Webster’s dictionary defines “female” simply as “the sex which bears offspring.” A female isn’t defined as the sex that prefers pink, or plays with Barbie, or shaves its legs (those are all subjective, cultural constructs). Rather, bearing young is a universal, not merely cultural, trait.
This historic dictionary definition is being increasingly challenged in the public square. For example, government schools are being pressured to let male students who self-identify as female enter girls’ locker rooms. To prohibit such students is seen by some as discrimination. At the same time, schools extremely sensitive about sexual harassment. The Aquila Report recently published an article highlighting the absurdity of the position schools are in—if a male student passes a nude photo of himself to a female student, he could be punished for sexual harassment; however, if that same male student wanted to be nude in the girls’ locker room, the school couldn’t prohibit him.
The transgender movement is sometimes construed as the modern day equivalent of the fight a few decades ago for racial equality and women’s equality. However, upon closer examination, historic feminism and the transgender movement are not only distinct; they are incompatible. If gender is utterly subjective, something a person changes at will, then we can no longer speak meaningfully about “women’s rights”. For there to be a “women’s movement”, we must at the very least have an objective, agreed upon definition of what a woman is. If people with Y chromosomes can be classified as women, then what can we mean by talking about equal pay for women?
It’s also been pointed out that, for all its talk against gender stereotypes, the transgender movement actually promotes gender stereotypes. Many people who advocate for males identifying as female to be allowed access in women’s public restrooms start with the assumption that such males will look like females. However, this begs the question—what really makes a man a man or a woman a woman? Is it stereotypical externals like the presence (or absence) of lipstick? Or is it something more fundamental? Is a woman who doesn’t wear high heels and a skirt any less a woman than one who does? The world sympathizes with a male who is earnestly attempting to appear as a female. However, if gender is utterly subjective, what’s to prevent a buff, bearded Arnold Schwarzenegger type of man from entering the women’s restroom? What if such a man self-identifies as a female? Can anyone tell him he’s wrong? If so, on what objective basis?
Also, a general assumption of the transgender movement is that gender transitions are basically permanent. However, from the transgender movement’s philosophical standpoint, what’s to prevent a person from identifying as male Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays and identifying as female Sundays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays? Of course such switching in and out is not the norm within the transgender movement. However, if gender is utterly subjective, there’s no basis for opposing this being the norm.
In Mark 10:6 Jesus, quoting Genesis, says God made “male and female in his image”. God’s image is seen in females in a way that it is not seen in males alone, and vice versa. Otherwise, why would God have made created two sexes? Categories of male and female are not dispensable. Conceding that they are dishonors not only God, but also individuals confused about their identity. Rev. Keith Allen of Holy Trinity Anglican Church in Madison defines love as “doing that which is right and best for another in a way that is sacrificial and unconditional.” What is right and best for transgender individuals is to help them be who God made them to be.
While employed at Mississippi State Hospital, we were trained to never “play along” with a client’s delusional behavior. If they were seeing something that wasn’t there, we weren’t to reinforce their delusion by pretending to see it. Why? Because such playing along would make it harder for the client to genuinely recover. Similarly, we do transgender individuals a disservice, not a courtesy, when we use pronouns to describe them that do not line up with reality.
What motivates people to attempt to change their gender? The same thing that motivates most people’s actions—a quest for happiness. However, studies have shown that people who undergo sex reassignment surgery continue to struggle with depression after their surgery at roughly the same percentage as before. Secular sociology, not just Christian theology, testifies to the fact that assuming the identity of the opposite sex, though satisfying in some measure for some people, doesn’t generally bring about the lasting liberation that we’re led to think it does (for more on this, visit Walt Hyer’s web site: www.sexchangeregret.com). This reinforces what Christians have said all along: gender, far from being a human construct, is at the core of who God has made us to be. When the design of God, who is all wise and all loving, is tampered with, it leads to less, not more, fulfillment. Why? Because God didn’t make us male or female by accident.
Have Christians at times been insensitive to the plight of people experiencing gender confusion? Yes. Have Christians at times oversimplified the very real feelings and urges of people who sincerely feel that there is a conflict between who they are internally and what their physical appearance displays externally? Yes. This shouldn’t be. Christians are against political movements with anti-Christian emphases; Christians are not against individuals who struggle in this area. This is a distinction that can hardly be overstated.
To describe transgender individuals simply as men who choose to identify as women, or women who choose to identify as men, is an oversimplification tantamount to saying people in way over their heads with substance abuse are merely choosing to drink in excess. Choice plays a factor, yes, but it’s callous to overlook the very real feeling of compulsion that such individuals experience. Christ doesn’t callously roll his eyes at our struggles and temptations, as if we were just a bunch of weirdoes. No, as Hebrews 4:15 tells us, Christ, our great High Priest, was tempted in every way, just as we are, and can empathize.
However little the feelings of transgender individuals may make sense to some Christians, believers mustn’t overlook the fact that they are very real. Mocking such individuals is helpful neither to the individuals themselves, nor to the cause of Christ. What the church must show to people who identify as transgender is compassion motivated by the conviction that everyone bears God’s image. No image-bearer of God can be considered expendable or unimportant.