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Cover of "Transgender" by Vaughan RobertsThe topic of Transgender is one which is constantly in the news media. Much is being said about this and about the approach that Christians take to what is a sensitive topic.

As an introduction, the book "Transgender" by Vaughan Roberts is helpful and we will be publishing short precis of the chapters in this and coming blog items.

The book is published by thegoodbook company, ISBN 978-1-78498-195-2 and can be obtained from your local Christian bookshop or by going to the website. The cost is just less than £3. 

A short summary of chapter 1 follows:

In the opening chapter of this brief (80 page) booklet, Roberts introduces us to the ‘next big social, ethical and cultural question that has come to dominate the headlines,’ and asks how Christians should respond. He believes that we should not shy away from public debate on the question, but that as we engage it is vitally important that we do so ‘with great sensitivity and compassion,’ remembering that it is not primarily an issue but people that we are talking about: precious individuals, each created and loved by God, ‘most of whom are simply trying to cope with feelings that may well cause them great distress.’ 

Importantly, Roberts notes that transgender is not the same as sexuality or sexual orientation and should not be confused with these as often happens. Nor is it the same as intersex – ‘a physical condition affecting a very small percentage of people whose chromosomes, genitals or gonads do not allow them to be distinctively identified as male or female at birth.’ Instead, transgender has to do with people’s feelings that their gender does not fit with their birth sex.

Roberts goes on to inform us that ‘transgender’ is an umbrella term covering a variety of experiences, each person’s story being unique. He notes, for example, that ‘the majority – 70%-80% - of children who experience these strong feelings find that they disappear completely during adolescence.’ ‘But for others, there is a prolonged sense of disharmony within them that causes great distress’ which they often describe as being trapped in the wrong body. Professionals now call this sense of disharmony leading to great distress ‘gender dysphoria.’ It appears to be at least twice as prevalent in males as in females, studies suggesting that ‘between 1 in 10,000 and 1 in 13,000 males and between 1 in 20,000 and 1 in 34,000 females’ have the condition.

The causes of gender dysphoria are not yet clear. Some argue that nature makes the most significant contribution, e.g., the brain-sex theory; while others argue that nurture – psychological environment in childhood – is the dominant factor. But, to date, there is no conclusive medical or scientific evidence one way or the other, and it may be that elements of both nature and nurture play a part. However, Roberts highlights one thing that is clear: ‘those who experience gender dysphoria certainly do not simply choose to do so.’ 

What should our Christian response be to those suffering from gender dysphoria? Definitely not an unthinking response of, ‘Yuk! It’s disgusting!’ But perhaps not one of unquestioning affirmation either. We cannot just say ‘Yes’ to all that the world affirms. 

We need to share God’s compassion for those who experience the pain and confusion of gender dysphoria, and we need to avoid any disrespectful, hurtful or degrading talk. In keeping with this plea, Roberts himself, when providing a glossary of terms used throughout his book, adopts the definitions of these terms provided on the website of the LGBT rights organization Stonewall, though he does express his personal discomfort with the phrase ‘sex assigned at birth’, noting that our sex is not simply ‘assigned’ but is given to us by God.

Summary prepared by Rev Hector Morrison