There’s a new challenge many Christians must face these days: What do I do when a friend asks me to switch pronouns: to call him “her” or vice versa, or to use one of the new sex-free/gender-free pronouns?
The best answer doesn’t seem obvious. We want to be loving, after all. We want to be kind. Yet some of us, myself included believe God created us male and female, not cross-gendered or “fluid.” Changing pronouns to fit a person’s altered gender identity would violate our convictions. What do we do when they tell us we should?
I’m going to suggest a specific answer, but before I go there I need to explain what’s behind that answer.
Compassion for Pain, Wisdom About Trends
First, there are various reasons people make this request. Trans people vary from painfully transgendered to simply “transtrender,” and a whole lot of other variations in between and off to the side.
By “painfully transgendered,” I’m referring to those who are truly gender dysphoric, to use the technical term. Their internal world is painfully misaligned with their external world. They actually feel like their body is all wrong. There’s no magic that can make things “right” for them, not even hormones or surgery. They can’t just wish their feelings away.
These individuals are in pain. They need compassion; they need friends; they need love. Yet that doesn’t mean they need you to pretend to be someone other than you are. You can’t be a real friend unless you can really be you.
As a friend, though, the first step in your conversation really ought to be asking the person what’s going on inside, finding out what it’s like for them. As believers we should take others’ pain seriously and compassionately.
Now, you may get a completely different sense from them as you ask them about their experience. Some “gender-fluid” people are really “transtrenders.” They’re riding the latest nonconformist trend for the thrill of being outrageous. You ought not treat them without love or compassion, but the less you sense they’re feeling real pain, the more you can feel free to ask, “Hey, what’s really going on here, anyway?”
There are many other ways to be “transgender” than I could even begin to cover here. Those are just two of them. The main thing is to ask and to listen.
Recognize the Power Play For What It Is
But listening doesn’t mean agreeing. Too few people recognize what’s really going on when trans people expect us to change our pronouns for them. Believe it or not, they’re actually claiming a power that no human has ever held, nor should hold. They probably don’t realize that’s what they’re doing, so it would be insensitive to accuse them outright. Still, this is what they’re really telling us:
“I expect you to chuck aside what you think is true, and believe instead what I feel is true, just because I say it’s true. My internal, mental reality must become your reality, because I say so.”
Usually this gets tacked on, too: “If you disagree, you’re not just wrong, you’re a bad person.”
That’s wielding too much power. I shouldn’t be able to command you to believe what I believe, just because I say so. Trans people shouldn’t have that power either.
Listen, Then Answer
Now, that’s all background so far. It’s helpful because it defines the problem more clearly, but I promised you more than that. I said I’d suggest a way you can actually answer the demand.
First, I strongly recommend you start by finding out — sensitively — what’s going on inside your friend, as I’ve already mentioned. Have that conversation for as long as it takes. Ask well, then listen well.
Eventually, though, it must come back around to the question of pronouns. Here’s how I recommend you go from there:
“I understand that you have a set of beliefs and principles leading you to make that request of me. I hope you understand that I have beliefs and principles, too. For me to go along with your request would violate my personal convictions and my personal identity. I don’t want to violate your convictions or your identity, I don’t want to force my beliefs on you, and I don’t believe you want to do that to me, either.
“What I think we both want is to build and maintain our friendship. How about if we talk and see if we can to work out a good way to do that, without either of us asking the other person to be someone we aren’t?”
Appealing to Friendship and Common Values
Stick to your convictions during that conversation when it happens. Be who God calls you to be! Anything less isn’t just a failure of integrity, it’s also a disservice to your friend, who needs you to be you, if you’re going to be a real friend.
Notice how this answer is based on an appeal to their natural desire to treat you with respect. Few people feel comfortable asking others to become someone they aren’t. Few trans people realize that’s what they’re really doing!
So explain that as clearly as you can. Follow it up with a friendly request to resolve your differences together, and you could be on your way to strengthening your friendship, without compromising any of your convictions. If not, at least you’ve clarified the issues, and you’ll be in a better position to figure out where to go from there.