The Transgender Agenda
The transgender issue is in the UK news again due to a Christian couple withdrawing their child from a primary school because the parents of another male child had decided to dress him as a girl. The school, which is run by the Church of England, said: ‘Church of England schools are inclusive environments where pupils learn to respect diversity of all kinds.’ The parents, on the other hand, said that school’s policy caused their child ‘stress’. What does the Orthodox Church teach on this issue? Is there an answer to this very modern problem in the Scripture and Tradition of the Church?
We are all born as a result of sexual union between man and woman, and we are born, die and will be judged in our bodies. However, in this life, we are all seeking to be ‘delivered from this body of death’ (Rom. 7:24) and to attain eternal life, in which our bodies will be transformed and we will live like the angels of God (cf. Matt 22:30).
The biological differences in our bodies caused by gender are inherent in human nature, but we should remember that we have been reborn by baptism in the Orthodox Church by ‘water and the Spirit’ (John 3:5). In the Orthodox Church ‘there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female’ (Gal. 3:28). Orthodox Christians are members (body parts) of the Body of Christ, and members ‘one of another’ (Eph. 4:5). We are united and made equal in the Church by our baptism.
Even though we are united within the Church by baptism, this unity does not blur the differences between genders. Gender is something we are born with, not something that we acquire by social conditioning or by personal choice. We should make clear, though, that some children are born with intersex conditions in which they possess sexual organs of both genders. These conditions are physical rather than mental so they are not relevant to this discussion.
Our reproductive organs and the secondary sexual characteristics that develop during puberty are due to our DNA. In other words, we are coded to be either male or female. Also, it is clear that the idea that a man can become a woman by an operation does not take into account the struggles that a girl undergoes in becoming a woman and that women continue to undergo in their lives. Saying that a man can become a ‘woman’ through hormone treatment and surgery is actually demeaning to women. The end result, as the renowned feminist Germaine Greer points out, is not actually a woman at all: ‘I’m not saying that people should not be allowed to go through that procedure, what I’m saying is it doesn’t make them a woman.’
Although many of Greer’s views are not compatible with Orthodoxy, she is quite correct in this instance. The thought that one has been born into the wrong body is actually a mental illness and is treated by the NHS as such. Surgery is the final stage in this treatment. Unfortunately, as Paul McHugh, Professor of Psychiatry at John Hopkins’ Medical School, has pointed out, surgery does not actually stop these thoughts in most patients.
Some liberals even advocate allowing young children to change their gender even before they reach puberty. Why has this become such a big issue in society so quickly? Possibly, it is because being ‘transgender’ or ‘in transition’ is fashionable at the moment – children and their parents are all too often prisoners to trends in modern society. People opposed to the transgender agenda are silenced by schools and employers terrified of offending the liberal movement with the latter’s influential presence on social media.
Even though the liberal movement promotes ‘gender neutral’ school clothing, for example, they are actually promoting a very limiting idea of how boys and girls should behave. Over the generations, parents have observed that different boys and girls like doing different things. Some boys hate sport; they love reading books and dressing up. Some girls love sport, climbing trees, playing with guns and getting dirty. Some boys, especially those with lots of sisters, are more used to playing with dolls than guns. None of this behaviour indicates that the child is trapped in the wrong gender. Children are simply expressing themselves in much the same way as adults do. After all, adults have different likes and dislikes. It is modern society that has decided that what a child likes doing defines his or her gender.
Parents are also encouraged by liberal society to keep their children happy at all times by indulging their every wish. Instead of children being obedient to their parents, as the Orthodox Church teaches, parents have become slaves to their children. Some parents are happy to put their child into gender transition because the child ‘wants’ to be the opposite gender. What would happen if the child wanted to be Superman or the Queen? Some children progress from actually wanting to be someone else, to actually believing that they are! Children are blessed with a tremendous imagination and many, especially children with no brothers or sisters, develop an imaginary friend or even a whole world where they can retreat to in times of boredom of stress. Most children grow out of this behaviour if parents ignore it; it is not a mental illness needing treatment but simply a phase of growing-up.
It would, perhaps, be a good idea to discuss what we mean by ‘mental illness’. This term covers a huge range of mental conditions including, but not limited to, anxiety, depression and schizophrenia. Many of these conditions are purely a result of some form of chemical imbalance in the brain. For example, schizophrenia and Parkinson’s disease are closely linked. Patients with the former are treated with drugs that produce symptoms of the latter. The reverse is also true. True mental illness is an illness like any other, and can be treated as such; fortunately society today is beginning to recognize this. The Orthodox Church views mental illness as simply another form of sickness. We must not confuse these mental conditions with demonic possession or acts of evil committed by the medically sane. These matters are complex and far beyond the scope of this discussion.
The Orthodox Church regards hormone treatment and surgery to reassign genders as an unacceptable treatment for mental illness. Although the position of the Orthodox Church might seem illiberal, the ‘liberal lobby’ tend to be intolerant of anyone that takes an opposing position. Germaine Greer was banned from speaking at some universities for simply expressing the opinion that a surgical procedure cannot cause a change of gender.
In contrast to the Orthodox Church, most heterodox churches have failed to state clearly their position on the transgender issue. The Church of England, in particular, supports the idea of ‘transgender rights’. How did these churches end up being swallowed in this liberal quagmire? The answer might lie in the fact that they bowed to pressure from the LGBT lobby to bless same-sex unions and/or carry out same-sex marriages. Churches that do this argue that two people of the same sex who love each other should have their relationship blessed by the church.
In the Orthodox Church the love we have for each other needs to be unto salvation, and not a carnal love or lust. Any love that involves acts that are contrary to the teaching of the Church is not saving and the Church cannot bless it. Sexual acts within a same-sex marriage are ‘contrary to sound doctrine’ (1 Tim. 1:10), and therefore the Church cannot ever approve of such a union. The teaching of the Church is stated by St. Paul in his letter to the Corinthians:
Know you not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God (1. Cor. 6:9-10).
This teaching of St. Paul is instructive for us. Some Christians are fixated by the issue of homosexuality and transgender to the exclusion of everything else. However, St. Paul as well as condemning homosexual acts also condemns drunkards, thieves, and those who long after personal possessions. Can any of us say we are with out even one of those sins? We might not rob banks, but every time we check our personal emails or send text messages when paid to be working we are actually stealing from our employer.
In addition, many opponents of gay marriage are tolerant of heterosexual couples having sex before marriage. This is also completely unacceptable to the Orthodox Church. We can see how seriously the Church regards this sin when we consider that a man who has sex before marriage cannot be ordained to the priesthood. Even more serious, from the Orthodox Church’s point of view, is the idea of couples living together before marriage. Not only are couples that do this sinning by having sex before marriage but they are making a mockery of the Church’s teaching by deliberately placing themselves in a position where it is impossible to avoid committing this sin.
Nevertheless, we should be completely clear that having homosexual sex is a serious sin as St. Paul states:
For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature: And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompense of their error which was meet (Rom. 1:26-27).
All of us have to fight against various sexual temptations. These are all aspects of our imperfect spiritual life. We are all, in effect, spiritually ill to a greater or lesser extent – this is why the Orthodox Church is often called a spiritual hospital. We pray, fast and partake of the Mysteries of the Church because we are ill and we are seeking a cure for our wounded souls. All the sins that St. Paul mentions above are manifestations of our spiritual sickness – all can be overcome through the Grace that we receive in the Mysteries and by repentance and spiritual struggle.
In addition, most teenagers go through a phase where they are confused about their own sexuality; this is a very troubling time of life, and although secular society now regards homosexuality and being ‘transgender’ as acceptable, these young people are often bullied by their peers. There are even videos on the Internet showing ‘Orthodox Christians’ in Russia punching and kicking homosexuals in the street. No Orthodox Christian should take part in this kind of unprovoked violence. Launching unprovoked attacks on people in the name of Christ is not Orthodox but demonic.
Instead of violence, we must set a good example of Christian love and compassion. This is especially important when dealing with people who are confused about their gender or are undergoing medical treatment. In the UK, at least, people wanting to change their gender are viewed as having a mental illness – the hormone treatment and surgery is part of their 'cure'. Although the Orthodox Church regards this treatment as morally wrong and harmful, the patient is still ill, and often they suffer with other mental health problems such as depression and thoughts of suicide.
It should be clear to us, therefore, that we need to be careful what we say and how we act. Campaigning against the ‘transgender agenda’ which produces such nonsense as mixed toilets and changing rooms is one thing; confronting someone who is mentally ill is quite another. It is important, therefore, to discuss our approach to these issues with our spiritual father in order to confess Orthodoxy, and to bring people to the Church by our example of faith and love.