The Ethics of Gender Transitioning: A Response to Recent “Affirming” Arguments

Although awareness of the experience of gender incongruence (and the dysphoria that it typically generates) has greatly increased in recent years, questions surrounding the most ethical and effective way to respond to this condition continue to be debated not only in the wider culture but in many of our churches as well. Advocates of what is typically labelled “gender affirming care” argue that encouraging those whose gender dysphoria is “consistent, insistent, and persistent” to transition genders is the path of true compassion. I will contest this view.

I will begin this paper my surveying a range of arguments that, historically speaking, have been made in support of gender transitioning (not only social, but also hormonal-surgical transitioning), even if only as “a last resort” (e.g., Mark Yarhouse). I will then turn to two recent (but also quite different) approaches that claim to provide fresh Christian arguments in support of gender transitioning: Scott Bader-Saye’s “The Transgender Body’s Grace” (2019) and Elizabeth Sweeny Block’s “Christian Moral Freedom and the Transgender Person” (2021).

Drawing on the resources of theological anthropology (in general), and the work of Oliver O’Donovan, Todd Daly and Melissa Moschella (in particular), I will then provide a critique of these approaches and propose, instead, a “body affirming” approach. Such an approach, I will argue, better reflects the psychosomatic unity of human persons, better adheres to Scripture’s call to honour God with our bodies, more effectively expresses the principle of totality, avoids any attempt to present a falsehood, and shows greater respect for the medical-ethical reservations surrounding surgical mutilation.

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