Christianity & Parenting Trans Kids
“I’m a Christian parent of a trans kid. Do I have to choose between my faith and my child?”
by Austen Hartke
If you’ve recently found out that you’re the parent of a transgender or gender-expansive child, you probably have a few questions. How can I keep my kid safe? What does it mean to be trans? What’s up with pronouns, and why are they so important? Thankfully, more organizations are offering answers and providing support for families with trans youth, including My Kid Is Gay!
But if you’re the parent of a trans kid and you also identify as Christian, you may have some more specific questions about how to understand trans identities as a person of faith. What does the Bible say about this? Will our church accept my child? Can I love God and support my trans kid at the same time? Many of these questions come with complicated answers—except for that last one. Spoiler alert: the answer is “yes!”
So let’s talk about the Bible. First of all, it’s important to know that there is no verse in the Bible that says being transgender—having a gender identity that doesn’t match your assigned sex—is a sin. However, there are still a handful of verses that are often used by people today to make that point. For instance, some people point to the creation of the first two human beings in Genesis 1 as an example of God’s design for gender. Genesis 1:27 says, “So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them” (NRSV). So, when God created people, did God intend for these two gender boxes to be the only options? Well, let’s put this verse back in its context. When you read all of Genesis chapter 1, you might notice something—whenever God creates something new, God separates and categorizes those new things into two boxes. Take a look at verses 3-5, which say, “Then God said, ‘Let there be light’; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night.” We can see it again in verses 9-10: “And God said, ‘Let the waters under the sky be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear.’ And it was so. God called the dry land Earth, and the waters that were gathered together he called Seas. And God saw that it was good.”
In Genesis 1, God creates the world by categorizing things: light and dark, day and night, land and sea. But does the fact that God creates and separates the day from the night mean that dawn and dusk don’t exist? Does God’s creation and separation of land and sea mean that estuaries, coral reefs, and marshes don’t exist, or that those things are somehow sinful? Of course not! And so might we see the categories of male and female in verse 27 as ends of a spectrum, rather than two discrete boxes? For Christians, and for our trans youth today who may move between or beyond the boxes of male and female, Genesis 1 is only the beginning of the story.
Let’s touch on one more verse that’s often used against trans folks. Deuteronomy 22:5 says, “A woman shall not wear a man’s apparel, nor shall a man put on a woman’s garment; for whoever does such things is abhorrent to the Lord your God” (NRSV). Now, that seems like a pretty straightforward condemnation, but let’s dig in and ask some important questions. For instance, who gets to decide which clothing belong to women and which belong to men in a world with so many different ways of dressing? For several hundred years this verse was the reason that women weren’t allowed to wear pants, but today we’ve made room for the idea that the way we gender different kinds of clothing is largely dependent on the time and place where we live, and not on moral absolutes that are the same everywhere and for all time.
The second question we should ask about this verse is, “As Christians, how do we decide which laws are relevant for us?” Although many of our Jewish siblings hold to all the pieces of the law found in the first five books of the Bible, very, very few Christians follow all of these rules. In fact, just a few lines away from the verse about gendered clothing is Deuteronomy 22:11-12, which says, “You shall not wear clothes made of wool and linen woven together. You shall make tassels on the four corners of the cloak with which you cover yourself”—two rules about clothing that Christians don’t pay any attention to.
Part of the reason Christians don’t worry too much about those parts of the Bible is because of what Jesus said when he was asked which commandment was the most important. “[Jesus] said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets’” (NRSV).
So as Christian parents, how are we supposed to respond to our trans kids? Well, if all of scripture is summed up in love for God and love for others, then we are called to respond with love. If we use a verse to harm someone, is that loving our neighbor? Or should we focus our attention on the verses that show us how to express love in a way that actually feels like love to the person standing in front of us? As it turns out, for many parents, the question is not “Do I have to choose between my child and my faith?” but instead, “How does my faith encourage me to love and support my child?”
And you don’t have to figure that out alone. Today, more and more churches are becoming safe places for LGBTQ+ people and their families. If you’re looking for an affirming church near you, databases like Believe Out Loud’s church-finder, Gay Church, and Church Clarity can help! And if you want to begin a conversation with the church you already attend, check out guides like TransAction: A Trans Curriculum for Churches and Religious Institutions, Transitioning to Inclusion: A Guide to Welcoming Transgender Children and Their Families in Your Community of Faith, and A La Familia: Una Conversación Sobre Nuestras Familias, la Biblia, la Orientación Sexual y la Identidad de Género.
There are also several organizations offering faith-based support to Christian family members of LGBTQ+ youth! Groups like Harbor, FreedHearts, Embracing the Journey, and The Reformation Project all provide education and support groups for parents and grandparents.
So what might it look like for your faith to guide your support for your trans child? How will your love for God make your love for your child something that they can hear and feel and see? With faith, love, and community, we can make the world a place where trans youth can thrive in body, mind, and spirit.
Austen Hartke is the author of “Transforming: The Bible and the Lives of Transgender Christians” (Westminster John Knox Press, 2018), and the creator of the YouTube series “Transgender and Christian.” As a transgender person of faith, Austen's greatest passion is helping other trans and gender-non-conforming people see themselves in scripture. You can find out more about his work at www.austenhartke.com.