I want to write about this issue from a different perspective today: there remains a fair amount of confusion in much of the population as a whole about what it even means to be transgender — let alone among the Christian community, as to what a transgender person’s particular moral obligations might really be, from the Bible’s point of view. However, Jehovah’s Witnesses as an organization take a stand that suggests there is no confusion on their part with regard to either of these questions.
All well and good, but in that case, how is it that they are so certain? It’s a fair and honest question, and to be frank, it’s the sort of question many sincere folks have asked Jehovah’s Witnesses about a great many of their beliefs. To their credit, Jehovah’s Witnesses stand ready with very sound Bible-based reasoning to back up the vast majority of everything they teach with surprising clarity. It is one of the things that drew me to them in the first place; a firm reliance upon scripture, as opposed to the interpretations or opinions of men.
So what about the case of transgender Christians? Jehovah’s Witnesses’ position, at least, appears to be reasonably clear and succinct: no transgender person can become a part of the genuine Christian community (or remain one, if they were previously baptized as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses), unless that person agrees to live outwardly as the gender the Christian congregation expects them to be — essentially meaning their assigned gender at birth — regardless of how wrong that gender may feel to the person, or why.
The brothers that spoke with me indicated that the organization’s viewpoint with respect to a “hermaphrodite” might be different — though they declined to elaborate further on what that viewpoint might actually be. I asked, more than once in fact. As was to become a pattern, I just didn’t get an answer to that question.
That leaves me to wonder, among other things, what their understanding is of what it means to be “hermaphrodite”. Modern medical science has not used the term hermaphrodite for quite some time, and instead today recognizes a broad range of what are now called intersex conditions, which I will sum up, very non-technically, as a wide variety of ways in which gender can be physically observed to be ambiguous at birth. In other words, some physical indicators of both male and female gender are present. Importantly, some of these physical indicators may not even be visible to the naked eye. (As just one of many examples, it is entirely possible for a Y chromosome, generally considered the prime “male” genetic marker, to be present — or else absent — when the sexual organs would appear to indicate the opposite gender.)
But I digress. Even if there is some confusion about what constitutes a “hermaphrodite” or intersex condition to which, at least in theory, the organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses might afford a different consideration, the brothers’ viewpoint on what constitutes a transgender person at least, must obviously be clear enough, otherwise, how else could they formulate such an equally clear prescription for the transgender Christian: “You must live in accord with your apparent birth sex. Period.” Right?
Well, maybe not. I am a transgender woman — which to me quite simply means I was born with visibly male parts, but at the same time, with a deep-rooted sense from the earliest age I can recall onward that I was absolutely not a boy, but a girl. Is this their understanding of it? The closest thing I received to an answer was that “they take no stand as to whether I, and other transgender persons like myself, may have been born this way or not.” Hmmmm. That sounds more like uncertainty than certainty. Or else they simply think it doesn’t matter.
Fine, so then, if that doesn’t matter, the thinking must be that no matter what I’ve felt on the inside from infancy on up, it must somehow be plain to them that God absolutely views me as a man, right? Is this their point of view, and thus, the reason they insist the only acceptable way for me to live is to look, appear, and act as a man?
You might think that it must be, but I could not get an answer to that question either.
Does that mean they’re not exactly certain how Jehovah views me? Well, from my understanding of the scriptures, it’s plain that the God of the Bible sees and values the inner person, so I happen to think it’s quite reasonable that even if other people cannot understand it, He first and foremost would be the one to actually know and comprehend my femaleness.
The line of reasoning makes sense to me, but clearly not to the brothers. Why not, though? You guessed it: NO ANSWER!!!!
I hope any reasonable person can see why this has been so highly frustrating. Still, I kept trying. Ok, well, is there just no way that you brothers can view me as a woman?
That response was immediate, clear and emphatic enough.
Then why not?
(– insert dead silence here –)
I believe that is the point at which I essentially gave up. There was a bit more discussion along equally unsatisfying lines, but in the end, regardless of whatever I said or the questions that went unanswered, their unanimous decision was to remove me from the congregation for what they obviously consider a very serious violation of Jehovah God’s standards, despite the fact that nobody was able to clearly explain why they maintain that viewpoint, nor has anyone attempted to do so since.
As best as I can determine — and some educated guessing is involved on my part here, because none of Jehovah’s Witnesses have ever attempted a clear, direct explanation — they essentially rely on Deuteronomy 22:5 in taking this stand concerning transgender persons. Further, to do this, they apply it as follows: Jehovah said it was detestable for a man to wear women’s clothes or vise versa; Even though we’re not under that law as Christians, if Jehovah said something was detestable to him then, there’s no reason to expect God to think differently now, since in his ultimate wisdom as the creator of all things, his views never need to change. Furthermore, in their view, regardless of whatever my own personal experience may be, I am obviously a man, no more, no less; yet I now dress and present myself as a woman. Case closed.
Before I can begin to accept such an argument as sound — sound enough to change my whole life around again based upon it, and head back in a direction that I’ve otherwise come to see as totally improper and damaging for me — here are what I viewed at the time, and continue to view, as legitimate and sincere questions in need of straightforward answers. Assuming Jehovah’s Witnesses are really certain of what they are doing in this regard and why, they really ought to be able to provide me with ready, clear responses:
1. As Christian’s we are not under the law given to Moses, so to use one of the statutes of that law as a basis for the serious step of removing someone from the Christian congregation, there must be some significant discernible principle involved, one that plainly transcends the law, and is clearly applicable to Christians. With respect to Deuteronomy 22:5, the key — and only — scripture relied upon in making any kind of scriptural case for my removal, what is that principle? Surely it is not about anything as trite as the mere wearing of garments. Jesus made it plain that the eating of various foods could not defile a person — and indeed, the dietary restrictions of the law were explicitly noted as being done away with for Christians; how could the mere wearing of a garment of any sort defile a person? The brothers agreed with me on that point, but never answered the question of what they believe the underlying principle to be, or why.
2. Personally, I believe the gist of Deuteronomy 22:5 to be that a person ought not to present themselves as something they are not. (I’m not talking of costume parties or taking on a role for entertainment, such as theater and so on — I’m talking about “faking” something out in the world for real, for purposes that are essentially fraudulent or dishonorable.) In fact, to me, having come to a fuller understanding of myself over time, as a transgender woman, that very principle means I ought not continue to present myself as a male when in fact there is so much more about me — the whole inner person, in fact — that is female. Indeed, to my mind, the very notion of reverting to trying to live as a man now would mean to carry on a sorry pretense, and that is something I think Jehovah would not want me to do. But I am more interested here in asking what do Jehovah’s Witnesses really think, as opposed to restating for the umpteenth time what I think. With regard what I’ve outlined here, I did ask them to tell me, what they believe is wrong with my thinking? This question also received no response, scriptural or otherwise.
3. To answer to the previous question would of necessity also entail an answer to another question, probably the most fundamental of all, namely, what really is Jehovah’s view of me, and other transgender persons? The brothers made it plain that they personally cannot bring themselves to view me as anything but a man, evidently because they know (or at least believe they know) I was born with some visible, unambiguously male parts — i.e., a penis — and apparently to their way of thinking, nothing else could possibly matter more than that. All well and good — everyone is entitled to their opinion — but the most crucial question which I posed for them, in all earnestness, also remains utterly unaddressed, namely: Do you believe that is also Jehovah’s viewpoint? If so, why? If not, what exactly is it that you believe He thinks? And what scriptures lead you to your conclusion?
These questions all deserve a clear answer, and I cannot emphasize enough how disappointing it has been to have each of them repeatedly ignored. I do not know what else to conclude except that in this particular matter, Jehovah’s Witnesses are themselves, at best, uncertain about the answers.
But if that is really the case, then I would beg this of them: until you can really be certain, one way or the other, stop being unfairly prejudiced in your opinions, because at present your actions are potentially stumbling and harming a good many people who through no fault of their own suffer as I do from a transgender condition.