As a Christian, and someone who was in some fundamentalist circles, I think I can answer this. It’s kind of puzzling to watch the hatred against trans people. Oh, we all know that some Christians interpret some verses as God’s prohibition against homosexuality (of course not all Christians do). When you think the Bible literally says that God will punish gays, of course you would think being gay is wrong. Now, I’m not going to argue against this here, although I clearly disagree with those who see God hating homosexuality (I used to believe that hogwash; then I learned to actually think and read and judge independent of what I was “supposed” to believe according to some leader; I also started voting non-Republican sometimes, as I also couldn’t find the 11th Commandment, Thou Shall Vote Republican, in the Bible either).
But I know the language and I thought like these people still think. So I think I have some insight that non-Christians might lack in understanding the double-talk and coded language surrounding gays and trans people.
The question that comes to mind is: so, what’s the issue with trans people? The verses about gays don’t talk about trans people. At best, you can find something about cross-dressers in Deuteronomy 22:5: “A woman must not wear men’s clothing, nor a man wear women’s clothing, for the Lord your God detests anyone who does this” (NIV). But, this verse isn’t what you’ll hear quoted by Christians who object to trans people. After all, Jesus fulfilled the law (which includes Deuteronomy) so we are no longer bound by it, but are now bound by the new covenant. Yes, that’s a bunch of coded language, but it basically means Christians can ignore the parts of the old testament we don’t like (yes, it’s more complex than that, but I’m simplifying as I don’t think I’ve heard this much used against trans people, because it is old, not new, testament). Besides, I’d have to ask about the picture to the right – and see what the pope wears. It sure looks similar in style to some of the clothing I’ve seen very conservative Christian women wear! And certainly if you wore that type of clothes out of context, people would think “dress”, not “papal vestment!”
As I’ve mentioned, this isn’t the problem people seem to have with trans people. It’s not because God “despises” trans people (most Christians would say God loves trans people, even if they themselves think the trans person is going to hell and committing a huge sin). Perhaps this is because of what comes just afew sentences later in Deuteronomy 22 – the section around verses 20 and 21 in particular:
If, however, the charge is true and no proof of the young woman’s virginity can be found, 21 she shall be brought to the door of her father’s house and there the men of her town shall stone her to death. She has done an outrageous thing in Israel by being promiscuous while still in her father’s house. You must purge the evil from among you.
Nevermind that good ‘ol Mom & Dad are supposed to know if she’s a virgin and have the proof – go look at verses 13 through 15 for how that was to be done:
If a man takes a wife and, after sleeping with her, dislikes her and slanders her and gives her a bad name, saying, “I married this woman, but when I approached her, I did not find proof of her virginity,” then the young woman’s father and mother shall bring to the town elders at the gate proof that she was a virgin.
This “proof” was a bloody cloth. I don’t know any Christians who keep bloody cloth as proof of virginity of their daughter at time of marriage. Or, thankfully, any that will stone their daughter (although I know plenty that will shame a woman – and never mind that there are ways that the hymen could be broken or stretched beyond consensual intercourse). Also nevermind that heterosexual intercourse (particularly with a man who is gentile and who listens to the woman) won’t necessarily cause bleeding even if a woman still has a supposedly “intact” hymen (you did get your sex ed somewhere other than porn or Texas, so you know this, I hope…and you know that a hymen may stretch, not rip, if the man is not rough [see this video])? Never let a little science get into the way of obsessing over virginity! Besides, who says the blood actually has to come from the hymen to make the sheet bloody (it appears that some women actually cut themselves to bleed on the sheets to provide this proof)? Regardless, this is a ritual I’ve not seen encouraged by the modern Church in general, so I’m not surprised the part right before it – about clothing choice – is also similarly dismissed. Oh, and the fact that 80% of unmarried Christians age 18 to 29 have had sex (that means it’s probably much higher by the late 20s than 80%) probably doesn’t hurt in getting people to ignore this.
So, what’s the issue?
It’s gays. Yep, gays. Now I can hear it now, “trans is not gay!” Of course it isn’t (and, yes, I know that a trans person can be gay).
In the last few years, same-sex marriage has become legal in much of the United States and elsewhere. The US federal government recognizes it, as of this summer. And that’s a good thing. So what does it have to do with trans people?
It’s simple: it’s the argument against gay marriage. There are religious arguments against gay marriage, but most people know that someone who doesn’t follow their faith isn’t going to put a lot of stock in these arguments, so they turn to what they think is a secular argument. This is where we get to the doozy: men and women are different and complimentary. This is the key to understanding the Christian backlash against trans people.
You see, you’ll hear statements like “every child needs a mom and a dad.” This is apparently the less-noticably-bigoted way to say “a kid needs straight parents.” It’s also exceptionally offensive not only to gay and lesbian parents, but also to widowed and divorced parents. But this argument persists – the idea is simple: moms (women) bring one set of gifts to a family, and dads (men) bring a completely different, but just as necessary, set of gifts. If you have two moms, you have the maternal, but you’ll be hurt in life by not having the paternal. And, likewise, having two dads will leave you missing the maternal.
Of course this is hogwash. But it is the kind of “common sense” hogwash that people use to hide bigotry. “Oh, I’m not saying gays can’t be good parents. I’m just saying that a man can’t provide what a woman can and visa-versa. You need both.”
Obviously this type of thing is also exceptionally sexist – what things can’t a man provide? Sometimes, these are very generally described, or, more often, not described at all. After all, not every family with a mom and dad has a man earning money and a woman cooking food. And plenty of men can be nurturing, kind, emotional, and all sorts of other things supposedly only women do. And plenty of women can protect, provide, and guide their child – despite these being supposedly manly tasks.
But, regardless of problems, this is the view. God made women to do women things. God made men to do men things. It was ordained by God (in their eyes).
So, where does a trans person fit in? First, they might identify as neither man or woman – that is, non-binary. But God’s plan, in the eyes of some Christian, requires rigid separation of roles. And, if you are arguing that gays can’t provide everything a child would need without a woman, you can’t believe that a gender lines aren’t fixed or rigid and absolute. You have to believe they are rigid and absolute. A gay dad couldn’t cross over and be nurturing (note that I don’t buy this, and I don’t find anything non masculine about being nurturing). To some Christians, the dad isn’t supposed to do these things. He’s supposed to do “man” things. So that leaves a gap. A non-binary person could, in theory, do both “man” and “woman” things. We can’t have that, because then if one was in a relationship they wouldn’t need anyone else to raise a kid . Supposedly.
That may not yet make sense, so let me talk about the binary, transsexual person. That is, someone who identifies as a binary gender. The very existence of this person means a few things: first, it means we might have women that look like men (as do most transwomen before they express a feminine gender identity, as most are raised as boys and then men). After all, someone might be a woman inside, but might be living as a man. How would we know it’s not a lesbian relationship if this person married a woman (just joking here – the Christians I’m talking about don’t think that deeply)? No, rather, the problem is that, to them, there is no longer any way of objectively verifying someone’s gender – instead you have to ask. This causes too many questions, and questions in a path they don’t want to go down. For instance, if someone could marry heterosexually as a man, but then gets divorced and transitions to a woman, should she marry a man or a woman? Did she suddenly lose all the “man” skills and gain all the “woman” skills? Or did she have the woman skills all along, but lacked the man skills – and, if so, did she, before transition…well, the questions go on. And this challenges beliefs. It turns out you start thinking about what are gender roles and where did they come from. And that starts you questioning this fixed, rigid roles.
Again, however, it’s not that complicated to these people. Trans people, like gays, challenge the ideas of gender. They challenge the idea that there are certain things that are man-only and certain things that are woman-only. Gays do it by being attracted to a guy (in some Christians’ eyes, this is something only women should do). Lesbians do it by being attracted to a woman (again, something some think only men should do). And if they raise kids or otherwise participate in society, somehow the important stuff gets done. Even the stuff that someone might think is “womanly” like cooking or nurturing. And the stuff someone might think is “manly” like protection and providing.
Trans people challenges these thoughts by essentially saying, “You don’t know who I am, you just know who you thought I was. And you have to take my word for who I am.” And, to someone who is already transphobic and thinks being trans is just a random choice, this sounds like, “I can be a man or I can be a woman.” Of course intersex and non-binary people also cause this problem.
But much of it traces back to this idea that men and women have different roles in the family, and thus a feeling of justification in opposing gay rights (see, I care about the children). And back from there to just plain sexism. And, yes, it’s as ugly as it seems.