On Chelsea Manning’s Coming Out: A Christian Response

by Rev . Allyson Robinson

On August 22, Private First Class Manning, the U.S. soldier sentenced to thirty-five years in prison on charges of leaking classified government documents, came out publicaly as a transgender woman. Rev. Allyson Robinson, former executive director of OutServe-SLDN, offers her thoughts below on Chelsea’s announcement. 

What is your reaction to Chelsea Manning’s coming out as a transgender woman? 

I find myself torn, to be honest. Part of me is very angry. I’m angry that someone who has done the things she’s done has become the de facto spokeswoman for this movement, for people like me, for families like mine.

But part of me feels very afraid for her. I have no confidence that she will be treated well or appropriately in prison, nor that she will receive the medical care she needs to be whole. That is a special kind of hell for a transgender person and no one should have to endure it.

Do you consider the transition-related health care Chelsea has requested to be a human right for people who are transgender? 

I believe appropriate and competent medical care is a basic human right for all people—including transgender people and including prisoners. In Private Manning’s case, the care she receives should be something that she and her doctors—including professionals who understand transgender care—agree is best for her. That’s the treatment any of us would want for ourselves.

How are Christians called to extend compassion to people in our prison systems?

I think Hebrews 13:3 makes it pretty plain: “Remember those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them; those who are being tortured, as though you yourselves were being tortured.” This is Christianity 101; it’s “golden rule” stuff. We need to set our wrath aside, set our discomfort aside, and practice some basic empathy.

Is recognition of someone’s gender identity an expression of your Christian faith? 

Certainly, because it takes empathy, and empathy is at the heart of our faith. Take a moment and put yourself in my shoes. Imagine what it would feel like to live every day trying to pass yourself off as the gender opposite to the one you’ve always felt comfortable in. Imagine how torturous that would be for you.

What you’ve just imagined is how I felt every day, every moment, before I transitioned. Now, how would you want to be treated by others in that situation? Empathy gets harder the more different another person’s experience is from ours, but it’s still our calling and our duty as followers of Christ.

How can Christian allies best respond to individuals in their lives who come out as transgender?

A good first response: how about applause? For many of us, coming out is a courageous first step out of darkness and into light, away from brokenness and toward wholeness. That’s the kind of thing Christians have been applauding for millennia.

From there, I’d say a good ally is someone who does their own work. If my being transgender makes you uncomfortable, accept that your discomfort is your issue and work through it, just like you would any other hang-up. Our churches would be much healthier and much happier places if we’d each do just that much.

Interview by Alison Amyx

Comments (1)

Sue Roediger

It was a long journey for me
It was a long journey for me – from disbelief to confusion to – finally – empathy. At the end of “Becoming Chaz” Cher says she finally got it when she thought how she would feel if she “woke up in the wrong body” she says she would “yell, Get me out of here”. Ah Ha! It is not a joke, it’s not disgusting. It is not MY reality – but it is very real for those on that path. My prayers are with all who are in this situation. Yes Christian empathy.

Comments are closed.