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Father Knows Best: A body at odds with your gender

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By Martin Elfert

Hey Rev!

Does God sometimes make mistakes in regards to what gender we are born?

Chris

Dear Chris:

There are two – or maybe even three – really big questions in the single sentence that you’ve sent my way.

The first question has to do with God’s role or responsibility when things happen in our lives that are hard or unwelcome or unfair. Where is God, for instance, when a person whom we love rejects us, when we face injury or limitation, when someone harms a child on purpose, when humanity ignores its calling to care for creation, when a good person sustains the kind of illness or injury that you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy?

And when these things do happen, is that evidence that God is passive, or cruel, or indifferent, or absent, or mistaken, or so far beyond our understanding that God’s actions cannot and will not make sense to us? This area of searching is what theologians variously call theodicy (from the Greek theos for “god” and dikē for “justice”) or the problem of evil. Theodicy focuses on the reality that there is suffering and injustice and yet, as people of faith, we maintain our fidelity to God. It is the subject of a whole lot of books, a whole lot of debate, and a whole lot of prayer. It is the very question that Jesus names on the cross:

My God, my God: Why have you forsaken me?

We could express Jesus’ aching words another way:

Where are you, God? And why aren’t you doing your job?

This is a question with which you and I are called to wrestle across our lives. And it is a question to which, during our sojourn on this earth, you and I will never entirely learn the answer.

Your second question, Chris, is one that I can answer unequivocally. Maybe we could paraphrase it this way: “Does the list of hard or unwelcome or unfair things that happen in the life include some people being born into a body that is incompatible with their gender?”

And the answer to that question is: Yes.

Yes, being born into a body that is at odds with your gender, a body that makes puberty into a betrayal, is something that happens.

There are some pretty cool resources out there to learn about gender and about the experiences of transgender folk. I’m a fan of Mel Reiff Hill and Jay Mays’ beautifully written and illustrated “The Gender Book.” My friend Jenny, who often helps bring clarity to this column, recommends Cordelia Fine’s exploration of the neuropsychology of gender, “Delusions of Gender.” And having some time with a transgender educator – with someone who will give you permission to ask questions that would probably be inappropriate or clueless or just plain rude if you were to ask them of someone outside of an educational context – is invaluable. (A transgender educator, for instance, will explain that the issue around access to public bathrooms has nothing to do with ogling women and everything to do with being able to go pee without fearing violence.) The internet is your friend here: plug “transgender” into Google and start learning.

Now a bunch of paragraphs ago, Chris, I suggested that there might be a third big question in the 16 words that you’ve sent my way. That’s because my guess is that your question isn’t an abstraction. My guess is that this question concerns you directly: maybe you are asking about someone whom you love; maybe you are asking about yourself. I’m guessing that your third question goes something like this:

Am I a mistake?

The answer to that one is also unequivocal:

No.

No. You are not a mistake. The trans people whom you love are not mistakes.

You are infinitely and unreservedly loved by God just the way that you are. While you have a whole lot to deal with, while having a body that doesn’t look or work the way that you want or need is really hard, nothing about you is an error.

God shares with you in everything that you experience, God stands in solidarity with you in suffering and jubilation and searching alike. And the promise of the Gospel is that God will redeem everything that you experience – all of it – into freedom and into joy.

Martin Elfert

About Martin Elfert

The Rev. Martin Elfert is an immigrant to the Christian faith. After the birth of his first child, he began to wonder about the ways in which God was at work in his life and in the world. In response to this wondering, he joined Christ Church Cathedral in Vancouver, British Columbia, where he and his new son were baptized at the Easter Vigil in 2005 and where the community encouraged him to seek ordination. Martin served on the staff of the Episcopal Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist in Spokane, Wash. from 2011-2015. He is now the rector of Grace Memorial Episcopal Church in Portland, Oreg.

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Response to Massey’s column: Transgender people aren’t the ones who need to repent

The his recent column in the Spokesman-Review Steve Massey wrote about people who are transgender as though they are simply imaginative wayward children seeking to change reality to their will, instead of human beings with the right and dignity to decide how they want to live; deserving of respect of their freedom and choice.

  • Oh, Martin. Thank you! Thank God for you! With tears in my eyes, I cannot thank you enough for speaking this truth so lovingly and compassionately. Our transgender siblings need to hear this truth over and over. From one affirming pastor to another, you hit this one out if the park. ❤️

    • martinelfert

      Aw, shucks! Thanks Jan!

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