When talking with a transgender person, which pronoun should you use?

Pastor J.D. discusses transgenderism, gender ambiguity, and the concept of pronoun hospitality.

A glimpse inside this episode:

Old maxim: Behind every question is a questioner.

  • When I hear a question like this, I immediately imagine the sort of person asking it. Sometimes it may be someone trying to pick a fight.
  • But behind those who identify as transgender, that experience is invariably a person filled with confusion, pain, and rejection.
  • Sadly, the church has often failed to be the sanctuary of the hurting for people in the LGBTQ community. We need to acknowledge that and repent of it.
  • Behind every case of ssa or gender dysphoria is a question about unanswered prayer.

Before we talk about trans pronouns, I think it may be helpful to talk a little bit about transgenderism more broadly.

    • Two excellent books (that far excel my own knowledge here):
  • Ryan Anderson, When Harry Became Sally: Responding to the Transgender Moment
        • He deals with these questions (about sex vs. gender, pronoun usage, etc) in a very straightforward while (usually) grace-filled way.
      • Andrew Walker, God and the Transgender Debate.
  • 1. What determines your gender? Anatomy? Identity? 
      • The real answer is genetics: However things look on the outside, sex (male/female) is hardwired into our DNA. But since the external manifestations of sex do not always cohere with the genetics, scientists use the helpful phrase, “genetic sex.” This refers to whether a person has XY or XX chromosomes. Genetic sex is established at conception, and is a binary. Despite advances in medical technology, there is still no way of altering this, as it is a part of our DNA. No matter what sexual reassignment surgeries people undergo, or what hormonal supplements they take, they will always have the genetic sex they did at conception.
      • There are periodic mutations in which individuals get other unconventional combinations (besides XX or XY), the most common of which is XXY. (This is called Klinefelter syndrome.) But even though this is the most common genetic sex disorder, it only occurs in about 1 in 1,000 men—and most of them never manifest symptoms. If they do manifest symptoms, it is usually via infertility.
      • All told, when it comes to genetic sex, at the DNA level, there really is just male and female.
  • QUESTION 2. What about ambiguous Genitalia and the “Intersexual”
    • Now, when it comes to external anatomy, the situation is slightly different. Sometimes a genetically female child will have an enlarged clitoris (resembling a penis), or a genetically male child will lack one (or both) testicles. In most of these cases, the abnormality is minor and can be corrected surgically. This is sometimes referred to as “ambiguous genitalia,” though some people with this condition prefer the title “intersexual.”
    • Again, the numbers here are very small. Only 1 in 1,000 babies undergoes corrective surgery for genitalia abnormalities. Not all cases of ambiguous genitalia require corrective surgery, of course, so the number of instances may be higher—though only slightly so.
    • But here’s the important thing to note here: those who identify as transgender are nearly always not those with abnormalities in genetic and anatomical sex. Even the “Intersex Society of North America” admits that transgendered people “have an internal experience of gender identity that is different from most people,” not an identity based on their ambiguous anatomical makeup.
    • It’s not found by looking within. Our hearts are inclined to be deceitful, not trustworthy (cf. Jeremiah 17:9). And as Tim Keller has shown in his recent book, Making Sense of God, the more we look within for our identity, the more we get confused, toggling between elation and despair.
    • Our identity is formed by our Creator. We are who he has declared us to be.

QUESTION 3: OK, the pronoun question…

Andrew Walker, God and the Transgender Debate

  • Christians disagree—hopefully charitably—about pronoun usage. Some think that as a personal courtesy, you should refer to a transgender person by their preferred pronoun. … Others think that it is wrong to inject further confusion into a person’s situation by referring to them with a pronoun that is not aligned with their biological sex.”
    • In other words, there is a spectrum of generosity of spirit vs. telling truth
  • I tend toward generosity of spirit.
    • Andrew Walker: “My own position is that if a transgender person comes to your church, it is fine to refer to them by their preferred pronoun. .. If and when this person desires greater involvement or membership in the church, a church leader will need to meet with them and talk about how they identify. … The best solution is to avoid pronouns altogether if possible. Calling a person by their legal name or preferred name is more acceptable because names are not objectively gendered, but change from culture to culture.”
    • Best if you use the proper name over and over, even if it means it sounds weird

Preston Sprinkle, who heads up The Center for Faith, Sexuality, and Gender, has a similar approach:

  • He calls it “pronoun hospitality.” 
  • The Bible appears to use accommodating language. ACTS 17. We know there is only one God.
  • You might find a correlation in “wives” in polygamous society / to a divorced man: “your adulteress”
  • I wouldn’t invest too much into language–”oh, I am lying” You can be clear in other ways.
  • “I’ll argue in this paper that the most biblical response to transgender people’s pronouns is a posture of unequivocal pronoun hospitality.”
  • That is, I believe that all Christians can and should use pronouns that reflect the expressed gender identities of transgender people, regardless of our views about gender identity ethics. If a person identifies herself to you as ‘she,’ I hope you will consider it an act of Christ-like love to call her ‘she’ out of respect, whether or not you believe that the way she expresses her gender identity is honoring to God” (11.1).
  • “What does it look like for people who think differently about gender identity ethics to speak truthfully and effectively about one another? This paper considers the common reasons given by Christian conservatives for rejecting the idea of pronoun hospitality, then challenges two assumptions about the nature of language that such arguments make and lays out an affirmative case for pronoun hospitality based in a robust understanding of how language works” (11.1).
    • “Christian arguments against pronoun accommodation—that is, using the pronouns with which trans people identify—are generally rooted in the importance of truth-telling. According to this view of language, the purpose of a pronoun is to make a statement about a person’s appointed sex” (11.4).
    • “Whereas [the truth-telling position] emphasizes the importance of truthfulness for the sake of personal integrity before God, Andrew Walker’s position focuses primarily on how his truthfulness will impact others who are listening to his words” (11.5).
  • “The arguments against pronoun accommodation summarized above all rely on two important assumptions about the nature of language. These assumptions are all the more powerful because they remain unstated:
    • Assumption #1: Pronoun gender always and only refers to an individual’s appointed sex.
    • Assumption #2: When our definitions of words differ from other people’s definitions, ‘telling the truth’ means using our own definitions” (11.6).
  • “When we apply Paul’s linguistic approach to the pronouns we use about transgender people, I believe we arrive at a posture of pronoun hospitality: a willingness to accommodate the pronouns of our transgender neighbors regardless of our own views about the Christian ethics of gender identity” (11.10).
  • Based off of Acts 17
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