“No test has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tested beyond what you can bear. But when you are tested he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.” (1 Co 10:13 NIV footnote)
The above verse is sometimes interpreted more narrowly in terms of resisting “temptations” — the Greek word can carry the meaning of both tempting and more generally testing — but the notion of endurance at the end, in particular, implies a good bit more going on here than simply, say, passing on a calorie-laden slice of chocolate cake after dinner, or contemplating snitching something that doesn’t belong to you if the opportunity should present itself.
In fact, Christians in general, and Jehovah’s Witnesses in particular, regularly apply this verse with the understanding that Jehovah will not leave faithful servants in the lurch, so-to-speak. Alongside all the various life circumstances that Jehovah may allow to “overtake” us — presenting us with various tests and trials of every sort — he provides a “way out”, a way that we can faithfully endure all of these things.
Here’s the interpretation, essentially, as Jehovah’s Witnesses assume it applies to folks who are born transgender:
“No matter how painful it is to fight one’s ‘sinful nature’, Jehovah will make it possible to do so, and endure it.”
This makes sense, though, right? We’re all born imperfect, so the human condition is itself a challenge, or test, of sorts. Some imperfections, you reason, may well be far harder to deal with than others. Yet no matter what sort of hardship may be involved in doing the right thing, Jehovah’s has promised, no matter what, to make it possible to endure.
So far, so good. But what do you assume, then, to be the “right thing,” for trans persons?
The organization’s stance is that we must live our entire lives hidden quietly behind a mask — the mask of either a “man” or a “woman”. Which mask is the “approved”, guiltless one depends, not on what we understand ourselves to be, but only whatever the bit of flesh found between our legs when we were born most closely resembled — no matter how ill-suited that “mask” is to the entirety of our very being.
Though you can barely imagine, of course, the immensity of suffering that kind of continual deeply-entrenched denial of one’s very soul, day in and day out, ultimately causes, you may still consider your view “compassionate”. After all, you are confident that just as he has promised, Jehovah will make the “way out” for your transgender brother or sister to endure all of it.
Did you, perhaps, dislike my characterization of the organization’s expectations, though, as requiring someone like me to hide behind an ill-fitting mask for life? Are you inclined to dismiss that as a fanciful an exaggeration? If so, I’d ask you not to be so quick to discount it. It would be unwise to judge an experience you don’t even understand.
“Who are you to judge the servant of another? To his own master he stands or falls. Indeed, he will be made to stand, for Jehovah can make him stand.” (Romans 14:4)
One thing is certain. Jehovah understands the struggle transgender folks are faced with far better than anyone else ever could. If you are going to make judgments as to how we ought to stand — and what is the “right way” for us to deal with our circumstances — at a minimum you ought to be sure you understand just what that struggle really is.
Trans people are indeed faced with a challenging life test. Some of you, I suspect, probably are still thinking of it more as a “temptation” — which is a narrower, more specific test of sorts, I suppose — but really, this is something far different. We are faced with being born in such a way that we absolutely don’t recognize ourselves as the gender you may have thought we were.
Really try to let that sink in for a moment. You doubtless recognize your own gender, and have for as far back as you can remember. It’s not something you ever have to think about. You just know it.
Now imagine someone trying to tell you otherwise. It’s laughable, right?
That’s what it is to be transgender. You can try arguing all day long that you are right and trans folks are wrong, that we’re not the gender we recognize ourselves as. It’s never going to change the fact that we don’t just think otherwise — we are as innately wired to know our gender as you are. We are just wired differently than you expect. At the end of the day, everything about our very being — our hearts, our minds, our innermost spirit — really, everything except a few incongruent fleshly bits that might have led you to assume something else — that is who and what we are. Those few fleshly bits that in our case don’t completely match up with the rest aren’t us. (No more than yours are you, if you’re perfectly honest about it.)
The very notion of anyone else saying, “Y’know, you’re wrong about your gender,” would be laughable for us too, if not for the fact that the folks who say that to us are so often serious.
And because of that — the reactions of folks who innocently don’t know any better, along with the reactions of folks who might genuinely be hostile about what they don’t understand — we end up hiding. Frequently, trans folks live long, long stretches of their lives in complete hiding. We often learn to hide right from the beginning, as very young children, because long before we have the words or framework to even try to express what’s going on, we can plainly see that others all around us have incongruous expectations of us.
As you may well imagine, living life that way, constantly hiding a fundamental piece of who and what we really are, takes a huge toll. Anxiety, depression, PTSD, and more –often accompanied by suicidal thinking (and sometimes more than thinking) — are perhaps understandably prevalent. Without addressing the cause, these things do not get better on their own, only worse.
You might well note, nothing about any of this is a temptation. It’s not particularly anyone’s fault and there’s no aspect of right or wrong about it. It’s simply the reality of our circumstances. There’s no question, however, that it does represent a challenging test, or trial. A way out that will enable us to endure is unquestionably needed.
So what is legitimately a way out? What sort of “way out” might be considered faithful, from Jehovah’s perspective?
Change our minds?
First of all, let’s nip this one in the bud. There seems to be a knee-jerk reaction among many Christians to imagine Romans 12:2 somehow applies:
“Quit being fashioned after this system of things, but be transformed by making your mind over, so that you may prove to yourselves, the good and acceptable and perfect will of God.”
If you have been listening carefully, you should plainly realize that being transgender is not something that can reasoned away. It’s not a matter of stray thinking, modeled after this or any other system of things. A trans person’s gender, in its entirety (misaligned body bits and all), is as innate and immutable as yours. There is no matter of “mind” to transform on this. Nor does recognizing this reality run counter to the “good and acceptable and perfect will of God” any more than a child born blind, or with some other different, but survivable, congenital condition, recognizing and then coping with it to the best of their ability does.
Keep on hiding and pray a lot?
I wonder, do you for one moment imagine that transgender persons with faith haven’t been praying about it? I guarantee you, they have, fervently and repeatedly. There is, I think, a very big reason these sorts of prayers don’t get answered, and I will get to that in the next bit.
The truth is, though, with or without the prayer, this approach — to just keep living a life of hiding — is a disastrous recipe for eventual debilitation. Things will get harder and harder. Too many trans folks stuck in this sort of situation eventually find themselves contemplating a far more permanent “way out”, and I cannot imagine anyone thinks that is what Jehovah had in mind at 1 Co 10:13.
Stop hiding and live honestly?
This one alone seems to have real merit. Consider Ephesians 4:22-25.
“… Put away the old personality which conforms to your former course of conduct and which is being corrupted according to his deceptive desires but … be made new in the force actuating your mind … Wherefore, now that you have put away falsehood, speak truth each one of with his neighbor.”
By the way, there are two words in this verse — “deceptive desires” — that I just know will distract some folks who are quick to say, “Aha, right there, that is what’s going on with trans folks!” So let me deal with this bit right now.
Once again, if you’ve been listening, you are hopefully beginning to grasp that being transgender is no more a desire than it is a thought, or idea, that we somehow have to “convince” ourselves of. We don’t desire to be, or to pretend to be, or to act like, or to look like, a particular gender. Just like you, we simply recognize ourselves as that gender. Period. It’s not a want or desire. It simply is.
With that out of the way, let’s break this down a bit more.
We’ve been over how and why trans folks tend to go into hiding, and often stay there for a very long time. That reaction, to hide, is understandable, probably even innocent. But it still results in living a life filled with pretense. Jehovah is a God, not of pretense, but of truth. So right out of the gate, we are beginning life in a way that, frankly, is sorely at odds with Him. It’s neither our bodies nor our minds, with all their complex, innate wiring, nor even the bits that end up being misaligned for trans folks, that cause this alienation. It’s our conscious decision to hide the truth about ourselves, usually quite literally from everyone.
Unlike simply knowing my own gender, I can tell you with absolutely certainty, going into “hiding” like this really was a matter of conscious decision and thought. I still vividly recall the day I realized I had better not let anyone else ever know the real me — or so I thought, anyway. I could not have been more than maybe five or six years old, but that thought, that decision, would end up haunting me for decades.
So there it is, right there. That piece of my former personality with it’s course of conduct, which involved continually keeping a very fundamental part of me carefully hidden from everyone else’s eyes, caused no end of ill effects. And in retrospect, the deceptive desire behind that decision to hide was frankly, just to be accepted by those around me without having to feel their puzzlement, or worse, disapproval; to not have them think I was weird; or even worse the worry that I might be unloved if they ever knew the whole truth.
Seen in this light, it actually makes far more sense now, to understand why all the prayers to “take it away” or otherwise help me struggle onward in the mad course of continuing a life-long pretense, weren’t working. Obviously, once in association with the congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses, there seemed to be even more to lose. That was absolutely another sort of test, though, because those are, and always were, fleshly considerations. Will these brothers and sisters understand, or will they reject me?
No wonder my life grew more and more difficult, until my depression became so unbearable, I was no longer really capable of serving anyone or anything.
With all thanks to Jehovah, here is what the way out of all of these tests and trials has looked like for me.
Acknowledging the truth.
Just being able to finally voice, openly, that I am a woman (transgender, yes, but in my case, a woman nonetheless, and in particular so very much not the boy or man I felt compelled to present to everyone else all of those years) — regardless of who now wants to “disagree” with me about my gender — represented a return to simplicity, to the plain and simple truth of that early, innocent, childlike recognition of who and what I truly am, and always have been.
With all the hiding, and the fearful concern for who might react badly or unpleasantly to this reality, stripped away, the oppressive weight of all those years of pretense have dissipated.
Not caving in to the pressure of trying to please men.
Let’s face it. That’s what really got me into trouble in the first place. With respect to the congregation, though, in particular, there is a difference between loving and striving to please Jehovah — which I feel I can now finally do to the best of my ability with my whole heart, my whole soul and my whole mind (Matt 22:37) — and caring for and trying to please imperfect men and women who can’t ever fully comprehend any of those things in anyone else, but especially seem to have difficulty wrapping their heads around what it means for a transgender person.
Even if no one else but Jehovah understands the truth about trans persons, and about me in particular, I know that He does. And as it turns out, that really is enough.
Transition is not a one-size-fits-all thing, and will look different for each trans person because — hey — we’re all individuals! The specifics of what each of us may do, or not do, — and what that looks like to others along the way — are secondary to the healthy shift to actually living our lives as our genuine selves. Ultimately, that’s what “transition” is all about.
In any case, if just opening up and finally being able to talk about who I really am was freeing, I’m sure you can imagine just how much better it was to take steps to live my life accordingly. But then, the connection between speaking honestly and living honestly ought to really be obvious. Anything else would simply be just words, with little integrity or meaning.
I’ve also written previously about my experiences with hormone therapy. Once I was finally able to pursue that, it brought me such an unexpectedly vast degree of additional relief — a further way out if you will. The hugely positive effects of finally having a normal, female hormonal balance in my body, contrasted with the lingering downsides I experienced before with typical male levels, have been nothing short of miraculous. (Seriously, if you’ve any lingering doubt that transgender women are simply not the “men” some are inclined to insist we have to be — I can’t imagine how you go about explaining these kinds of results.)
These are all benefits I would never have experienced if I’d remained in perpetual hiding, putting on a mask, and pretending to be something I am not, out of fear that has always been from the very beginning, not of Jehovah, but very much of men.
“Even if my own father and mother abandon me, Jehovah himself will take me in.” (Psalm 27:10)
I would be lying if I said that there haven’t been other tests, as a result. Being cast aside by many who I would formerly have called family and friends, my own daughter foremost among them, has been among the most painful of consequences. I would love to see this change. These hardships, however, I find I can continue to endure. Prayer actually does help. Jehovah, the God of integrity, is answering these prayers.
There is absolutely a reason I never got the help I needed to successfully cope with being transgender while intentionally keeping myself hidden away from everyone else. And conversely, as challenging as other aspects of my life may still be, I believe there is a fairly obvious reason I am finally getting that help now.
My earnest hope is that conveying the reality of my own experiences — including both how and why I believe Jehovah has truly made the “way out” for me now — might help those among you who genuinely love the God of Truth, Jehovah, to open your eyes and begin to recognize another important bit of truth: transgender folks, when you see us — meaning once we’re no longer hiding who we actually are from you, or anyone else — aren’t inherently delusional, confused, misguided, or otherwise somehow wickedly trying to be anything we are not. Quite to the contrary, we’re striving to live more honestly and authentically with integrity, as the men and women that we genuinely are.