Here is a talk I gave at Q Denver titled, What is Gender Dysphoria? It is being featured on Q Ideas. I try to explain the phenomenon, as well as provide a little background information on theories of etiology, prevalence, and management strategies. Also, check out the talk by Melinda Selmys, who shares about her own experiences with gender dyshporia.
After we both spoke, Gabe Lyons invited us to join him for a time to Q & A from the audience. This was a helpful opportunity to reflect further on gender dysphoria:
To give you a little background on Q Ideas, here is a description from their website:
Q was birthed out of Gabe Lyons’ vision to see Christians, especially leaders, recover a vision for their historic responsibility to renew and restore cultures. Inspired by Chuck Colson’s statement, “Christians are called to redeem entire cultures, not just individuals,” Gabe set out to reintroduce Christians to what had seemed missing in recent decades from an American expression of Christian faithfulness; valuing both personal and cultural renewal, not one over the other. Re-educating Christians to this orthodox and unifying concept has become central to the vision of Q.
Together, we explore topics that fall into four broad themes: culture, future, church, and gospel. Q facilitates the investigation of deeper engagement and responsibility in each of these areas. As we continue to work through these ideas on a deeper level, so grows our commitment to equipping innovators, social entrepreneurs, entertainers, artists, church-shapers, futurists, scientists, educators, historians, environmentalists, and everyday people to do extraordinary things. At Q Ideas, you’ll see a broad spectrum of content represented in our small group curriculum, essays, videos, blog articles, and podcasts. These are all contributed and commissioned to shed light on unique areas of culture and the church.
The latest Youth Worker Magazine includes an article by Julia, my research assistant, and me. We write about ministry to LGBT+ youth. We introduce and develop three ideas based on a metaphor of navigating difficult terrain: 1) Identify markers on the trail; 2) Communicate with base camp; and Help youth find God on the trail.
The markers on the trail refer to milestone events in the development or formation of sexual identity. These are common experiences that gay and lesbian adults tell us were a part of their own journey. Some of these are unchosen experiences, such as first awareness of same-sex sexuality, while other milestones are more of a decision, such as whether to enter into a same-sex relationship. Other milestones include ‘attributional search’ (or making meaning of one’s same-sex sexuality), disclosure to others, use of a private sexual identity label, and use of a public sexual identity label. Exploring the underlying meaning associated with various milestones can be helpful in ministry.
The parent-child relationship is the best predictor of a sexual minority’s emotional well-being over time. We discuss the importance of communicating with base camp (parents). Every significant climb has a base camp from which one directs the journey. Navigating sexual identity and faith is no exception.
Youth group can be the place where we help teens get to know Christ so He can help them discover who they are. It seems unlikely that they will ever get to know Him if His merciful love is not made crystal clear, in the very places where they feel most unworthy.
Lastly, we invite youth ministers to help LGBT+ youth find God on the trail. Youth have many questions and possibly fears or angst or confusion. Invite them to ask Christ those questions. Love them. Disciple them into an increasingly mature walk with Christ.
The call of a Christian is simple: to enter in and to remain… This is not a race, but an important journey on difficult terrain, that no on e should have to travel alone. That’s where you come in.
This image of hiking difficult terrain is developed more fully in the book, Understanding Sexual Identity: A Resource for Youth Ministry, published by Zondervan.
A new report is out on transgender health. It is the Report of the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey published by the National Center for Transgender Equality. The web-based survey had over 27,000 respondents from all 50 states, D.C., American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico, and overseas U.S. military bases.
Let me highlight a couple of findings from the executive summary that have to do with family and faith.
- It was reported that over half (60%) of those who responded and who were out to their immediate family or family of origin indicated that their family was “generally supportive” of them as transgender. In contrast, 18% indicated that their family was “unsuppportive,” while 22% reported that their family wither “neither supportive nor unsupportive.”
- On psychological health, it was noted that 39% reported serious psychological distress the month prior to completing the survey, and 40% had attempted suicide at some point in their lives. This is much higher than the rate for the U.S. population, which the report puts at 4.6%.
- Having a family that was supportive was associated with being less likely to have negative health (e.g., attempting suicide) and economic concerns (e.g., homelessness).
- There were few questions on religion or religious faith. However, 19% of those who responded and who had been part of a religious community left that community due to rejection. Of those who left, 42% said they later found a more welcoming faith community.
Many social conservatives may see these findings as laying a foundation for various social and cultural changes they wish to oppose. I am not chiming in on that aspect of a report like this. That may very well be an important part of cultural engagement.
What I would like to see people of faith grapple with is how to respond in a more pastoral way to the experiences of transgender persons and how to position faith communities to respond in a dramatically changing cultural context. I have yet to see a fully-developed and thoughtful, Christian response. When I pitched my book to the editors at InterVarsity Press, I noted that the evangelical church is not prepared for a nuanced discussion of gender identity and transgender presentations.
Not much has changed in the year and a half since the book was first released.
I do see more Christian leaders and institutions asking questions about gender identity and transgender experiences. That is a start. But mostly I see a posture that will likely reflect more of a defense against an attack on institutions. This is more “culture war” than cultural engagement. More “defending turf” than coming alongside.
A new book titled Transgender Youth: Perceptions, Media Influences and Social Challenges has been published by Nova Science. Research team members from the Institute for the Study of Sexual Identity have two chapters in this edited volume.
One chapter is titled, “Transgender Christians: Gender Identity, Family Relationships, and Religious Faith.” This chapter presents a study we conducted of transgender Christians. We took a narrative approach and invited participants to share the “chapters” of their lives in relation to gender identity and faith. They discussed initial chapters of gender identity awareness, a subsequent chapter about the conflict they experienced with others about their gender identity, and then a chapter on religious identity. This moved toward a chapter back to gender identity concerns (religious identity did not resolve gender incongruence), followed by a chapter in which participants described ways they have learned to cope with their gender identity concerns.
The second chapter is titled, “Christian Parent’s Experiences of Transgender Youth During the Coming Out Process.” This chapter is based on a study we conducted that is really a subset of a larger study of the experiences of Christian parents when their children come out to them as LGBT. The subset presented in this chapter are the parents whose children came out to them as transgender. We discuss common responses to disclosure of a transgender identity, as well as what happens to the parent-child relationship over time.
LOVEboldly hosted an event called Restore: An Evening on Faith, Sexuality and Gender Identity. They recently posted it and you can view it above. It was an unusual event insofar as there were gracious and unassuming exchanges among all of those who participated.
This past week I had the opportunity to equip youth ministers in their ministry to LGBT+ youth. I was at the National Youth Worker’s Convention in Cincinnati. One session was a 5-hour intensive; the other was 1.5 hour workshop. Both were with my friend, Julie Rodgers.
The experience is unique in many ways. Youth ministers are in the trenches. They are on the front-line of ministry. In fact, it was through my experience equipping them 3 or 4 years ago that I first thought about writing a book on Gender Dysphoria. Many youth ministers at that time were asking questions about transgender and gender-diverse youth, and I began to realize that if these questions were being asked in youth ministry, the experiences of transgender persons and the topic of gender identity was going to soon become part of a larger, national discussion that evangelical Christian were not prepared for.
Another way in which the experience is unique is that we really do not delve into doctrine regarding sexuality and sexual behavior per se. The NYWC is a big tent that draws representatives from many churches, including conservative and liberal churches. So rather than make sessions about what attendees may disagree on, such as the moral status of same-sex behavior), we focus on improving youth ministry within the context of their doctrinal position.
This year we focused on a ‘map’ for ministry to LGBT+ youth. That map plays off of the metaphor that teenagers are navigating difficult terrain, a metaphor I developed in the book, Understanding Sexual Identity. We discussed the importance of parents (‘base camp’) and how the quality of that relationship is the best predictor of a teenagers well-being over time. We also discussed common ‘markers’ along the train, which, in our work are milestone events in sexual identity development. Milestones include first awareness of same-sex attraction, first sexual behaviors, first disclosure to others, first attribution (about what experiences of same-sex attractions mean to them), first labeling oneself (privately or publicly), and so on.
My sense from the audience at both the workshop and the longer intensive is that they were going away with a helpful metaphor that can be translated into a helpful posture toward LGBT+ youth. These were big-hearted, kind, and generous youth ministry staff and volunteers who absolutely love their kids. My friend Julie says that the most frequently asked question by LGBT+ youth in youth ministry is, “Am I wanted here?’ This is a group of youth ministers who wanted as a group to say, “Yes, you are wanted here. There is no where we’d want you to be than in our youth ministry.”