Sex in the Courtroom

The young man – well, legally a man but not for much longer – stood in front of me, separated by the space between the courtroom table and the judge’s bench where I sat in my black robe. He wasn’t asking for much – just that the law would recognize him for who he considered himself to be. It was a short yet life-changing court case, but more on this later.

Sex and Gender

Gender, sex, sexuality, chromosomes, identity – how you choose to categorize issues will determine how you treat the people those issues affect.

Imagine for a moment that you are:

  • A scientist studying aspects of DNA that concern the sex organs and related brain function.
  • A sociologist researching the effect of sexual identity on early childhood education.
  • A school board member considering a vote to add bathrooms to accommodate students who don’t fit within society’s defined sexual norms.
  • A physician with one more teenager crying on your examination table because they’re afraid to tell their parents what they’ve just revealed to you.

Answers to these problems are not as simple as determining whether a person’s chromosomes are XX or XY. It never has been. For one thing, not everyone is born with either XX or XY chromosomes, and for another even if you are there is no guarantee of developing physically into what society considers the biological norm for a female or male human. (Intersex.)

Also, while many people use the words “gender” and “sex” interchangeably, they are not identical:

Sex = male and female Gender = masculine and feminine

Sex refers to biological differences; chromosomes, hormonal profiles, internal and external sex organs. Gender describes the characteristics that a society or culture delineates as masculine or feminine.

In sociological terms ‘gender role’ refers to the characteristics and behaviours that different cultures attribute to the sexes.

(Monash University, What is the Difference Between Sex and Gender?)

Earlier I asked you to imagine yourself facing various circumstances concerning a person’s sex. Now imagine that you are a Christian facing those situations. Think the answer is simple?

I do too, but not for the reasons you might expect.

Judging Sex and Gender

Several times a month I will hear name change requests. Perhaps the person wants to remove the name of an abusive parent, or they want to honor their heritage, or they just like another name better. As long as the name change is not for an improper purpose, I grant the request.

The young man recently in my courtroom, though, filed for more than a name change. He filed for a “change of gender”, which is actually an official decree that a person’s sex is no longer male but female, or vice versa.

How is a judge who is a Christian supposed to handle a request from someone seeking to change their legal identity from male to female?

The same way we handle anything else in the courtroom. By being fair and respectful to everyone who comes before us.

So I called the case by using the young man’s original name, addressing him as Mr. _____. He came forward, smiling but (like almost everyone who’s never been in court) a little unsure of what to do. I pointed out where he should stand at counsel table and asked him to wait a moment while I looked through the file. I’d reviewed it earlier, but I always double check to make sure the papers are in order.

He listed his current name and the name he wanted to change to, and he checked the box showing the request to change from male to female. Attached to the petition was the required doctor’s statement affirming that changing the sexual designation was medically appropriate.

Everything was there so I granted the petition, which includes an order that the government issue a new birth certificate reflecting the new name and sex.

And since this was official, my next statement to the petitioner was, “Ms. _____, you need to take the order I’ve just signed to the clerk’s office. They’ll give you a copy with the court stamp on it for you to keep.”

“Thanks,” she said with that same smile as she gathered her paperwork and left the courtroom.

Where I Stand as a Christian

A lot of people assume that because I’m a Christian I must have a stand on various issues. What that stand is might surprise some people.

But I don’t express that stance publicly on every issue. For one thing, as a judge I am not allowed to make public statements that could cause someone to question whether I can be fair in a given type of case.

For another, consider one of the most famous courtroom scenes in the Bible, when Solomon was called on to judge which woman was the mother of a tiny baby. (1 Kings 3.) The Bible tells us both these women were prostitutes, yet they came to the king for justice just the same.

In the entire passage there is one glaring omission for those who think that God’s chosen leaders are to uphold morality at every opportunity.

Solomon never once mentioned their profession as prostitutes, never criticized them for it or admonished them to change, never considered it as a factor in making the right decision.

Instead he showed them respect, treated them fairly and ruled justly.

So if you want to know how I try to handle these things, that’s it.

***

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26 Responses to Sex in the Courtroom

  1. Bev Murrill says:

    Gosh! I always appreciate what you say, Tim… and this is one more time!

    I love the way you’ve dealt with this situation. We don’t have text book answers for people’s lives. Everyone deserves the right to be treated with dignity, whether we agree with their life style choices or not. They probably don’t particularly agree with ours either.

    When Church leaders decide they have the right to direct the course of other people’s lives, we totally have lost the raison d’etre of Jesus’ sojourn on earth. He came to seek and save that which was lost (including us) not to legislate their behaviour.

    And truly, there is no sin in the world that isn’t in the Church also.

    • Tim says:

      Your words on dignity are right on point, Bev. Each person has been created by God with the same love that he expressed in creating me and you. That is reason enough to treat them well, and beyond well.

    • Pastor Bob says:

      I wonder what is meant by “direct other people’s lives?”
      If the topic is behavior, there are some very clear principles. These are not negotiable. Then there are areas that are not so clear, and this usually causes much friction. As a member of the pastoral staff in many churches, I have seen these variations -first hand.
      Example here, consumption of alcohol.
      Some churches say NO – and no exceptions.
      Some churches talk moderation.
      Some take no position unless problems arise.

      I have yet to meet a pastor who would actively check up on members and this action, but if the pastor was made aware, he might respond based on the church’ s position. In one church I stated I did want direct evidence to be made available, discretion (adult) but if a minor, talking with parents present.

      For the adult, if you do not like this “rule” you are free to leave.
      Legalism, feel free to leave. The “voting by feet” says something after awhile.

      • Bev Murrill says:

        I think that you and I are on the same page, Bob… by ‘direct other people’s lives’ I mean that we don’t have the right to tell other people how they should live if they are not asking the question. Whether we disagree with them on issues such as transgender, same sex, divorce or how they talk to their plants, if they haven’t asked what we think (which the person on Tim’s courtroom had not done) then we don’t have the right to try to enforce our belief system onto theirs. Simple. If they ask, then perhaps we do… but each person is only responsible for one life, and that’s their own.

  2. Interesting how you deal with this. I have a Christian lifestyle problem also.

    I rap for youth at the end of good class periods when I substitute teach in middle school and high school, and I have a YouTube channel that the young people can see. One new rap, “While You’re Still One,” is on teen pregnancy. It is very popular with high school students, and was suggested by a young man–“Mrs. Johnson, write a rap about children having children.” Two lines are

    “Don’t get an abortion
    Think about adoption.”

    I had some pressure to say “Think about your options/Think about adoption” which rhymes better, but chose to use the word abortion instead.

    You see, Judge, I got in trouble with a Science Department Chair in Florida for those lines, and so it wasn’t produced while I lived there and stopped saying that rap. Since I moved to Alabama, which is more of a Pro Choice state, the students here like it as much as the Florida students did. So now it will be put on that channel when the producer is finished with it.

    Probably I am free to put things on YouTube, but not interject my views in the classroom. So I ask before I rap on this one, even in the Bible belt of Alabama.

    • Tim says:

      It’s interesting how your ministry is received the same by the kids but differently by the schools in different parts of the country, Carol.

  3. dasheththylittleonesagainstthestones says:

    Admittedly I understand little about transgenderism, but it seems to be rooted in certain notions of gender essentialism. That is, there is a “male” way to think and feel, and a corresponding female way, and transgender people have the mind of one sex/gender but the body of the opposite one. I’m wondering how a Christian egalitarian perspective would view that.

  4. Pastor Bob says:

    I LIKE this:
    “But I don’t express that stance publicly on every issue. For one thing, as a judge I am not allowed to make public statements that could cause someone to question whether I can be fair in a given type of case.”
    Many times i do not give advice that leads to a solution, I prefer to give information that will allow the person to draw their own conclusion(s).

    If the law states what is required, and those requirements are met – move forward. I refer challenging cases to the mental health folks, you have a similar venue with recusal.
    Wisdom is everyone’s friend!

  5. Lianne Simon says:

    In 1975, my mother and one of my physicians got the state to correct my birth certificate from male to female. My body’s intersex. I’m not XY or XX. I had ovotestes, so I got my puberty out of a bottle. And I had surgery to allow intercourse.

    I came very close to death in 1973. They wouldn’t have called it suicide, but my recklessness nearly cost me my life. God used that to convince me to do something about my gender issues. My doctor agreed that people would accept me as a girl. My mother supported me. But it was the change in legal status that allowed me to move on with my life.

    You, your honor, are God’s hand of mercy in these people’s lives.

    BTW, I’ve started my CASA training!

    • Tim says:

      Your loving family and that wise doctor have been a blessing for you, Lianne, and now you are training to be a blessing for children going through hard times. Thanks for being so open with us in what God has been doing in and through your life. This is a great comment!

  6. Rick says:

    Is there a scriptural or theological basis for distinguishing between sex and gender, or is that a secular notion? It’s very simple in Scripture: a man is a man and a woman is a woman. But not everyone has XX or XY chromosomes, someone may say. Shall we assume that we must therefore broaden our concept of what is normal? We live in a fallen world, remember.

    But maybe someone can enlighten me. Why should we accept a distinction between sex and gender?

    • Tim says:

      One way to understand gender is that it refers to norms that are associated with a particular sex. What those norms may be will vary form one society or culture to another. That’s why gender is not universally synonymous with sex.

      • Rick says:

        I understand that roles can vary. But why assume gender does? This additional designation opens the door to real confusion. It is this dichotomy that prepares the way for debates over restrooms and sex change surgery. While one person may think of gender in terms simply of masculine and feminine mannerisms, someone else might go further and think that a feminine male ought to be treated as a woman and be allowed to use the ladies restroom. Or he may decide that his sexuality should match his gender and opt for surgical transformation. And vice versa for a masculine female.

        Speaking of terminology, I wonder why you made the distinctions male/female, masculine/feminine while more often I hear the terms male/female, man/woman. Bruce Jenner claimed that he was a woman, but I didn’t detect any strikingly feminine characteristics about him. It seems that we have a third category here comprising internal emotional and psychological factors in addition to the categories of physical characteristics and social expectations. How does that factor into your thinking?

        God creates men and women. We are fallen, so we don’t reflect perfectly what he had in mind for either one. And expectations for each varies among different societies. There are several factors fueling the confusion we’re witnessing today, but allowing a dichotomy between gender and sex has to be a significant one especially given the current postmodern attitude that nothing is fixed (even human nature) such that people have to make of themselves what they want to be, most often by use of words.

        • Tim says:

          I think it comes down to whether one considers the word “gender” to be a synonym for the word “sex.” It’s not. They are related but not identical.

        • Rick says:

          I don’t understand the significance of the story of the man born blind for this issue. Regarding the eunuch, he didn’t become a woman. He remained a man. And regarding the Matthew passages, Jesus is using well-known Semitic overstatement to warn people to not allow anything to keep them in sin and out of the kingdom. Are you suggesting that the goal of transgenders is to find salvation by mean of trying to become the opposite gender? If Deut. 23:1 carries any significance here, it would mean that a man who has had his organ cut off can’t join the assembly of God’s people. Which wouldn’t look good for contemporary sex change surgery, if it had any reference to it at all. I really don’t think that verse is talking about transgenderism. More likely it has to do with people undergoing pagan rituals.

    • Lianne Simon says:

      For transgender people, the issue is that the basic sense of body sex doesn’t match genital shape. And that is likely rooted in biology. Recent studies have shown that it may be possible to predict gender identity outcome by measuring a newborn’s click evoked otoacoustic emissions. These are the sounds the inner ear makes in response to external stimulus (typically noise). The response frequency patterns vary based on hormone exposure in utero and are thought not to change over a person’s lifetime. I participated in a study of intersex people that showed such a correlation. There was another study involving transgender children. It also confirmed that correlation. In other words, transgender children (biologically male otherwise) have otoacoustic emission patterns that agree with their gender identity rather than their genitals.

      • Tim says:

        Thanks, Lianne. It makes me wonder if Jesus might have been talking about this type of thing in Matthew 19:12 regarding “… eunuchs who were born that way … .”

      • Rick says:

        While that may describe the physical, it gives no direction to the ethical question of what to do about it. If both these factors–body shape and perceived body sex–are merely biological, where should the adjustment be made (if there is to be one)? How is that to be decided? Is this to be considered in some sense normal? Or is it an exception that shouldn’t be codified into law, a proverbial tough case that potentially makes bad laws?

        The problems we’re dealing with now socially have little or nothing to do with this biological distinction. The one Tim described certainly didn’t. It was a man who simply claimed that he wanted to be legally treated as a woman. It is this kind of situation that has most people up in arms, I think. Let’s imagine that transgenders had to actually have undergone surgical transformation to then have their names legally changed or their birth certificates changed or to use the restroom that suits their transformed bodies. And why not, if they are serious about it? That would be worth taking more seriously than simply having a male insisting that he be called a woman and given all the rights thereof. The important issues of modesty and safety (in the current restroom wars) would be laid to rest. Then we could focus on the deeper issues of identity and of haven been personally, individually created by God who does all things purposefully.

        • Lianne Simon says:

          In reference to a man who was born blind, Jesus said that it wasn’t due to the man’s sin nor his parents’ sin. It was for God’s glory.

          In Matthew 19:12, Jesus also mentions that there are men who become eunuchs for the sake of the Kingdom. Becoming a eunuch is modifying biology, specifically the gonads/genitals in order to make a legal change from male to eunuch. (See Deut 23:1 for the legal difference.) There is no Biblical ban on transgender surgeries. Indeed, Jesus says to do whatever it takes to your body to enter the Kingdom. (Matthew 18:9, 5:29)

  7. Rick says:

    I don’t know why, but my response to Lianne’s post of 9:44 am on 6/6 was moved up the thread away from her post. I don’t see a way to change that now. Sorry for any confusion.

    • Lianne Simon says:

      Rick,

      (1) The man born blind — not everything can or should be attributed to sin. And we Christians are sometimes quick to call anything out of the ordinary sin.
      (2) A eunuch was not legally male. They were legally a third category. Not male and not female. The legal differences went beyond temple worship. And Jesus says that some are born into the ‘other’ category. Like me.
      (3) No, I don’t think Matthew 19:12 is talking about transgender people. Nor do I think most transgender people change their bodies for the sake of the Kingdom. But Matthew 19:12 is as close as the Bible comes to talking about it.
      (4) The existence of eunuchs as a legal category indicates that sex, under God’s law, goes beyond simple male and female.
      (5) The existence of eunuchs as a legal category demonstrate that legal sex isn’t immutable. One can change it by changing certain biological parameters. Genetics were never what God used to determine legal sex. And it’s not as simple as gonads either. A woman with the complete form of Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome would have testes in her abdomen rather than ovaries and uterus, but the Bible would still consider her legally female.
      (6) God makes wonderful promises to sexual minorities in Isaiah 54 (barren women) and Isaiah 56 (eunuchs). God shows love and grace toward sexual minorities. As he does with others.
      (7) Philip didn’t require anything of the Ethiopian eunuch beyond faith in Christ. No mention of it being wrong to be a eunuch. And Philip didn’t heal the eunuch. So perhaps being a eunuch wasn’t something God considered broken.
      (8) The ‘cross-dressing’ prohibition, when put in context, when considered in Hebrew, applies to men dressing as women during time of war and women going to battle. If you’re really that interested, consider this–the word for that ‘coat of many colors’ that Joseph wore appears in one other place in the Bible. It was what a princess wore (i.e. Tamar).

      • Rick says:

        2. I haven’t heard before that eunuchs belong to a different legal category. The Deuteronomy verse doesn’t establish that. And even if there is a difference legally, that doesn’t entail a difference in sex or gender. Eunuchs were still men, just ones with a certain physical mark. (I also haven’t seen anything in Scripture about women born as eunuchs or made that way.)
        3. So the Matthew passages are irrelevant for the matter of transgenderism.
        4. See my response to #2.
        5. Ditto.
        6. Barren women were a sexual minority? How do you figure? They were women/females.
        7. All recipients of God’s promises are broken in one respect or another (thanks to original sin and to our sinful acts). Males and females aren’t required anything except repentant faith.
        8. a. Re: the cross-dressing prohibition, are you speaking of Deut. 22:5? I see no reference to the military there. But even if that can be established, how does that apply to transgenderism? b. Both men and women wore coats or cloaks. What is the significance of that for this discussion?

        I don’t want to wear out other readers with this back-and-forth (or you either!). If you’d like to continue the discussion by email, I’m fine with that. You’ve given it a lot of thought. It’s helpful to me to know how people who take your side think about the matter.

        • Lianne Simon says:

          The eunuchs in the first part of Matthew 19:12, the ones born that way, were not men. The three types of eunuchs are set in opposition to the earlier reference to man and woman in marriage. Jesus is saying, “Here are people outside that binary.” Otherwise the passage makes no sense.

          Barren women are a sexual minority in that they cannot bear children. Infertility is a biological difference that doesn’t change legal sex, but it is nonetheless a biological sexual difference.

          What I think might help is to realize that legal sex is a mapping from biology to society.

          A woman with the complete form of Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome has XY chromosomes and testes in her abdomen. The Bible maps that biological intersex to a legal sex of female. She would have been considered a barren woman.

          A baby with ambiguous genitals would have been considered a eunuch. Not a man. Not a woman. That’s the first type of eunuch mentioned in Matthew 19:12.

          I would be happy to discuss this offline, but please keep in mind that trying to convince me that sex is a pure binary is hopeless. I’m female in the eyes of God’s law, but my biology is mixed. I’m not even XX or XY.

        • Rick says:

          Then we have reached an impasse. Eunuchs have throughout history been men (or boys) who have either had their genitals removed or were born with abnormalities which made procreation impossible. (Some scholars believe there were also eunuchs who were so only metaphorically, but they were men nonetheless.) Eunuchs have never been considered a third “gender” or whatever you might like to call them. This designation has zero scriptural support, and I’ve found none in any of the other historical literature I’ve perused. And barren women were *women* who could not conceive. You have imposed your understanding on the Bible.

          None of this needs to be done in order to recognize that God’s love extends to people who are perfect in no area: physically, emotionally, mentally, and of course, spiritually (and that would be all of us). Our fallenness manifests itself in a variety of ways, but he still loves you and me in our physical/mental/emotional/spiritual states as they are. Jesus, out of love, died for us to bring us back to God’s intended design. That is the crux of the gospel and the essence of our hope.

          There is no need to twist the Bible to make ourselves look more acceptable to God because none of us can in ourselves. We need to treat the Bible with respect and accept what it says. If you aren’t going to do that, then just say the Bible got this thing wrong, and then deal with the matter of inspiration.

          And with this, I’m out. Feel free to have the last word, if you wish.

        • Lianne Simon says:

          A moment ago you were willing to take the conversation offline. Now you accuse me–and I think falsely–of twisting scripture. Yet you don’t provide any verses to support your position.

          I am quite happy to stipulate that I am deserving of Hell. Without Jesus, I’d already be there. Yet I expect to see him in all his glory one day. As his child. Whether as male, female, or other, I really don’t know and don’t much care. He loves me.

          You see, I accept this body he’s given me. I won’t apologize to you for being intersex. Nor for trying my best to glorify God with the hand he dealt me. In your strict binary view, I don’t exist.

          Interestingly, Jesus says some won’t understand…

          Jesus replied, “Not everyone can accept this word, but only those to whom it has been given. For there are eunuchs who were born that way, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others—and there are those who choose to live like eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it.” –Matthew 19:11,12

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