Orthodox Christianity and Transgenderism

Recently, transgender individuals have come to occupy a position at the forefront of identity politics in America. Particular concern arises with regard to young children supposedly identifying as transgender before the onset of puberty, or in some cases, their parents deciding this for them. Many people who identify as transgender feel “victimized” by Christians, most likely because of a misunderstanding of what we actually believe when it comes to humanity’s relationship to God, human sexuality, and the nature of sin. In this post, we clear up a bit of this confusion, focusing on the teachings of the Orthodox Church regarding transgender individuals.

Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

We belong to Christ, not to ourselves

Within the last decade, we have seen a radical shift in traditional Christian principles. New “lawful” regulations put in place by the Supreme Court have made it acceptable for individuals to make decisions about which gender they choose to be, going so far as to allow them to permanently alter their bodies to outwardly manifest their gender of choice. Naturally, this implies that humans are the ultimate authority over our bodies, thereby denying the sovereignty of God. In other words, the world tells us we do not belong to anyone but ourselves. Thus, it is now deemed “normal” for human beings to make any number of irreversible decisions regarding our physical bodies – from tattoos and body piercings to abortion and gender reassignment surgery.

However, the Holy Scriptures communicate a completely different message. One in which every human being is an icon of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Since an icon is a reflection of its Prototype, we must reflect Christ in every way. We belong to God, not to ourselves. Therefore, whenever we disfigure our bodies, we are not fulfilling our purpose as icons of Christ.

The Church has always taught that we find our true identity as human persons when we do our best to emulate Christ through a life of prayer and self-denial. Saint Paul is a perfect example of this, having sought the peace and love of God in his heart. As he writes, “it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me” (Galatians 2:20). And again, “you are not your own […] therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit which are God’s” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).

The Orthodox Church’s teachings on sex and gender

Contrary to popular secular opinion, sex and gender are not separate things. The perspective that they are separate is fairly new, becoming prominent only with the advent of modern gender and feminism theory in the 1950s. For millennia, societies functioned with two modes of humanity: male and female.

In the beginning, God created us male and female (Genesis 1:27) to be in communion with one another, just as the Persons of the Holy Trinity are in communion. He designed males and females to be perfect companions for one another in marriage (Genesis 2:24), and as Christians we must exercise our love and sexuality within these boundaries.

Yes, the Church understands there are rare cases in which God creates humans who are born intersex. However, these cases have little to no bearing on the current transgender movement, which focuses more on society’s acceptance and “tolerance” of a sinful lifestyle choice.

Is it a sin to be transgender?

Many transgender individuals make the mistake of thinking the Orthodox Church condemns them. They ask if them identifying as transgender is a sin. Like most things involving sin and this fallen world, this question cannot be answered with a simple yes or no. To illustrate, let’s look at two different examples:

  1. Ever since he was seven years old, Matt didn’t feel like a boy. He experienced life as a girl and wanted to live life as that sex/gender, not the one which God created him. He struggled with these feelings every day, and wondered if they would ever go away. Because he knew God loved him, Matt decided not to “transition” to being a woman. Instead, he continued to struggle toward holiness every day, denying himself and following Christ.

  2. Ever since she was seven years old, Gina didn’t feel like a girl. She experienced life as a boy and wanted to live life as that sex/gender, not the one which God created her. She struggled with these feelings every day, and wondered if they would ever go away. Eventually, she decided to “transition,” and began living life as a boy. After hormone therapy and sexual reassignment surgery, she “became” a man and went by the name, “Kyle.”

Of these two individuals, which do you believe committed a sin? If you said the second, you would be right. It is not a sin to experience gender dysphoria (or same sex attraction, etc.). Each of us faces temptation every day of our lives. The way those temptations manifest naturally differs from person to person. It is not in simply experiencing temptation that we sin. Rather, the sin lies in acting upon those temptations and failing to live the life of Christ.

Those who suffer from the temptations associated with gender dysphoria need our love and our help in accepting the biological reality of who they are. We are not putty that may be remade into whatever we feel — even if we feel it very deeply. Our bodies are not our own, but God’s, and they are holy.

How the Orthodox Church approaches transgender individuals

With respect to those who insist on identifying as transgender, the Orthodox Church holds a rather cut and dry position. Divine Providence does not make mistakes. There is a purpose to all circumstances in our life, even difficult and seemingly permanent ones, like gender dysphoria. Whatever we may feel, our maleness or femaleness is a biological, psychological and spiritual fact, rooted in our very being.

It is important to note that the Orthodox Church does not condemn or hate anyone. Rather, She condemns actions, specifically those that go against the commandments of God. With spiritual guidance, anyone can find the love of Christ and seek true repentance for their sins. Wherever there is repentance, there is salvation. Even in the case of mutilation of the human body associated with a fair number of transgender individuals, they, too, can find peace.

Read More: Abstinence: The Orthodox Approach to Spiritual Purity

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5 Responses

  1. It was pointed out some time ago that trans apologists are at odds with homosexual apologists. The person arguing homosexuality is normal will say God made me this way, God doesn’t make mistakes so I need not change. The trans person says God made me this way, God DOES make mistakes, so I HAVE to change, correct what God did wrong. The two groups form a fundamental threat to each other. If one is right the other can’t possibly be. It’s surprising they can coexist in the same parade, marching as they do in opposite directions. The Orthodox position is (I think) God doesn’t make mistakes, we do, and both groups are wrong. Very popular in the culture, of course.

  2. I have always felt uncomfortable in my body. I wish I were born male. I would like much smaller hips , thighs and breasts. I am old now and thankful that the opportunity was not available to me for sexual reassignment. I can live with my body . What I have more trouble with is attire and appearance and role. I hate and am truly miserable in anything but jeans and t-shirts ( clean of course). Fortunately for me the small parish I attend while perhaps originally scandalized by my attire (I am a late in life convert) has come to accept me. I also sport a recent short hair style. I have interests that until recently have been assigned more to men.

    I am too old now and have lived such a sinful life that the issue is fairly moot. But I have wished for as long as I have been a part of the Orthodox Church that I could be or could have been an altar server. I have and had no aspirations higher than this- that is no wish to become a priest.

    Also I struggle with the language of the Bible sometimes. Everything seemingly addressed to the “ brethren”.

    What is your response to these difficulties?

    Respectfully

    1. Kristi,

      Christ is in our midst! You mentioned having trouble with attire, appearance, and role. While we would encourage you to wear the nicest things possible within your budget when worshiping the Lord, the rest is superficial in the face of your greater purpose: to repent of your sins, seek God, and attain communion with Him. One step at a time, with the Lord’s help, you can attain salvation. We are grateful that the Lord placed you in a parish that accepts you, and we are thankful He has shown you the knowledge of the Truth.

      As far as your desire to be an altar server, there is nothing wrong with wishing this. A young woman in our parish often says, had she been born a male, she would have wanted to be a priest. Dwelling or acting on this wish would be the sin. If this wish saddens or depresses you, take it to your spiritual father, as well as to the Lord in prayer. And perhaps see if there are other ways you can help the parish – by baking holy bread for the offering, for example. This can help you channel that desire to serve Our Lord’s Church and use it in a way that benefits your spiritual growth.

      And to your final point, “brethren” is a gender-neutral term in the Bible. It includes all brothers and sisters in Christ, and in many instances, has been translated to mean the same. It includes you, just as it does all of God’s children.

      We hope this response was edifying for you. God bless!

  3. I appreciate the humanity, humility, and love expressed by this article. It is very important to highlight there is nothing sinful about necessarily feeling the opposite gender internally.

    However I cannot shake the feeling that this article in some respects is presenting a false dichotomy. I think there are alternatives between “God made a mistake,” or “Your inner felt gender is mistaken/confused/ a passion to struggle against”.

    One I think is, “We live in a fallen world in which the full consequences of sin are unclear,” or, “You have been chosen by providence to experience the opposite gender internally from your external body.”

    Is it possible for someone who is spiritually and psychologically female to wind up in a male body? Maybe – I’m not God, I don’t know how the spiritual and physical interrelate with certainty. I don’t think such an event can be regarded as a “mistake” by God. I also don’t think if someone’s felt gender varies from their physical body that we would have to invalidate the affective, cognitive, and spiritual feelings of a person who’s internal workings don’t perfectly map onto their biology.

    God is mysterious, so are the workings of Providence. That is something I think we need to bare in mind.

    1. Travis,

      Christ is in our midst! Thank you for your kind words. It sounds as though we don’t disagree as much as you initially thought. The idea that we live in a fallen world and that people can be chosen by God to suffer particular afflictions does indeed fall within the second camp of the “dichotomy”, as you called it. The saying goes that we are our own worst enemies. And in the age of sin and death, this could not be more true. It is often our own thoughts that lead us to sin, and thus for all of us, our internal workings are something we must struggle with day by day. The demons never rest, and they know one of the easiest places to reach us is within our own rationalizations and thoughts. This struggle just happens to be all the more difficult for those who suffer from gender dysphoria, mental illness, and many other sorts of infirmities. Of course, this does not make them any better or any worse than anyone else. It merely means their struggle is of a different sort.

      Ultimately, what we know with certainty is that altering our bodies to match our perceptions of ourselves goes against the Christian life, which is about self-denial and becoming Christ-like. And pursuing transgenderism (as it is promoted and flaunted in society today) to its logical conclusion of gender reassignment, hormone therapy, and the like is the antithesis of how we, as Christians, are called to live. Therefore, we must guard our hearts and minds with all prudence, relying not on our own thoughts and feelings, but upon God’s commandments. Through denying ourselves and following Him, our path becomes clear.

      God bless, and have a Happy Thanksgiving!

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