If you haven't been paying attention to your social media feed, the news, or to the water-cooler conversation lately, then you probably don't know that there is a new issue to divide people into two broad camps that hate each other. The issue is over the usage of public restrooms by transgender individuals. Specifically, which restroom transgender individuals use. To be totally transparent with you, I have not been following the issue closely and have only recently been trying to figure out what I think about it and how to articulate what I think about it. If you have been with the blog for a while now, then you know that this digital space is set aside specifically for the purpose of trying to talk about these types of issues in a way that is open, honest, and hopefully glorifying to God. With all that in mind, I hope to work some of this out here and might leave some of my questions unanswered because I don't know how to answer them yet. I hope that you can reflect on what I write and respond to it honestly and with grace. Let's begin...
I think the best place to start is to begin by explaining what the common understanding of what "transgender" means, because as I poked around the internet I found that the term transgender is an umbrella term that can, and is used to categorize people across a wide spectrum. So, in this article I will be using the definition of the term transgender that appears at the top of a quick Google search of the term. I will use the term in the sense that it will "denote or relate to a person whose self-identity does not conform unambiguously to conventional notions of male or female gender." I will also use the term "transgender" to describe individuals who are transsexual, or have undergone treatments to acquire physical traits of the gender they believe best fits their self-identity. If you want to realize the full scope of what the term transgender can mean, then I suggest you start at Wikipedia and find your way to other terms that you probably have not heard of (i.e., bigender, pangender, genderqueer, etc.). One important distinction that I want to make sure that I point out is that all of the definitions I find separate gender and sexuality. While I'm in a definitions type of mood we will go ahead and give the Google definition for sexuality as well: it is the capacity for sexual feelings, a persons sexual preference or orientation, as well as sexual activity.
While the current frenzy of opinions, arguments, protests, and boycotts was kicked off by recent events in North Carolina, this is not even close to the first time that use of public restrooms by transgender individuals has been in the news. However, the events in North Carolina are what has sparked this storm and so the following is a brief timeline of the inciting events.
February 22, 2016: Charlotte City Council passes an expansion to their current non-discrimination ordinances to include homosexual and transgendered individuals. Included in the ordinance expansions was a provision that allowed individuals to use the public restroom of the gender that they identify with.
February 23: N.C. House Speaker Tim Moore calls for legislative action on Charlotte's bathroom provision.
March 21: N.C. lawmakers call special session.
March 23: N.C. General Assembly passes HB2, or "The Bathroom Bill", and Gov. McCrory signs it into law the same day.
March 29: The ACLU and other organizations file suit over the constitutionality of the law.
April 19: Target issues statement concerning their "Continuing Stand For Inclusivity."
April 19 - Present: You can no longer escape from having to decide what you believe about how people eliminate wastes from their bodies.
I am running the risk of over-simplifying the arguments that have been presented, but I would like to boil them down to their roots.
(A) Transgender individuals are being discriminated against based on their self-identified gender. The discrimination they face is rooted in fear and bigotry.
(B) Opening up traditionally gender-specific facilities to anyone based on a person's self-identity puts people in increased danger of exploitation by predators.
When I first started hearing about all of this, it was probably like you heard about. Some acquaintance from high school shared some link that detailed all the ways the U.S. is going straight down the toilet because companies like Target are giving in to political correctness and the liberal media. Like me, you probably saw a post from some family member who shared a link that was lifting Target up as a corporate bastion of human rights that we should all aspire to emulate. I admit that I didn't read either link, as is my custom on Facebook. Nor did I comment on the links, which for some people is an impossible feat. I, instead, start to think of questions. Questions like the following:
1. What bathroom do people think transgender individuals used before now?
2. Who is really going to enforce these laws? What person is signing up to check birth certificate gender as people enter the bathroom?
3. Do people realize that restrooms have always been dangerous places?
4. Since people's fears are often about making it easier for sexual predation to occur, why don't we ban homosexuals from restrooms and locker rooms of the gender they are sexually attracted to?
5. Since we aren't going to argue transgender individuals into identifying with their birth gender, should they be provided a place they can eliminate their wastes without the fear of violence against them?
6. Why is gender self-identity treated differently than racial self-identity (remember Rachel Dolezal)?
7. How should Christians respond to all of this?
Of all of the questions I came up with, the one that I think I have struggled with the most is the last one. Not with what the answer is, but how we respond. I think most Christians have been responding incorrectly. Instead of responding with anger and fear, we should be responding with the boldness we have in the Gospel of Christ crucified. The problem we face is not deciding which people get to use what bathroom. The problem we face is the problem of Identity. I believe that the Bible spells out pretty plainly what is going on in The World (see Romans 1:18-32).
V. 21-22: They became futile in their thinking, and their hearts were darkened. They exchanged the glory of God for the image of man.
V.24-25: They exchanged truth for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator.
V. 28: "And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not be done."
V. 32: They not only do what ought not be done, but also approve of those who practice them.
From this one passage it is clear that we, in our sin, don't find our identity in Christ, but find it in ourselves and become our own god. Christ's sacrifice for us sets us free from the bondage of serving and worshipping ourself and allows us to find our true identity as Sons and Daughters of God. We need to boldly proclaim the reconciliation and forgiveness available to those who need to give up their self-identity in exchange for the identity that is freely available to them through Jesus Christ.
So how do we respond? I, for one, am not boycotting anything due to all of this. I will continue to do what I can to ensure the safety of my children in public places. I will do my best not to make any transgender individuals I come into contact with feel ostracized or demeaned by my actions or words. I will do my best to boldly proclaim to all that we have a Father who will break us free from the chains of our self-identities. In this way we can transcend the earthly thrones we construct for ourselves and claim our true identity: Son or Daughter of God.