Listen to this good podcast by Pastor John Piper – He or She? How Should I Refer to Transgender Friends?
What do we do when a transgender friend wants us to call them a new name, and we know that the new name does not fit their actual sex? Or imagine you are a pastor or counselor and trying to care for a transgendered person or someone struggling with gender dysphoria? This name and pronoun issue be very complicated for a Christian who on the one hand believes sex/gender to be given by God and not chosen, but on the other hand the same Christian wants to show others the compassion and mercy.
Piper handles this issue fairly well I think. He talks about how names are culturally arbitrary, so in some ways it’s not that big of a deal. Piper admits certain cases that he would indeed go by calling a transsexual person by their preferred opposite sex name. But he goes farther I think than most Christians, in that he says he will not “lie” by talking to a transsexual person using their preferred pronouns, even at a workplace, even if it cost him his job. In summary he makes a small deal about names, given their arbitrary nature, but he will not lie to transsexuals or other people by identifying transsexuals as something they are not.
The name and pronoun issue is a thorny issue which I’ve talked about before. I’m trying to think of other analogies that don’t involve transsexualism that may be helpful. Perhaps as Christians there are other issues in which we are or are not making concessions.
When a coworker says he is married, but I know he means something different from my Christian view of marriage, do I still refer to him as being married? Yes. I don’t think this would be inconsistent with Piper’s view. Marriage is an institution that is recognized across all cultures as part of God’s common grace, part of the structure of even non-Christian society, but I also recognize that there is more to a Christian marriage than only that cultural structure.
If a coworker claimed he was white, when really he has dark skin, I would not concede to call him “white.” (But actually I can’t think of any reason why I’d ever need to make a comment about his race or color of skin). It is not nearly as complicated as an issue like sex, in which even in a simple email we have to use pronouns like he or she.
If a coworker claimed that she was fat, and she wanted me to admit she was fat (even if she was anorexically skinny), I would not admit it, but instead try to help her see how thin she is and the need for counseling.
If a Hindu coworker was worshipping an idol at his desk, I would respect his freedom to do so. But I would not refer to the figurine as the real God of the universe. Even if he tried to tell me that his god is the true God who I also worship, I would openly disagree with him.
If a coworker changed his name, I would be willing to call him a new name of his choice. If he chose a female name and got sex reassignment surgery and started trying to live as a female, it would be more difficult for me to use his preferred name, because I would feel like by doing so I would be communicating that I agree he is now a female. Perhaps I would use the preferred name but still not use the pronouns of his choice. Or perhaps I would use the pronouns he wanted as a concession to avoid needless offense, while he and everyone else knew what I really thought about his sex. It’s hard to know what to do.
We must strive to be compassionate, and compassion means not giving in to someone’s psychological confusion and making it worse. We must be people who speak the truth and help others to see the truth. But compassion and tolerance also can mean not needlessly pointing out your different beliefs every hour or every day. If the person was a coworker, friend, family member, anyone that I know well and see often, I would somehow make clear in a gentle way that I do not really believe he or she is now a person of the opposite sex. But I would communicate to him or her also that I still love them and will be friendly to them. And although it would be hard for me to use the new feminine name, I think I would have to do so to not cause endless offense, and for the sake of clarity since everyone else would also be using that name.
In these situations, remember not to choose either truth or love as if you can only choose one, but make a decision to commit to both truth and love together.