On April 24, all-American sporting superstar Bruce Jenner, who won gold for the decathlon in Montreal in 1972, announced that he was transsexual and that for all intents and purposes, “I’m a woman”.
This week, she revealed that her new name was Caitlyn. The shock was seismic: Jenner is not only a sporting hero but also features in the reality TV series Keeping up with the Kardashians, as until recently she was married to Kris and stepfather to her children.
What really perplexed evangelicals however, was that she was both a Christian and a Republican – neither of which really seemed to fit with her new identity. She said in her interview with Diane Sawyer: “I would sit in church and always wonder, ‘In God’s eyes, how does he see me?'”
Jenner’s revelations made headlines because of who she is. But there are more and more people, and not just in the US, who identify themselves as transsexuals – generally used for people who transition from one sex to another – or transgendered, whose sense of their gender differs from their physical sex. In a sign of how what was once rare is now becoming mainstream.
For some Christians, helping people to transition from one gender to another is a compassionate response to a deeply-felt need. Others are profoundly uncomfortable about the theological implications of such interventions. So what are the issues, and how should Christians approach them?
Treatments for the condition span the full range from counselling to full-scale gender reassignment surgery. People who don’t choose that or aren’t suitable candidates might have speech therapy, hair removal or hormone therapy. If they do want to make a full transition they’d be expected to live in their chosen gender identity for at least a year beforehand. The rigorous process of assessment generally seems to ‘work’: according to the NHS, after surgery most transsexuals are happy with their new sex and feel comfortable with their gender identity. One review of studies carried out over a 20-year period found that 96 per cent of people who had gender reassignment surgery were satisfied (though a 2011 Swedish survey found “considerably higher risks for mortality, suicidal behaviour, and psychiatric morbidity than the general population”).
However, many evangelical Christians have serious theological doubts about the procedures, and about the increasing normalisation of the ‘transgendered’ identity.