Transgender Christians’ Experiences

This Thursday I’ll be co-presenting an interesting study I conducted with Trista Carr, a student in the Doctoral Program in Clinical Psychology at Regent. The study is interesting to me in part because it is the first one we’ve undertaken that has addressed the relationship between gender identity and religious identity. Specifically, it is a study of 32 self-identified Christians who also self-identified as biologically male but transgender. They provided information on their experiences with local churches, their relationship with God, their spouses, employers, and so on. They also shared ways in which religion was a coping resource. Some even shared how their struggle with gender identity concerns led to a strengthening of their personal faith as Christians.

Here is the abstract from the paper we’ll be presenting:

Though the experiences of transgender persons have been explored to some extent, very few scholars have delved into the relationship between gender identity as a trangender person and religious identity as a Christian. Therefore, the qualitative data described herein reflects the narratives of 32 transgender individuals who are biological males and identify as Christians. The study sought to bring some understanding of the events and processes that occur for this specific population. Although some participants indicated that their gender identity conflict led to a strengthening of their personal faith, others reported a past struggle – often with specific persons or church leadership – and some indicated that they moved away from organized religion in light of their conflict. Many participants in this study still identified religious coping activities tied to their faith tradition as sources of support during present difficulties. Participants also shared experiences with conflicts in their marriages and places of employment.

The study came about through a number of developments over the past several years. Some of those developments included providing consultations to families who were worried that their child might be gay. The children were often presenting with symptoms of Gender Identity Disorder, and some met criteria, while others had symptoms but were sub-threshold for the diagnosis. I’ve also worked with older adolescents and adults who identified as transgender and Christian and were asking for assistance with possible ways to manage their dysphoria and/or conflict with their religious beliefs and values. If you know someone who is transgender or if you’ve worked with this population, you may have a sense for how challenging it can be to fully understand the issues that are involved.

A few years ago I was also introduced by someone who identified as transgender and Christian to an online group of people with similar experiences. This led to the idea of possibly furthering my own understanding of their experiences (and the experiences of adults I’d worked with) by conducting an initial study of some of what they had been dealing with. I brought this idea to the Institute for the Study of Sexual Identity (ISSI), the research institute I work with at Regent, and Trista expressed interest in working on it, as did some of our other team members. So we got to work on developing a questionnaire, and we ran it by various members of the community for help with wording, etc. We announced the study through various avenues, and people were able to access it online and provide us with some of their experience with gender and religious identity issues. So the study is a first step, and I hope we are able to follow it up with additional studies that delve into other related areas, but it is a start.

The paper we’ll be presenting is titled, “Transgender Christians’ Experiences: A Qualitative Study.” It will be presented at the Virginia Psychological Association’s (VPA’s) spring convention this Thursday, April 22, from 4-5pm at the Norfolk Waterside Marriott.

11 Comments

  1. It was really incredible! A lot of us psych students thought that Warren Brown’s presentation of the levels of explanation was easier to grasp than Myers’ position in the 4 views text (Bryan has a Methods and Models of Integration course where we study the different views). I really enjoyed Stanton Jones and David Powlison, they felt the most practical and understandable. Coe’s transformational model and Watson’s Christian Psychology/incommensurability model were not as meaningful for me. I had the opportunity to ask Dr. Johnson about the future of Christianity within psychology and if Christian researchers have formed a vision of how we can become part of mainstream research; I really appreciated his response to my question.

    Carolyn Candland, a good friend of mine and fellow psych senior from Bryan was actually accepted and is choosing to attend Regent this fall. She will be a great asset to the PsyD program!

  2. It is now August 2012. I am asking if this has now been reviewed and published as it is an area I am extremely interested in and connected to. As a pastor I am always seeking to expand my understanding and means to live out a life of love and respect for all individuals. I believe this may aid in that endeavor.

  3. Im happy that i ran into your website and was thrilled with the information I’ve found in helping me with my gender identity issues. I’m Muslim (Islam mainstream beliefs are extremely intolerant to any non-heterosexual orientation). there isn’t much resources in my cultural background for reconciling my faith as a Muslim and my gender orientation issues (I’m still confused but i think im gay). one way was to search for other similar religion such as Christianity and see it deals with sexuality, where i found many religious organizations addressing the issue.

    i identify myself as a Muslim with strong faith that i believe it continuously supports me with my struggle. it did presented me at first with many complications that i assume are similar with any one questioning his sexuality within a religious context. But as i went to college in the United States, where there are endless resources concerning sexual orientation. in addition, being out of my cultural box allow me to reexamine the mainstream religious beliefs back home from other perspectives.

    luckily, i have found many ways negotiating the my religion with my current struggle. There are still many complications that i haven’t worked out (there is way more than i can say here). I’m glad there exist rigorous studies on sexuality that could help me. I’m very excited to read your study about Christian Transgenders. i believe it will enlighten me to similar experiences that could guide me in my struggle.

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