Who is this resource for?
This resource is for kirk sessions and anyone in a congregation who provides pastoral care to people who struggle with their gender identity and/or their families and others close to them. This includes ministers, deaconesses, pastoral workers, youth workers/leaders and elders who may be involved in providing one to one pastoral care. It also extends to the whole church family as they seek to be a caring fellowship. This resource is intended to help equip those who provide pastoral care rather than to be given to those in need of pastoral care.
What do we mean by ‘people who struggle with gender identity’?
People who struggle with their gender identity can experience discomfort or even distress due to a sense of ‘mismatch’ between their gender identity and their biological sex (the term used for someone medically diagnosed with this sense of distress is ‘gender dysphoria’ – see the glossary for more detail). This is related to the term ‘transgender’ which refers to people who have adopted a gender identity which is not the same as their biological sex.
Not everyone who struggles with their gender identity identifies as transgender. There are many different experiences and many different responses. People do not choose this struggle and pursuing a particular path, for example, name change, wearing different clothing or hormone treatment, can be driven by an attempt to relieve intense and often intolerable gender dysphoria. The distress and suffering of the person are exemplified by the fact that this condition can lead to depression, anxiety and self-harm. Others who identify as transgender are comfortable with the changes they have made or are intending to make and do not feel a need for pastoral care. However, especially amongst young people, bullying can be a problem for those who make outward changes and are perceived to be different.*
What is this guidance intended to do?
Because of the many different experiences of people who struggle with their gender identity, from the outset, as in all pastoral care, the first response should be to listen to the person to understand. This guidance provides a basic understanding and practical ways to give pastoral support as well as Christian discipleship in this area in the longer term for those who profess faith in Christ. There is also guidance on providing pastoral care to family, and especially parents, of people who struggle with gender identity and also in the case where a family member has identified as transgender and this has led to family tensions.
Because pastoral care is not simply a one to one encounter but something the whole church family should be involved with, this guidance provides practical help in how best to provide care, support and discipleship from the pulpit and in the fellowship of the church family.
To ensure this guidance is easy and relatively quick to read, more detailed reading is referenced in the ‘Further resources’ guide (page 29). There is also a glossary of the terms which people providing pastoral care may encounter in this area (page 27).
This guidance is produced with significant input from expert practitioners in the areas of pastoral care, psychology and education. It should be noted that legislation and medical approaches are subject to changes and the guidance is as accurate as possible as of June 2021.
* ‘Evidence base’ article on the NHS Gender Identity Development Service website: https://gids.nhs.uk/evidence-base (accessed 11/02/2020). The article also states that, contrary to statements by some transgender groups, suicide is extremely rare. Therefore, statements about the danger of suicide should not be used to pressure anyone into adopting a particular view or pursuing a particular path but an awareness of possible mental health problems is paramount.