Lia Thomas

I have access to Apple News + and when I scroll to the left I can bring up the latest articles that Apple deems worthy for me to look at. I laugh at some of them. Many of them are bound to suck me into some political worm hole to get excited about or be a complete waste of my time reading about a celebrity or sports player’s misfortune, etc. These days it has been covering the war in Ukraine.  The chosen headlines typically change several times a day. One particular article  that stubbornly stayed in the cue however for several weeks now has been Sports Illustrated’s long form about Lia Thomas the trans swimmer who chose to pursue therapy treatments to become the identity that she yearned for .. to be a woman. I avoided reading this article, but it stubbornly stayed in my queue and refused to move. Tonight, after having a lengthy discussion with a friend about LGBTQ issues and the Christian church, and another discussion I had with young people a few days ago about puberty blockers. I decided to read it.
 
Why did I avoid it? What was it about the article that I knew in my mind that would make me uncomfortable? Was I homophobic? No. The complexity makes me tired. More than ever we walk a tightrope as Christian leaders when it comes to identity issues and a prevailing culture war in post modern times. I’m lazy. but there’s no excuse for me. It’s an inescapable dichotomy that exists for a group of people that desperately need community, love and support .. especially from Christians.
 
Every bone of my body rejects the notion that trans lifestyles are ideal and, when people call it ‘dysphoria’ it is indeed an upsetting and agonizing issue faced by people at varying stages in their lives. I strongly believe that it has a causal relationship with brokenness, or dysfunctional part of this world. I believe activism and societal agendas often cover up the pain and suffering these individuals experience on both side of the argument. Just like other alternative lifestyles, broad strokes are painted in how ‘success’ can be achieved at the expense of sound judgment, often leading these people to be further ostracized and engaged in a perpetual world of expensive ‘treatments’ that are experimental and have shoddy track records. Agendas to prove that these are undoubtedly biological and ‘normal’ are thin with evidence of success.
 
But so is the Christian response. It’s thin as well. It’s seriously lacking in all the categories necessary to call oneself a Christian when dealing with a world of suffering, or just a world of people that don’t think like us. That’s the world we’ve lived in a long time .. since Cain killed Abel. Christians have too often boiled much of the gay rights movement down to a black and white notion that it’s all a huge signpost of a broken universe in need of redemption and easy fixes. I have often accurately accused gay rights activists of their unbalanced advertisement of the “lifestyle” of their choice and its realities, but Christians many times are worse. Instead of recognizing our homophobia or queasiness over the differences, we often see it as ‘love’ to rally and rail against transgender efforts for equality in the public sphere.
 
Do we envision a trans person as someone who could be a faithful coworker, or a brilliant award winning scientist .. someone who could potential save our life? Even an olympic swimmer? Do we see trans people in a pluralistic society as just another human being capable of giving AND receiving love? The underpinnings of the Christian faith, Imago Dei .. the fundamental truth revealed to us, that we are made in God’s image suggests that this IS indeed the case! All of us, fallen creatures manifest our fears and limits every day in many categories, but also .. ALSO see it manifested in what is called prevenient Grace. This is the Grace that abounds in what the almighty God created as good, regardless of the scar of evil on it. We bear the markings of God’s unmistakeable hand, and the scars, universally. Trans people aren’t any different!!
 
I didn’t want to read another article defending the lifestyle and providing a very lopsided view of the issue. I have long listened to folks in the LGBTQI community and heard the honest disclosure of very unhappy upbringings and huge struggles with their circumstances. I suspected the article would not contain a realistic dosage of that and probably otherwise show supportive family and an “everything is ok” element which may not tell the whole story. But I also think another part of me wanted to distance myself from my responsibility as an intellectual and leader in the church to come up with salient  answers to a seemingly impossible situation that is complex and hard to tackle. It is hardly as black and white as the Christian community has made it in the past, and political divisions have only made it more difficult to have the right stance for the sake of their livelihoods as trans people.
 
No. God didn’t suddenly change my mind after I read it. I broadly hold the same views as before especially when it comes to modifications with drugs and surgeries that cannot be reversed. I still think it’s unfair that she’s competing. Just looking at a picture with Lia and her teammates showed her outsized shoulders and obvious advantage from a skeletal perspective. It’s fair to say trans women are not fully women, and that is being ignored at the expense of women who have had their own fight for their rights to be people instead of ‘property’ throughout history.
 
But God has suddenly changed my priorities in this discussion. As I read the article it, indeed, spun a tale that I had suspected .. scrubbed, etc. of details that represent 100% of the discussions I’ve had with members of this community. But there was a detail about her parents and coaches that caught my eye. According to the journalist, they were proud of her accomplishments and supported her dreams. They showed up and cheered her on at her matches. Then the thought occurred to me .. what is God’s priority in this situation? As our heavenly parent? What does God care about? Does he care more about collegiate sports being fair? Or does he care about someone who renamed herself Lia Catherine Thomas who was made in His image? Do we care about the livelihood and uphill battle Lia faces as a trans woman?  I believe God cares much more about that! Can both exist in this world? Can we think it is unfair, AND support Lia Thomas at the same time? Does God?
 
I mentioned the dichotomy that transpeople have to live through. I study it. I yearn to understand, because I think as Christians, it’s important!!
 
Much of the sports world has turned against her and her passion to be a competitive swimmer. Social media is UGLY (big surprise) .. and its awful and shows what a world without God looks like. When I talk with people who are obviously against it, they often sideline and illegitimize everyone for capitulating and allowing it to happen. The coaches “just want trophies”, or Lia “couldn’t compete as man, so he became a woman.” I hear a lot of judgment, and no understanding. I, personally believe her, that she cares to win as a girl and be accepted in that regard. That is truly where we need to start, is with her thoughts and feelings, I think. Not with the fairness. I can’t tell you how many discussions I’ve been in, with white people discussing black people’s problems, and gay people problems among a bunch of heterosexuals. We generate a slew of white-washed assumptions for the sake of our own discomfort. It’s a cycle that alienates a group of people that can’t afford more of it. As much as I think trans people are people like us, they DO have unique challenges they are facing that need more understanding than most. In the same way we would deal with culture challenges, societal travesties of varying degrees .. Grace needs to be applied in copious amounts.
 
Is it too much to ask to allow a trans athlete to lift up a trophy? Sure, there will be an asterisk .. and I don’t think the lines will ever be erased, but I believe that much of the bullying and disgust aimed at much of the LGBTQ community is simply because of an unwillingness to employ God’s second greatest commandment, to love one another as we would want to be loved. Why can’t we just simply follow that and allow God to do His work in the hearts and the lives of people around us.
 
When I dig deeper into my own selfishness, I discover that my loathing of the article was because I didn’t want the burden of caring. I can simply live outside of it. My heterosexual world is peachy and comfortable. That’s not what God calls me to do. He calls me to love others, no matter what the circumstances are or whether or not we agree with them completely.  Like some of the concerned parents, I quietly agree that it isn’t fair that Lia competes against biological girls–but what does a world look like, where Lia feels safe to compete and do what she loves and allows her the safety to live her journey and figure it out? She’s in her early 20’s with tons of time left. If my daughter were competing, what would I care more about .. her being a good teammate and fellow competitor to Lia or winning? I hope I would choose the former. There are times for debate, but it never supersedes the time to love and understand.
 
My biggest concern is that many Christians in their zeal to live out their lives, stomp on more than just transgender folks on their journey in life. They perceive anything less than our own cultural standard of man and womanhood to be a threat. In our self-righteousness, we are often bullies, crying about fairness in sports rather than showing empathy and patience and the love of Christ toward them and welcoming them into our lives. Why don’t we poke a hole in our self-imposed and protective bubble and get to know  trans people and others outside it in our neighborhoods? Find out why they think the way they do. Be a supportive part of their lives .. not standing around ready to throw stones or mutter ‘eww’ under our breath. I suspect that we’d see much more favorable results. Most of us aren’t trolls on the Internet or bullies, but we are complicit because we agree to be kind or polite and not “harm” them, but underneath, we really just yearn that they go away or be just like us so that we can accept them. In this sense, we turn and walk the other way, shooing them off. Politics and parades make that easier.
 
It’s wrong. I don’t believe it’s good enough to stand at a distance and point at their wrongs, by God’s standards. When he died on the cross .. he died for all. While we were yet sinners .. He died. This universal incarnate reality is a sign that we ARE made in God’s image, and all in need of Christs redemptive act in our lives. The gap of understanding between groups is no excuse for our treatment of the trans community, including Lia Thomas!
 
They need to be invited to game night. We need to laugh at their jokes, and build trusting relationships with them as they sort life out. It is really hard to be trans. The sad reality of much of the trans community is that they live alienated because of being different. Often times they are used  and vulnerable, even within the narrow confines of the LGBT community. A godless world is without grace and compassion. Like people in other marginalized groups, they often can’t get jobs and loans like others. That shouldn’t the norm. Not in a society of meritocracy. Not many are willing to stand on a pedestal and hold Lia’s hand up with no preconditions or secret agenda in support of her dreams as a swimmer. Could we for moment, as Christ’s representatives, forget our biases and cheer for Lia? I think God is cheering for Lia and loves her deeply.
 
You go, girl! I’m rooting for you in life. And I hope we meet someday, so we can chitchat or you can dust off that trophy and we can talk about how it happened! Who knows where that would lead.