As I helped my high school senior select college housing, three neat boxes that appeared on the form stymied me. They were labeled "male," "female," and "transgendered." The instructions advised, "Check one." I was dumbfounded.

To determine the meaning of transgendered, I leafed to Webster's definition: "exhibiting the appearance or behavioral characteristics of the opposite sex." Modification of gender seemed to be the gist. For more specifics, I asked a university admissions officer, who referred me to the International Bill of Gender Rights, adopted June 17, 1995, by the International Conference on Transgender Law and Employment Policy (ICTLEP).

My mind flashed back to a clerk who went subtly from Ron to Rhonda as s/he scanned my groceries over a period of six years.

The IBGR stated: "all human beings have the right to define their own gender identity regardless of chromosomal sex, genitalia, assigned birth sex, or initial gender role; and further, no individual shall be denied Human or Civil Rights by virtue of self-defined gender identity which is not in accord with chromosomal sex, genitalia, assigned birth sex, or initial gender role."

Various impressions sped through my gray matter. My mind flashed back to a clerk who went subtly from Ron to Rhonda as s/he scanned my groceries over a period of six years. It returned to my days at seminary when a fellow student confided, "What do the patristic sources say about feeling like a female trapped inside a male body?" It rewound to a scene where a college friend tried on both masculine and feminine looks; her animus and anima, her masculine and feminine aspects, remained starkly separate. All these people swam against the tide of the binary gender system that I espoused. For them, both theologically and ontologically, that gender system had been a restrictive, angst-provoking noose. I realized they were among the transgendered, "trannies," as they are commonly known on our nearby college campus.

In addition to the right to define gender identity, the International Bill of Gender Rights included these others: to freely express gender identity; to secure and retain employment and receive just compensation; to gain access to gendered space; to control and change one's own body; to receive competent medical and professional care; to be free from psychiatric diagnosis or treatment; to sexual expression; to form loving, committed relationships and enter into marital contracts; and to conceive, bear, or adopt children and exercise parental capacity. Therefore, trannies included everyone from those struggling with gender expression to politically correct sympathizers opting out of so-called archaic social norms.

At our local campus, trannies sometimes are simply males dressing in female clothing and adopting female names to loosen the cultural lariat that pulls us into defined masculine or feminine behavior. One gent claimed this was even sexually attractive to females on campus, an innovative way to get girls interested! At other times, trannies are those who change their bodies anatomically, surgically molding them to reflect the way they define themselves.

As a Christian living in a democratic society, my response to the transgendered movement is twofold.

First, I quickly realized no religious dogma would effectively challenge the inner experience of a transgendered person. I vowed not to become a "Christian activist" that insisted on uniformity and civil laws mimicking scriptural boundaries. I do not champion a theocratic state. The Christian community has gained the reputation of being snobbish, unloving, ignorant, and unsympathetic by taking that tack. Venomous bumper stickers like "Focus on Your Own Damn Family" express the indignation of those falling under judgment.

Christians would do better to guard their own free speech, privacy, and religious beliefs--the right to believe that gender confusion may be treated and repaired by psychologists, the right to welcome those voluntarily seeking such treatment, the right to refuse to share a dorm room with a person of the opposite gender who defines herself or himself antithetically. Rather than trying to create a utopia, Christians must learn to uphold their rights within a democracy.

Rather than expecting conformity, Christian communities must maintain the legal ability to be a unique haven where masculinity and femininity are defined according to scriptural and traditional models.

Second, within this unique haven--the church--Christians need to deliver on their doctrine. If the church believes masculinity and femininity exist as core realities in a person, that these realities sometimes become skewed and crushed, and that spiritual and psychological reparative therapy exists, then it needs to deliver that hope. True deliverance would bring joy instead of suffering, love instead of judgment, and freedom instead of psychic pain to the transgendered. The church needs spiritual power to effect this. If effective, the church might persuade auto owners to happily sport bumper stickers that instead say, "Come and see" (John 1:47).

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