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Being Transgender Is Not a Sin: What Christians Must Learn from Leelah Alcorn’s Tragic Death

PHOTO: Leelah Alcorn posted this photo on Tumblr with this caption: "I don't take many selfies because I hate how I look as a boy and I rarely get a chance to dress as a girl, so I'm only posting 5, but this year was a big year for me.

PHOTO: Leelah Alcorn posted this photo on Tumblr with this caption: “I don’t take many selfies because I hate how I look as a boy and I rarely get a chance to dress as a girl, so I’m only posting 5, but this year was a big year for me.” Source: Lazerprincess

 

On Tuesday night, we took our youngest son to see a movie. We drove home along the stretch of interstate where it eventually became clear that a young woman had committed suicide early Sunday morning, just two days prior. I couldn’t stop thinking about how dark and desperate one’s despair must be to drive you to actually step out in front of a tractor-trailer on purpose.

Within hours, her death was connected to a suicide note posted on tumblr, in which she wrote out exactly what kind of despair drove her to end her life.

Leelah Alcorn is transgender. She was born with a male body and named Joshua by her parents. But her suicide note states that since age 4, she’s known she was a girl inside.

Her parents are understandably reluctant to speak publicly. After all, they are grieving the death of their child. However, Leelah’s mother Carla did speak briefly to CNN on Wednesday and confirmed some of what Leelah wrote in her suicide note.

Carla said, “We don’t support that [transgender], religiously. But we told him that we loved him unconditionally. We loved him no matter what. I loved my son. People need to know that I loved him. He was a good kid, a good boy.”

We don’t support that religiously.

The Alcorns are among those Christians who don’t believe that transgender exists as a legitimate identity. From Leelah’s note, it appears that her parents did their best to shut down her insistence that she is not a he, including forcing her to attend “conversion therapy” (also known as “reparative therapy”).

I have seen and heard this adamant refusal to admit the existence of transgender, intersex, and asexual individuals. It’s right up there with a refusal to recognize homosexuality as anything other than a sinful and perverted sexual choice.

Why? Why can’t Christians wrap their heads around the idea that a person could be born into a body that doesn’t reflect who they really are on the inside?

Conservative Christians teach that when Adam and Eve disobeyed God, sin entered the world and broke things. This is how they explain the origin of birth defects, natural disasters, cancers, and the inability to live a perfectly righteous life – violence, lying, stealing, promiscuity, etc. They say we’re born with a preference for sinful living, but we’re also born into bodies prone to disease and a world bent on self destruction.

This leaves a few possibilities when we consider sexuality and gender identity. But for some reason, conservative Christian churches consistently categorize non-straight sexual behavior and gender identity as a sinful choice.

If this is where you land, please hear me out. I’m treading carefully because this is such a delicate subject and it gets at the heart of who people are.

First, we must agree that transgender is a real thing. It isn’t “all in their heads.”

Second, I want you to consider the possibility that being transgender, in which one doesn’t identify with the gender assigned them at birth (aka the moment when the doctor exclaims “It’s a girl” or “It’s a boy”), could possibly be a part of living in a broken world with bodies that don’t cooperate with oneself.

This isn’t the perfect solution, but hear me out for a minute.

Consider the baby born with heart defects or the child diagnosed with autism. We easily recognize these as manifestations of living in a broken world (though you can find strains of Christianity that do blame every illness, injury, defect, and bad thing that happens on sin or lack of faith).

Can you imagine having a doctor tell you that your child has cerebral palsy or Asperger’s or Down’s Syndrome and responding, “We don’t support that religiously”? At best, it’s flat-out denial of a physical reality. At worst, it’s tantamount to saying it’s your child’s fault. Something didn’t work right during the child’s development from fertilized egg to embryo to fetus to newborn.

Jesus himself said that birth defects aren’t caused by someone’s sin. His disciples pointed out a man born blind and asked Jesus who sinned, the man or his parents, to cause his blindness. Jesus told them no one sinned.

In a perfect world, people would never be born in the wrong body or in a body that doesn’t cooperate, but this isn’t a perfect world.

Now, here’s where this analogy starts to fall apart. In an earlier draft of this post, I wrote, “Being born with a physical gender that doesn’t match who you are inside is no different than being born with heart defects. Transgender isn’t a sin, nor is it a choice, nor is it fake. It’s one more example of the brokenness in this world that we all have to live with in one form or another.

But I reached out to a group of friends who include Christians who identify as other than heterosexual and/or cisgender for feedback on this post. They pointed out that this still states that being transgender means you’re defective. While it’s an improvement over saying that transgender is fake or that it’s a sin, they told me it is still damaging.

I have a lot to learn. I know that many transgender individuals wish to or choose to “transition” so that their physical body matches their inner reality. To me, that sounds like someone who would say that their body didn’t match their selves and they wanted it to. Maybe the word anomaly or defect or “product of the fall” isn’t the right way to describe it, but having our insides match our outsides matters to many of us. Others insist that just as we find incredible and beautiful variation in nature, the variations in gender and sexuality among humans are similarly natural/normal/acceptable. Maybe those who choose to transition wouldn’t feel the need if we accepted transgender as another variation of normal. I don’t know. Maybe the difference in perspective is part of the beautiful variety within human beings.

Christians, we must deepen and better inform our understanding of gender identity. We’re killing people with our ignorance, our belligerence, and our refusal to educate ourselves. Leelah’s story is a tragic example of how utterly we can destroy a fellow human being when we get this wrong.

Here are a couple of resources recommended to me:

You can do something else, too. Sign the petition to enact Leelah’s Law to ban transgender conversion therapy.

Raising Global Children from a Home in the Suburbs (Giveaway!)

One of my goals as a parent is to raise global children. So far, we have had only one opportunity to take our kids outside of the United States. Visiting Canada was fun, but we would like them to see and hear and taste cultures and languages and foods that are vastly different from North America.

In lieu of taking them ourselves, we’ve chosen to expose them to the world out there through stories, television, and movies. Two of our favorite shows to watch as a family are Survivor (where contestants compete in remote areas or islands in other countries) and The Amazing Race. One of my friends recommended The Amazing Race because of how well the show covers the cultures and customs of the countries each team visits during the course of the race. It isn’t touristy at all.

The Good Lie DVD + Blu RayLast Friday for our family movie night, we watched a movie just released on Blu-ray and DVD December 23. The Good Lie is directed by Ron Howard and tells the survival story of a group of children orphaned during one of the many civil conflicts in Sudan in the 80s.

It’s breathtaking and heartbreaking. It really brings to life the way we never know what battles others are fighting. These children watched their parents die at the hands of soldiers, walked hundreds of miles to find safety, and lost siblings and friends on that long journey. Finally, they received asylum in the United States.

Their transition to life in Kansas City shows just how clueless we are here in the Global North about how people live in other parts of the world. We take so much for granted. Our ignorance and lack of appreciation often comes across as rude, thoughtless, inhospitable, and callous.

THE GOOD LIE

Watching this movie was very moving for me personally. But watching it with my kids and seeing them grapple with the themes was even better. Even my youngest, who usually loses interest in movies after awhile, was thoroughly engaged and connected with the story and the people. We’ve talked about it since that night, we found Sudan and Ethiopia and Kenya on our world map and tried to wrap our minds around walking nearly 1000 miles without shoes.

I highly recommend the movie for many reasons. It’s very well-made, it’s based on a true story, the actors who play the Sudanese children are from Sudan, and it’s a very important insight into our own culture as well as that of others. I think we could use a little opening of our eyes and exposure to the experiences of others around the world.

Giveaway

I have a copy of the movie on DVD and Blu-ray that I get to give away to one of you! Please leave a comment sharing what you are doing to understand the world outside our nation’s borders and/or to help your kids or others you influence to do the same. I will select a commenter at random at 10pm eastern time on Friday as my winner, and I’ll email you to find out where to send your prize. Or, if you don’t want to wait, order your copy here.

Wishing you and yours true peace on earth this Christmas Eve.

Mary the Mother of Jesus In a Wheelchair

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One year for our little church’s Christmas pageant, I cast Elli as Mary.

After all, Mary doesn’t say anything the night of Jesus’ birth in any of the stories. So it didn’t matter that Elli couldn’t speak or sing. We draped her in blue fabric (why is Mary always wearing blue?), pinned a head covering on, and wheeled her up to the platform among the 3-year-old angels with their wire wings and garland head pieces, the shepherds in their terrycloth robes, and the wandering cow and donkey wearing sweats with felt patches, ears, and tails. I set the brakes on her wheelchair behind the little manger with its baby doll Jesus.

Read the whole story on A Deeper Story.