watching. This is one way I read these narratives. So the male and female (when fertile) can “be fruitful and multiply” in a functional sense of having kids.

        Jesus was a practicing Jew, so of course he accepted Torah including Genesis as Scripture. In Matt 19, he is debating with Pharisees and correcting seven misinterpretations of Torah by the Pharisees. One can find out what the Pharisees taught as it is recorded in the Jewish Mishnah, but at the time of Jesus it was not written down and was referred to by them as the Oral Torah and in the NT as the traditions of men (that sometimes negate Scripture). I find in Matt 19 the most concentrated example of Jesus repudiating teachings from the Oral Torah/Mishnah.

        The culture of thousands of years ago was very different than today, so there is no direct mention of transgender in Scripture that I can find. The closest ideas to me seem to be the barren woman and the eunuch. I see early Genesis referring to fertile humans and without such we would not be here. I am a (biological) father and am grateful I was fertile, but not everyone is, these need my compassion and support, they face challenges I do not face and so may not understand.

  2. bobbistowellbrown July 5, 2014 at 3:23 pm #

    Thanks you for posting this. The article was most helpful.

  3. Suzanne McCarthy July 5, 2014 at 7:46 pm #

    Homosexuality and transgenderism is not contagious but Josh has laid down the line. All family gatherings will either include Josh and his family OR Jace. He is breaking up the family, staying out of the circuit, or he is forcing others to exclude Jace. There is no love in this.

    • Daryl Little July 5, 2014 at 8:45 pm #

      As I read him, he is emphatically not forcing the family to exclude his sister. Rather, he is voluntarily excluding himself for the sake of his young children.
      Further, he could love his sister no better than to remain in loving contact while holding the line on sin.
      If he hated her he would go along with this and never call her to repentance.

  4. Suzanne McCarthy July 5, 2014 at 9:02 pm #

    It wasn’t clear to me except as an either/or. I suppose what he could be saying is that his own family would not be attending any larger family events where Jace was present. Still a form of shunning. Not really “loving contact.” Just calling something “loving” does not make it “loving.”

    Think about this concretely. Imagine a last Thanksgiving day together, Mom has cancer, a couple of months to live, all family gathered around, Jace is there, but Josh and his kids aren’t there. They will come the next day when everyone is gone so as not to contaminate the kids with Jace’s sin.

    I know all about this because I was not permitted by my husband to go to our family Thanksgiving dinner weeks before my mother died, because one of my relatives was living with her boyfriend. My mom died Nov. 21, 20 years ago. This is not love. This is grief.

    • Karen Twenhafel July 5, 2014 at 9:52 pm #

      I’m sorry that happened to you. I’m certain that it was, and is, painful. But I come to this from the other side. There was a time when, due to specific behaviors I was committing, my sibling chose to isolate me from their children. If you had asked me at the time if this shunning, as you put it, was a loving action toward me, I would have said, “No.” However, now I do see it as a loving action — toward their children. The kids were too young to deal with what was an adult issue. I, the adult, was forcing it. As their parent, my sibling had every right to shield their kids.

  5. Suzanne McCarthy July 6, 2014 at 8:20 am #

    It seems to me it would depend on the behaviour. You do not disclose. Fair enough.

  6. Paul Reed July 6, 2014 at 10:19 pm #

    Whenever you read something like this, you have to understand that something is going to have to give. There is no way that the author is going to be able to maintain a stance for Biblical/traditional ideas of gender and also be seen as loving toward his sibling. It’s one or the other. Not both. Anybody who tells you there’s a “third” way is either lying or delusional.

  7. Bridget Platt July 7, 2014 at 8:38 am #

    Paul, I don’t think it’s necessarily a matter of desiring to BE SEEN as loving as much as actually desiring TO BE loving. I think one can maintain a stance for Biblical ideas of gender and still be loving, even if it’s not seen as such,

    • Bob Wilson July 7, 2014 at 10:40 am #

      But Paul is right that at some point, you have to accept someone’s decision to follow their own path. How different is this from a sister’s decision to convert to another religion? Such conversions have torn many a family apart. At some point a person will say either you accept me as a Muslim, Jew, etc or say goodbye.

  8. Christiane Smith July 8, 2014 at 3:08 am #

    people are more than their ‘gender’,
    and Christ’s mercy is greater than the power of any sin

    might be good for some people to revisit the understanding of ‘caritas’ or ‘unselfish love’ and look past the perceived imperfections of the ‘other’ in order to see the human person . . .
    I guess it’s hard to do when you are so perfect that you can’t see anything BUT the sin of others . . .

    I don’t think any of us is that perfect. Maybe that’s why Our Lord could do it, and everyone wondered at this. 🙂

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