Thursday, September 07, 2017

When Harry Wants To Be Called ‘Sally’


  1. I can't agree with Anderson's proposal if the name in question is conspicuously of the opposite sex within the cultural context. There isn't much point bringing up the fact that someone might be called "John" (if a woman) or "Sally" (if a man) and it might *not* have the connotation of the opposite sex. Those are either cases of different cultural context or contrived cases where the person happens to have an odd nickname which he does *not* intend to indicate the opposite sex. But to call a biological male "Sally" when he has *deliberately chosen* that name *for the purpose* of conveying that he is a "trans woman" really is cooperation with his delusion. Saying that "Sally" isn't intrinsically, inherently a female name and then producing examples to back this up is not to the point. It's pretending that *in the actual context envisaged* the name is not intended by the person to convey that he's "really a woman." Anderson says that one could "make it clear or be willing to make it clear" that one doesn't mean that by it, but this just puts him in a dilemma: If one does not constantly make it clear (and what would one do, footnote the name every time one used it? at every meeting of the Christian group?) that one doesn't mean to cooperate with Harry's delusion, then it is undeniable that members of one's group (in the scenario in which he got the question) will think that "we" are to some degree accepting this man's self-identification as a woman. On the other hand, if one is constantly footnoting the name, putting it in air quotes or whatever, one is just going to offend Harry *anyway*, so one might as well not have bothered. There is no way to cooperate with calling Harry by a conspicuously female name, which he chose for the very purpose of identifying as a woman, when you know he isn't a woman, that both serves the purpose of not offending him and that avoids, to some degree, cooperating with his delusion.

    Now, in a situation where one is trying to keep one's head low, one might feel driven to compromise somehow. One would probably try as much as possible to avoid using a name at all, if the name were conspicuously of the opposite sex, or one might pretend that one didn't know that the person was a "trans woman," especially if one first met the person after "transition" and if the disguise was pretty good, or all kinds of things.

    But Anderson is addressing a situation where

    a) the person is leading a *Christian group*

    b) everyone involved at this point in time clearly knows that the man in question is a man and was previously involved with their group as a man.

    That is a question regarding the social governance of their own Christian group and what they are going to do as a Christian group, concerning a person who is twisting their arm to cooperate with his delusion. At that point, a clear message needs to be given, and Anderson's solution, if the person asks to be addressed by a (socially understood) conspicuously feminine name, sends a very mixed message to everyone involved. That isn't good Christian leadership.

  2. Also, one is just putting off the inevitable clash, since there are going to be all sorts of situations in which the issue is going to come up. "Sally" isn't going to let one avoid it. "Sally" will say things like, "As a woman, I think..." as if daring one to disagree with it. If the Christian group has a retreat, "Sally" will expect to have rooming arrangements made as if he is a woman, and so forth. "Sally" may even start "dating" a man in the group, a Christian, and then what are you going to do? During group activities, "Sally" will go into the women's bathroom along with the women of your group, and woe betide if they object.

    1. Lydia,

      I agree with your position. Anderson said:

      "we want to treat our fellow human beings, no matter what they believe or say, with respect and dignity as creatures made in the image of God, and we want to maintain positive personal relationships with them insofar as it’s possible to do so (cf. Rom. 12:14-18). All else being equal, we should maintain existing bridges for bringing the gospel to people rather than burning those bridges. We want to keep the lines of communication open. When Christians and non-Christians stop talking to each other, everyone loses…insisting on using correctly gendered pronouns will inevitably aggravate the person who claims to be transgender and most likely lead to a broken relationship and a refusal to converse at all. It will also tend to reinforce the (false) narrative that Christians are intolerant, bigoted, etc."

      I agree with Anderson that we should avoid giving unnecessary offense. That said:

      It's not disrespectful to use correct gendered descriptors for biological men and women. Indeed, it's disrespectful to use feminine descriptors for biological males or masculine descriptors for biological females. In addition, it's disrespectful to real women to let biological men co-opt femininity.

      And we can explain that to a trans person. We're not just traditionalists for tradition's sake. There's a theological rationale for that usage. And we can provide the rationale for our usage. Indeed, it's good to acquaint theologically ignorant people with the reasons for our position.

      It may well be that they will break off further communication with us, but if they do that despite the fact that we've provided a rational explanation for our position, then that's their problem. We have no duty to accommodate people who are intolerant of reason and reality.

      This is not a case of giving unnecessary offense, or defaulting to tradition without offering any justification for the tradition.

      Rather, this is a case where we have a principled reason for traditional usage. A reason we can articulate and defend. If that's not good enough for some people, we've done everything we can reasonably do in that situation. They have made the situation unworkable.

    2. "one is just putting off the inevitable clash"

      Yes. The post is low on detail, but when it says that he "helps out with various activities", that makes me wonder. Acquiescing as non-Christians help out with church activities is dangerous to both chruch and non-Christian. It might cause offence to tell them that they can't, but failing to do so blurs the boundaries.

      Church members are under the discipline of the church; but people with no confession can do as they please. There's no mechanism for rebuking or correcting their behaviour. And that's what's being put to the test now. He's in open conduct which Scripture describes as abominable; and the question is nothing more than "should we speak to him using pronouns that upset him?" Such a weak, effeminate response.

      Again, it seems that the fashionable sins of the day get a free pass. If he was exploring his alternative identity and desires as a thief, a molester or a necrophiliac, would the church still let him help out with the activities, and be discussing what pronouns to use in addressing him? Surely it's not anything in God's word, but just because the world keeps trying to tell us that people in sexual rebellion are merely confused victims, that the church has let it go this far?

  3. "And we can explain that to a trans person."

    Yes, exactly.

    What strikes me as a little surprising is that Anderson seems to envision *some* kind of explanation to the "trans" person, because in the comments thread he says something to the effect that one should be willing to "make it clear" that one's use of the name doesn't involve affirming the alternative "gender identity."

    So I guess he's picturing maybe having some kind of conversation. No doubt if one is conspicuously avoiding using any pronouns, the person is going to ask, "Hey, why aren't you using pronouns for me?" And then you're supposed to "be willing to make it clear" that you don't really accept the person's "gender identity."

    But in *that* case, why all this roundabout? You know the "trans" person is going to get really upset when you have The Talk about this. You're going to have to "come out" to him as believing that he's really still a man. So you might as well have just avoided all the runaround, esp. in a Christian group.

  4. As a person who has started always to put "Pope Francis" in quotes, I think Christians ought to be about the business of defining things properly. We should not use terms like "gay" or "LGBT community", but just speak in clinical terms of "homosexuals" or those having a "same sex attraction". Even the abbreviation "trans" should have some sort of clinical description. With that said, what do you do about this:

    1. Definitely. Language is power. That's why they invented all these terms in the first place. Even "homosexual" referring to a person can be unhelpful, as it transfers from issues of temptation over to asserting a fundamental nature; from something that you *do* (or feel tempted to do), to something that you *are*, which plays into the "gay rights'" lobbies propaganda.

    2. Is there a well-thought-out Christian lexicon of usage for these kinds of things? I'm asking because I'm not aware of one.

    3. I've not come across one, but I couldn't say I've tried that hard. It seems to me, unfortunately, that even conservative evangelicals who are conscious of these issues can say some very unhelpful and even downright wrong things. e.g.

      "Attempting to change someone's sexual orientation assumes that being gay is somehow more problematic than being straight. We believe that heterosexuality as we encounter it in this world is just as fallen as homosexuality."

      There are so many ways in that sentence pre-assumes ideological conclusions of the homosexual lobby. It's one of those "so confused in what it assumes that you can't even refute it" constructions.
      In the first sentence it assumes concept of a fixed, essential "sexual orientation" that is fundamental to a person (undermining the same organisation's much better preferred terminology of "experiencing same-sex attraction" (to be fair one might assume that they meant it as a shorthand, if not for the rest of the context)), "being gay" (again, what you fundamentally *are* instead of what temptations you face). And the second sentence is just atrocious, importing the idea of "heterosexuality" and "homosexuality" as parallel concepts. I don't believe Christians had any use for the term "heterosexuality" before the homosexual lobby invented it in order to help justify homosexuality. (I do think it's a term that has to be used sometimes - but it's the using of it in order to imply close parallels that is unhelpful; and the above sentence is a great example of this - it has two "-alities" running in parallel, both equally problematic, supposedly. Whereas in reality, one means "natural sexual relations" and the other means "twisted sexual relations". To be sure, there are natural sexual relations which are moral for other reasons, but not in a way that's got anything to do with "homosexuality vs. heterosexuality").

      I don't want to be a nit-picker or encourage nit-picking. There's the opposite error of attacking the words in every context, regardless of how they're being used by the person using them. In this example, it's the big-picture endorsement of the homosexual lobby's view of human nature in relation to sexuality that I'm objecting to, not the appearance of this or that term particularly.

    4. David, yes, I think that when Christians start to use such words as "gay", "straight", (and yes, even "sexual orientation"), etc., it is a concession to an agenda that has captured "market share" simply by its introduction of, and broader use of, language. I'm wondering how some glossary -- backed up by etymologies, and yes, history, could help people see what's going on.

  5. I'd have a lot more sympathy for his ideas if this were simply an attempted guide on "How to avoid losing your job at a secular company when you have a 'trans' co-worker without totally compromising your principles." It would be basically an exercise Lollardry and might be excusable as such. But that definitely isn't either what he's talking about or how he's casting it.

  6. This issue came up during the 1st century AD when Stan decided he wanted to be Loretta. It was recorded for posterity:

    1. Lol, that's a great reflection of what's been going on.