Beyond Public Toilets, Prisons and Pronouns
People not Pronouns helps us look beyond the fraught debates about which public toilets transgender people should use, which prisons those who commit crimes should be sent to, and whether or not we should use their preferred pronouns. It reminds us instead that behind each of those dilemmas is a real person, created by God and deeply loved by him, and that as believers we are called to model that love to all people, especially those who are experiencing so much pain and distress.
The order of Andrew’s three central chapters is important - instead of starting by helping us think through the ideas and concepts at play in the debate about what it means to be transgender, Andrew starts with the heart. What should be our heart response?
He shares a couple of true stories - real life experiences of people with gender dysphoria who tried to come to Jesus in the midst of their brokenness, but were turned away by those who bore his name.
In case you were wondering, Andrew advocates the opposite of this response. Jesus’ example was one of compassion for all those who were suffering - either physically or psychologically - and of love for outcasts and sinners of every kind. Wherever we think people experiencing gender dysphoria sit on that scale, our heart response must be one of compassion.
Andrew next outlines the head response, looking at the vexed question of identity and what the Bible teaches about how we should approach the question ‘who am I?’ Does my identity lie in who I truly am inside, as our culture would teach, or in what others think of me, or perhaps in something given by God? And having identified the true source of our identity, how should we live that out, especially when it feels uncomfortable for us?
Finally, Andrew addresses the hope response. Hope is what Christianity uniquely has to offer to those who feel trapped in a world of suffering, and Andrew unpacks what that could look like for those who have pastoral responsibility for or friendships with transgender people or those experiencing gender dysphoria.
Importantly, rather than simply seeing them as a problem to be solved or even a ‘victim’ group to be cared for, Andrew reminds us that ‘It may also be that those who live with gender dysphoria are a gift from God to the church.’ Over recent years many of us, myself included, have learned so much and gained such encouragement from the writings of same-sex attracted Christians who have chosen to remain celibate. Their testimony of God’s faithfulness in the midst of trials (such as standing against the immense cultural pressure to believe that a life without sexual intimacy barely qualifies as life, let alone one worth living), and their very obvious surrender of all they once held dear for the sake of knowing Jesus are powerful examples and reminders and encouragements to the rest of us. People living with gender dysphoria will have many of the same trials and the same testimonies of God’s goodness, that they can teach to those who have a much easier walk.
As I said, this is a very brief overview of the issue, and at the end of the booklet Andrew points to four longer resources for anyone wanting to learn more, but for anyone short on time, or perhaps wanting a resource to share with church leadership teams or pastoral care teams, People not Pronouns is a great place to start.