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Pastor Writes To Dispel Embedded Misconceptions About Transgender People


With new laws about same-sex marriage and the controversial bathroom laws for transgender people, church communities are soul-searching and considering the changes happening in our culture. Mark Wingfield is associate pastor at Wilshire Baptist Church in Dallas, and he wrote an op-ed recently sharing seven things he has learned about transgender people. He says that in his congregations they have been studying ways to respond as a community of faith to a range of LGBT issues.

MARK WINGFIELD: We came to a point a few weeks ago where we realized we had talked a lot about gay and lesbian issues in particular but we really had never talked much about transgender issues. And out of that we heard a presentation from a pediatrician and a geneticist in the congregation. And as I sat and listened to that presentation, it just really blew my mind to think, why have I never really thought about this stuff before? Why have I not explored this more? And that set off a desire to understand something that I really had never even thought that much about.

MARTIN: You tick off some different misconceptions about transgender persons in this op-ed that you've written. And I want to ask about a couple of these because they get specific. And you name some things that people whisper about but don't often talk about out loud. No. 4 on your list - you say transgender persons are not transvestites. Far too many of us make this mix-up in part because the words sound similar. We have no real knowledge of either. Is that something that you held before? Did you make that mistake?

WINGFIELD: I didn't. I understood the difference between the two. But I do find that a lot of people seem to associate these two things. And they can't get beyond that image. If you listen to and read a lot of the comments that are flying around today in regard to all the bathroom bills and so forth, I mean, you would think that Klinger from "M*A*S*H" was about to, you know, walk in to every restroom in America. We need to say, look, understand the facts before you start talking about this. And I learned through this process, by the way, that the word transvestite is a loaded word itself. And so I tried to work around that to reference cross-dressing to say, yes, I understand the difference.

MARTIN: You also write transgender persons are not pedophiles. The typical profile of a pedophile is an adult male who identifies as heterosexual, most likely even as married. There is zero statistical evidence to link transgender persons to pedophilia. Is that something you had heard before from members of your congregation or just others in your community?

WINGFIELD: Oh, I think we hear this everywhere today. So much of the hysteria that we're involved in with these bathroom bills and all the conversation that's going on is about abuse and about the ways people are going to be hurt. And if you really read and learn about this, you'll understand that it's not transgender people we need to be worried about doing these things. There are many other predators who are not transgender persons.

MARTIN: So what kind of questions has all this raised for you theologically?

WINGFIELD: To me, the big question out of this is if all humans are created in the image of God - and this is a belief that we hold dear. It's a foundational belief of Christianity and of Judaism. If we believe that all people are created in the image of God, how can we discount some people because of the way they were created if we understand that so much of the route of transgender identity really happens in the womb? It's not - you cannot make a sustainable case that it is nurture later, out of the womb, that does this. And if that's the case then how do we deal with that? One of the troubling recurring themes I'm hearing from people who write me who are critical of what I've said is, well, I believe God doesn't make any mistakes. And therefore you are what you are. Your anatomy determines who you are when you come out of the womb. And, I mean, I wish it were that simple. But medical professionals and those who study this issue deeply will tell you that's just not the way it is.

MARTIN: So you had to - I imagine when you sat down to write this, you could project into the future and understand that this was going to be provocative and that you were going to get a lot of attention for this. But has it been more than you anticipated? Are you comfortable in this role now that it has been placed on you as a de facto kind of religious leader in this movement to understand these issues from a religious point of view?

WINGFIELD: Well, I could have never predicted how viral this would go. I thought it would help a few people out there, never imagining the extent of reach. And I told my wife the other day if I made a list of the top 10 things I would like to be an advocate for just because they're my natural passions, being an advocate for transgender persons would not be in the top 10. Sometimes we don't get to pick. And I would illustrate this by telling you about a beautiful conversation I had with an African-American transgender woman from Georgia who called me the other day to thank me for the column. And she explained to me the meaning of what I was doing in a way that really is humbling. She said, I can go out and say the very same things that you have said and no one will listen to me because of who I am. But you, being a white male pastor in Texas, can say this and many people will listen to you and you need to use the platform you have been given.

MARTIN: You referenced a couple of times the bathroom bills that have ignited a lot of debate in this country.


MARTIN: Do you see your role as having a political element? Is that a direction that you want to take it in? Or is this about educating your religious community?

WINGFIELD: I don't see my role as being political in this. And I tried to write the column in a way that was not political. However, I think we as Christians, as the church, are called to be a voice for those who do not have a voice otherwise. I think we need to ask a question of priorities about what we really care about. If we care about children and we say we care about children and their safety, there are many other bigger issues that we have failed to address than where transgender people go to the restroom.

MARTIN: Mark Wingfield is an associate pastor at Wilshire Baptist Church in Dallas. Thanks so much for talking with us.

WINGFIELD: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.