Friday, July 18, 2014
GFU & transgender
This week, a fairly public news item emerged, regarding George Fox University's win in a case with the Department of Education, allowing Title IX religious exemption for the university's housing policy and a transgender student, Jayce, who wanted to live in a male dorm. Here's a Register Guard article about the court decision, and here's an Oregon Public Broadcasting news spot on the issue, featuring Wess Daniels and my grandpa, Ralph Beebe. Both are supportive of Jayce and desire to make him feel welcome and like he can be himself at Fox. Here is GFU's statement about the case. I want to just write a brief post on this issue, what's going on, and my thoughts.
First, I wanted to note that there has been some misrepresentation of GFU's policy. Some news reports are stating that the transgender student was "denied housing," which isn't true: he was offered housing on campus housing in a single apartment. One issue is that he hasn't yet undergone sex reassignment surgery, it sounds like, making it a little bit difficult for the university to give him housing in one of the single-sex housing options. Fox cites similar difficulties deciding what to do at Smith College, an all women's college. Do they admit male-to-female transitioning transgender students? Such questions of sex and gender are far from resolved in society at large, let alone in a Christian context such as Fox.
Second, luckily it sounds like Jayce has been fairly happy with the way he's been treated by other students, staff, and faculty, besides this issue of housing, so that's good.
Third, GFU cited Northwest Yearly Meeting's policy to shore up its claim that this was a religious belief. As far as I can tell, NWYM doesn't have a real policy about transgender identity.
This coming week, Northwest Yearly Meeting will be discussing a revision to the Faith & Practice statement on human sexuality (p. 80 of that document). The major question really pertains to what sexual acts are consider "sinful," especially including homosexuality. There is quite a range of opinions about what should happen with the current statement, although the fact that we're discussing it this week probably means that a majority of NWYM Friends believe that it should be changed and does not represent current belief. I don't know if we'll even have time to talk about transgender issues this week in the limited time we'll have in meetings for worship for business.
Fourth, a few queries: Why is it so troubling to us when people don't want to remain within traditionally-defined gender boundaries?
Every culture has different opinions, practices, and beliefs about what it means to be "feminine" or "masculine," what roles and behaviors go along with each, and which attributes are considered "good" or "bad." There are different traditions and beliefs about what men and women wear, how they behave toward one another and toward their own gender, and what occupations or tasks belong to each. We can't really define, once for all, what it looks like to be "female" or "male." We can't even describe this physically, for many people, since many are born with secondary sex characteristics for both sexes, chromosomal differences from their "normal" sex, or other differences that make sex more of a spectrum rather than a duality. Moreover, due to both "nature" and "nurture," I'd expect, each individual displays traits that are more or less "feminine" or "masculine" in different areas. Very few individuals fall in furthest end of each category on all of the things we use to measure our own culture's understanding of what it means to be "feminine" or "masculine."
What does it mean to YOU to feel "male" or "female"?
Why is it more culturally acceptable, on the whole, for women to be relatively "masculine" (wearing clothes designed for men, or at least similar to those designed for men, portraying "masculine" traits like assertiveness, etc.), and less culturally acceptable for men to act "feminine"? What does it say about us as a culture and what we value?
What would it look like for us to not really care about who's male and who's female, and just to love one another for who we are, regardless of how we dress and which body parts we have? Would this not be more congruent with our understanding of who we are as part of the Body of Christ, in whom there is no male or female, because we are all one as children of God?
Hold us in the Light this week as we have our annual sessions. Pray for unity and that we will listen to the Spirit, that we will be slow to anger, and that the love of Christ will abound in our midst.