EDITOR'S NOTE: The following article refers to content that is not appropriate for children.
It’s never easy to swim upstream. That’s what many Christian therapists are discovering when it comes to debunking cultural myths about transgender issues.
But, according to at least three well-known experts, hope and healing are available for those who desire change.
The American Psychiatric Association identifies gender identity disphoria (G.I.D.) as a feeling of being the opposite gender or being trapped in the wrong kind of body. Characteristics often include a dislike of one’s genitals, one’s social sexual role and typical activities of the biological sex. The onset of G.I.D. typically occurs at a young age, often in children as young as three, and it is not uncommon for those suffering from the disorder to take on a demeanor that resembles the opposite sex.
Dr. Jerry Leach, Ph.D., L.L.C., is a fulltime psychologist who has worked with thousands of people suffering from G.I.D.
“Healing happens when you put an end to defining yourself as ‘different’ and ‘a member of the opposite gender’ because of your natural in-born temperament and interests, which created an inward desire to do things that are naturally ascribed to the opposite gender,” he says. “This has much more to do with our God-prescribed uniqueness than with some kind of genetic flaw.”
Unfortunately, Leach says, many people are dissuaded from seeking help for two reasons: cultural falsehoods that are perpetuated by the media and the sense that God has abandoned them.
A recent episode of “The Oprah Winfrey Show” is but one example of the lopsided way that journalists usually present the issue. On the show, Winfrey interviewed two children who were struggling with transgendered feelings. In both cases, a “gender specialist” insisted, along with Winfrey, that it was important for the parents of these children to “accept who they really are.”
That meant buying into the notion that a 12-year-old girl was really a boy, simply because she felt that way, and likewise, that a 5-year-old boy was really a girl. The show’s producers, Winfrey and the show’s website all used the children’s preferred pronouns. And Winfrey even chided the boy’s father – who seemed incredulous – for not accepting that he was really a girl.
Interestingly, no other experts who might counter this opinion were present, as is usually the case on Winfrey’s shows. Also, the lone expert she did have provided no counseling or interaction with the children or their parents, except on the show, and this, despite the fact that both families were clearly suffering from serious emotional issues. No father was present or even mentioned with regard to the adolescent girl. And the young boy had admittedly failed to bond with his father, who confessed that he struggled with his son’s lack of interest in sports and desire to play with dolls. As a result, the boy had bonded in a noticeably inappropriate way with the mother, who took him along to hair and manicure appointments, where he wanted to participate – thus fueling the mother’s conclusion that he was a girl.
Some might say that despite evidence to the contrary, the prevailing myth about G.I.D. – that people are “born in the wrong body” – might well have led the 17th century philosopher René Descartes to re-define today’s emotion-centric culture as, “I feel, therefore I am.”
Either way, the sense that transgender is uniquely a genetic issue has become a foregone conclusion which leads more and more people to assume that God simply somehow made a mistake.
“There probably has been something of an increase in the transgender phenomenon since the media began covering it,” says Dr. Warren Throckmorton, Ph.D., director of college counseling and associate professor of psychology at Grove City College.
Throckmorton has seen close to 4,000 clients since he began counseling in 1980 and approximately 1 to 2 percent of his caseload involves people with “significant gender concerns” – a number that he estimates is about the same as the general population. Throckmorton has been actively involved in the movement to debunk media and cultural myths that surround gender issues since 1997, when the American Association of Mental Health Counselors unsuccessfully tried to ban reorientation therapy, or counseling that is based upon the belief that homosexuality is not inborn.
“In the 80s, although there were a lot of politics involved in the gay/lesbian issue, it wasn’t an issue in counseling,” he says. “People would come in and say that they didn’t want to be gay, and the counselor would begin to work on all of their issues. Part of the problem today is that if kids who have same-sex attraction come in, counselors assume that they are hard-wired that way. It’s like a curse and the counselor focuses on it so much that it becomes a part of their identity and their daily psychology, so it seems huge to them.”
Randy Thomas is a counselor with Exodus International, the world’s largest Christian referral and information ministry for homosexual issues. Thomas has been ministering to the homosexual and transgendered communities for almost a decade, and is also concerned about the way that culture exacerbates the problem of gender-related struggles.
“We live in a society that is doing everything it can to obliterate God-given gender roles to begin with,” Thomas says, citing the recently-created term of ‘metrosexual’ and the secular feminist movement. “We also have a very sexually permissive and abusive society that sometimes creates environments which cause people to not want to identify with their own gender. Mysandry [fear and/or hatred of men] and mysogyny [fear and/or hatred of women] are rampant and even celebrated.”
The second barrier that often prevents healing is the perception, Leach says, that God can or will do nothing to help.
Leach, who struggled for decades with G.I.D. before finding healing, understands those feelings very well.
“It’s so confusing because we feel like we’ve done all the prayer needed and God’s only consistent answer has been silence,” he says. “‘Please take these feelings away from me, Lord God,’ we pray. Silence. The feelings persist. Silence. Actions follow. Silence. Guilt and shame trail behind. Silence. The cycle is revisited again and again until the final conclusion seems quite apparent. Silence thus equates to, ‘God’s will is for me to be a member of the opposite sex.’”
Yet, ironically, all agree that only God can repair the emotional damage sustained over the years, whether through cross-dressing, sexual sin or faulty thinking. It is all idolatry, they say, that must be dealt with at the foot of the Cross.
“If the owner of a Honda Accord wanted to understand [his car,] he wouldn’t go to Toyota for the owner’s manual,” Thomas says. “For a person seeking to find their true gender identity … the first step is to find out who they are in our Creator’s eyes.”
“You must come to terms with your God-given uniqueness and personality,” he says. “Shame-based thinking must be uprooted and dealt a death-blow. All the painful events of your past must be uncovered beneath the Godly oversight of a professional therapist who knows how to minister emotional healing prayer for you. You will need to understand that your transgender thoughts, feelings are your chosen method of escaping your present reality. You are running away from that which brings you pain.”
The good news is that, for those willing to embrace the process, hope is definitely available.
Throckmorton estimates that approximately 70 percent of the people he has worked with who were in conflict with their same-sex feelings in one way or another, and who did desire change, found healing and reverted to heterosexual lifestyles. Leach, who works almost exclusively with clients struggling with G.I.D., has seen an 80 percent success rate.
Both agree that the path toward wholeness is neither easy nor short, however.
“Healing begins with the desire to become reconciled with early, unresolved childhood emotional wounds; events in the early developmental years which threatened or undermined a person’s feelings of security, peace, warmth and comfort; and a secure sense of being deeply, unconditionally and uniquely loved,” Leach says.
However, the search for a counselor must be undertaken with great care, he emphasizes, because even within the Christian community, there can be a defeatist attitude that nothing can be done about G.I.D. – especially for those who have never witnessed dramatic change.
“You need to find a counselor who is not buying into the traditional lies,” Leach says. “Modern caregivers are trained to accept these feelings as God-given, and will tell you that it can only be corrected by surgery. Even Christian psychologists often quickly acquiesce to the modern view, which was put forward by doctors who had no luck with Freudian or psychological approaches. So there is an assumption that it was genetic, rather than taking responsibility for our own actions.
“With professional help, you must go back to your early childhood and begin to unpack the pain, and find out why you are running away from your gender, or why you envy the other gender, or who it was that gave you such a negative role model of your gender,” Leach continues. “It also means unpacking some of the sexually addictive components that cause you to act out sexually.”
There is hope, he insists. After all, Leach struggled with transgender feelings from a young age (see testimony below), even after getting married, having children and converting to Christianity.
But, after years of prayer and counseling, and through Christ’s transformative power, he now walks in complete freedom from those issues – and he helps others to do likewise.
Annabelle Robertson is an award-winning journalist who practiced law for several years before committing her life to Christ. She has a Master of Divinity from Regent College in Vancouver, B.C.
To read part one of this series, click here.
JERRY LEACH: A TESTIMONY OF HOPE AND HEALING
"Taking hormones of the opposite sex. Consulting with a sex-change therapist. All of it seemed so bizarre. I was a married man, the father of two children and an active church member. I had been a Christian for almost 30 years. But when the pharmacist handed me the bag containing my pills, my hands shook with excitement. At last, my body would take on female characteristics!
Contrary to what my father thought, I was never sexually attracted to men. In fact, I thought I hated all men and anything to do with manhood. But I loved being around women and dressing as a woman. Since my earliest memories, my closest friends had been female, and they had always accepted me as one of their own. There had also been the haunting revelation that having a boy wasn’t my parents’ first choice.
'I wish you were a girl to take over my beauty salon,' my mother would say. When I dressed up as a girl, my father encouraged me. 'You’re a lot better looking as a girl,' he’d say. I never felt truly loved or affirmed by him as a boy.
Our relationship further deteriorated when I was a young teen. One night, he discovered me wearing makeup and a nightgown. He yanked me out of bed, beat me up and yelled over and over, 'You’re just a d--- homosexual.'
Cross-dressing was my drug of choice, my escape from stress and self-hatred. Many times, dressed as a woman, I would go for a long walk, a drive, or shopping. I would feel a rush of excitement when clerks called me 'Ma’am.' It made me feel accepted. Eventually, however, the whole experience would end, and I would be forced to resume my hated existence as a man. Feelings of shame, guilt, frustration and anger would overwhelm me as I made sincere promises never to cross-dress again. But, a few days later, I’d do it all over yet again.
Finally, in an attempt to resolve my inner turmoil, I began seeing a clinical psychiatrist to obtain female hormones, although I was scared of actually going through with sex-reassignment surgery. After my third visit, I cried out to God for relief. As I prayed, a tiny ray of hope took hold in my heart. Thoughts of suicide subsided as I began to believe that God might provide a way out of my secret agony.
I made an appointment to see a Christian psychologist and while talking to him, I could sense Christ’s love and acceptance. That visit marked a major turning point in my life. As I progressed in counseling and group work, I came to see that I had believed many lies. God had not made a mistake in creating me with a male body. He had planned every aspect of my being from the beginning.
Psalm 139:15-16 says, 'My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place; when I was woven together…your eyes saw my unformed body.'
God had planned for me to be a man before I had ever been created! There was not a woman inside my body, longing to be accepted. Rather, I had chosen to reject my manhood, one of God’s good gifts to me. Now I had to learn how to control my thinking, with God’s help. I also had to take deliberate steps to tear down the lies and replace them with God’s truth.
I began the painful process of exposing my secret to trustworthy leaders of my church, as well as good friends. I fully expected their rejection. Instead, they reached out to me with overwhelming love, acceptance and compassion. This simple act of exposing my secrets defused much of the inner anguish and shame.
Discarding my secret identity was one of the most painful things I’ve ever done. Many times, I didn’t know if I could emotionally survive without cross-dressing. Eventually, however, I came to realize that casting off that false feminine persona was the best thing for my life.
Today, as I gaze out the window of my office, my reflection in the window pane is different. It’s no longer a stylishly-dressed woman, waiting for the receptionist’s announcement. Now I see the man – the healthy man – God created me to be."
— Jerry Leach