This is anti-bullying week, with the media full of advice and heart-breaking narratives. There have been stories of courage, too, from bullied young people wanting to help fellow sufferers and to show how they have risen above the bullying – Macauely Elvin is just one example.
This week also saw the publication of the Church of England’s updated document Valuing all God’s Children, which was first issued in 2014. It was disappointing on at least two counts. Firstly, in a week when teens talked courageously about the many faces of bullying, the report only deals with HBT bullying, meekly submitting to an aggressive lobby which has hijacked the bullying debate – I wrote about the reality behind this rhetoric recently.
There is nothing about bullying due to race, disability, disadvantage, faith or appearance, all of which are far more common reasons for being bullied. Autistic children alone are five times more likely to be bullied than their peers –there is also growing evidence of schools encouraging parents of autistic children to remove them to home education in order not to slew the school’s league table positions – a subtle form of institutional bullying.
So if you’re bullied in a CofE school for any of these reasons, you matter much less – hardly at all, in fact. You merit just the few lines in the 52 page report which don’t actually explicitly reference HBT bullying. The report talks about each of us being loved equally as God’s children, although in the case of bullying, some are clearly loved more equally than others – in the eyes of the church, at least.
Secondly – and this is the nonsense which attracted the most media attention – the document advises that children should be allowed to experiment with ‘cloaks of identity’ in order to find themselves: it quotes the dressing up box as an example. Ask any Early Years teacher and they will assure you that dressing up is not about self-exploration of gender. It is about adopting roles and developing empathy. It leads on to drama activities such as hot seating and Mantle of the Expert, which similarly allow students to explore characters and to understand why people behave as they do. Promotion of gender ideology has become so warped that the LGBT lobby and the Church now even annexe the dressing up box to the cause.
It is also ridiculous to imply that cross-dressing should be used as a key opportunity to explore one’s gender. The travesti actors of Shakespearean theatre were not engaging in the process of gender definition: watch a production of Twelfth Night to appreciate the true comedic value of cross-dressing. Nor is the pantomime dame (that peculiarly British manifestation of travesti with its roots in Commedia del Arte) involved in gender exploration. Not everyone who dresses up is embarking on a search for an undiscovered identity. Take a look at The Tutu Project if you still have any lingering ideas about males who wear tutus being gender confused.
But the report did prompt an interesting question in my mind. How should Christian teachers navigate the ‘tutu and tiara’ zeitgeist? Genesis teaches, without compromise, that God created humans to be male and female and that we each carry the image of God. It therefore follows that we should be exultant as we enjoy the sex, personality and soul that God has given each of us. The science proves that we are genetically determined as male/female and that those chromosomal differences are necessary to perpetuate the human race. For the moment at least, the law also reinforces the fact that we are male or female. Sex is neither fluid nor negotiable. It is a case of what we are, not how we feel. That doesn’t, however, negate the fact that trans people feel inwardly different than their biological sex, and it is at that point that they are hurting. Contemporary culture reinforces that self-belief as being an immutable truth about gender fluidity. The problem lies with the culture, not the individual.
So how should Christians respond to transgender pupils? The answer, of course, is exactly how they should respond to each and every student – with an open heart that shows God’s unconditional love for them. They should respond by building compassionate relationships, relating to pupils where they are, not where you think they should be.
There are also some practical points to consider. If a parent asks for their child to be recognised as trans, then teachers have an obligation to respect that. It’s no good Christians protesting against a totalitarian state control which removes their parental rights in matters of morality, only to then lobby to remove that right from the parent of a trans child on the grounds of Christian belief.
Can Christian teachers ever view some pupils differently from others on the grounds of belief? No, because teachers, like everyone else, have responsibilities as well as rights. They have a professional responsibility to care for pupils equally regardless of race, religion, ability, social advantage or sex. They also, as Christians, have a responsibility to God, to show God’s love through care and compassion.
So, as the storm of the gender ideology debate rages on, continue to be as Christ to your pupils. Don’t expect them to conform to your beliefs about sexuality or gender. Be compassionate. Be kind. Be a role model. Listen to your pupil’s hurt. Share their joys. And above all, take into every situation Christ’s commandment to ‘Love one another as I have loved you’ (John 13:34) because that is how they will know that you are a disciple of Christ.