So, the word “transgender” is back in the news


North Carolinians just spent more than a year watching corporations relocate or alter plans for expansion, suffering costly boycotts, and losing countless economic opportunities because we decided it was better to treat some people as an issue rather than as our children, our colleagues, our equals. It will take a long time for the state to recover the financial loss. It will take even longer to recover the humanity we sacrificed in order to curry political favor.

The President’s most recent ban, preventing transgender persons from serving in the military, is apparently based on concern for the “tremendous medical costs” associated with these enlisted troops. I don’t know what costs are involved. It is difficult to explain complex subjects and difficult decisions in 140 characters. Some subjects (and all people) deserve a more thoughtful and detailed discussion.

If these people are unhealthy, they wouldn’t be in the military to begin with, so do these alleged costs relate to the complicated and graphic surgical procedure that many people assume is necessary for the transgender identity? 

If that is your assumption, you should meet Parker.

Parker spoke to our church’s diaconate last year about the transgender experience. It was a fascinating and enlightening evening, and I’m humbled to serve with deacons who lead with enough compassion that they wanted a chance to understand before judging those who had been the unwitting and much-maligned subjects of so many headlines.

Parker is transgender, which does not mean “transitioning” from one gender to another. They have no interest in surgery of any kind – “they” being Parker. (Transgender persons claim the right to choose their “preferred pronouns,” and Parker prefers “they, them, and their” – which might have been the most difficult part of the conversation for this son of two grammatically-sensitive English majors!)

Parker was “assigned female” at birth, though that is not how they understand their gender today. If you think this is just too weird, you might consider with a bit of parental compassion the 2,000 children born every year in this country, whose gender cannot be determined by visual or medical examination. Most often for these births, doctors consult with parents, a decision is made for the child, and a surgical procedure literally shapes that child’s sexual future, physiologically, as well as emotionally and spiritually.

And that’s just a glimpse at the complexity of our sexuality from a physiological perspective. Consider how intimate and unique and complicated sexuality is from an emotional perspective.

So, transgender persons speak of the gender they were “assigned,” though Parker understands gender not as two points on a line, but as “an amorphous sphere – and I’m somewhere out here” (they say, pointing upward and to the right). Parker isn’t transitioning to anything else. They are completely comfortable as they are – which is kind and patient, smart and articulate, strong and self-assured, capable and determined. And transgender.

Yes, it was a lot for us to take in, too.

And if you’re thinking this isn’t “natural,” you ought to do a little reading on all the recent scientific research on the asexual and bisexual and homosexual and transsexual and multisexual animals in the “natural world.” The beauty of such incredible diversity is still unfolding, and the inconceivable creativity of life in our universe is mind-boggling and breathtaking.

No, I don’t understand it, either. But that’s not what’s important.

In a world as dangerous as ours, one would think we would welcome the service of any fellow citizens who are willing to sacrifice life and limb in the service of their country. Given the beauty of nature and our experience with people and diversity, the fact that our transgender comrades, who are just so willing and able, number in the thousands should surprise no one – and neither should a decision to label and libel a minority voice we don’t understand.

It is our sad history. A history we need, one day, to finally transcend.


(Dr. Russ Dean is a graduate of Clinton High School. He co-pastors Park Road Baptist Church in Charlotte with his wife, Rev. Amy Dean, a native of Clinton and also a graduate of CHS.)


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