A Letter To Dr. Juli Slattery

On May 1st, an article published in “Today’s Christian Woman” caught my attention, and I highly recommend reading it before continuing to read my response. ( Read the article here )

In response to Bruce Jenner and the Transgender Debate:

Dr. Slattery, you just don’t get it. I must admit that I found it profoundly troubling to read this. How does a psychologist write with such confidence about something she clearly does not understand?

The problems with this article are many, but let’s start with the title. What exactly is meant by “the Transgender Debate?” From a Christian perspective, it could mean a number of things. The debate over whether or not transgender people are born ‘that way.’ The debate over whether or not transgender people should be accepted in society or considered to have a mental illness/disorder. The debate over public restrooms. The debate over respecting the gender identity of a child. The debate over terminologies. It’s funny how these debates are put forward as somehow legitimate, when the only thing we need right now is to ask and listen. It’s pretty difficult to debate what you don’t understand, and this habitual problem the religious right has with creating issues over things they made up or dreamt about is just ridiculous. The “transgender debate” should be the “transgender discussion,” where people like Bruce Jenner explain what it means to be transgender … and we listen and learn.

The first paragraph reads “within the last several years, the sexual foundation of our thinking has undergone a major change. Basic assumptions that have been held for thousands of years are no longer accepted. ‘It’s a girl!’ may not mean the same thing it used to mean. Maybe this ‘girl’ will discover that she/he has a ‘male soul.'” *sigh* Here we go again. Another person sounding off with a very limited understanding of what gender identity, or gender for that matter, is. Gender is a culturally constructed idea that places certain norms, standards, and expectations on people based on biological sex. The sexual foundations of our thinking are related to gender, but the ideas formed by it, as you succinctly pointed out, are assumptions. Our thinking has changed because we have new information. We now understand that gender identity is much more complex than the binary we’re used to.

Moving on, we find “the questions of the LGBT lifestyle are not going away.” I’ll agree with that. Questions about things that don’t exist tend to stick around when people keep insisting that they do exist. There is no such thing as the “LGBT lifestyle!” How many times do we have to say this? I don’t live a “heterosexual lifestyle,” or a “cis male lifestyle.” Sexual orientation and gender identity do not constitute “lifestyles,” humans are more complex than that. As long as people keep insisting that there is an “LGBT lifestyle,” there will be unanswered questions; for how can anybody answer questions about a figment of one’s imagination?

You draw a comparison, dear doctor, between the John F. Kennedy Jr. plane crash and the “confused” minds of people like Bruce Jenner. You explain that Kennedy crashed because he relied on his own instincts rather than on the plane’s instruments, and you tie it in by saying that if transgender individuals feel confused, they should rely not on the way they feel, but on God for direction. This is a shocking false equivalency. How dare you suggest that the turmoil and isolation felt by transgender people is merely the product of a confused mind? How dare you trivialize the rising rates of suicides and murders of trans people by passing gender identity off as something that should be given up to God? Trans people are not confused, they know themselves very well. The rest of us may be confused, and it’s certainly time for us to catch up and learn their stories, but it takes a great deal of personal exploration and courage for a person to understand and accept their own gender identity when it’s outside of the norm. How very wrong to assume they are confused just because you cannot imagine them being anything else.

“In our humanistic culture, we have put as the highest good being ‘true to self.'” What? As an evangelical Christian-turned-Humanist, I’m almost offended by your assertion that this is a bad thing. You either don’t understand the implications of being true to one self, or you don’t care. You can’t strip a value down to such simplicity and peg all Humanists as adherents to it, just as I can’t can’t peg all Christians as Calvinists. It doesn’t work that way. Not only is being true to oneself of absolute importance to happiness, but it encapsulates so much more. For example, being true to myself means holding to values that outweigh my own interests and desires. I am true to myself when I am advocating and fighting for the rights and equalities of others. If you think this is a bad thing, we have a fundamental disagreement concerning the morality of Humanism.

Finally, doctor, the crux of your argument. “Unfortunately, it seems that many Christians have walked away from biblical truth because of the pressure of modern sexual morality.” We’ll ignore your insistence on gender identity somehow being a matter of sexual morality, because this quote really gets at the problem you have with people like Bruce Jenner. You think that words written down over 2,000 years ago are forever true and unchanging, and you’re willing to throw out all new knowledge to protect that belief. We continue to learn about one another, to grow together as people. We talk, and listen, and learn, and celebrate our differences, while you close your ears and write from a bible-based bias. You confuse what you think is true with what is true, and the worst part is that you promote this attitude to a broad readership.

Proverbs 15:14 says “The heart of him who has understanding seeks knowledge, but the mouths of fools feed on folly.” This is encouragement to embrace what we continue to learn about one another; accepting truth and rejecting non-truth. In Ephesians 4:25 we find “Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbour, for we are members one of another.” Here we see acknowledgement that we are all in this together, and a command to speak truthfully of the knowledge we obtain. I wonder, Dr. Slattery, if as a Christian you consult these words in your daily life. I do not for a moment doubt that you are a highly intelligent person, but you have allowed your bias to corrupt your judgment. Given your academic credentials, I sincerely hope that you will do the right thing and seek out knowledge on this subject. It’s clear that you have not yet done so. As a final word, I beg of you, please do not influence any more readers of “Today’s Christian Woman” with your thoughts on things you do not understand. We see this done far too often, and we have lost too many precious Trans lives because of it.

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