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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11 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!

  4. I would like to respectfully push back on some things.

    1) I don’t think the definition you have for gender dysphoria is correct. It’s not simply a person being attracted to another individual of the same sex, assuming that is what you meant in the parentheses.
    Here is a link: https://psychiatry.org/patients-families/gender-dysphoria/what-is-gender-dysphoria
    Basically, gender dysphoria is based on gender identity which is much larger than just sexual orientation.

    2) I think it is possible to say that God made no mistakes but to also say that there is an incongruous between psychology and mind. From my understanding, God provides us a soul and our body is provided by our parents. I don’t believe a soul can be distinguished between man and woman but when it comes to body and mind you can. Hence, the “mistake” is in the genetics and not with God.

    3) You point out that the difference between sex and gender didn’t become part of the discourse until relatively recently. However, that doesn’t weaken the case against transgenderism, it just means the science wasn’t there yet to recognize that gender identity can’t simply be described by sex.

    God Bless!

  5. Continued …

    4) I think there is an issue with stating that some secular thought such as there being a difference between gender and sex is incorrect, yet implicitly relying on the same science (which is secular as well) to distinguish between men and women (chromosomes). Why will you accept one (which in the times of Christ no one knew about genetics) very restricted view of gender but not the other? The two views are not mutually exclusive because while the chromosomes are a very good indicator of gender identity there are some very rare instances (gender dysphoria) where just looking at the chromosomes will actually give you the opposite gender identity. It’s true that the vast, vast majority of men and women have certain features but that isn’t a fool-proof indication of their psychology.

  6. Continued …

    5) We modify our bodies whether we are transgender or not: medication, diets, etc. And these are often done for good reason. If transitioning is such a sin, despite alleviating an enormous amount of pain, then shouldn’t the above be considered sinful too. To play “Devil’s Advocate”, doesn’t medication and dieting change our bodies such that is different then how God had created us?

    6a) I would like to point out an interesting parallel. It is stated very clearly by Jesus that the marriage of a divorced woman is an act of adultery (New King James Version, Matthew 5:32). However in the footnote of the Orthodox Study Bible (ISBN 978-0-7180-0359-3) it is stated that we Orthodox in fact accept remarriages, stating that 2 extra attempts are permitted (“… as a concession of human weakness and as a corrective measure of compassion …”). The interpretation is that Jesus condemns remarriage thoroughly because he recognizes that the Mosaic Law is being abused such that it diminishes the sanctity of marriage. But Jesus didn’t make this qualification explicitly, the Church did. Furthermore tattoos are discouraged but I’m aware of Church members who have them, and they are not ostracized for it (which thankfully they are not).

  7. Continued …

    6b) Essentially the point I’m trying to make is to recognize that we shouldn’t become obsessed with dogma. The core to being a Christian and being saved is to love God with all your mind, heart, and soul and to love your neighbor as yourself. From this viewpoint, while dogma is definitely helpful it shouldn’t be seen as an absolute. Jesus bended the rules and performed miracles on the Sabbath, in part to show the hypocrisy of the legalism enforced by the Jews at that time. There is too much focus being placed on the “sin of transgenderism” than on the individual transgender person. It’s not the dogmas that matter most in defining a Christian (sexual orientation, tattoos, fasting, etc) but the love and acceptance we display to each other and to God. That is not to say that we shouldn’t encourage the above but at the same time not to become too fixated on these rules that we forget the reason on why they are being done in the first place. If a biological male or female is born such that their neural psychology doesn’t match their physical body than the possibility of easing that pain shouldn’t be seen as a detriment. Furthermore, the pain they are suffering is very severe and the statistics are horrifying: https://publications.aap.org/pediatrics/article/142/4/e20174218/76767/Transgender-Adolescent-Suicide-Behavior?autologincheck=redirected

  8. Continued …

    Thank you for sharing your view on Transgenderism, it’s an important perspective in this discussion. I humbly ask you consider my views as well. My intention is not to attack but to help bring about more clarity in this very complicated topic.

    God Bless!

    1. Alexandru,

      Thank you for your thorough comments. We would like to address them as succinctly as possible. We don’t actually define gender dysphoria in our article; however, in future revisions, we will be sure to include that to clear up any confusion or lack of clarity. The parentheses were meant as an addition, not an equivocation. Rereading it now, we see how someone could easily come to the same conclusion you did!

      2. While we might “provide” bodies to our children, to borrow your term, we do not create those bodies. God creates them with our cooperation. Thus, God has a hand in the creation of bodies and their genetics as well. Therefore, to suggest a “mistake” in genetics essentially equates to suggesting a “mistake” on God’s part.

      3. Not necessarily. We are referring to the emergence of modern gender theory, which does not have its roots in biology, despite its claims to the contrary.

      4. We accept biology, a verifiable, demonstrably reliable science. Biology indicates the existence of two genders: male and female. And modern gender theory attempts to obfuscate this by differentiating between what someone IS versus what they FEEL they are and placing almost all emphasis on the latter. Someone’s psychology does not change what they are biologically; modern gender theory attempts to uproot this idea.

      5. We would be hard-pressed to agree that taking a medication or dieting would not be considered modification of our bodies. Rather, we would classify these actions as maintaining our physical health by taking proper care of our bodies as temples of the Holy Spirit.

      6. We have written about remarriage after divorce and tattoos before on our blog and we address in part what you brought up here. We absolutely agree with you as to the purpose of the Christian life; however, dogma is an important part of that life as it guides our minds, hearts, and souls, toward the right kind of love. To your point, ostracizing anyone who suffers from any kind of sin is not appropriate, nor is it what Christ taught. However, we cannot simply ignore the sin either. And you are absolutely correct that some people take this too far, erasing the person and only seeing their sin.

      Lastly, permanently altering one’s body might seem like easing the pain of their dysphoria. However, there are more and more transgender individuals who are coming to regret that choice and are de-transitioning (to whatever extent possible). God bless!

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