Jimmy’s Table PodcastCuriously evangelical. Politically homeless. A dreamer of small things. On this podcast, I am having conversations about the intersection of faith, life, and culture.

What’s On The Outside Matters Too (Transgender Discussion) – Episode #143

Lia Thomas - NCAA Transgender Athlete

Lia Thomas, is a transgender athlete who recently won some NCAA women’s swim competitions. Lia Thomas was born as a biological male, but in the last couple years understood herself to be female. Since then, she has begun transitioning, and is going through hormone therapy as part of that process in changing into a woman.

Lia Thomas’s winning of the NCAA swimming competitions hasn’t been without controversy. Many view her as having a natural competitive advantage since, biologically, Lia Thomas is still a male. Lia Thomas went from being a low ranking swimmer in NCAA’s men’s field to the best among women. She’s been winning many of her matches rather decisively. Naturally, controversy has broken out, and the culture wars are inflamed.

In today’s podcast, in light of the discussion taking place about transgender athletes, I thought it was time for me to give some thoughts I’ve been wrestling with for some time regarding transgender issues. I wish to offer some thoughts, that, so far as I know, are somewhat original observations on the topic. Which of course, means somebody somewhere else has probably already said it, and better. But these observations are certainly new to me and the circles I run in, and I run in some relatively broad circles. Regardless, I hope they give you something to think about.

My podcast today won’t be a full exploration of this topic, but it’ll simply be my wrestling with this topic, and in many ways, simply thinking out loud. This is not an issues I’ve talked about too much in a public setting, and only very carefully among friends and family. I simply now wish to share what I’ve come to think about these issues, and hope it leads to a better critical discussion. I’m very much open to having constructive discussions that challenge my thinking on these issues. I hope they do yours.

The Discussions I’ve Had On Transgender Issues

I’ve largely refrained from engaging in too much public discourse over the topic in recent years, because I want to be sensitive about this issue as best I can. I’ve known transgender people, and some of my closest friends have family members that identify as trans. I have good friends in the LGBTQ+ community, whom I have also talked about this issue with. Interestingly enough, throughout all these conversations, I’ve learned there is not this uniform and monolithic agreement among that community as you might be led to think in our culture regarding transgender issues.

For example, I have a friend who is a pansexual, whose father identified as a woman, and who was locally a leading political activist for transgender rights here in Charlotte. I won’t put words in their mouth, but shockingly to me, my pansexual friend and her lesbian girlfriend were not on board with their transgender fathers’ perspective on trans issues. My friend has been quite outspoken about their disagreements. And whether their perspectives are right or wrong isn’t my concern. It’s simply worth noting, not everyone that identifies as being LBGTQ+ sees eye to eye on these topics. There is much room for broad discourse.

Boys, Girls, and Everything In-Between

Is it so controversial to say, there’s differences between boys and girls? I know that may not be politically fashionable to say, but it’s true, and something we need to say out loud. Men and women are equals in the eyes of God and natural law.

But the equality they share doesn’t mean they are the same. Physically, psychologically, and socially men and women are, in fact, different. We need to become comfortable saying that out loud, and not just as a punchline in a joke, but as a statement of objective fact. Because if we can’t agree on this, then we’ll forever be lost in some level of Dante’s hell.

The fact that it’s hard for people to say this out loud without being possibly ridiculed for being “unenlightened” shows how fundamentally different people are understanding the world we live in. People get offended over this notion, not because it’s not true, but because they’ve adopted a very squishy philosophical perspective of the world that struggles with things that are a bit more concrete.

I think it’s important to call out this observation: The post-modern person, with much of our pop-culture driven, and politically fashionable views on gender, have embraced a sorta quasi gnostic/Manichaean dualism and world-view that sees a lack of harmony between what’s happening inside us vs. what’s happening externally.

That’s a mouth-full, so let’s break down more what I mean by that.

The prevailing popular perspective regarding transgenderism ultimately makes a sharp division between the inner and outer man, between the mental and the physical, the mind and the body, between the spirit and the flesh. Instead of seeing a person holistically, that is, a person is the sum of everything they are, they see people as having separate levels of being that don’t function in harmony, and aren’t congruent. As a result, people are capable of seeing part of themselves as male, part of themselves as female, or on some fluid spectrum in-between, in which a battle between the inside and outside are taking place in one person.

And there can be no doubt though, whatever the case, that people sincerely have such feelings. Except for some frat boys pulling a prank in college, not too many guys wake up one day and simply decide they are going to start identifying as a woman.

Usually a trans person goes through quite the journey as they wrestle with their sense of identity and place in the world. There’s a lot of spiritual, emotional, physiological, familial, and cultural struggles transgender people go through. I can’t even begin to imagine what that’s like. That’s simply a struggle I’ve not had. But it’s a struggle I believe some people truly feel every single day.

Complex Feelings

Interestingly enough, so far as I’ve been able to understand the issues, there’s not really much in the way of empirical scientific proof that supports the claims of transgender individuals feelings and perspectives.

Science recognizes that people are biologically born as male, female, or intersex/hermaphrodites. Those are certain biological realities, that are backed empirically by science.

Transgender people, however, aren’t making a scientific claim based on hard science. They are making a feeling based claim that has yet to be concretely identified by any hard science. Scientifically, there’s no more proof that you are transgender than there is proof your favorite color is red. You cannot tell someone is transgender by brain scans, DNA testing, or any other such thing. To find out if someone is transgender, the only way to know is the same way you find out someone’s favorite color… you must ask them.

Obviously then, something complex is going on with a person and regarding their sense of identity. They genuinely feel transgender in the same I way genuinely believe my favorite color to be red. I can’t explain why my favorite color is red. Perhaps I came to like the color red because I loved my mom’s spaghetti sauce growing up. And red reminds me of my favorite food, and my favorite food reminds me of my mom. That’s just a guess, I have no real way of knowing. But my favorite color is indeed red.

Although ironically, if you looked my wardrobe or things in my house, you’d probably think my favorite color was blue or something else. But, my favorite color is red. And why that is? Well, it’s probably complicated.

And likewise, I’m going to assume that someone identifying as transgender has a very complex reason as to why they do such, but that they do so from a very genuine and sincere place. They may not even know why they feel that way, but feel that way they do. There simply are people out there, whether you like to admit it or not, who genuinely feel they are a gender other than their biological sex. There are people who genuinely feel that they “are a man trapped in a woman’s body,” or vice versa.

I think we should be charitable to such individuals. They are obviously having a very “human experience,” and need to be respected as people who are on a journey, just like the rest of us.

There’s no need to be cruel, rude, or frank to such persons. Your rudeness isn’t going to help such people with where they are at in life. If someone wants to be addressed by another pronoun, be merciful to them, and treat them like they want to be treated. I didn’t like English in college, and the last thing I want to do is fight some over their preferred pronouns when talking to them.

Ideas And Social Constructs

It’s frequently said that gender is a social construct. If so, then we must admit then that non-binary genders are as much a social construct as male and female are social constructs. And, if we are talking about a social construct, that means we are ultimately talking about the world of ideas.

Ideas don’t simply come from nowhere. Ideas are built upon axiomatic assumptions and philosophical filters by which we understand this world and navigate our lives.

And if gender ideas are ultimately a social construct, these are ideas that are based on individual concepts we have about ourselves, and how others also conceptualize us. Our identity isn’t just the thoughts we have about ourselves, it’s “how” we think about ourselves and others.

This point is very important to keep in mind. Identity is a two way streak. There’s our own sense of personal identity, and how we think about who we are. Then there’s our social identity, about how other people think about who we are.

Unfortunately, these two perspectives don’t always agree.

Take for example, all the contestants on American Idol who thought they could sing, only to find out that everyone else thought otherwise. They conceived of themselves as having wonderful musical talents and singing abilities. And they genuinely thought such. When they would sing, they really thought they sounded good. They thought they’d be the next American Idol. But their bubble was burst, and a harsh reality sunk in.

And it seems rather hilarious, because how could a person not realize they have such a bad singing voice? This is something I kinda identify with. While I have no dreams of becoming a musical star, but I actually think I have a decent singing voice within a certain vocal range. Unfortunately I’m the only person who thinks this.

For some reason, there’s simply a blind spot in my own sense of identity regarding my singing ability. I just can’t hear myself the same way others actually hear me. I’m tone deaf, and our voices all sound different to us in our own heads. Think how shocked you were the first time you heard your recorded voice played back to you. Your perception of your voice is different than others. So much so that some people are actually mortified at how they actually sound to others, when they actually hear themselves.

And while I enjoy singing, and with an enthusiasm other people hear in my voice, nobody has ever thought I had a even remotely decent sounding singing voice. Jesus is probably about the only person who delights over my singing. Everyone else wishes I’d just stop.

I think it’s this way with all issues pertaining to our identity, including that of gender, and especially as it relates to transgender issues. How you perceive yourself is one thing, and how others perceive you is another. And, as much as we’d like to think we really know ourselves and have a good sense of who we are, the fact of the matter is, there are people out there who don’t have a full picture of themselves. For they can only hear their voice in their own head, and as people are fond to tell some would-be American Idol contestants… that voice just ain’t right.

Individualism

I personally believe when it comes to transgender issues, we live in a world that has idolized individualism. And because the end all and be all of our humanity has become living out whoever we think ourselves to be, living “our truth,” and being our “authentic self,” when individuals like Lia Thomas, who was born a biological male, chooses to compete with biological females, it becomes hard for people to say why this shouldn’t be allowed.

Because the perspective of others regarding Lia Thomas’ gender and who she is simply doesn’t matter in our world. It doesn’t matter who others believe Lia Thomas to be, it only matters who Lia Thomas believes herself to be. The individual identity of Lia Thomas reigns supreme, all others be damned. As a result, if others interpret Lia Thomas as a biological man beating the crap out of some women, that perspective is considered not only unfashionable, but bigoted.

But such a perspective is an idea that can only exist in which we understand ourselves in a very dualistic fashion. It’s a world where we believe what’s on the inside is who we truly are, and nobody else can tell you who you are but you. And ultimately, it’s a perspective that all outside external factors, like biological one’s, must ultimately be made subject to and brought into conformity with someone’s individual sense of internal identity.

As a result of this dualism, I believe many trying to embrace who they truly are, end up in fact denying what they actually are. For in shunning their physical biology, they are splitting themselves in two and saying what’s on the outside is a lie, and only what’s on the inside is true.

Instead of truly accepting themselves for who they are, both inside and out, some transgender people attempt to “correct” their bodies by mutilating their genitals, having cosmetic surgery to create fake body parts, and undergo extensive hormone therapy treatments. And not only this, they attempt to make other people identify them by who they perceive themselves to be on the inside, when those people can only see the outside.

And, they do this because of a dualistic philosophy and understanding of themselves and the world. A world in which they not only feel the need to change their bodily form through extreme medical practices, but demand others recognize them in a way that’s not congruent with how others intuitively perceive them externally.

The Whole Person

I ultimately contend this is not a healthy way of thinking about yourself, or relating to others.

You are a whole person, complex and mysterious, and we must understand ourselves and relate to others as such, and not through some broken dualistic philosophical filter.

How we should ultimately choose to relate to transgender individuals in our society, and the degree to which they should be able to do things like compete in sports, or use public bathrooms of the gender they identify with instead of the biological sex they were born, is an interesting discussion worth having. I think there is probably more middle ground than people often realize.

But before we do those things, we need to first acknowledge a simple truth.

The truth is, what happens outside of our heads matters too.

People are what they are on the inside, but they are also what they are on the outside. And when formulating our sense of identity, or when we think about who other people are, we cannot afford to be blind to the whole person, inside or out.

Unfortunately, much of the discussion is often only framed from one side or the other.

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