In 2019 the General Synod of the Dutch Reformed Church in South Africa (DRC) adopted a decision which prohibited discrimination against any person on the grounds of their sexuality and identity. This entailed that no individual of non-heterosexual orientation was to be withheld from office, access to the sacraments, or engaging in meaningful intimate relationships. In effect this also demanded that the DRC would recognise and endorse same-sex marriages.
While this inclusive resolution was celebrated by the gay community, it was met with substantial opposition from certain congregations within the DRC. Their objection was based on conflicting scripture readings in which homosexuality is regarded as an abominable sin before God. So fierce was this disapproval that many role players within the church were of the opinion that the institution was on the verge of a schism. It is vital to consider in this regard that even though further legal remedies were not instituted, the DRC did not implement the policy of their own accord but rather was directed to do so by the High Court of South Africa. The reader is encouraged to revisit the events, which were described as the “theatre of the absurd” by Christina Landman, in terms of which the initial inclusive decision of the General Synod of 2015 had been recalled by the Special Synod of 2016. This rescission compelled some church members to approach the court in order to have the original decision reinstated.
When one considers the open hostility from some congregations against non-heterosexual orientations, one cannot help but wonder what the attitude towards the transgender person would be. Would it be one of understanding? Would it be accepting and inviting? When one reads the comments of some theologians on social media the answer, unfortunately, seems to be a stentorian “no”.
As an example the reader is referred to the comments of Danie (a pseudonym) who describes himself as a theologian, prophet and amateur physicist. When Shaun Wiggills’s leg was amputated after complications following gender confirmation surgery, Danie asked: “should one have sympathy with this person?” It is clear that Danie and his friends believed that Mr Wiggill deserved his fate: “If he/she had not decided to play God over his/her body, he/she would still have a whole body and life,” they said. “But he/she does not want to accept the responsibilities of his/her folly and now shifts the blame to the hospital,” Danie concluded.
It appears that individuals such as Danie and his friends may not be familiar with the complex biological processes surrounding the transgender phenomenon and it is therefore the aim of this article to clarify some of the most pertinent concepts.
After a brief discussion of the genetic events which transpire during conception, variation of the events is discussed. It is shown that within the parameters of biological development, physical gender (the gender assigned at birth) and gender identity may not always correspond, an aspect which may result in significant distress for the transgender person. In this regard it is indicated that assigned gender develops during the first trimester and gender identity during the second. Research has determined that endocrinological as well as environmental occurrences which take place between these two time periods can cause a gender misalignment. Studies among twins confirm this. Specific brain structures, substances, and hormones have furthermore been determined as playing a vital role in establishing gender identity, which may or may not be congruent with assigned gender at birth.
After careful consideration of these biological processes (explained in this article in less complicated jargon than in medical journals) it is concluded that gender identity is determined in utero. Gender identity and assigned gender at birth may further be congruent (cisgender) or not (transgender). It thus follows that when a trait is established in utero the individual has no control over it before or after birth, and can accordingly not be held responsible. Hence, such consequence must be deemed to form part of the incredible diversity attached to the creation and ought to be celebrated as one of the wonderful works of God.
Keywords: assigned gender; biology; Dutch Reformed Church (DRC); femininity; gender expression; gender identity; homosexual; manliness; sexual orientation; sympathy; transgender