His Wisdom for Her World

The Church and The Transgender Next Door

By on July 31, 2014 in BW Statement, Gender with 4 Comments
The different gender's sign draw on blackboard.

Gender – We believe that gender is God-given, not socially constructed or self-determined; that gender distinctions are rooted in creation and manifested in biological differences, transcending social customs and cultural stereotypes; that being created as a woman is an essential aspect of our identity (Gen 2:18-25; Matt 19:4; Mark 10:6).

In January 2012, UK couple Beck Laxton and Kieran Cooper made headlines when they finally revealed the biological gender of their 5-year-old child. Sasha Laxton, who was beginning to enter school, was announced to be a boy. At birth, the young Sasha was referred to as “the infant,” and, at 3, was on the cover of the family Christmas card wearing a pink tutu. For Sasha’s parents, he was given the freedom to decide who and what he wanted to be, unrestrained by cultural biases. Sasha’s family is just one among a growing trend in gender-neutral parenting. There are online communities, personal blogs, and even books describing how parents can let their children have the liberty to discover their true selves. Last fall, California governor, Jerry Brown signed a bill allowing transgender public school students to choose which bathroom they would use and sports teams they would play on. Last month, ABC News featured a family whose young daughter insisted that she was a boy. The parents adapted to their daughter’s belief, cutting her hair, changing her clothes, and thereafter referring to her as “he.” According to one gender therapist, the parents gave their child a gift by adapting so early.

Each of these stories demonstrates a growing cultural belief that gender is changeable, self-determined, and not essentially related to one’s biological sex. They claim that a child’s anatomic gender may not necessarily be the gender she identifies with or indicate her sexual orientation. Basically, someone’s biology at birth is just one of many factors determining which gender (if any) that person truly is.

How did this category of gender identity become so culturally defined?

That’s where this gets interesting. According to sources like GenderSpectrum.org, gender is a social construct, meaning that it was created, determined, and developed by society. Gender “is actually taught to us, from the moment we are born. Gender expectations and messages bombard us constantly. Upbringing, culture, peers, community, media, and religion, are some of the many influences that shape our understanding of this core aspect of identity. Gendered interaction between parent and child begin as soon as the sex of the baby is known. In short, gender is a socially constructed concept.”

According to this definition, gender changes with time just as society does. If gender is something determined by society, then it only makes sense that it will adapt to its environment. If society is the standard or principle around which we organize gender identity, then a person’s anatomy is simply one factor among many in determining one’s gender. If we have the ability to determine our gender identity, then to insist on specific gender expressions based on biology is actually holding us back from discovering our true selves. As long as humanity is the hinge around which our view of gender identity revolves, it will change with the times.

As concepts like gender bending, gender-neutrality, transgenderedness, and even asexuality become more mainstream, how do we respond? Here are three, cumulative points to consider:

 

Biology Cannot Be Separated from Gender Identity

The gender-neutral/transgender community claims that one’s biology is distinct and separable from one’s true gender. But, while gender is not an exclusively biological aspect of humanity, it is in harmony with one’s biology. As Russell Moore says, “Ultimately, the transgender question is about more than just sex. It’s about what it means to be human.” Addressing whether a converted transsexual ought to return to living as a male, Moore points out that one’s gender cannot be changed by a surgical procedure. A man who undergoes a sex change does not actually alter his male identity.

Gender encompasses whole personhood. And since gender is a matter of personhood (biologically, psychologically, relationally, etc.), then it does not follow that we can separate one’s anatomy from their gender identity. A person’s biological structure is that person’s gender. Therefore, the two cannot be separated.

 

Gender Expression is Not the Same Thing as Gender Itself

One of the things that gender-neutral parents often cite is that they want their children to have the freedom to like things that are stereotypically associated with the opposite gender. Boys can like pink and yellow and girls can like blue and green. Boys can play with dolls and girls can like trucks. All of these things are gender expressions, which change with culture and time. Gender expressions usually are social constructs. Just compare hair lengths for men in a 1st century Eastern culture with a 20th century Western one. That’s not to say that these expressions are of little importance. In reference to masculinity, John Piper describes that the mature man recognizes and is sensitive to cultural expressions of what is considered masculine, and adapts his behavior to fit what is culturally masculine (Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, 43).

But while these cultural expressions may articulate one’s gender identity, they do not determine it. In other words, if a little girl loves sports, cars, and playing in the mud, that does not mean that she is actually a male with the anatomy of a female. In the case of the girl whose family adapted to her belief that she was a boy, there is no guarantee that she will not, one day, believe she is a girl. Expression communicates identity, but it does not determine identity.

 

Gender Identity is a God-Centered, Not Man-Centered, Reality

The core of the transgender debate is about authority. Who has the right to name a human being? If God created human beings in the image of God (Gen 1:27), then gender is given primarily to express something about God, rather than ourselves.

The ultimate purpose of gender is to image the character and nature of God. And it bears significance on our personhood, both individually, and relationally (Gen 1:27-29, 2:18-25, Eph 5:22-33). Karl Barth said it this way: “That God created man as male and female, and therefore as His image and the likeness of the covenant of grace, of the relationship between Himself and His people, between Christ and His community, is something which can never lead to a neutral It, nor found a purely external incidental and transient sexuality, but rather an inward, essential and lasting order as He and She, called for all time and also for eternity.”[1]

If God is the ultimate reality around which we understand our gender, then only He has ultimate authority to define our view of gender. To claim that one’s true gender is different from one’s anatomy at birth not only assumes the authority to name ourselves, but also claims that God has given us a gender that is out of alignment with our whole being (Ps. 139:14).

 

The Church and the Transgender Next Door

Our gender-bending culture would like to believe that its transgender trends are a sign of barrier-breaking progress. But, in reality, it signifies a God-denying suppression of truth (Rom 1:21-32). The tragedy of the transgendered woman is that she is stamping out the self-ingrained signposts that lead back to Him. The increasing presence of transgender individuals demonstrates humanity’s underlying desire to understand themselves, to achieve a sense of wholeness. But the wholeness they are searching for can only begin with reconciliation to their Creator, through the Redeemer who came to restore their whole person to God, body, soul, spirit…and gender (Rom 8:23, 1 Thess 5:23).

Now more than ever, our world needs a courageous, Christ-proclaiming Church to unashamedly articulate the truth of male and female as made in the image of God. And, through that truth, to call back every male and female to the One whom they were created to image.

 

[1]Barth, Karl. Church Dogmatics (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1961),207-208.

 

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About the Author

About the Author: Katie McCoy is the editor of BiblicalWoman.com and is pursuing a PhD in Systematic Theology at Southwestern Seminary. When she’s not reading for her classes (a rare occasion!), she loves hanging out with friends, eating sushi, learning new words and shopping with her mom. .

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  1. Hannah says:

    I recently attended a lecture given by a transgender man who described his gender identification as a genetic mix-up of sorts similar to the condition of being a hermaphrodite. He spoke of gender as more than genitalia – something that is also in the brain. His experience, then, was that the “gender” of his brain did not match the “gender” of his genitalia. His gender identification was in accordance with the gender of his brain, and so his reassignment surgery was to make his genitalia match his brain in gender.
    If this could be scientifically substantiated, would this argument have to be amended? Would it change the idea that one’s genitalia always indicates a person’s true gender? Would there be room for people who truly believe that their genitalia are medically mismatched with their brain?

  2. Clark Dunlap says:

    Hannah, first I would ask how did the man ‘know’ his brain gender didn’t match his biology? Was he a victim of social/familial pressures that pushed him toward a specific set of gender related views about himself? Secondly, I have to admit, that just as hermaphrodites exist in rare circumstances, so might a person with one kind of ‘brain’ and a different kind of biology. But that doesn’t mean this article should be amended. It would be a rare exception to the rule. We live in a fallen world where people are born differently, from physical handicaps, to mental disorders, etc.
    Each case should be dealt with individually, and each person approached graciously, but I could never counsel someone to change their biological gender based on what they assume their mental gender is. Even if some physical test was developed to determine which gender the brain is.
    I would have to point them towards the third point in this article, and to surrender their gender to the Lordship of Jesus Christ, and the wisdom of their creator.

  3. Clark Dunlap says:

    Well stated Katie McCoy. Its often difficult to extend compassion and grace and at the same time not agree with the sentiments of the world. But we should always try. The truth, love for God’s creatures and gospel proclamation demands it.

  4. Hannah says:

    Clark, this man was asked the very questions that you have posed. He answered by asking how anyone “knows” what his or her gender is. If it is because of anatomy (I believe you use the word biology here), then we would have to say that gender is not multi-faceted and relational. I don’t believe that anyone is saying this. If we know our gender based on how our parents raise us, then anatomy is pretty arbitrary. This particular person would be an exception to the rule since his parents raised him as a girl and disowned him once he began to explore medical options. If “we just know,” then we cannot “know” that we are correct or incorrect about another person’s brain. Simply asserting that the biology of a person’s brain (I believe you use the word mental here) necessarily matches his or her anatomy dismisses the point without engaging it.
    I agree with the bulk of this article. I am only suggesting that in light of the experiences of this particular person, in at least some cases, the issue of gender might be more complicated than his or her anatomy suggests.
    These are challenging questions, and I don’t presume to know exactly how to answer them. I would hope that we might be able to engage these ideas without dismissing them outright as unprovable and ridiculous even if we think them implausible. Compassion and grace demand at least that.

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