How a Gym Made Me Consider Responses to Transgenderism
“There’s a man in the hot tub.”
A middle-aged woman, hair still soaked with pool water, pointed down the gym hallway toward the women’s locker room. The man at the front desk glanced uneasily at us, then back at the woman wrapped in a towel. She was visibly upset, repeatedly insisting that she was uncomfortable with a biological male using the hot tub in the women’s locker room. She argued it wasn’t safe for the young girls there. The receptionist tried to stay conciliatory to both sides, letting the woman know there was nothing he could do about the situation and advising her to email the manager if she felt strongly about the matter. At the end of their brief conversation, she turned and walked away, clearly unsatisfied.
This was the first time I had witnessed conflict between two sides on the transgender issue. I shouldn’t have been surprised to see this direct exchange, but to be honest, I was. These struggles, battles, and challenges always seemed to happen elsewhere: distant. Not here, not in a small, suburban town, not in front of my parents, siblings, and me. But it happened. And I realized I needed to prepare for interactions with individuals whose lifestyles I disagree with. In other words, I needed to decide how I was going to respond.
A response is more than an answer to a question or situation. It is a way of interacting with ideas that you agree or disagree with. In my high school debate years, I learned that a response can have more impact than the argument. And it’s not just words and rhetoric. Responses are given through non-verbal cues: a smirk, a pointing finger, a smile, a friendly tone. While we don’t always choose the people we meet, the conversations we have, or the situations that occur, our response is one thing we can choose.
John 1:17 says, “For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” As a Christian, my response to transgender controversy must be marked by grace and truth. Too often, I’ve seen the extremes. I’ve heard people compromise the truth for the sake of being “nice.” Sadly, I’ve also seen peers snicker and joke around with each other, using adjectives like “gay” to insult people behind their back. The Apostle John reminds us that Christlikeness requires grace and truth: the needed balance of kindness without compromise.
If we are going to respond in grace and truth, we must start by defining grace. According to Merriam-Webster, grace is a “disposition to or an act or instance of kindness, courtesy, or clemency.” It requires showing kindness and mercy to others, whether a person agrees with them or not. Regardless of how a person identifies, he or she is still made in God’s image and should be treated with dignity and respect. We should not have double standards when it comes to sin. If we exchanged the more culturally acceptable sins of alcoholism, drug abuse, or adultery for transgenderism, would we treat the individual with the same love and compassion? Whether we struggle with gender identity or with other sins, we all need grace. Remember, Christ died for us while we were sinners (Romans 5:8).
However, it doesn’t end there. Christlikeness demands both grace and truth. As Christians, we know truth ultimately resides in God. His Word makes clear what He intends for humanity. Both scientifically and theologically, gender is binary. Truth cannot affirm lies. So, our response to transgender-identifying individuals should be gracious, but not to the point of denying reality. Rev. Dr. Rob Smith, writing on the topic of transgenderism, observes, “[…] our calling as Christ’s followers is to present the truth with compassion but without compromise.” Likewise, the Apostle Paul encourages us to speak “the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15).
In my generation (yes, I’m a Gen-Z), one in every five adults identifies as LGBT. The opportunity to practice gracious and truthful responses will only continue to grow. The average and unexpected places, like the local private gym, will become opportunities for us to stand out as Christians. The challenge before all of us is how to respond with both grace and truth. But it starts by preparing now.