As a result God has given them up to shameful passions. Among them women have exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural, and men too, giving up natural relations with women, burn with lust for one another; males behave indecently with males, and are paid in their own persons the fitting wage of such perversion.
Near the end of my pregnancy, I went to my first breastfeeding support meeting, facilitated by La Leche League. I was excited at the opportunity to learn, and terribly nervous in a room full of strangers — I was a guy at a women-only peer-to-peer help group.
When it came to be my turn to speak, I gave my carefully prepared spiel: “My name is Trevor and I am able to be pregnant because I am transgender. This means that I was born female but transitioned to male by taking hormones and having chest surgery. When my partner and I decided to start a family, we got advice from my doctors and I stopped taking my testosterone. My baby is due in April. Because my surgery removed most of my breast tissue, I don’t know how much I’ll be able to breastfeed, but I really want to try.”
-Trevor MacDonald, I am a transgender dad in a gay relationship who breastfeeds his baby boy
On the Proper Distinction between Sex and Gender
It has become common place to distinguish between what we call “sex” and what we call “gender”. This website from Monash University provides as clear a distinction as any:
Sex = male and female
Gender = masculine and feminine
So in essence:
Sex refers to biological differences; chromosomes, hormonal profiles, internal and external sex organs.
Gender describes the characteristics that a society or culture delineates as masculine or feminine.
So while your sex as male or female is a biological fact that is the same in any culture, what that sex means in terms of your gender role as a ‘man’ or a ‘woman’ in society can be quite different cross culturally. These ‘gender roles’ have an impact on the health of the individual.
In sociological terms ‘gender role’ refers to the characteristics and behaviours that different cultures attribute to the sexes.
As such for the purposes of this discussion, let us simplify the distinction a bit. By “sex” we shall simply refer to the possession of a particular set of sexual organs and by “gender” we shall refer to everything else, socially, culturally and even aesthetically in terms of appearance commonly associated with one sex or another.
Therefore on this understanding Trevor would be female by sex and male by gender. For the purposes of both clarity and brevity, I shall simply use the female pronoun to refer to Trevor, notwithstanding her identification, hormonal changes or appearances.
What Exactly about Homosexual Relationships does St Paul Disapprove of?
Let us break down, for the sake of simplifying our discussion, homosexual relationships into two components.
(1) The erotic desire or pleasure for the same gender.
(2) The same-sex intercourse itself or simply sodomy.
The interesting question is this: Is the “shameful passion” or “lust” for the same gender/sex derivative of the unnaturalness of their intercourse? Or is the passion or desire for the same gender/sex itself intrinsically shameful and sinful? Do we condemn the desire on the grounds that it leads to unnatural intercourse or is the desire itself intrinsically bad? What exactly is indecent about homosexual relationships? The indecent behaviour of one with another, or the desire itself?
It seems that there are good grounds to think that what Romans 1:26-27 is fundamentally condemning is unnatural sex or intercourse and not so much passions or desires for one’s own gender. The latter is derivative of the former.
Another consideration to take into account is that biology is a “harder” natural fact over gender which is more “artificial”, that is, an artifice of particular cultures to a certain extent. It seems therefore that if the focus of St Paul is upon the sexual intercourse or “relations” over the question of gender relations, then in the case of Trevor, her sexual relationship may not fall under the Romans 1:26-27 condemnation.
Of course there are other considerations of prudence, propriety and scandal to consciences which such a relationship might provoke if allowed to proceed, however what is important about these considerations is that they are more or less particularistic judgements based on particular situations and circumstances over more intrinsic or fundamental creational ordinance judgements revealed in the Scriptures. To these considerations we now turn.
Prudential Considerations on the Significance of Gender
What significance does gender possess? We are not asking if sexuality is significant, that is a given from Romans 1:26-27 and the creation account where God created mankind male and female. The theological significance of sexual dimorphism is not being disputed. The question is whether in addition to being created male and female they were created masculine and feminine as well.
I am afraid that we would be threading in very difficult and muddy waters for gender, unlike sex, is a much more plastic concept and it isn’t evident that God prescribes a certain fixed unified gender form in the Bible in addition to normative sexual intercourse. I wish however to bracket and control the discussion in terms of simply addressing the significance of gender in a sexual relationship and not the significance of gender in terms of church leadership, worship or even domestic leadership. It is clear that the Bible does prescribe certain gender roles in those aspects, e.g. 1 Timothy 2:11-15 on not suffering woman to have authority over man. What is not clear and what is not given in the Bible is whether it prescribes sexual passions to be tied to gender as well. Basically we are returning to point (1) as to the legitimacy of erotic desires for one’s own sex.
Gender in society of course exists to solve a number of coordination problems. The clothes, appearances and behavioural patterns serve as reliable indicators in society of what sexual organs one possesses and people can become attached to each other reasonably confident that their gender and appearance do match their sex.
However, let us assume that that we have a cis homosexual person (male or female) who, not wanting to fall foul of St Paul’s injunction, decides to look for a trans (by gender and not sex) homosexual person, or vice versa, thus we bypass the coordination problem since they have a very specific gender, orientation and sex in mind in searching for their life partner. Is it compatible with the Bible and the will of God for homosexual persons to consummate their desire for the same sex while engaging in legitimate sexual intercourse by virtue of still retaining a dimorphic biological relationship?
There are legitimate prudential considerations as to medical effects of hormones therapy or breast surgery or any other cosmetic surgery needed to make such a “relationship” work. But suppose we bracket those considerations. It seems to me that the homosexual persons’ desire to consummate their erotic desire for the person of the same sex by getting the other party to go through trans-gender procedures, short of altering the vital organs, isn’t qualitatively different from other people who go through plastic surgery to enhance or alter their appearance. Both of them want to look “good” or “desirable” in some subjective terms and it isn’t exactly clear to me what is the difference between a wife who goes through the plastic surgeon’s knife to give her husband a better sexual experience over a trans person who does the same, short of altering his or her sexual organs, in order to give his or her homosexual partner a much better sexual experience.
Conclusion: Better to Marry than to Burn…
I am not sure exactly what sort of concrete proposals follows from this discussion. However, in considering the practical solutions for homosexual persons, it seems to me that the example of Trevor offers some intriguing possibilities.
Not sure how feasible would it be to provide a place or facility for cis homosexuals to become attached to trans (by identity) homosexuals, but then again, stranger ministries have existed like this Israeli Rabbi’s ministry to pair gays to lesbians. (You can see more here.) Perhaps such couples could simply remain low key in the life of the church, mere objects of pastoral concern, but otherwise not be too prominent to maintain the public standards of gender and sexual relations.
I wish to end off by noting however that I do not accept enforced celibacy for homosexuals. It is an opinion which is oddly very prevalent, but entirely groundless, even in the most conservative of Christian circles. St Paul commands those who experience sexual passion to marry rather than burn. Nowhere in the Scriptures or even in the Church Fathers are those with “homosexual inclinations” (whatever that even means) to remain celibate and be condemned to singleness. But as a friend of mine told me what a Lutheran pastor has said with regards to this
you can be gay as long as you are celibate. This is the first step on the path to where the ELCA [a liberal Lutheran denomination] is today. It begins with distinguishing homosexual feelings from acts (Again try doing that with heterosexual lust and adultery; Jesus says you can’t in Matthew 5:28.). Step two is accepting celibate homosexuality. Step three is to accept homosexual acts. The reasoning that leads to this is as follows. We deny celibacy is a command from God in regard to heterosexuals, so how can say it is in the case of homosexuals? This in turn leads to the necessity of Step Four the acceptance of gay marriage. That’s the only acceptable way for homosexuals not to have to live a life of enforced celibacy.
Thus this extremely odd pastoral instruction, which completely arbitrarily instructs heterosexual burning with passion to marry while forbidding homosexuals from the same, cannot help but appear to be hypocritical, inconsistent, but most importantly, grounded neither in Scripture or the tradition of the Church.
Therefore it seems to me that either we do something like the Israelite Rabbi who pairs gays to lesbians, or in general, get homosexuals into heterosexual marriages, or the solution of Trevor is as good a solution as any other.