Healing the Leper.

Rev. David Horton,

Chaplain to GENDYS Network
Gendys Conference, 1998

David Horton's book Changing Channels is now out of print but may be bought on line as a pdf at
The disadvantage of speaking at the end of the day is that everyone else has the chance to make your points for you! Much of what has been reported today does fit in with what has been going through my mind. Perhaps that is significant.

Healing the Leper

In Chapter 18 of his gospel Luke tells a short story. Jesus is travelling south from Galilee to Jerusalem for the last time when he is called on for help by ten lepers. As they follow his instructions they are healed of their disease. One - a despised Samaritan turns back - of him Jesus says he is made whole or saved, not merely healed.

Leprosy is possibly a dramatic parallel for the transgendered. There is no set of repulsive skin conditions to cause horror, no loss of limbs to progressive gangrene. And yet I would say that many of those suffering from gender dysphoria that have spoken to me over the years, are exactly that kind of social outcast. They are labelled "unclean" They have what was for many years an unmentionable condition. More to the point, just as in Jesus' time, there is assumed to be blame involved: God blesses good people - thus those who are obviously not being blessed cannot be good. In passing I should add that when Jesus was faced with this attitude he indicated that such people were no more guilty than any others, rather they provided an opportunity for change and help.

Everyone here has some concern with healing the transsexual. Perhaps they are an interested party: a professional or a member of the family. Many are personally involved. What I want to do is to look beyond this for a few moments, to consider what it means to make such people whole.

Firstly, then, it seems to me that we operate on a set of assumptions most of the time. It is repeatedly made explicit that surgery is not the be all and end all of treatment. And yet, because it can be so important, I wonder if it shortcuts considerations of the alternatives?

I remember listening to Don Montgomery at the last Gendys about a small group of TS' who rejected their surgery. In each case the approach seemed to be that problems in the person meant they should perhaps have been treated differently. But are there those who are somehow less dysphoric, for whom there should be some different answer? Such a solution is intrinsically unsatisfactory because it still leaves the person with a continuing difficulty from society. It is not an original idea to treat society as the problem. Press for Change has done just that with some success. I am just left with the cynical thought that someone who has had to fight that hard, make so many sacrifices, and undergo a fairly major piece of surgery to boot, has invested too much of themselves to turn round and say "whoops! I got it wrong!" very easily. The efforts by those who care also make it harder to say that those efforts are not the answer. If someone has helped us, or may be able to do so in the future, our reaction is to please him or her. Surgery can be marvelously effective, and extremely important, as numbers of my friends can attest. But for some it may be healing but not wholeness, and for others not healing at all.

Another claim is that to be transgendered is not a matter of choice. I make a great deal of use of what are usually called "brain sex" arguments, because I believe that they are true, and because they do evoke understanding with the wives, ministers and others with whom I deal. However, I do not believe in biological determinism. Human beings always find choices! I don't believe that the transgendered are any different.

It again isn't very original to state that any outcome is the result of all manner of influences and our internal processes of thought and evaluation. We become who we think we are, and bear some of the responsibility for the results of that process in others and ourselves.

Can I suggest that this is relevant to the divide between the TV and TS? There are some (many perhaps?) for whom one description or the other fits fairly clearly. But isn't there a proportion where it is not clear? That's why we need professionals, surely? If it were easy to diagnose anyone could do it, just as they do at every TV club in the country! If we have such discussion about the Harry Benjamin guidelines, and when hormonal intervention should take place, we are saying that people and their decisions matter. Shades of autopoiesis, perhaps?

How many transgendered people are there? If one person suffers it has to be important to help them, but where demand for all medical services exceed supply we need to be careful about inflating claims. In a parish of seven thousand it is impossible to know everyone, but I remember going down one road in my parish where I actually manage to know nearly everyone at the moment. If Vernon Coleman is to be believed that around 10% of men are crossdressers then there are around four crossdressers in the thirty or so houses involved. And in the next road, and the next to a total of perhaps 350 in my parish. If that were true there wouldn't be any dress shops closing down in Lakeside, not if the level of expenditure of the average tranny is taken into account!

On the other hand is it really non-existent in Africa as their Lambeth Bishops were maintaining about homosexuality? Is it a white man's disease? I would have said not, but in that case why do our groups have so few non-whites in them?

I am saying that truth is of major importance if our group in society is to be made whole. The transgendered tell "porkies." Helpers have egos. Common sense may be greatly needed - or totally wrong. Surgery may save a life - or destroy it. Like the "X-files," the truth may be out there - but I suspect it is more likely to be in here, in this hall! So what am I, as a Christian minister suggesting? That we all go to church? Well there is some evidence that it does increase life expectancy and overall happiness. I also suspect that there is enough evidence gathered here that most congregations cannot as yet handle the transgendered. I think that is changing. I do definitely believe that God can handle gender dysphoria OK. After all it can hardly be a surprise!

But what I see in the Gospel above all else is that true humanity is found in the company of others. The Samaritan leper came back. The Ethiopian Eunuch (the closest New Testament parallel) was baptised (and presumably founded his own church to boot!) on the basis of a simple conversation. Yes I do earnestly hope that the Church will respond to the new truths we are discovering about God's creation as well as the old truths of God's love. But it seems to me that the greatest hope for wholeness lies in the support groups: those who understand from the inside and where hurts strike a chord.

And that demands not only that such groups be recognised by the professionals, but also that the leadership of such groups be cherished,. A comparatively small group of people organises virtually all the support available to the transgender community, and an even smaller one the help for those partners and families indirectly affected.

If a selective plague killed fifty people, would the support and understanding available be put back two or three generations? It requires people who are prepared to abandon their own anonymity or their right to blend back into society. For the most part it involves heartache, both for those supported, and, too often, for their selfishness and lack of support for others involved in their needs. Of course it also produces enough joy and satisfaction to keep going.

The press has recently made something of the growth of a Christian transgender group which has come into existence since the last Gendys Conference. Called the Sibyls ('wise women') it now has two chapters. It is first a Christian group, and secondly transgendered. Again it came into existence by the efforts of one person.

And somewhere in this country every week there is some kind of activity for the community available. None of them just happens.

So in summary I have four propositions to advance:

  • Wholeness is more than the healing of the body
  • Wholeness demands truth, even where it is unpleasant,
  • Wholeness requires support from each other for each other
  • Wholeness requires good leaders - our's pay a heavy price.

As a society we have made great strides in our handling of transgender issues over the period since these Gendys Conferences began. More of the nine are being healed. That I believe is not only great cause for rejoicing, but gives us the space to look to making our people completely whole. I do not believe we should be discouraged by the many challenges we must face as we go forward. After all, only one in ten of the lepers responded to the Son of God. If we do no better, yet we are in good company.

Citation: Horton, D., (1998), Healing the Leper, GENDYS '98, The Fifth International Gender Dysphoria Conference, Manchester England.
Web page copyright GENDYS Network. Text copyright of the author. 09.03.02 Last amended 16.11.03