The preamble to the odious Nashville Statement captures the anxiety of conservative Christians about changing notions of gender, not just gender orientation. Declares the Statement:
It is common to think that human identity as male and female is not part of God’s beautiful plan, but is, rather, an expression of an individual’s autonomous preferences. The pathway to full and lasting joy through God’s good design for his creatures is thus replaced by the path of shortsighted alternatives that, sooner or later, ruin human life and dishonor God.
That is, conservative Christians aren’t just worried about the challenges that trans identity delivers to their traditional ideas of gender. They are also worried (for 40+ years now) about cismen and ciswomen’s challenges to gender. And, holy moly, this isn’t just personal. It’s going to ruin not just individual lives but “human life.” (If this sounds familiar, you may have read about it in chapter 5 of God Hates.)
In the 1970s, a host of books about “traditional womanhood,” with titles like Fascinating Womanhood and The Total Woman, came out to direct women how to stick with traditional gender roles even as second wave feminism was opening up new opportunities for them. In the 1990s, we saw a similar effort for men through Promise Keepers and books with titles like Raising a Modern Day Knight and The Tender Warrior.
We might see current anti-trans work like the Nashville Statement as part of this work to maintain strict gender distinctions in conservative Christianity. Fans of the Nashville Statement see it as a necessary effort to protect gender boundaries.
I mean, if gender boundaries were as natural as essentialist readers of the Bible say they are, wouldn’t we just conform without the policing? Would we need book after book of Christian advice on how to be a woman or how to be a man? Wouldn’t we just know? If this stuff is built into my very anatomy, why does it need to be defended so vigorously?
The need to police speaks to the desire to defy.
Which could mean that the “solution” to the defiance of those norms is to get rid of them. Or, if conservative Christians can’t quite bring themselves to do that work, at least loosening them up a bit.
Fewer rules about gender mean fewer challenges to them.
Above, a detail of St. Eugenia, taken from the Church of the Archangels in Ioannina, in Northwestern Greece. In the third century, Eugenia was about to be forced by her pagan parents to marry a pagan. A Christian, she disguised herself as a man and fled to a monastery, eventually becoming the abbot. Whether they are trans or cis, people who threaten patriarchy are subject to gender disciplining and need to stand together against it.
I’m not saying that if women were allowed to wear pants to church or pray before mixed-sex audiences or if more men worked in the church nursery that would mean that fewer people would be trans. (Fewer people being trans isn’t the goal here, and being trans isn’t reducible to simply wanting to do the tasks associated with a different gender.) I’m saying that tight control over gender gets cis and trans people all down. A queer tide lifts all boats, or something like that.
Which is just why conservative Christians want to marginalize trans people right out of the kingdom of heaven–because the whole thing won’t work to the advantage of the most powerful if everyone’s not on the straight and narrow in terms of gender and gender identity.
Conservative Christians’ denial of transphobia and claim to love trans people might ring a little truer if it didn’t seem to be more linked to their desire to also limit cismen and ciswomen in their roles.
Unless, I mean, transphobia is related to misogyny. (Hint: it is.)