I my last discussion, I implied that my choice, my decision to suffer one set of consequences over another was a matter of Christian integrity. To understand why, it’s helpful to consider a historical Biblical view of God’s chosen people over the years.
In the pre-Christian era, when Jehovah was using the nation of Israel, faithful Israelites were obligated to be obedient to Jehovah’s earthly arrangement. Of course, at times there was much that the leaders of Israel did, and led the people to do, that was clearly wrong. To the extent that any individual knew what their leaders were telling them to do was against Jehovah’s principles, those people surely bore responsibility for their own actions. They should not have gone along. They should have known better.
Of course, it can be argued that many of those leaders, according to the scriptures, proved to be ill-motivated, unfaithful men, blatantly disobedient to God. Jehovah has done a great deal to cleanse his organization today of such influences. I readily agree that from the members of the governing body on down, the vast majority of those taking the lead in his organization today are genuinely faithful – and in case any are not, he does not allow such a situation to remain for long – still, not one of them is yet perfect. Nor can the organization itself – the earthly part – be perfect. Not yet. For that reason, it may be more illustrative of my point to consider the example of David, a foremost example of someone deemed faithful by Jehovah.
Even after David’s terrible lapse of judgement concerning the wife of Uriah, Jehovah later on showed he viewed David as faithful, a man “agreeable to his heart”. Yet at the time when David committed adultery with Bathsheba, and then ordered his army chief Joab to place Uriah on the front lines of battle and draw back, allowing him to be killed, that was surely a terribly harmful lapse on the part of this faithful man. Did Joab wonder at all about this order? The scriptures don’t say, other than to report that he carried it out. Other men besides Uriah also lost their lives as a result. Was Joab merely acting out of loyalty to Jehovah’s appointed king, by not questioning that order? Perhaps! Yet clearly, Joab bears some of the guilt for that action. It should have been very obvious to him that, despite it being the command of Jehovah’s appointed king, something inconsistent with Jehovah’s principles — in this case, outright murder — was going on. Joab should have questioned what he was being told to do. Obedience to those appointed by Jehovah is always relative to our obedience to Jehovah himself.
So it is with obedience to the organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses today. “Be obedient to those taking the lead among you.” Yes. But never unthinkingly, and never without regarding Jehovah’s viewpoint as above that of any man. What then, if a brother, an overseer, a member of the governing body, or the printed pages of the Watchtower, should say something that to our minds does not exactly seem to be in sync with Jehovah’s thinking, according to our current understanding of the scriptures?
Of course there is good reason to give those taking the lead the benefit of the doubt. If the point of difference seems important enough to us, we’ll want to ponder the matter further, prayerfully searching the scriptures, maybe even discretely bringing our questions to one of the elders, or another mature Christian. In the process, it’s likely that we’ll refine our own understanding. If after that, we still don’t grasp the point for ourselves in the same way as it’s being presented, sometimes – perhaps often – it will be the case that we can just let it go for the time being. After all, regardless of which understanding might actually be more “correct,” we have little reason to suspect ill motives on the parts of our brothers, and especially the organization as a whole.
So there is a lot to be said for simply acting in unity, and as long as the difference is relatively benign, we can tuck the question away in our own hearts, so-to-speak. If it’s truly important, Jehovah will settle it in time. But should we just disregard the question? Especially if to us it seems more of a critical matter? If we have given the matter our own faithful consideration, and that has not resolved the difference in our own minds and hearts, then absolutely not! No one is served by pretending, to ourselves or others, that any of these men, or the organization they are charged with directing, is perfect, incapable of ever taking any misstep or holding a wrong point of view! Mistakes can and will happen. Some are harmless, of course, while others can and do prove damaging – harming, or even contributing to the stumbling of others. Pretending that this cannot and does not ever happen serves no one, and goes counter to a love of truth.
I’m in no way suggesting giving ear to the railing of apostates – those who have turned against Jehovah and actively oppose the organization he is using – who may well try to use, twist, or even invent such sorts of things to poison others against the truth. It’s not difficult to detect the ill motives of such a person. On the other hand, when genuine errors arise, in either teaching or action, the prevailing pretense I have seen time and again in evidence among many brothers and sisters is that in the name of unity we must somehow all speak and act as though there could never be any fault or doubt laid upon anything the organization ever says or does.
That, however, is a distinction belonging only to Jehovah himself. He alone is faultless. To hold such a viewpoint towards men, even the obviously faithful men charged with oversight of his earthly organization, is utterly misguided. It does not reflect loyalty to Jehovah. Holding forth such a viewpoint only serves to heap more pain and hurt on top of whatever damage some particular error may have already caused.
And so it currently is with a consideration of the plight of transgender persons. So many otherwise faithful witnesses flee from any genuine consideration of the subject. I’m not talking about closing one’s ears to any vehemence, blame or bitter vitriol targeted at the organization by apostates and those seeking to oppose Jehovah’s organization and Jehovah himself, whether on account of this or any other subject. I’m simply talking about an honest consideration of all the presently-known facts about what it means to be transgender, as well as the body of actual scriptural principles that bear on how Jehovah himself is likely to view such an individual, and what is clearly expected of them from a scriptural standpoint, in contrast to the added burden the organization currently asks them to bear.
In this case, it seems to me that no one in the organization itself has been willing to consider whether there might not well be a significant difference between those two things – Jehovah’s thinking and expectations as outlined by the scriptures vs. those of the men taking the lead in his organization. The governing body of Jehovah’s Witnesses, thus far, certainly has not. I don’t come to this conclusion because I have a different opinion. It’s true that my long-term and ongoing consideration of all the scriptural principles that seem to me to be involved has led me to an understanding that differs from what the organization and the elders keep telling me. But I conclude what I do – that the organization has not yet given this subject their serious enough consideration – mainly because at no time either before or since my being disfellowshipped, was any brother able to present me any substantial scriptural argument to explain their insistent belief that what I am doing is simply wrong. No substantial consideration has been published by the society, and what little has been published is very dated – not at all taking into account modern understanding of the condition itself – but more importantly, it is also exceedingly light on any application of scripture.
Individual Jehovah’s Witnesses themselves therefore seem unlikely to give the matter much serious consideration for themselves – most are satisfied to readily accept the organization’s stand and loyally support it – not entirely unlike Joab, who I imagine would not have been prone to pondering the correctness of whatever his king instructed him to do.
I have not had that sort of luxury. The matter of how a transgender person can or cannot live and be pleasing to Jehovah is essential to me, whereas to the vast majority of Witnesses, it is not. I was born neither completely female nor fully male. This is not a contradiction of Genesis (“God made them male and female”) but merely another fact of inherited imperfection. Like many other birth defects, it’s not something Jehovah intended, but it does happen. Neither sex nor gender are as simply determined as once thought: it is not merely a matter of a single chromosome — there are cases of XX males and XY females, as well as a number of other known aberrant variations; physically-observable cases of mixed gender (intersex conditions) regularly occur (estimates range from 1 in 1000 live births to 1 in 100, or even greater, depending on the definitions pediatric “experts” use to determine sexual “ambiguity”); and whether physically observable characteristics are present at birth or not, a growing body of evidence overwhelmingly suggests that some people are born with a male-wired brain in a predominantly female body, others with a female-wired brain in a fundamentally male body.
In my case, there are those who simply insist that I must be a “man” because my body mostly came out looking that way at birth – even though my brain says otherwise, and has from the earliest age I can remember. They are entitled to their opinion. The only thing I do not find a basis for in scripture is the stubborn insistence that their opinion must also be Jehovah’s opinion, and must therefore guide how I act, look, and present myself to the world. There, in fact, I only find basis for the reverse: Jehovah sees what the heart is; the body is of no use at all; serve Jehovah with your whole mind … and so on.
Yet the organization, the elders, and by extension, the rest of the congregation, continue to insist the only way I can ever please Jehovah is to live and look like a man. Because I could no longer honestly continue to do so – to live in accord with a small bit of the outside that was so seriously out of harmony with the inside (a state so many transgender persons eventually find themselves in) I have been removed from the congregation as a presumably wicked person, acting in opposition to Jehovah.
I have repeatedly searched the scriptures, both before and since, to see where my understanding on this might be wrong. I have found nothing to support the viewpoint of Jehovah’s organization in this matter, neither were any of the elders involved able to present anything. Really, the only even mildly-compelling argument the brothers were ever able to present is that it would be good, and humble, and submissive – even if they themselves happen to wrong about this (their own words) – to do my best to still be obedient to those taking the lead. I would even agree with that reasoning – if I could do so in good conscience. But that, I cannot do.
Never mind the fact that I fell into a deep depression over the course of many years, culminating in near-total shutdown, to the point of barely functioning as a human being. Never mind the fact that I began to see death as a viable, perhaps even desirable option. All that could be overcome – I am confident that Jehovah gives power beyond what is normal to those acting out of faith towards him. The problem is the only faithful choice I can make in this matter is to do my best now to live honestly as what I really am! I know I am not a man putting on women’s clothes – I am a woman (at least I am so to a very much greater extent than I have ever been a man, especially where it matters most, which is in my inner being, in my mind and heart) – I just happen to have been born partially male, a discontinuity that has caused unfortunate problems throughout my entire life.
I know there are some who cannot understand this. I do not blame them. It’s challenging enough to comprehend it myself, having lived with the experience. I don’t expect others to ever fully understand it. Neither do I have any desire to “stumble” anyone. Some have expressed the opinion that if only for the sake of others, I should really have just gone on living as the male “shell,” with no one else ever having to know, and that would have been the kindest thing I could have done for all those around me, all my friends in the congregation, and my children in particular.
That, in essence, is what Jehovah’s Witnesses suggest that I must go back to doing, in order to be “forgiven” and accepted. But the truth is, my living in a shut-down near vegetative state was no kindness to anyone. Terminating my own existence, which was beginning to seem preferable to the deepest of the depression, would have been the ultimate selfishness. Living honestly now as who I am presents its own challenges too, but it is proving far better than either of the above choices, and in this state, at least I am have something to offer others again. Dead or mentally and emotionally comatose, I would have nothing left to give to anyone.
Finally – and in many ways, most importantly – were I to nevertheless attempt what feels so utterly impossible and wrong – to go back to living in accord with the flesh (speaking literally in this case, of those incongruous male bits I was born with), if only for the sake of “being obedient” to those taking the lead, not only would I be expected to silently endure whatever ongoing suffering that choice continued to cause me (and those around me), but I would be expected to be fully supportive of the organization’s stance. I would need to be willing to tell others like myself that this is the only way to please God: keep pretending, and don’t ever let anyone see who you really are on the inside, because Deuteronomy 22:5 obviously indicates doing so would be disgusting to Jehovah.
Unfortunately, as far as I have ever been able to determine, that viewpoint is far from being sound scriptural truth, and the ramifications are far from benign. It’s a viewpoint with the clear potential to stumble and harm others, especially other transgender persons like myself. Therefore this choice comes down to a matter of integrity for me. In regard to this, I cannot obey the brothers. Jehovah comes first.
If Joab had disobeyed the king’s order regarding Uriah, he might well have been put to death for it. That does not mean that he shouldn’t have still put Jehovah’s principles first, and accepted whatever suffering that decision might have brought his way. I am not comparing David’s motives in that instance to the congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses. I believe they think they are doing the right thing, and their motives are pure. I’m simply pointing out the similarity with regard to the type of choice involved, of whom I must obey and why, regardless of the consequences.
Thus the organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses has removed me from the congregation – and they will not allow other transgender persons like myself into the congregation – on the basis of a single specific law about clothing (Deut. 22:5), a law that Jehovah himself has repealed – and their assumptions regarding what the one-time existence of that law implies about Jehovah’s view of persons unfortunate enough to be born of mixed gender, and thus, what he must expect of such persons today. In all this time, they have not brought one single thing to my consideration that would contradict the body of evidence I see, both scriptural and otherwise, which tells me that in this case their assumptions are fundamentally flawed. There is no disloyalty intended on my part, certainly not towards Jehovah, nor towards the organization I believe he is using. However, the consequences of their viewpoint in this matter are not so insignificant that I can in good conscience ignore what I perceive to be a harmful error.