In a sense, this legislation has nothing to do with transgender people. It is about our cultural's obsessive anxiety surrounding what's under our clothes and natural bodily functions. It's about ignorance, misunderstanding, and fear of "the other." Transgender people are just the next minority group in a long line of targets our culture has chosen as a scapegoat for our fears and failings as a society.
On the other hand, this has everything to do with transgender people. Because they are the ones who are in the media spotlight, bullied and ridiculed, feared and loathed, spoken for and spoken against. They are the ones who are legally banned from going to the bathroom in a safe and comfortable space in a public building (to the degree that any public restroom is safe and comfortable).
While Michigan does not currently have this type of legislation in process, the Michigan Board of Education is considering recommendations for public schools in dealing with transgender students and bathroom use. While the recommendations have not yet been released, and these are only recommendations, and not mandates, from the state, many districts and parents are already in an uproar, taking sides on this issue. And it may only be a matter of time before the same kind of legislation that was passed in North Carolina comes to the Michigan Statehouse.
So what are people of Christian faith to think and do? Christians across the country are on both sides of this debate, but those who most vocally state their religious convictions as the basis for their position are those who support legislating that transgender people use the bathroom of the gender assigned to them at birth. Most of these Christians believe that transgender is a willful choice or an emotional disorder and this condition is opposed to the natural order of God's creation.
Does this mean that if you believe allowing transgender persons to use the bathroom related to their gender identity, you are somehow straying from the faith? Does scripture have any guidance for us in this matter?
If, as a Christian, you believe that transgender is not a willful choice or emotional disorder but rather, a part of the diversity of humankind, does this go against Christian beliefs? Like most biblical questions, it all comes down to a matter of interpretation.
For instance, the fact that human beings are created "male and female" in the image of God can be interpreted to mean that God designed humans to fit into one of those two gender categories. On the other hand, one could interpret this to mean that God designed human beings for gender diversity, and that God somehow encompasses both the male and female genders.
Scripture was designed to be a "living Word," interpreted in fresh ways for each time and place. Even if the bible specifically talked about transgender people (as it specifically talks about and condemns homosexual activity), those scriptures were shaped by the culture in which they were written. Unless we plan to go back to the days of slavery and women as property, there is no reason to allow the cultural attitudes of people who lived in the ancient near-east shape how we understand God's will for the world today. This does not mean that scripture is not authoritative, true, and God-inspired. We have been gifted with knowledge and wisdom, interpretive tools and historical context, that we are called to use as we discern what the Spirit is saying to us in this day and age through the words of these ancient texts. ALL of them. I'm not an advocate for picking and choosing the texts we like or agree with. On the contrary, I think those texts that confound and offend us most are the most important for us to interpret and understand.
That said, I think it is also important to interpret each text in light of what we understand to be the over-arching story line of the scriptures. What I hear, over and over again, is God's call for justice, compassion, and love of neighbor. We can spend all night sighting chapter and verse to back up this claim, but I hope that instead we can talk about how we align ourselves with this story in light of this current controversy.
For further reading / watching:
- The GLAAD Media Reference Guide - Transgender Issues provides helpful definitions of terminology used when discussing transgender issues and terms to avoid.
- An interesting article from BuzzFeed about the historical context of gender-segregated bathrooms and how it relates to the current debate. Of note in this article: "Those who oppose equitable bathrooms are presumably far more afraid of what trans people represent than the nonexistent physical threat they pose."
- A humorous/satirical look at this issue from Saturday Night Live's "Weekend Update"