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Well, maybe not that momentous, but it was the week in which 4thought.tv on Channel 4 broadcast seven people’s responses to the question ‘is it wrong to change gender?’ It sounds a lot of airtime, but given that each programme is less than 2 minutes long, altogether it didn’t even amount to a quarter of an hour! But with clever editing – and the 4thought.tv team are brilliant at their job – a few good points and a fair amount of impact can be made in one minute and fifty or so seconds.
But what did it amount to in terms of the actual question?
Five of the speakers – four of whom had transitioned, or were in the process of doing so – couldn’t see a theological problem with gender transition for the following reasons: gender variance is present and celebrated in the Bible; Christians seem to be misusing God’s name to stigmatise Trans people, or to denounce as a sin something they don’t really understand; and hang ups about gender are very much a Western problem. Two of us, Delia Johnston, who was broadcast tonight, and I, had found that the Church’s pastoral care of Trans people can be poor at times and that some Christian leaders still have a lot of learning to do on this one.
The remaining two speakers felt that changing gender was wrong for them.
One had found support for his decision not to transition in the binary/complimentary understanding of gender that he claimed could be found in the Bible, but, surprisingly, he didn’t push the argument, though he has done so elsewhere.
Indeed, as the leading figure in Parakaleo, a ministry that seeks ‘to uphold biblical values to the transvestite, transsexual and transgendered person’ he is normally extremely forthright in stating that gender transition is wrong. Though not on the scale of Christian ex-gay programmes, Parakaleo is caught in that bind, and people need to aware of that; but on 4thought the tone was reasonable, and I for one appreciated what was said about spouses – a huge ethical area that was not developed by any of the speakers (but then again we did only have a couple of minutes!)
The other ‘changing gender is wrong’ speaker was much more ready to generalise from his, largely negative, experience. He had transitioned, regretted it, and changed back again. Others, he speculated probably had regrets as well, but were too frightened to say so, and therefore the process should be better screened. However, there is no evidence to support this argument – quite the reverse (if you’ll forgive the metaphor).
There has been passion in some of these contributions, but on the whole the atmosphere has been calm and reflective, which is the usual hallmark of this format. Sparks would have begun to fly very quickly, I’m sure, if we’d been assembled together for a studio discussion, and perhaps it’s just as well that we were not, because, overall, one had the impression that this is almost a non-issue, certainly from a religious point of view – except for the detrimental effect of certain ‘strongly held religious opinions’ and the lack, sometimes, of proper pastoral care. Relationship dilemmas, on the other hand – like the one Delia highlighted tonight – still remain for Trans people and their significant others to work through.