A man who has surgically changed his gender to a woman is active in our women's ministry activities. Church leaders are increasingly uncomfortable with this arrangement because most of the women in the church are not aware of this person's true gender. Could we be exposed to legal risk by restricting—or even excluding—this person from women's ministry activities?
While most churches may not encounter this predicament, your question highlights a difficult dilemma. Let me make several points:
1. A sex change operation does not, and cannot, result in a "change" in a person's gender. According to Stedman's Medical Dictionary (26th ed. 1995), a post-operative transsexual (i.e., a person who has had a sex change operation) is a person who has undergone medical and surgical procedures to alter "external sexual characteristics so that they resemble those of the opposite sex." The operative word is "resemble." This is all that a sex change operation can do. Through surgery and hormones, a transsexual male can be made to look like a woman, including female genitalia and breasts. Transsexual medical treatment, however, does not create the internal sexual organs of a woman (except for the vaginal canal). There is no womb, cervix or ovaries in the post-operative transsexual female. Further, it is important to note that a person's chromosomes do not change with either hormonal treatment or sex change surgery. Biologically a post-operative female transsexual is still a male. Chromosomes are the structures on which the genes are carried, which, in turn, are the mechanism by which hereditary characteristics are transmitted from parents to off-spring. An individual normally has 23 pairs of chromosomes in his or her body cells; one of each pair being derived from each parent. One pair of chromosomes is known to determine an individual's sex. The biological sexual constitution of an individual is fixed at birth (at the latest), and cannot be changed, either by the natural development of organs of the opposite sex, or by medical or surgical means. As a result, a sex change operation cannot affect a person's true sex.