Transgender and Adventist

It has been a long journey for me.  It was not until some twelve or thirteen years ago that I was first confronted with the issue of homosexuality in a concrete and direct way. I had been invited to an international Kinship-conference that happened to be held in the Netherlands (where I live), to give a series of devotional messages. It was the first time I spent a significant amount of time with a group of gay and lesbian people (mostly with Seventh-day Adventist connections). Listening to the stories about their challenges, in particular with regard to their often difficult relationship with the Adventist Church, forced me to rethink the fact that a considerable percentage of people do not neatly fit into the heterosexual world of which I myself am a part.

Since that first in-depth encounter with homosexual people I have studied the issue from various angles, especially from a biblical point of view.  I have, of course, taken a good look at what my church has said about homosexuality and at how my church has often discriminated against men and women who are gay or lesbian. And I have concluded that the official Adventist view of homosexuality is highly defective. It is based on a strictly literal reading of a few biblical texts–often without regard for the general context. However, it cannot be reconciled with the underlying message of the Bible that God does not discriminate against anyone on the basis of social status, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation. I have–with many others–concluded that the Bible condemns various heterosexual and homosexual practices, but that this does not necessarily includes a condemnation of same-sex partnerships that are based on a monogamous, exclusive, enduring commitment of love.

While I have been on my journey with regard to sexual diversity, I have become more and more aware of the wide range of sexual orientations, nowadays often referred to as LGBTI (or a variation on that series of capital letters). More recently the transgender issue has come to the foreground in our society and people in general have become more aware of the fact that the group of transgender people is much larger than was often thought. Last year the Seventh-day Adventist Church felt it could no longer ignore the issue and published an official statement on transgenderism.[1] As could be expected, the statement met with considerable criticism, from those who felt it was too accommodating and from those who felt it fell far short of generously accepting transgender people for who they are.

The statement issued by the church is, in many ways, quite sympathetic. But it is in line with previous statements that underline the ideal of heterosexuality and leave no room for alternative relationships. Though recognizing that a non-heterosexual orientation is hardly ever a matter of choice, it leaves those who have this orientation in the cold, with no option but to remain single and often extremely miserable.

I continue to struggle with many questions. I accept that the entrance of sin into the world affected human sexuality. Some would, however, say that the sexuality that God created was not just of the binary male-and-female-kind, but was from the very first more fluid. They do not see a connection between the entrance of sin and the origin of homosexuality. At least for now, I do not agree with this view. It seems to me that sin has confused all aspects of life and that after the Fall nothing is quite like it was before. However, that does not make a person with a non-heterosexual orientation a greater sinner than a hetero person. And all of us must pursue our happiness within our individual sin-affected situation. But, admittedly, this is a topic that has various aspects I am still struggling with.

Then there is another question: it seems that transgenderism is more widespread today than it was in the past. Is this a perception or a reality? If it is on the increase, why is that so?

I have many ‘technical’ questions with regard to life as a transsexual person. I cannot imagine what it is like. And what all it implies when a person decides to undergo surgery and other treatments to become what he/she has felt he/she has been all along. In any case, to suggest (like the official church statement does) that gender re-assignment surgery is no option and that someone who is born in the wrong kind of body must accept that fact, however difficult it is, and not do anything about it–to me this sound totally unacceptable.

Some time ago I read this statement in a significant book about homosexuality, written from  a conservative Protestants perspective:  ‘‘For those of us who are straight and who don’t spend a whole lot of time processing, wrestling, hiding, or managing our heterosexuality, I think there will always be a gap in our understanding of what it is like to be persistently attracted to the same-sex.’[2]  The same principle, I believe, applies, to being transgender. If so, who am I, as a heterosexual person, to tell someone, who happens to be in the ‘transgender’ group, how to live his/her life as optimal as possible?

All my questions fade into the background when the topic is no longer one of an academic nature but when it concerns real people. The people behind the film Seventh-gay Adventists just released a fifth short portrait in its series about LGBTI-people. This short film is about Rhonda[3], who was born as a man and is now a woman, serving as an elder in a Seventh-day Adventist Church. Whatever questions I may have, I can gladly put these aside when I hear Rhonda relating her experience and present life as a trangender person and a Seventh-day Adventist..


[2]  Wendy VanderWal-Gritter, Generous Spaciousness; Responding to Gay Christians in the Church (Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 214), p. 51.