Transgenderism: A Biblical Truth and Mercy Response: Part I
On May 13, 2016, many were surprised to learn that the federal government issued a directive to schools receiving federal Title IX grants. The directive said that schools must allow transgender students to use whichever bathroom and locker room most closely matches their gender identity. A confusing issue became even more confusing. Is there a way to pick through the pieces of this puzzle and respond with biblical truth and mercy?
That news doubtless raised questions in the minds of many Christians, such as: Why would someone identify as transgender? What is the nature of gender? Is it possible that there are really more than two genders, male and female? How does Scripture call Christians to interact with transgender individuals?
These are big questions to think about. Christians need to know how to reason through the issues on gender and transgender that are being discussed and decided culturally. In this post, I’ll walk you through an understanding of gender identity – and transgender identity – from Scripture.
What is a traditional understanding of gender? For the whole of human existence, society has affirmed a male-female binary regarding gender. In other words, a human was one gender or the other – male or female – and that individual’s gender was consistent with the individual’s physical sex at birth.
There is, of course, a condition currently known as intersex, formerly known as hermaphroditism, when an individual is born either with genitalia of both sexes, or with ambiguous genitalia. While intersex individuals exist and may face certain challenges, it should be noted that they are a very small percentage of the population: about 1 out of every 1,500 births (or, about 7/100 of 1%).
What is transgender? In order to answer that question, we must first look at the new, culturally-accepted understanding of gender. Whereas a traditional understanding of gender existed in a fixed male-female binary framework, the new understanding is that gender is fluid. All possibilities for gender exist not as two fixed points, but rather on a continuum ranging from male to female. Not only is one’s experience of gender no longer fixed between two choices, but the individual may switch back and forth between genders as his or her experience of gender changes.
As a result/consequently, a second element of this new understanding is that gender is not innate. While a child is born with a physical sex by virtue of male or female genitalia, that child does not develop its gender until well after birth. Gender, according to psychologists, develops independently of one’s physical sex and generally develops by the sixth year of age. In most individuals, psychological gender is congruent with physical sex. However, in some cases, this is not so. Hence, it is possible to have an individual born with genitalia associated with one gender, but to have a psychological gender that is incongruent with one’s physical sex.
Transgender is a blanket term applied to an individual whose psychological gender—essentially, one’s subjective experience of gender—is incongruent with his or her physical sex. Because of this perceived incongruence, a transgender individual may elect to live in any number of ways. One might choose to live in a manner that is the culturally-accepted norm for his or her physical sex. One might choose to identify as a particular gender different from his or her physical sex, but never take measures to surgically or pharmacologically alter his or her physical sex. One might go through a process of using certain drugs to alter one’s brain chemistry and hormone levels to develop physical characteristics of his or her preferred gender. Or, one might elect to go through gender reassignment surgery. These last two processes are known colloquially as transitioning from one gender to another.
It should be noted that this particular cultural concept of gender is new and is itself in a state of evolution. In 2012, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) of the American Psychiatric Association identified the types of gender incongruence mentioned in the previous paragraph as fitting the category of a psychiatric disorder: Gender Identity Disorder (GID). Just four years ago, the psychiatric community would have counseled the GID-presenting patient to accept his or her physical sex.
When the DSM was updated in 2013, the diagnostic criteria for GID changed, so that most people who formerly fit into that former category of a psychiatric disorder are now diagnosed with Gender Dysphoria—a perceptual problem, where the goal of the therapist is to help patients reach congruence with their psychological gender.
What is the problem with transgender? Essentially, this practice makes the experience and the feelings of the individual primary. Everything else – whether Scripture, or physical reality, or millennia-old accepted social practice – is secondary. It says that if I feel as though I am another gender – whether male, female, or something in-between – that is who I actually am.
This continuing movement of our culture renders the individual increasingly self-referential and the individual’s perceptions increasingly authoritative. Such a worldview does not allow for any kind of objective truth from God. The church is experiencing tremendous pressure to change its understanding of Scripture—and to even change Scripture itself to conform to the primacy of personal freedom. Governments, from the local to the national level, are racing to change laws and add new ones to protect the individual’s right to self-determination. Truly, we are becoming a people who do only what is right in our own eyes (Proverbs 21:2).
For additional information and resources got to the Transgenderism: Resources Page – Here.
In the next post, we’ll talk about what Scripture says on the issue of gender and how Christians can respond to transgender people. (Part 2)