On Trans( )ism
"When I was seventeen, I wished I had no body."
By Amelia Buzzard
“Trans” means “across,” a bridge from one place to another. Take the two words transubstantiation, “across-essence” (trans-substantia)—and transcendence, “across-climbing” (trans-scandere). Both evoke a change, yes, but a change with visual overtones of escape. While to metamorphose means to “after-form,” to transform means to “across-form.” The first refers to time, the second to space. The first divides states into a binary before-and-after. The second can repeat eternally. For there is always a new “across” to bridge.
When I was seventeen, I wished I had no body. I wanted a meeting of minds. “My body is simply something that must be,” I wrote. “There is no way to greet it with celebration.” I had reached that bizarre stage girls land at after the travails of puberty, the stage where they have not only become women but are finally recognized as such. And the world changes. Suddenly, there are questions of sex and courtship and babies. People begin to expect “femininity,” and the frankness of friendship slides into romance. To a girl who enjoyed debating ethics and theology at faculty parties, these changes nauseated. I didn’t want to be seen as a woman (which in my mind meant “sex object”). I wanted to be seen as a person (which in my mind meant an intellect).
I set off to make that happen, and what was to stop me? The body can’t reason. It can’t fight back against haircuts or piercings or surgeries. It makes for a wonderful slave. The mind, in its turn, can dismiss the body’s signals as “stupid hormones,” argue eloquently for its own side, and pound the gavel in its own favor. It makes a great dictator.
“We can’t yet,” drawls the mind, when it faces an obstacle, “but in time, we shall find the technology to do it.”
I was running in the tracks of another proud, albeit fictional, American—Jay Gatsby. Held back by his blue-collar origins, Gatsby spends his best years rewriting his social identity in order to win the hand of the mega-rich Daisy Buchanan. He’s bolstered by what the book’s narrator calls “an extraordinary gift for hope.”He proves this gift by chasing Daisy’s flickering, green lamp until he catches her in what should be a happy ending. But Scott Fitzgerald did not intend it to be so. Hopes and dreams, once satisfied, transform to discontent. Immediately, in the first afternoon the self-made Gatsby meets Daisy, the narrator writes “there must have been moments… when Daisy tumbled short of his dreams.” It is not Daisy’s fault that this is so, but Gatsby’s, for imagining her into the ultimate desideratum. Her presence will never be enough, for “no amount of fire or freshness can challenge what a man will store up in his ghostly heart.” Ultimately, the story ends not with Gatsby and Daisy happy in Paris, but with Gatsby floating alone in his pool, shot through the head.
I live in America, the land of the Dream and the Frontier. Each of us begins with a dream of reaching the frontier only to find that the frontier is eternal. First, it was the Atlantic Ocean. Next, it was the coast. Then, it was the Mississippi River. Then the upper class. Soon it was the Moon. We push it forward and forward until there is nowhere left to go. And once there is nowhere left to turn to, we turn to ourselves.
In this 21st century, we began by changing our bodies from fat to fit, ugly to beautiful. The next trend was to go from male to female, or vice versa. But what begins with the desire to change the body can end with the desire to eliminate it altogether. When I was seventeen, I wished I had no body. We now have a word for that: transhumanism. This is the new frontier. If I wanted it so badly at seventeen, what changed my course?
All I can point to is God’s grace. Me, you, and Gatsby all want the same thing: transformation. This body, with its aches and flab, doesn’t quite seem to fit. It is uncomfortable, out of joint. At the end of each ecstasy throbs an incessant wrongness.
Yet what appeared to be a curse at the outset carried my redemption. To feel out of place in this body is wrong—unless we carry with our alienation the secure knowledge that “we were made for another.”For a long time, I chased the world’s solutions to alienation, but God woke me to the emptiness of these dreamland pursuits and showed me a better way. In Philippians 3, Paul arms the church against those who have “confidence in the flesh” with the following: “But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body” (Ph. 3:20-21).
How different this is from the world’s transsexual and transhumanist escape from the body! Paul doesn’t say Christ will toss our bodies to the flames like trash. Instead, he promises an elevation, a glorification of the body. The original Greek reflects this. Instead of transformation (across-form), it uses metamorphosis (after-form). The resurrection will not be a bridge from one form to another (from flesh to Form or data) but a change in the weave and weft of the flesh. By inhabiting death for three days, Christ redeemed it into a gateway to eternal life. In the same way, by inhabiting the death-woven flesh of a man, he redeemed it into a spiritual body.
He took on a male body with hairy legs and stinking armpits. If you were the “I Am” Spirit of eternal eons past and future, wouldn’t a man’s body feel a bit…off? Perhaps tight at the shoulders? Itchy and ill-fitting? Downright embarrassing? Yet, when he rose from the grave, Jesus kept the body. He ate fish with his disciples on the beach and invited Thomas to reach into the gash in his side. And when he ascended to heaven, he did not leave the body behind like a husk. It was part of him and utterly glorious.
To anyone who has experienced gender dysphoria, body dysmorphia, or any hatred of his biology, this should be comforting. “We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are” (Hebrews 4:15, ESV). In every respect. This includes the desire to change biological sex, or to shed our bodies for pixels in the Cloud. In our struggles, whether it be as mild as discontent or as intense as self-hatred, God will respond to our cries with “help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16, ESV).
Meanwhile, the world, ever wearying of its old drugs, picks a new panacea for a new century. “If only,” is its trembling promise. “If only” I were thin, I would be happy. “If only” I were a man, the world would be my oyster. Like wallpaper over rotting walls, liposuction or a “sex-reassignment” surgery may successfully deceive the eye, but it does not reach the root of the problem.
“I can fix myself, keep myself,” we scream in our anxiety. “I need many things, but I do not need YOU.”
And Gatsby and the American Dream lie dead in their own castles.
It is difficult to believe that Jesus could extract the embedded dirt free of charge and even more difficult to believe that he managed to cleanse the human heart, past, present, and future, in one action. Skeptical of his power, we limit God and usurp his role, determined to fix things ourselves. I can only pray that as each of us continues to run after his own “if only,” disappointment drives us repeatedly back to Christ.
Amelia Buzzard uses puppets to teach German to ranch kids in Montana’s Paradise Valley.
F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby, Chapter 1.
Ibid, Chapter 5.
C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, p. 135.