Tuesday, June 2, 2015


Yesterday, we all watched Caitlyn Jenner emerge on the cover of Vanity Fair. As I was scrolling through my Instagram feed, my eyes glossed over the picture at first. Probably like many of you, my first thought was, "Man, she has great hair." And then, "OH MY HEAVENS. THAT'S BRUCE JENNER."

I've been following the story since the tabloids first leaked pictures of Bruce's extraordinarily long fingernails and rumored trachea shaving. The recent Diane Sawyer interview and E! special certainly brought the issues into focus, but there was something about seeing that first picture of her that gave me serious pause.

Because I am a Christian, after all. A Baptist, in fact. And issues relating to gender and sexuality and mental illness tend to incite knee-jerk reactions in those of us who frequent back rows of churches.  

Give us an unexpected death or surgery or job loss, and we will rally the troops and cook casseroles until the cows come home. Show us someone struggling to make ends meet, and we will fill the offering plate faster than you can say "love thy neighbor." 

But mental illness? 


Someone who has struggled her whole life to figure out why she cannot force herself to feel like a man?

... crickets...

Or worse.


There are so many things I feel compelled to say in response to the commentary filling my Facebook feed. But trial lawyers recognize the value in keeping our points concise and limited in number. So you get three.

One. The struggle is real.

When I was pregnant with Grace, we were referred to a specialist to check for holes in her heart. During our routine ultrasound, the technician couldn't get a good look at all of the chambers in her heart due to her position in my uterus, so we had to go in for a high-resolution sonogram. It turns out that her heart was just fine and that all of my worry was for nothing. But if the news had been different? If they had told me that Grace had a congenital heart defect, I can tell you exactly what I would have said:

"How do we fix it?"

That's because we don't hesitate to fix things that are broken in ourselves or our loved ones. 

Fractured arm? Cast it up. 
Ruptured appendix? Take that bad boy out.
Leukemia? For me or mine, it'd mean the fight of my life and the strongest radiation and chemotherapy doctors can find.

But battles that wage themselves in our minds can't be put right with an X-ray and an ace bandage.

That doesn't mean they aren't real, and it doesn't mean it's wrong to try and fix them.

I won't pretend to understand all of the details surrounding these very complex issues. I do know there are distinctions between transgenders, transsexuals, transvestites, and intersexes. I also know that many of them spend much of their lives struggling with the feeling that they don't belong; that their bodies do not reflect who they really are.

What I don't understand is how a person's desire to seek treatment for and resolution of these issues is an affront to God's design or providence. 

We can talk about Genesis 1:26 and Deuteronomy 22:5 all day long. But I think we'd be missing the point. 

The truth is that our human bodies are imperfect. People are born with no legs and missing bones and holes in their hearts and mutations in their DNA every minute of every day. And we'd never dream of questioning someone's desire to acquire prosthetic limbs or metal rods or to undergo life-saving heart surgery to fix those things.

This is no different. Indeed, scientific analysis indicates that for many transgenders, there are biological markers that demonstrate a discrepancy between the gender they were born with and the gender they identify with. Just because we cannot see this struggle or because it is unfamiliar to us does not make it trivial or wrong.

It seems that Christians are jumping to the conclusion that a person who is transgender is simply experiencing a disordered desire that needs alignment with the Word of God. Where does this even come from? Certainly not the Bible. (To be very clear, gender identity is a wholly separate issue from sexuality, and I don't have the energy for that debate today.)

This conclusion appears to come from our preconceived notions of what we think gender is and should be. It's blue and pink and dump trucks and Barbies.  

To say that God doesn't make mistakes is to absolutely speak the truth. But the world is obviously imperfect. Sometimes DNA replication goes awry. And sometimes our minds make clear what our bodies do not. How God intends to use these struggles for His own glory is His business. How we respond is ours. Which leads me to my next point.

Two. We're blocking the view.

To be honest, this issue deserves a whole series of posts, but you've probably already tuned me out, and I did promise to be brief. 

Let's put aside the fact that the Bible doesn't even seem to identify the transgender experience as sin. We can even pretend it is sin. While I'm well aware of the Bible verses directed to exposition of sin and rebuking, I'm not sure they mean what many Christians think they mean. And I'm not at all convinced that God intended us to use them to justify the hate speech that seems to emanate from people purporting to speak God's truth.

Instead, we are to be salt and to be light. Our every hope should be that people look at us and see Him. 

I promise I won't quote Matthew 7:1 at you. Instead, I'll just ask you this:

If you were a transgender person, and your only impression of God's love for you came from what you observed from the American church, what would you see? 

Would you see love? 

Or are Christians today one big, judgment-plastered condominium obstructing the world's view of God's grace and glory and mercy and love?

Three. Not all heroes are created equal.

I will be brief on this, but it's worth mentioning. 

One person's heroism does not define or detract from another's. 

Caitlyn Jenner is brave and heroic because her particular life situation meant that she'd have to reveal her choice to the entire nation. Being willing to identify your struggles, address them, and then talk about them to an audience of roughly 300 million people is indisputably brave. (I can promise you that I couldn't do it. No way, no how, not in one million years.)

Such bravery is not diminished simply because someone else, somewhere else, in some other way, is also brave.

(I'm talking about this, and despite the fact that it doesn't appear to be based at all in fact, it's spreading like wildfire on my news feed along with other proclamations that Caitlyn should not be heralded for her bravery because her life choice is purportedly wrong.)

Heroism takes many forms. At the top of that list are those that sacrifice their time, resources, and lives for others. But can't we all agree that the list is a long one? And that there is room for all?

To sum up this uncharacteristic rant, friends, I'll say that my point is simply this:

Let's call her Caitlyn.

And let's show her what love looks like.


Rebekah said...

I couldn't agree with you more. Very well written.

The Tale of Three Ps said...

Great post. I especially enjoyed your last point. I've seen a lot of Facebook posts that essentially say "You think she's a hero; look at this person, this is a real hero." No one is saying that second person isn't a hero. You aren't making the point that you think you are.

Again, really well written piece!

Amber said...

Love your perspective! A lot of people have been asking why she had to make a big deal out of it, but they made first him and now her a celebrity. Someone would have noticed she changed even if she didn't announce it. Taking ownership of that and being proud of herself will hopefully show others how to do the same for themselves, no matter what journey they are on.

Kate said...

This is beautiful and so well said! On my drive to work this morning, I was thinking about the whole concept of a "hero," and how Caitlyn fits in, and I think you're right--the term "hero" is really a spectrum. Many people view their parents as heroes, especially single parents--would people be getting all over social media to argue that?

Shrinking Southern Yankee said...

I think you perfectly summed this up (and to be frank, I expected you to write something totally different). I shared your post on Facebook. I am not really following the Jenner story, but I don't understand why people are angry about it or exploiting a war hero in an untrue story. Well done, bravo!

Jo Elizabeth said...

You took the thoughts and feelings swirling around inside of me and put them so eloquently into an article. Thank you for this. Wonderfully written and expressed. <3

Lauren Thomas said...

the obstructive condominium part - yeah that cut to the core. goodness gracious, all i keep thinking is how much the church as a whole has missed the point. love can cover a multitude of things if we'd just let it.

Laura said...

Ryan I could not love you more right now. I think this is probably the my favorite post you've ever written. I'm so thrilled that I'm not the only Christian who sees that the majority of Christians these days are not behaving as Christ would. I could never in a million years have made all of these points as eloquently as you did so I may just have to share this!!!

Sarah McMullin said...

This is beautifully written, Ryan. I had to sit next to coworkers at lunch today, all men, rambling on about how "bad" it was and how "gross" she is. It was heartbreaking to hear such judgement for a person they have never and will never meet. How does Caitlyn's choice change your life in any way? If you're bothered by it, that's fine. No one loves every aspect of humanity. But honestly, I do and say a lot of things that any number of people could take offense to. I am in no place to judge. No one is.

Melissa said...

this was fabulous. thank you for sharing.

Sheli Hudson said...

And yet again, you make me so very proud. This post moved me to tears. I'm so very glad that love and empathy reside in your heart, sweet girl.

Bridget said...

As someone who struggles with religion due to seeing so much harsh judgement (a few bad apples ruins the barrel) committed by those who title themselves devout, this is beautiful. This feels so much more natural to me as someone who wants to develop my relationship with God. This is being human. About loving and accepting others and welcoming them in as they are. Caitlyn isn't hurting anyone, in fact, she is helping so many who may be struggling. Thank you so much for writing this. I, too, have seen so much judgement and, if I am so bold to say, it hate towards all of this.

We're all humans, we're all in this together.

Bridget said...

*This way of thinking feels so much more natural (oops--can't write!)

Jessie said...

I loved this because you are right on the money: it IS all about love. Christ was all about love. Judgment should be reserved for God alone because only he knows us inside and out. This is such a misunderstood topic and I'm glad you wrote that first point so succinctly. Some of my own neighbors and friends have admitted that they struggle with same gender attraction and I want nothing but love for them because that's sometimes the only thing that can help a struggling person at all; love keeps folks afloat.

That said, I do feel strongly that there is nothing wrong with supporting and befriending everyone from every walk of life. We're need each other! It's the very real threat I feel to my own first amendment rights of speech and religion that I'm scared for when it comes to accepting same-gender marriage as legal. (Which is probably totally another topic!) I mean, just look at Canada as an example.

Joel Burton said...

Thank you so much for this post. I really enjoyed reading it and being inside your brain for a moment.

Amy Carr said...

Thank you for being brave enough to share your perspective on what love really can look like if more of us would be willing to practice it more. It's so easy to judge what we don't understand. Thanks for poking a hole in the negativity and allowing the light shine through.

www.thehystericaldistrict.blogspot.com said...

Wow. I am speechless. And amazed...amazed that you have someone managed to get inside my own Southern Baptist brain and read my own thoughts, then put those thoughts on paper in such an eloquent, non-judgmental, non-aggressive way. Thank you for writing this and proving that not all Christians will turn away or turn against someone who is struggling. God bless you!

Jhill Perran said...

Lovely. Simply lovely. Thank you SO much for your beautiful voice raised up to address this complex, complicated and misunderstood issue. THIS is the kind of dialogue we need to be having.
Someone posted on FB, that Caitlyn was NOT brave, and posted a picture of a soldier. I asked this question: WHY must we differentiate? Bravely is NOT limited strictly to those who protect our country, though they CERTAINLY are among the bravest. It's that dividing line that is SO unnecessary to this discussion. There does not need to be division on this point. There IS room for all. Bravery and courage come in MANY forms. Caitlyn's is but one.
God Bless her for stepping up, standing out and finally owning HER truth! She will help many, many young ones who are wrestling with these same internal conflicts.
Therein, also, lies a blessing.
Your post made my heart smile. Thank you for that.
Peace~Light~Love to you and yours,
Jhill Bosher-Perran/Central Virginia

Tricia Nae said...

You have such a sweet heart Ryan. I think, sometimes, as a Christian (also Southern Baptist) there are a lot of things we wrestle with regarding our faith vs. the modern world. In the end, though, I think all that matters is that we show kindness for each other. You don't have to like what I stand for, or what I say, or what I look like. You don't even have to like me. But just be kind. And I'll do the same. Can you imagine how different this world would be if that how we all operated?

Jessica Manning-Garner said...

Yes. You so eloquently said what I've been thinking this week. I firmly believe everything we do as Christians should be rooted in love. And we all know what the bible says about love. Thank you, Ryan.

Cranberries said...

Today, you are one of my heroes! :) What a beautiful, loving tribute to another's search for self and purpose.

A tried and true rather liberal Presbyterian :)

holli said...

This is perfect! I hate that its a competition of who is braver. Its not a competition at all. You said it very eloquently where I get so tied up with emotion that I cant get the right words out.

Alyson said...

This is beautiful!

Alayna said...

Just found your blog and love this post. "If you were a transgender person, and your only impression of God's love for you came from what you observed from the American church, what would you see?" WOW!

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