Embodied: Transgender Identities, the Church & What the Bible has to Say
By Preston Sprinkle
I may have been incredibly naïve, but when I became a parent in January 2010, I never anticipated having any, let alone many, conversations surrounding gender identity.
Fast-forward a decade and it seems you cannot escape a day without encountering some form of issue, debate, person, legislature, news story, etc., that is tied to gender identity.
Gender identity is one of the most emotional, personal, confusing and controversial topics of our generation, especially when it comes to the Church and is examined under a biblical lens.
The questions seem endless…
What does it even mean to be transgender?
How should a Christian approach preferred pronouns?
How should Christians engage with those within the LBGTQ+ community? In particular, how should a Christian respond to someone who identifies as the gender opposite of their biological sex?
What is morally, ethically and biblically right when it comes to medical intervention and sex reassignment surgery?
Fortunately, I found a book that doesn’t just address the gray areas of these questions and more, from a biblical perspective, but also invites the reader to ask honest questions, enter into vulnerable dialogue, and expand their capacity to love with complete compassion.
This is the second book I’ve read from Preston Sprinkle and I have to say, I really enjoy his writing style and his heart for the LBGTQ+ community. He is the president of The Center for Faith, Sexuality, and Gender (which is a fantastic organization with numerous resources; click here to learn more!) and he is also the host of the podcast Theology in the Raw (click here for my review).
Embodied is the third book I’ve read in regards to gender identity.* I didn’t anticipate reading another book on this topic shortly after I had finished the other two books, but I am so glad that I did!
Believe it or not, Embodied includes fresh ideas and considerations, presumably because of Sprinkle’s direct experience with the LGBTQ+ community and The Center for Faith, Sexuality, and Gender. Embodied did recap a lot of concepts and definitions that I have become very familiar with after reading and researching several resources, I will briefly state them next, but he also introduced a more personal approach to the subject of gender identity by humanizing each topic surrounding it.
First off, here are a few of the more basic, yet vitally important, concepts addressed in this book:
- How to understand the key terms and definitions that encompass gender while also acknowledging that gender is not necessarily a one-size-fits-all way to identify oneself
- The difference between sex and gender (this is a big one to know!). Simply and scientifically put, a person is biologically either male or female based on 4 things:
- 1) the presence or absence of a Y chromosome
- 2) internal reproductive organs
- 3) external sexual anatomy
- 4) endocrine systems that produce secondary sex characteristics
- How gender roles are linked to culture and quite often, how gender stereotypes are prevalent when one is battling their gender identity
- What does it actually mean to be trans?
- Is the Bible too outdated to address modern questions about gender identity?
- Should the Church accept trans people?
Consistency is key, so throughout each chapter of this book, Preston asks the question, “If someone experiences incongruence between their biological sex and their internal sense of self (gender identity), which one determines who they are – and why?” Keeping this question as the guide that leads every conversation in Embodied opens the door to open dialogue. I don’t want to give away too many spoilers, but focusing on this question through a biblical lens was very insightful.
One of things I appreciated in Embodied was the consideration of all sides to the story and all angles represented in the narrative. I especially valued the plethora of personal testimonies and experiences described. Each story and experience is incredibly unique, which is imperative when discussing gender identity because too often gender stereotypes or preconceived notions reign over science and diversity of experience. Furthermore, in the very beginning of Embodied the author reiterated over and over again that this book is about people. I would say he accomplished that goal as I felt he humanized this “issue” to the point where I see transgender identities more clearly than I did after reading two other books on the same topic.
A few of the NEW ideas I learned in Embodied are:
- Not everyone who identifies as transgender experiences gender dysphoria. Meaning, gender dysphoria and transgender aren’t synonyms (I previously thought they were.)
- The brain-sex theory, the concept of having a male brain in a female body, and the concept of having a female soul in a male body (and vice versa)
- The importance of Christian discipleship for those who are trans or who are gender nonconforming
- Answers to many biblical questions, including a conversation about the Eunuch
Lastly, there are many fantastic nuggets of wisdom quoted by Sprinkle throughout this book. Here are a few of my favorites:
“Our interpretations of sex and sexed bodies might be socially constructed, but sex itself is not socially constructed.”Embodied, pg. 38
“If you’ve met one transgender person, you’ve met…one transgender person.”Quote by Mark Yarhouse in Embodied, pg. 49
“Our sex is not arbitrary. It’s part of how we reflect God’s image in the world.” (pg.184)Embodied, pg. 184
In all honesty, I thought Embodied was a well-written, well-constructed, and well-read book. It continuously points the reader back to Jesus and catches many wind-blown areas of confusion by grounding specific thoughts, ideas, beliefs or concepts into truth revealed in both scripture and in science. Embodied includes a vast index of research and resources, most of which I dug into for further consideration and would highly recommend the reader doing as well.
What was interesting to me was I found myself tending to disagree upon hearing a certain argument being presented but after additional deliberation I ended up siding with the author (in the majority of cases). Ultimately, I think Preston Sprinkle is onto something – he humanizes hard topics by putting flesh and bone on the “named” issue. In short, he makes the reader think and challenges the reader to see the soul behind the body while always contemplating, what would Jesus do?
What would Jesus do?
Perhaps, Jesus would agree with what Sprinkle concludes: “We need less outrage and more outrageous love.” (pg. 222)
*The first book I read was from the Christian perspective and is titled, God and the Transgender Debate (click here for my full review). The second book I read was written by an atheist, liberal, sexologist called, The End of Gender (click here for my full review). These two books had two completely different perspectives on the origin of gender dysphoria or gender nonconformity as well as two different “remedies,” however, the science, statistics, and concerns were identical. I highly recommend reading both to assist in understanding this topic from multiple angles.
**I personally purchased this book. All of the thoughts are my own.