In the theme song to All in the Family, Archie and Edith sing longingly about those days when “girls were girls and men were men.”
But not precise!
What we’re learning now is that the experience and expression of gender is not as binary as we once thought. Gender is not based on the clothes a person wears, a particular haircut, the toys a child plays with, or the roles they assume in life. And it’s not anatomy. That's why it is designated as TRANSgender. (From the Latin, meaning across, beyond or through.) As one transgender friend told me: “Gender is not about what’s between the legs, but about what’s between the ears!”
My partner is a wonderful man, but he doesn’t have a deep, bass voice that would make people mistake him for James Earl Jones. One day he called his credit card company to resolve an issue. The customer service representative on the other end of the phone said she didn’t believe he was who he identified himself to be, and kept accusing him of being a woman trying to access the account. “You are not a man,” she insisted. Even though he responded patiently and correctly to all her security questions—mother’s maiden name, social security number, credit card number (including the three-digit CVV code on the back of the card)—she would not relent. It would seem that in her limited view, gender could be (should be?) determined primarily by how deep a person’s voice is. (What does she say about Bea Arthur, Kathleen Turner, Brenda Vaccaro or Lauren Bacall?)
For the record: I share that story as a simple illustration of someone seeking for force Gender Conformity. I know it is nothing compared to what my Trans friends have to endure on a daily basis.
Yes, gender is biological, and it’s physical. (Though we know it can be physically altered.) But it’s also psychological and emotional. And it’s individual. It’s personal, so we must learn to respect the personal pronoun someone uses when describing who they are.
Personal Pronoun: (Grammar) n. A pronoun designating the person speaking (I, me, we, us), the person spoken to (you), or the person…spoken about (he, she, him, her). Personal pronouns represent people or things. We use personal pronouns in place of the person or people that we are talking about.
When we're born, the doctor will designate us as male or female, solely and subjectively by observable genitalia. But that may not be accurate. And it should not be the absolute designation.
A person can be born a female, identify as a female and live as a female. The personal pronoun is “she.”
However, a person can be born a male, but as they grow, know within themselves that they are not male. The “I” for them is not “he.” If I insist on using the masculine pronoun when I talk to them or about them, it would not only be inaccurate, it would be inappropriate and offensive. Moreover, forcing this person to live as a male because of our concept of Gender is unhealthy—psychologically and emotionally.
My personal pronouns is “he.” That’s how I understand, embrace and convey my gender. “I” identify as a man. I’m Male.
Personal Note: I know that as a gay man, some get confused, but gender and sexual orientation are not the same. “Gender Identity” has to do with the way a person understand themselves and their gender. “Sexual orientation” is about our attraction (emotional, physical, sexual, and more) to someone of the same or different gender or both. I’ve had people ask “Who’s the woman?” in my relationship with my partner. That question is more about Gender Roles, than it is about Gender Identity or sexual orientation. The truth is, if either of us wanted a woman in our coupling, we would not identify as “gay.”
Just to be clear, I am not an expert in this area, but I’ve made it a point to listen and learn from those who know best—the ones who live it. I met my first transgender person at the church I was attending not long after I moved to Southern California—born male, but living as woman as part of Gender Transition. I invited her to lunch and we talked. She was so kind and patient with this recovering Fundamentalist. Not long afterwards, I attended a seminar on the subject, hosted by the local LGBT Community Center. Since then, I’ve had the privilege of meeting others, and I continue to learn. I recently read a wonderful book by a Facebook friend, Lisa Salazar, a Christian transgender. (I highly recommend Transparently: Behind the Scenes of a Good Life.)
I know there are some within my Christian “family” who will want to quote verses from the Bible to exclude (negate, ignore) transgender reality. They will tell me that God created “male and female” (Genesis 1:27) with no mistakes, or they will inform me that it’s wrong for men to wear women’s clothing (Deuteronomy 22:5). But I reject this kind of simplistic, proof-text logic as I do with similar cut-and-paste-a-Bible-verse beliefs.
Author’s Clarification: If they are not willing to follow all the laws of Deuteronomy, then they are not allowed to impose one on someone else. (cf: Galatians 3) If they want to accept the story of Creation as God’s absolute pattern for sexuality, then I will expect them to forbid marriage to anyone not willing or capable of procreation.
In these matters, belief is the choice, not Gender!
I am heartened that transgender people are becoming more prominent. Chaz Bono helped us by allowing us to go along on his transition in the documentary Becoming Chaz. Laverne Cox was nominated for an Emmy for her role in Orange is the New Black. (I don’t watch the show, but this recognition is historic—she’s the first openly transgendered person to receive such a nomination and was featured on the cover of Time magazine.) Transparent, a critically acclaimed, award-winning series recently premiered on Amazon Prime.
Regrettably, some of the notoriety is tragic, in the case of those individuals who choose death over the conflict of living openly in a culture that doesn’t accept them, particularly in the religious community. (One recent study revealed that 41 percent of trans people have attempted suicide, which is nearly nine times the national average
The complexity of gender cannot be covered here, but I hope it makes us more aware and more conscious of the need for consideration and understanding. My intention is to encourage Respect for a person, regardless of the personal pronoun they use to describe themselves.
Correct grammar has rules for the use of personal pronouns.
Gender Grammar simply calls for Respect of an individual’s personal pronouns.
(I’ve heard people skip the use of the preferred personal pronoun “he” or “she” in favor of “it,” which is intentionally disrespecting and demeaning. Nobody...no person...is an “IT.” To use such impersonal designation is mean and cruel. It's wrong, and it's bullying!
If someone who was born male tells me that they are female, I will not argue. I will respect her own designation—her personal pronoun—of gender.
I admire the courage of those who choose to live authentically; it’s never easy to go against the cultural or societal norms. Honesty, integrity and truthfulness are qualities that we (especially Christians) should honor, value and encourage, not humiliate, shame or try to disgrace.
Disclaimer: I admit the terminology can be complex and confusing. But that’s because, like our understanding of Gender, it’s in flux. I am not suggesting that you must become an expert on all the implications and ramification of Gender Identity. I’m not even saying that you have to agree with someone’s Gender Expression. I am merely calling for Respect of the person. While gender differentiation may be complicated and complex and Gender designation can be confusing, courtesy is not.
However, if you would like more information, I suggest these sites as a good place to begin:
American Psychological Association
Human Rights Campaign (HRC)
GLADD (formerly Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation)
We should honor an individual's personal pronouns!
That’s being a friend, and an ally.
It's courteous and Respectful.
It's being a nice person.
Don't we ALL want that?