How Do I Love My Transgendered Child?

The letters come in now two or three a month. They’re all similar. In a moment of honesty an adult child has just informed their parents that they are transgendered or gay. Their question is always the same.

“What do we do now?”

Most parents are not prepared for this. Few have even thought about the possibility, especially if they raised their children in a Christian environment. This is something that happens to someone else’s children and now they have no idea how to respond, caught between the contempt they were taught to have for such claims, and the affection they have for the child they’ve loved heart and soul since birth.

It’s not an easy question to answer and I know many people will disagree with what I write here, but here is how I help parents respond to their child. I’ll admit I’m still sorting through all this in my own heart because it seems a tight-wire act to be sure. I assume people write me, however, because I embrace Biblical views of doctrine and morality. I also believe that the only hope of human transformation is through God’s kind of loving. In my view that’s what the Incarnation was all about: God winning by love and affection what fear and obedience could never untangle.

The question for us is whether we can love deeply someone who is embracing an identity or morality with which we don’t agree or approve. I used to think not. Love is the reward for conformity. If you don’t approve of what people are doing, you hold them at arm’s length hoping that shame will inspire them to repent. I never saw that work, however. Instead I kept reading about Jesus who could love people though they had not yet embraced God’s view of things. He saw the loving as opening a door to them, and the Pharisees derided him for it. But love is not about approving or rejecting, it’s about caring for people even at their most broken.

However you think of transgendered or gay issues, I hope we can agree that God’s love is the only thing that can work deeply enough in the human heart to change people. If that’s true, they have to taste of it before transformation is possible and often that love is first reflected in the actions of another who is learning to love as he loves. We all need to learn how love finds its way into relationships that view identity and morality differently than we do?

And to be honest, I’m not sure what the moral issues are with a transgendered person. Scripture doesn’t seem to address it except in one passage from Deuteronomy about clothing, but that really isn’t the same thing.  What is really going on when someone feels their anatomy is at odds with their psychological make-up? Is it a twist of darkness, or something else? Could it result from how the very distorted views we have of masculinity and femininity by the world and by religion?

My heart goes out to anyone caught in this struggle and I prefer to commend them to God to sort it out in the best way he can in each life. Most transgendered people don’t talk about it as a personal preference realizing how much it will impact others around them. For them it is a quest for survival itself. Most have contemplated suicide and too many have followed through with it rather than risk exposing their struggle to others. Is that what we want? I don’t. I have no doubt that God wants to be inside their honesty and struggle inviting them into his life and I want to be there with him.

So however these issues make you uncomfortable, it is worth sorting through them and learn how to support people in this struggle and what their parents are going through, rather than making them feel ashamed. If you don’t love someone who is transgendered, you’ve never dealt with the issue. You may think you have in Facebook postings and comments about your moral claims and the contempt you hold for those who see these things differently. That’s where political battles are fought and where judgment knows no bounds. Many would rather put these issues back in a closet never stopping to realize how oppressive that is for those who don’t fit into their preferred norms.

But when your child or a good friend lets you know that they have never felt comfortable in the body or the role society has put on them, what are you going to do? The parents writing me are often embarrassed that it’s happening to their child, worried about what family and friends might say, and scared of what the future may bring. They are also grieving the loss of long-held dreams and hopes they had for their child, and themselves. As one parent told me after their daughter announced she was transitioning to male, “I know my head was spinning for the first days… just totally spinning and bewildered.” And it’s normal to look for someone to blame for the crisis—their friends, the media, or even past discipline issues.

Fair enough. This is usually a shock to the parents and it’s not uncommon to seek a quick fix they hope will stuff it all back in the bottle. Just remember your son and daughter has been tortured with this struggle for a long time. None of this is easy for them. Before they come out to you, especially because they know how hard it would be for you, they already tried to stop it. They’ve repented and tried to pray the thoughts away, but their feelings haven’t changed.

As your head stops spinning, you’ll have a choice to make. Is your child someone you love deeply? If they are, then nothing has truly changed in your relationship with them. They are the same person they were an hour before they told you, it’s just that now you know more about what is really going on inside them. Can you imagine the courage it took for them to invite you to look deeply into their soul, especially when they know you’re not going to be blessed with the news? If you think this is coming from a broken place in their heart, wouldn’t you want all the more to be inside it with them, rather than abandoning them at so vulnerable a time?

Of course they are looking for your approval. They want nothing more than for you to embrace their newly announced identity and celebrate it with them. They too have tied love to approval. Some will even determine if you love them or not by whether you give them your blessing and may reject you if you don’t.

But most will know that they’ve just dropped a bombshell on the family and will hope that you’ll simply love them enough to work through this newfound information with them, whether you can approve or not. They will know you’ll need time to find a new footing in your relationship with them. Few people know how to love what they don’t approve. But God knows. He does it every day, with every one of us. Maybe it’s time we learn, too.

Let them know this isn’t going to be easy for you, but you want to learn how to respond in ways that are helpful to them. It will take some time for you both to learn. “You can’t expect me not to miss my little girl. I will. But I also realize you are the same person no matter how you present yourself on the outside and I want to love you no matter what, down whatever road you travel and I want to be a champion for you to find real joy and peace as you sort all this out.”

Let them know their decision will not change your love for them and your desire for them to find a life of joy and fulfillment. Even though you know that will only come in a transforming relationship with God’s love, you don’t have to push that on them.

Perhaps this is the hardest part of parenting, even in lesser ways when our children make decisions we don’t agree with in their careers or continuing to date someone we don’t like. Hopefully you’ll choose to discover the deepest realities of love and learn that being alongside your son or daughter even when they are making what you consider to be the wrong choices. Only there will you have the opportunity to share your love and your thoughts with them when they are ready for it.

If you want to be with them, put your love for them above everything else. Their choices are not your responsibility. Love doesn’t demand agreement and it doesn’t force its way on others. It will make them feel secure not threatened. Be with them and offer your thoughts only when they ask. When you learn not to manipulate their choices to do what you think best, they will want your input even if they don’t follow it right away. Remember this is all a journey and neither of you knows where it will lead in the next year, much less the next decade or two.

This is where you’ll learn each day how to listen to God and follow his lead. You cannot do this alone, but with him you’ll learn something about loving at the deepest level, when it sacrifices your hopes and dreams to support another person on their journey. You don’t have to forsake your convictions to do it. All you have to do is love like Father has loved you.

Can you love wholeheartedly in spite of the fact that someone is doing something with which we don’t approve? If so, you’ll offer a great gift to the world that will go well past your child or friend. It will be a lifeline to anyone around you lost in sin, bad theology, or hurtful behavior.

Every time you love like that you put God’s presence in the world, where he is able to do what is best to lead people to the light and to true freedom he has for them.

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21 Comments
  1. La Rue Campbell April 26, 2017 at 1:32 pm - Reply

    Wayne, I appreciate this article so very much. I haven’t had a close personal relationship with this life problem but I know some who are and who have. I believe you are right about God’s kind of love. I honestly believe most people do not know God’s kind of love.
    We do know it is possible to change from this harmful life style from the reading of Corinthians. Bless you dear friend and son of God.
    Love from,
    LaRue Campbell

  2. Mary April 26, 2017 at 2:08 pm - Reply

    Beautifully written.
    Thanks Wayne.

  3. JKB April 26, 2017 at 2:37 pm - Reply

    Very thoughtful and loving words. So important to remember to love others since God has always loved us. We love because he first loved us.

  4. lauren April 26, 2017 at 4:29 pm - Reply

    Thank you for taking the time to write this, as this seems to be an epidemic. I saw on 20/20 there are 1.4 million transgendered people in America. It is a hard line to walk but I do think it is important to not let fear take hold of us. I have young children and I am so persistent in letting them know there are 2 genders. Because that is the truth. However I want them to have compassion on those who are struggling not feeling right in their own gender. BUT it is not love when we just give in to how people feel. empathy yes, support yes but if we go down that road of giving people what they feel it is chaos. Remember the lady who said she felt black but she’s white? I’ve forgotten her name but it was a big story in the headlines for some time…. Eventually we will have people saying the are certain ages that they aren’t just what they feel or they feel like an animal it sounds like a joke but satan twists us up and the truth can never be traded for a lie.

  5. Betty April 26, 2017 at 5:07 pm - Reply

    Very helpful advice. Oh to love like God loves!

  6. Terri W April 26, 2017 at 7:34 pm - Reply

    Thank you for writing so eloquently what has been developing in my heart around how to love my children in the midst of their life choices. I feel you are right on the mark. I have an daughter who has dealt with heroine addiction and an adult son who is an alcoholic and hurting deeply and seems unable to find relief or healing. I am thankful God has given me this petspective in order to stay connected with them through it all. It is painful to watch our kids suffer, but I am so thankful that He loves them even more than I, hears and aswers prayers my prayers in His perfect time and way and that nothing is impossible for Him.
    Thank you for sharing and encouraging parents and their friends to love in all circumstances.

    • Bob Leonardy April 26, 2017 at 8:33 pm - Reply

      Terri, I am moved by your story and your son and daughter’s struggles. It is so difficult for someone who has not gone through this terrible malady themselves to fully understand the nature of the struggle to get well. We blindly assume if they’d only accept Jesus or if they’d only come back to church but the terrible fact is that addiction and alcoholism are spiritual diseases as well as a physical and mental condition. I was “backslidden” for years when I finally sobered up and it still took over 3 years before I was spiritually sound enough for God to get through to me. I’ve now been sober over 18 years and back in His fold for 15 and I am still so grateful for the shepherd who came looking for me. My recommendation is to encourage them not to come back to God but rather to get well through a 12 step program (not Celebrate Recovery). God is faithful and He will reach out to them when they are willing and spiritually sound enough to hear His voice.

      • Terri April 27, 2017 at 6:11 am - Reply

        Thanks, Bob, for your encouragement and sharing. I celebrate your healing and journey back to awareness of Fathers’ love. Appreciated what you wrote in reply to Wayne’s message too.
        I long ago gave up trying to push my kids to God through church and religious organizations for their healing – are part of the wounds they experienced and have hindeted their healing to some degree. I know all things are used and nothing is wasted. I just keep on loving them and trust in their journey.
        Blessings on yours!

  7. Kevin April 26, 2017 at 8:11 pm - Reply

    Beauty Wayne.

  8. Bob Leonardy April 26, 2017 at 8:21 pm - Reply

    I am so glad you’ve decided to weigh in on what for many is a very sensitive and emotional topic. I know from personal experience how dividing it can be when one voices a position different from that which mainstream Christianity or even the not-so-mainstream believers are comfortable supporting. Father began softening my heart on the LGBT issue several years even to the point of obtaining credentials to legally perform weddings and civil unions specifically to be a source of love and support to these members of God’s family who are rejected from nearly every “Christian” source. I have been asked “How can you possibly invite God to witness such an abomination?” to which my immediate reply is that I believe that God would LOVE to be invited in, especially here!!! Since it’s God’s love that invites us all to change and grow what better attitude could one possibly have than to invite Him into a situation that every other bible believing church condemns and rejects?? Over the years my own exposure to medical events, births, and marvels, limited as it may be, has shown me just how much of the bible was influenced by the very limited psychological, medical, and cultural knowledge of that time and how simplistic we as Christians can be to blindly assume the prevailing attitudes and knowledge of that day ought never be challenged. I believe God’s love is so much bigger that that and reaches so much farther than we are willing to believe!! So, again, thanks for opening a dialogue on this and I look forward to the comments to come.

    • Betty April 27, 2017 at 5:36 am - Reply

      Bob-. Very interesting comments! A few years ago we bought a winter home in Arizona. I was raised in a super legalistic religion. Among the first people to extend kindness to us in our new neighborhood was a gay couple. I thought alot about them. They are menagamous, devoted to each other, kind to others, honest, pay their bills and meet thier obligations and the list goes on. Suffice to say, good people and great neighbors. Now, I had been raised to believe that they are depraved. They have challenged my dogma on this subject. I love them and pray for them. Not that God would make them heterosexual, but just that His will be done in them and in me WHATEVER that is. I now admit that I don’t know what His will is. I need to have Him in me always. I will consider your comments further. Thank you!

  9. Robin R. Knutzen April 26, 2017 at 10:06 pm - Reply

    I was impressed by this…thank you for your insight….most, really don’t get it…how to love as He loves….a hard concept for us all. 🙂

  10. Erroll Mulder April 27, 2017 at 12:47 am - Reply

    Yes! Such a balanced article. From a long-time institutional pastor, now non-institutional and in the people business. Thanks Wayne.

  11. Bob Marisette April 27, 2017 at 7:18 am - Reply

    Wayne… I love the simplicity and directness you use to explain how God’s type of love works in our torn and tattered world. Thank You for being out there and willing to be a target for those whose “religious” views may trigger a less than loving response.
    No, I’m not a member of the “First Church of Wayne”… :-), but I do enjoy your insights and relational philosophy of our journey with God.

  12. Lisa April 27, 2017 at 10:21 am - Reply

    I, too, have wrestled with this. It’s a reality in our culture and, like I said on your FB post, an issue that has been badly mishandled by the powers that be in the Christian community at large. I do believe we are on the right track now with conversations like this. Obviously, the way it has been handled so far has left the LGBT community with the impression that their sin is the worst of all sins and all Christians hate them. A couple of books that have helped me think this through are “Blinded by Might” by Cal Thomas and Ed Dobson and “The Gay Gospel?” by Joe Dallas. I so much want to be an ambassador representing Christ’s love and value for every individual, but also His truth. So, while I would never reject a child if they come out as gay or transgender, I would continue to love and cherish them as I always have, I don’t believe I could “celebrate” their choice by attending a wedding, etc. any more than I would celebrate my daughter’s choice to become a stripper by attending her show, for example. There are a lot of gray areas in the Bible, but this isn’t one of them.

  13. Andy April 27, 2017 at 2:31 pm - Reply

    Wayne – I’ve appreciated and followed your writings and podcasts for years. However, as much as I see the thought you put into this, I think I need to push back. You use the word broken several times coupled with various words for disapproval and struggle. You’ve acknowledged that many youth who come to this place become suicidal, and you clearly want parents to love them unconditionally. Yet what is a child to think looking into his or her parents’ eyes and seeing reflected there: you are broken, you need to struggle, I disapprove.

    What I would like to see is acknowledgement of the science. Also, I would like to see acknowledgement of the difference between how a person identifies (or who he/she is attracted to) and what the person does with that. The truth is that Christians are condemning people and labeling them broken for how they identify themselves or who they are attracted to. Period. Regardless of what they do with those feelings. They are broken. Period. No wonder they want to kill themselves.

    Maybe they are, but have we opened our minds to the possibility they can’t change. That their brains may have literally been wired differently, as some scientists have said. Yet God is still sovereign, so what does that mean? Have you ever read Justin Lee’s book “Torn”? I really want to recommend it in order to get a view through a different lens (of an evangelical youth leader who struggled and struggled to change because he knew he should).

    This may be another level of challenge to stop shoulding on folks.

    • Wayne Jacobsen April 28, 2017 at 5:50 am - Reply

      Hi Andy. I appreciate you pushing back a bit here. My hope is that this article would encourage a conversation about these things among people who are sorting out what compassion means in this context. Your voice is certainly part of that. And while I appreciate your point of view, I don’t necessarily share it. And that’s what this article was about. Is the only way to love is to agree with people’s point of view? Believe me, there are times when I wish I could, but my perception (flawed though it might be) of God’s desires shapes that viewpoint.

      Let me just give you some feedback. I don’t know how much you read my stuff but “brokenness” is a term I use for everyone, including me. I think the creation got broken and none of us are unaffected by it. I even included religious obligation in that brokenness. Redemption is God winning us back to himself and then freeing us to live as he created us to be. I think most of our temptations, natural inclinations, and coping mechanisms can lead us down pathways that feel right to us at the time, but in our continued growth we see how twisted our thinking was. I’ve had many things like that shift in my life as I continue to respond to his love. So I certainly didn’t mean it as a pejorative for those dealing with these issues. And I share your concern that if we look down on them from an air of superiority as if our struggles are not similar to theirs we will not be loving toward them but condescending.

      Second, I’ve never met a gay or transgendered person that didn’t talk about the struggle they either went through or are going through in dealing with their emotions, feelings, and attractions even if they came to embrace it as part of their identity or try to resist it. I pick up that word from them and think it’s a great word for what we all deal with navigating a broken world while sorting out who God really is.

      As to acknowledging the science, I am writing to and for people who can embrace science as helpful to our knowledge, but do not let science make the ultimate claims to moral truth. This is a tough one in our culture. Science is the study of our natural world if a God doesn’t exist. For those who don’t believe in a God who reveals himself, science will define their understanding of truth. If he does, however, then everything changes. My appreciation of God’s purpose and will does not come through science, but through the Scriptures in alignment with the work of his Spirit. Where revelation and science are in conflict, I hold the two in tension wondering if we misunderstand Scripture, or if science is telling us that what seems “natural” in our broken world but not necessarily what’s Godly. In that regard I have different questions and perceptions about transgendered than I do gay and tried to say that in the article, but am still sorting through all that with others.

      I’m in conversation with a number of people trying to navigate their attractions by sorting out what God desires and what they can act on and how to draw grace to not act on others. I admire the courage of every one of them because I know how deeply these attractions and identities run in the human heart and how cruel our culture can be to those who look and act differently than the majority of people.

      These are not easy issues to sort out. Love and truth come together in a marvelous way in Christ and only he can empower and transform us to be the people he created us to be at the beginning. If we can offer ourselves and others a lot of patience in that process, maybe we don’t have to be so destructive, even when we don’t see eye to eye.

  14. […] on Moody's Up For Debate show about whether Christians should see The Shack Wayne's blog: How Do I Love My Transgendered Child? You can find our latest update on our work in Kenya here. Add your voice to our question/comment […]

  15. Andy April 28, 2017 at 9:42 am - Reply

    Wayne – I know your writings and thoughts well, and I appreciate where you’re coming from. I know you would see all of us as broken. The difference is that, if a person is born with brain chemistry that is different than others, does that make the person “broken” in the sense that they need to struggle to be fixed for the rest of their lives? I don’t think you would call a child with Down’s Syndrome broken in that sense. People with Down’s Syndrome struggle as they become aware they’re different and sense judgement from a society that sets standards they may not meet, but that struggle is actually part of the problem. A person with Down’s Syndrome or any other genetic condition don’t have to live with a particular “broken” label. In fact, in the most beautiful cases I’ve seen, they’ve embraced who they are.

    I know science has its limits, but I also believe we need to respect science within the parameters where it works best. Because of science, we no longer blame people for a long list of conditions that used to mark people as particularly broken and shameful. Actually, we appreciate and lean on science every day. For some reason, though, we reject science on a narrow range of questions that seem to conflict with scripture. To me, a more tenable position would be to define what science is good for (e.g., to study what can be tested in the natural world) and then to be consistent or at least open to changing the ways we think when it produces results that are uncomfortable. I’m pretty sure we’ve done that in most cases, just not in some.

    I don’t mean to change your mind. I respect your process, and I know you to be a person who hasn’t avoided hard questions or accepted easy answers. I come from a very conservative starting spot myself. Again, I recommend reading “Torn” by Justin Lee, because it’s an honest account of struggle and seeking God in the midst of tremendous inner conflict and outer conflict with religion and its system of guilt and obligations. Especially for those Christians who disagree, reading accounts like Justin’s are important.

    I’d love to meet you (again) and talk about the journey these past ten years since we met at Starbucks. I’ll be out your way in May…

  16. Rod Rosentreter April 28, 2017 at 11:36 am - Reply

    Thanks Wayne…you have given the only answer to a most difficult issue.

  17. Gilbert fleming May 2, 2017 at 2:49 am - Reply

    I am close friends with 3 gay men. one is a work colleague. He saved my job when I was in line to get laid off. I thanked him, of course and started to get to know hm. When he thought I could be trusted, he told me he was gay. This was a real mind blower for me. At the time I was in a hart core right wing church that openly was hostile to gays. Normally, I would have turned my back on him. He was a sinner! But, he saved my job! Wwjd? Would Jesus tell me to be cold and hostile to someone who had just really done me a big favor?

    Would he?

    So I got to be good friends with George.

    The other two men, I met at church! And they were both pastors kids (pk’s)! One “came out”. The other just left the church quietly. But his mom called me. She pleaded with me not to tell anyone. She was afraid is this gossip started to spread it would compromise her and her husbands position. Of course I’m going to keep this quiet. It not my story to tell. And I would never want to hurt you or your son.

    I’m telling this to illustrate that the church’s violently intollarent attitude can actually push someone into this lifestyle. You think you might be gay? Get out!

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