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'LGBT': Intelligible or Incoherent?

The argument I’m going to contend here isn’t a new one, but it’s important enough to be restated and recirculated.

I suspect, whether rightly or wrongly, that most of my readers are quite young ─ but I’m sure that some of my readers are just old enough to remember when the initialism was simply LGB. Indeed, even the 'LGBTQ Pride Month' (that we are all too familiar with today) was once called 'Gay and Lesbian Pride Month', back when it was first established by Bill Clinton in June 1999. From a Biblical and Christian perspective, the LGB movement was undoubtedly misguided but at least it was conceptually coherent. Even if you disagreed with LGB advocates, you certainly understood what exactly you were disagreeing with. It's not entirely clear when the T became a permanent addition (this Google Ngram suggests the mid-90s) but, whenever it was, that was the point the abbreviation became an unstable compound.

Here’s why. L, G, and B were originally understood in terms of the natural (and normative) sexual categories of male and female. L refers to women who are sexually attracted to women. G refers to men who are sexually attracted to men. B refers to people who are sexually attracted to both men and women. (Remember that ‘bi’ means two; ‘bisexual’ presupposes a binary sexual categorisation.) Those definitions are intelligible even to those who hold to traditional sexual norms.

But T subverts all that by demanding that we detach those sexual categories from physical (anatomical) realities. According to transgender ideology, the categories of ‘man’ and ‘woman’ are to be understood in terms of gender identity (which is non-physical) rather than biological sex (which is physical). Yet the moment we do that, the L, G, and B become meaningless.

By way of illustration, consider the widely-discussed Gender Unicorn developed by an organisation known as Trans Student Educational Resources. (The following critique can be just as well applied to the Genderbread Person; I leave that as an exercise for the reader.) The Gender Unicorn is a visual aid that is supposed to help us understand and navigate the complex and pitfall-laden terrain of modern sexuality and gender identity. According to the Unicorn, we need to distinguish five dimensions: (1) gender identity, (2) gender expression, (3) sex assigned at birth, (4) physical attraction, and (5) emotional attraction. Now consider the first and fourth of these. One’s gender identity can be ‘man’ or ‘woman’ (alongside other options) but these have nothing to do with one’s anatomy (note how the rainbow icon appears in a thought bubble; it’s a matter of internal self-perception). At the same time, one’s physical attraction, the Unicorn tells us, can be toward ‘men’ or ‘women’ (again, alongside other options). Yet one can only have a physical attraction toward that which is physical. So the meanings of ‘men’ and ‘women’ on the axis of physical attraction must be defined with reference to anatomy.

Hence the blatant incoherence: T (which is concerned with gender identity) requires us to define ‘man’ and ‘woman’ in non-physical terms, but L, G, and B (which are concerned at least partly with physical attraction) require us to define ‘man’ and ‘woman’ in physical terms.

Now, one might argue that the incoherence can be easily resolved by drawing a distinction between two kinds of maleness and femaleness: between ‘gender’ (non-physical maleness/femaleness) and ‘sex’ (physical maleness/femaleness). But this move won’t save the Unicorn. In the first place, there’s no indication in the diagram itself that the terms ‘man’ and ‘woman’ are being used equivocally. Indeed, the very opposite is the case: we’re informed that a person could be physically attracted to ‘women’, ‘men’, or ‘other gender(s)’ — implying that ‘women’ and ‘men’ are to be understood as genders (i.e., as they’re used when speaking of gender identity).

Furthermore, trans advocates have been very insistent that there can be no equivocation or discrimination: “trans women are women, full stop.” (Google the phrases, “trans men are men”, and, “trans women are women”, for countless further examples.) This point is not up for debate, we’re told.

Consider this thought experiment to evince the absurdity of it all. Dan is biologically male and he thinks he’s straight (or heterosexual). He’s introduced to someone called Jessie whom he believes to be a woman, based on her anatomy. Dan is physically attracted to Jessie. He soon learns, however, that Jessie actually identifies as a man. So as Jessie sees things — which is how Dan is supposed to see things, given that Jessie is the sole authority on their own gender identity — Jessie is really a man and therefore Dan is physically attracted to a man. It turns out that Dan, contrary to what he thought, is actually gay or bisexual. Surprise!

But things get only worse from here. Suppose that Jessie decides s/he is gender-fluid. His/her gender identity isn’t fixed but varies over time. Some days Jessie is a man; other days Jessie is a woman. It follows that Dan’s sexual orientation must be fluid too, because of his physical attraction to Jessie. Some days Dan is gay or bisexual; other days Dan is straight. So much for “born this way”!

It seems as if LGBT ideology has impaled itself on the horns of a problematic dilemma. Either (1) ‘man’ and ‘woman’ are tied to physical form, in which case the concept of sexual orientation (LGB) is intelligible but the ideology of transgenderism (T) is indefensible, or (2) ‘man’ and ‘woman’ are not tied to physical form, in which case the concept of sexual orientation (LGB) is no longer intelligible. (Now, I don’t think the T is intelligible in either case, since the ‘trans’ part is only meaningful with reference to anatomical sex, but let's leave that aside.)

It should now be apparent that those who embrace the term LGBT face a formidable challenge: provide definitions of L, G, B, and T that both (1) satisfy the demands of transgender ideology and (2) comport with the conventional meanings of L, G, and B.

Interestingly enough, I happened to notice this week that a well-known evangelical scholar who previously identified as a “celibate gay Christian” has now embraced the LGBT (actually, LGBTQ) label. I wonder how deeply he has reflected on what the T means for his G.

As Bible-believing Christians, we need neither to concern ourselves with the dilemma nor the formidable challenge presented above. However, what we sincerely need to understand is that none of the aforementioned implies that gender dysphoria isn’t a genuine condition that afflicts some people. It seems to me that gender dysphoria (what used to be called “gender identity disorder”) can be defined, diagnosed, and treated without buying into the transgender agenda. Indeed, gender dysphoria was a recognised medical condition long before the T became appended to LGB.

For this purpose, Dr. James Anderson has proposed eight unique theses on the phenomenon of transgenderism from a Christian perspective. Allow me to both enumerate and elaborate upon his list:

1. One's view on transgenderism will be affected by one's anthropology.
2. The mainstream narrative on transgenderism has been shaped and supported by secular worldviews that are fundamentally committed to human autonomy (eg. naturalism or postmodernism)
3. A consistently Christian approach to transgenderism must begin with a Biblical worldview, including a Biblical anthropology.
4. A Biblical anthropology has to be grounded in the first three chapters of Genesis.
5. Gender dysphoria is a genuine condition which is best understood as a psychological disorder or dysfunction. There is evidence to suggest that hormonal difficulties lead to this condition of incongruence, without the input of any human choice.
6. The different aspects of transgenderism call for different kinds of Christian responses. 
7. Since the Biblical position is that there are only two sexes (male and female) and biological sex is the primary indicator of ontological sex (i.e., what one truly is), any treatment for gender dysphoria should proceed on the assumption that one's biological sex (as opposed to their gender identity) defines whether they are truly male or female. We should focus on changing the mind to fit the physiology, not the other way around.
8. The sexual revolution and the contemporary LGBTQ+ movement don't merely invite God's judgement; they are themselves the manifestation of God's judgement. Romans 1:21-25 teaches,

21 For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles.
24 Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. 25 They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshipped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen.
Glory to God alone. 

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