If you are wondering if I am going to try to provide the “final answer” on this controversial subject in a 1100 word blog, I am not. I am not familiar enough with the legislation (in North Carolina or other states) that is being debated or the experience of gender dysphoria, to speak with that level of conviction.
My goal is to offer an observation about one area where I see the conversation breaking down and a few thoughts on how those, on either side of the issue, who desire to do so, can have more productive conversations. One of the best examples of productively engaging this conversation I’ve come across is this post from Benjamin Watson.
A concern that I hear Christians and cultural conservatives raise (and one which I share) is the probability that sexual predators, child pornographers, peeping Toms, exhibitionists, and other sexual deviants would abuse the opportunity to access their opposite-gendered restrooms.
Laws that remove the requirement that individuals use the restroom of their biological gender make it easier for these crimes to be committed and, thereby, make the most vulnerable in our society less safe. The rise in prevalence of these offenses indicates we should be creating obstacles, not opportunities, for these offenses.
However, the manner in which Christians and cultural conservatives have misunderstood the experience of same sex attraction (SSA) makes it harder for our voice to be heard making this (I believe valid) point. In many conservative circles we have held a view of SSA that was akin to an addiction model; describe in this abbreviated excerpt from my book Do Ask, Do Tell, Let’s Talk: Why and How Christians Should Have Gay Friends.
In brief form, the logic of this “progressive sexual depravity” model [for SSA] goes something like this.
1. All sexual sin starts out as heterosexual. It is assumed the general effects of the Fall cannot distort our drive for “natural relations” into those “contrary to nature” without our escalating, willful participation in heterosexual sin over a period of time.
2. Milder heterosexual sin increases in intensity, frequency, and duration in order to have the same satisfying effect.
3. With time, ever more egregious sexual sins are needed to get the same “high.”
4. Eventually, homosexual sins are experimented with as a new, more stimulating experience.
5. What began as homosexual or bisexual experimentation becomes an orientation as God gives them over to their lusts. The belief is that apart from this pattern—this addiction model—there can be no such thing as SSA.
There are three key components of this theology that, not surprisingly, undermine the willingness and ability of Christians to form friendships with those who experience SSA:
- SSA is viewed as a form of out-of-control sexual addiction.
- The individual who experiences SSA is seen as being on the brink of sins such as bestiality or pedophilia.
- Therefore, those who experience SSA are responded to as “unsafe” for casual relationships.
Besides being an inaccurate view of the majority experience of SSA, what does this have to do with the current political debates on transgenderism and public restrooms?
Think about is this way: What was the implication of this addiction-model view of homosexuality? That gay people were dangerous because they were sexually out of control individuals who pose a threat to others.
With that in mind, reread the third paragraph of this post – the one about the dangers that emerge from a choose-your-own-restroom legislation. If I put myself on the other side of this conversation, I would think, “There you Christians go again with your scare tactics. Anyone who doesn’t obey your sexual ethics is called a pedophile! Why do you call everyone who won’t adhere to your standards a sexual predator or sex addict?”
To be clear, my concern with this legislation is not that the person who genuinely experiences gender dysphoria would use this law to commit a predatory act. My concern is that this law would create a context where it is easier for sexual predators (the vast majority of whom are heterosexual; hence the concern for cross-gendered restroom access) to have more and easier access to their victims.
So what would I suggest for Christians who are talking about this issue (whether those are private conversations, sermons, or political debates)? Here would be a few suggestions:
- Be clear that the concern for who would take advantage of this law is not the person who genuinely experiences gender dysphoria.
- Seek to learn more about the experience of gender dysphoria (this link is to a book by Christian psychologist Mark Yarhouse). The more we understand the less we will give the impression that Christ is ignorant or heartless towards those who experience gender confusion.
- Be willing to admit that the addiction model of SSA has distorted the beliefs of many Christians and cultural conservatives about homosexuality. This does not have to result in compromising a conservative sexual ethic. But it does mean we should seek to be more informed about the personal experience, not just the moral weight, of a subject if we are going to be good ambassadors of Christ in that area.
- Be open to the reasonable accommodation of private, unisex bathrooms whenever that is feasible. I don’t claim to understand the cost to business owners or tax payers (i.e., renovating public facilities), but when possible, we should want to minimize the emotional pain of others as we would want them to do for us (Matthew 7:12).
- Strive to listen better to the person with whom you’re having a conversation than they listen to you. When one party in a conversation stops listening fairly communications breaks down. We should seek to ensure that person is not us. This is what it means to “outdo one another in showing honor” (Romans 12:10) in a context where a conversation has degenerated into a debate.
- Don’t apologize for the desire to protect the most vulnerable in our society in one of the most vulnerable settings.
- Don’t say or do anything that needs to be apologized for (i.e., rudeness, simplistic logic, slander, etc…) in defense of what you’re not apologizing for (i.e., advocating wise legislation; I am not familiar enough with current bills being debated and their potential unintended consequences to deem them “wise” or “unwise”).
Do I think this clarification and suggestions will bring peace to this debate? No. Do I believe everyone, but most of all Christians, should seek to honor others in the midst of our disagreements? Yes, and I hope this post can be part of modeling that kind of more civil discourse.