Gender in the rWorld

How do we respond to the transgender community?  What do we do if we discover that our own son or daughter is struggling with his or her gender identity?  Is it a moral compromise for Christians to embrace gender-inclusive language such as the pronoun “ze” (instead of “he” or “she”)?

Let’s be honest: we’re entering a strange new world, culturally speaking.  The iWorld celebrates diversity at any cost imaginable.  How might the rWorld, the world of relationship, address the confusion that we’re experiencing?

TREATMENT OPTIONS

First, are there treatment options?  If gender dysphoria first presents in childhood, are there ways to address this condition?  Yarhouse outlines four different options.  One of those options is to actually facilitate gender transformation—which we already concluded might do more harm than good.  That leaves three possible approaches:[1]

  • Intervene by decreasing cross-gender identification: This means that parents might discourage the behaviors associated with gender dysphoria—a form of “conversion therapy.” The problem is that by going against the grain, both parents and children may experience a great deal of pain to resist something that seems so natural to the child.
  • Watchful waiting: Yarhouse reports that 75% of cases of gender dysphoria resolve on their own. Rather than intervene, why not simply allow the issue to resolve on its own?
  • Suppression of puberty: By using hormone blockers, physicians are able to delay the changes associated with puberty. The idea is that at an older age, the child may be better prepared to make a decision about their gender.  In some cases, the decision to cease treatment (and thereby enter puberty) causes the issue to resolve.

A recent NPR report says that the latter is the most effective form of therapy.  But no form of therapy is 100%.  What do we do when gender dysphoria persists past childhood and into adulthood?  How might Christians think through this issue?

INTEGRATED FRAMEWORK

We’re faced with the daunting task of addressing the complexity of this issue without neglecting the character of God.  Yarhouse says that the integrity, disability, and diversity frameworks proved inadequate to achieve this goal.  Instead, he says, Christians may embrace what he calls an “integrated framework” to help think through this issue.  The integrated framework consists of the following:[2]

  • Maintaining the integrity of sex differences without endorsing stereotypes. This means that the Christian community need not abandon our commitment to God’s design.  But it also means that we cannot embrace rigid definitions about what makes you a “man” or a “woman”—as though our gender identity were bound in our physical appearance, career, or athletic performance.
  • Compassionate management of dysphoria: This means that gender dysphoria might be something that never really goes away. One sufferer compared her experience to “the hiss an old-time radio–a sound which can be ignored with some effort in order to hear the broadcast, but cannot be extinguished without pulling the plug.  It has always been there, long before I understood what was making the noise.”  To that end the Christian community can assist by learning to embrace those who struggle just as we would learn to embrace anyone who came through our doors struggling with a besetting sin.
  • Create a community that offers meaning and purpose: There must undoubtedly be a sense of confusion that comes with not knowing who you are. Christians can provide a radical, missional counter-culture that offers a lens through which to see and understand reality.  For some, the gospel might become a way that enables transgendered individuals to embrace not the self they’ve “discovered,” but a new self transformed by the power of God.  In the meantime, however, the Christian community can assist by emphasizing descriptive, not prescriptive language as to what life looks like as a gendered person. Prescriptive language may serve only to remind others of their inability to measure up, while descriptive language may elevate the design to which we may aspire.

WHEN HAVING A BODY ISN’T GOOD NEWS

There are many people in our world for whom having a body is not good news.  If you are a woman, then having a body has not always been good news for you.  Having a body places you as a sex object in the leering eyes of men.  Having a body places you at risk of rape and sexual assault.  Having a body grants you the risk of body shaming and constant criticism.  Some women have even experienced the suffering—deep, bone-numbing suffering—of infertility and miscarriage.  Having a body has not been always good news for you.

If you’re a man, then having a body has not always been good news for you.  Having a body places you at similar risk of being “shamed” for not measuring up to society’s standards of masculinity—how many pushups you can do, the presence or absence of a “six pack,” etc.  Having a body has not been good for you, because you also face the potential shame of infertility and sexual dysfunction.  Having a body has not always been good news for you.

If you are intersex, transgender, or queer, then having a body has not been good news for you.  You’ve lived—for years, perhaps—with the confusion of who you are underneath not matching who you are on the surface.  Having a body has meant living with the disparity of sex and gender.  Having a body has meant that family and close friends have been more likely to label you a freak than to offer you acceptance.  And because of this, having a body means you may have considered taking your own life.

No; having a body has not always been good news for you.  Christianity says that good news has a body.  The gospel story is about a God who puts on human skin through a process known as the “incarnation.”  Jesus—God in the flesh—walked the earth as one of us, so that he might experience what it means to be human (John 1:14).  Because he was male, Jesus may not have experienced everything unique to both genders or to transgendered individuals, but because he was human Jesus understood the sheer frailty of human flesh, and promised us that one day it might be redeemed, on the day when the “perishable” shall be raised “imperishable,” and all knees fall to the earth in the majesty and the glory of the radiant Christ.  Good news has a body; Jesus invites us to follow him.

[1] Mark A. Yarhouse, Understanding Gender Dysphoria: Navigating Transgender Issues in a Changing Culture, p. 102-122.

[2] Ibid., 53-54.

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