Little is written by Watchtower regarding transgenderism. The Watchtower CD library, extending back to 1950, contains a few minor news articles and the definition of transsexual and hermaphrodite, but little guidance regarding the Watchtower stance on this topic. The most direct statements appear as follows.
“The increase of transsexualism is but one more facet of the spread of practices “contrary to nature” characterizing much of this present period. (Compare Romans 1:26.) The remedy for those with such inclinations is not surgery but a change in outlook, ‘being made new in the force actuating their minds’ with the aid of God’s Word.” Watchtower 1974 Jun 15 p. 360
“And any who, before becoming Christians, were confused about their identity or sexual preferences can trust that it will be to their everlasting good to live in accord with God’s standard, one that will certainly be appreciated by all who reach human perfection.” Watchtower 1997 Jun 15 p.19
This is disingenuous, as internally Watchtower holds a strict line on this topic. Correspondence Guidelines is an internal manual held at Watchtower headquarters which the Writing Department consults when answering questions received from Watchtower followers. It contains a black and white view of the topic on page 98, with the same wording appearing in both 2007 and 2011 editions.
An hermaphrodite, a person born with both sex organs, is expected to chose one sex to identify with.
Transvestism (cross-dressing) is described as “Scripturally condemned,” and a person known to publicly display in such manner can be disfellowshipped for “loose, brazen conduct.”
A transgender individual that feels their sex organs are not in line with what they “emotionally and mentally feels himself or herself to be,” is instructed “to live in accord with the biological facts of the situation.”
A transsexual is looked upon as having “mutilated” their body. To become one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, they are expected to live in accord with their original biology. If a transsexual is in a biologically “same sex” marriage they cannot be baptised until leaving their mate.
“Mutilating the sex organs, such as having the male organ surgically removed and an artificial female organ created, does not change the facts or make the person into the opposite sex. Someone desiring to be baptized who has already undergone a mutilating operation of this sort (a transsexual) would be expected to take his or her place in life in accord with what the individual biologically is, not in accord with what the person has been mutilated to appear to be. This may even require that the person leave a “mate” to whom the person is “married,” since the mutilated one is actually (biologically) of the same sex as the “mate.”” Correspondence Guidelines p.98
This situation occurred in Hobart congregation. A transgender woman started a Bible study, and used the female toilet when attending her first meeting, causing quite a scene. Unsure what to do, the body of elders contacted Bethel, who advised she was to use the disabled toilet until she took on the role of a man, otherwise she could not be baptized. This was no doubt devastating, and she shortly stopped studying to become one of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Watchtower guidelines are simplistic, and fail to take any consideration of research around this complex topic. Transgenderism is in no way related to homosexuality, and is a subject of gender identity. Indicators of whether a person is male or female are:
- sex chromosomes
- anatomical sex characteristics
- gender identity
In transgender individuals, these three indicators do not align.
A person may display a gender identity that does not align with their chromosomes and anatomy. This appears to be due to a person’s nature, since the environment (nurture) of transgender people varies greatly, and can manifest itself in children as young as 4, the age by which children become aware of gender differences. It is the case that some parents choose gender reassignment for the child, and they spend their life living the gender that was not their anatomical birth gender. It would be entirely inappropriate for Watchtower to expect such a person to change gender in order to be baptized.
Transgenderism is not only related to gender identity. In intersex conditions, a person may have sex chromosomes that do not match their anatomical sex. Congenital adrenal hyperplasia is where a person has XX (female) chromosomes, but male sex organs, and androgen insensitivity syndrome is where there are XY (male) chromosomes but some female genitalia. Klinefelter syndrome, a male with two or more X chromosomes (XXY), occurs in up to 1:500 men, and can lead to the development of female characteristics.
The Bible does not use the term transgender, with the most closely related topic being discussion of eunuchs. A Eunuch is a castrated male, and when castration is early in life there are related hormonal changes, resulting in feminine mannerisms, voice, skin and features. Queen Esther had eunuch servants, mentioned in Esther 4:4. At Matthew 19:12, Jesus positively discusses eunuchs when saying those that can be like eunuchs (celibate) should be.
In the account of the Ethiopian eunuch at Acts 8:26–40, after meeting Philip and having the gospel explain, the eunuch asked that day “what prevents me from getting baptized?” There was no discussion around “mutilation”, effeminate mannerisms, or androgynous clothing, and he was baptized on the spot.
With no specific discussion on transsexualism in the Bible, Governing Body rulings on this go beyond the Scriptures. Jesus and the early Christian treatment of Eunuchs are a good example of how far the Governing Body have deviated from their example.
The transgender community suffer significantly higher than average rates of depression and suicide, in no small part due to the mistreatment and lack of acceptance they are subjected to. Watchtower heartlessly puts its transgender youth at great risk with a policy of zero tolerance that completely ignores the complexities behind this topic.