It was about 15 years ago, that I was at a conference of gay evangelicals meeting in Tacoma, Washington. I decided to go to a workshop on the transgender community. I wanted to understand being transgendered, because at that point I didn’t understand it. One of the panelists was a person transitioned from male to female. She told her story about how she always felt like a woman, but stuck in a male body. It was at that moment that I understood at least the best that I could. Just like I couldn’t stop being attracted to men, she could not not be a woman.
I’m still learning about being transgender. But I have been lucky to find transgendered people in my life who have helped me wrap my brain around this way of being. I’m thankful that they have been patient teachers and thankful to have them in my life.
Transgenderism is gaining more exposure in society. The “it girl” of the moment is Laverne Cox, an African American transgendered actress who is on the hit TV show Orange is the New Black and became the first transgender person to make the cover of a major magazine when she made the front page of Time magazine recently.
Not surprisingly, this is causing a bit of discomfort for my fellow conservatives. Kevin Williamson, a writer for National Review, made news with his response to the star treatment Ms. Cox is getting. His point was clear in the title: “Laverene Cox Is Not A Woman.” It’s important to note at the outset that Williamson supports same sex marriage and gay rights in general. But her draws the line with being transgender:
This seems to me a very different sort of phenomenon from simple homosexuality (though, for the record, I believe that our neat little categories of sexual orientation are yet another substitution of the conceptual for the actual, human sexual behavior being more complex and varied than the rhetoric of sexual orientation can accommodate). The question of the status of gay people interacts with politics to the extent that it in some cases challenges existing family law, but homosexual acts as such seem to me a matter that is obviously, and almost by definition, private. The mass delusion that we are inculcating on the question of transgendered people is a different sort of matter, to the extent that it would impose on society at large an obligation — possibly a legal obligation under civil-rights law, one that already is emerging — to treat delusion as fact, or at the very least to agree to make subjective impressions superordinate to biological fact in matters both public and private.
In my journey among conservatives transgender is still hard to understand. I’ve found this even among gay conservatives. In some ways, I can understand and sympathize…somewhat. Conservatives tend to value order quite highly. Everything is in its right place. The thing that can make a conservative uneasy is that allowing for someone to decide that they aren’t male when they have a penis will open the door to complete chaos. That fear isn’t totally unfounded; some progressives have made gender so malleable that it becomes pointless (think Facebook and it’s long list of genders).
A conservative can still believe in order and allow for some bending of the categories. It has to; because the Laverne Coxes of the world are here.
It’s not unheard of to have more than two genders. A number of indeginous peoples have made room for one or two more genders. It can be hard to wrap one’s mind around this, because like many conservatives, it’s easy for me to equate gender with anatomy. For the most part that is the case with humans; but sometimes they aren’t in sync. It’s basically a mutation of the species; which is basically how I see homosexuality.
In his essay, Williamson believed Ms. Cox to be “delusional.” I don’t think she is delusional, but again I can see how Williamson could see this. But then, it wasn’t that long ago that gay people were considered delusional.
Which is why I think conservatives will come around, just like they are when it comes to homosexuality. It will happen when they encounter people who are transgender. It’s one thing to tear apart a symbol, it’s quite different when your argument is flesh and blood.
Having had the opportunity to meet transgendered women and men have helped me become more accepting of them. They all come from different walks of life and mostly do the same things I do: trying to make it day by day.
So I ask conservatives to start to learn about being transgender. And don’t worry if you don’t understand all of it- what matters more is to care for these people- even if it doesn’t make any damn sense. Because what does make sense is for us all to care for each other.