How should we address people struggling with transgenderism?
Despite the number of people who identify as transgender, being incredibly small, like fractions of a percentage point in the United States, the issue of transgenderism and gender identity is in the news. Every single day, there is some story in a prominent publication about gender identity. It's influencing all of us in direct and indirect ways. This could be from bathrooms, to religious liberty implications, to the pronouns we're supposed to use at work or at school. So, even though they're a small number of people involved, the impact is disproportionately large. I actually don't think there has been an impact this large on a social scale from such a small percentage of people. I could be wrong about that. That's not really that important of a point, but it is something at least to take note of.
What is Transgenderism?
Today, I want to talk about what transgenderism is, briefly, and how we, as Christians, should respond and think about responding with truth and compassion. Firstly, transgenderism is a psychological type of state or issue where someone identifies and feels like they are a different gender than (some people would say) what they were assigned at birth and others would say then their biology would dictate. Basically there's some mismatch between what you are said to be, gender wise, and what you actually feel like you are, gender wise.
Now, psychology has kind of gone through and is going through somewhat of a metamorphosis, a change over the last several decades. It used to be that something was a disorder if it was out of order, if it did not match its function or how it was believed to be designed to function. So on that view, transgenderism would be a problem because you felt like you were something that didn't match your biology. Now, what we've seen is a transition, and this isn't all over the place but it's definitely there, to where something is seen to be a disorder in psychology, if it causes you a problem. If you are biologically a male and you identify as a woman, and this doesn't cause you any problems, psychologically, there's not a problem there today, in how modern thought would look at it.
This comes along with a view where truth is relative. We define what is true. Now, harkening back to what used to be, if you said you were a woman and you were biologically a male, well this is a problem because you are living out of concert with your biology. Your mental self doesn't match your physical self. That's just a brief comment on how this has changed and is changing over the years.
There's a parallel condition where people actually feel like a certain limb doesn't fit on their body. So, they might think this arm, my right arm is not actually a part of me and they want to cut it off. Psychologically, this is a problem still, but aren't they kind of saying the same thing? Their mental self doesn't identify with a part of their physical self?
I think there are some inconsistencies, even in how the modern medical and psychological establishments are handling this type of condition today.
So, in broad strokes, transgenderism is where you feel like you were a different gender than either you were assigned at birth or than matches your biology. Now, I do want to be clear, I reject the idea that gender is something that's assigned. It is something we describe, so we look at a person's physical anatomy and based on that anatomy, we say you're a man or you're a woman. You're male or female. It's not assigned, it's described. But nonetheless, this is the way how some other people are talking about it. How should we respond?
Respond in Compassion
Well, the first thing to realize is that most of us do not know what it's like to feel like you are a different sex or gender than your anatomy. I can't imagine what that's like. I have no idea. That sounds incredibly rough to walk into a bathroom, to walk into a clothing store and go to the section that you've been told you're supposed to go to because of your anatomy and your biology and not feel at home there. To feel like, “you know what? I should be in the other section. I see a sign in the corner of the store that says women, but I'm told that I'm supposed to be in the men's section.” I don't know what that's like.
In the same way, when we talk about homosexuality, I don't know what it's like to have disordered sexual desires in that way. We all struggle with our own sets of disordered desires, and even sexually. But I don't know what it's like to desire someone of the same sex. I don't know what that must be like.
We have to start with trying to put ourselves in the shoes of this other person and saying, "You know what? That sounds incredibly difficult." We need to have compassion for them. In the same way that we would have compassion on the person who says “this arm is not a part of me, I want it gone.”
We need to have compassion because something is not right. Now, the person might say, "Well, I'm just not identifying with my assigned gender at birth." But we know better. We know that God created people male and female all the way back in Genesis. We see this in chapters one and chapter two. We are created in the image of God. Jesus reaffirms this in Matthew 19 when questioned on the divorce: “haven't you read that from the beginning God made them male and female?” He affirms that God makes people male and female. We don't assign it. God makes them that way.
We as Christians know that, but that should give us a sense of compassion and sympathy for people who don't know that. Because of the fall, these people have a disordered sense of self where their mental make up, their self image, their immaterial self, does not match their physical self. They're living out of concert. That sounds very difficult.
Respond in Truth
We should have compassion towards these people. That should influence how we speak to them. It also should make us realize, though, when we look at this in light of the full biblical revelation, that struggling with gender identity fits in a biblical worldview. Struggling with lust fits in a biblical worldview. Struggling with pride fits, and what I mean by that is: it's not that it's a good thing, but we understand why it happens.
Our story, the biblical worldview, explains why people struggle with these things, because there is nothing in this world that has not been corrupted and tainted by sin, both in our lives and in someone else's life. When we look at transgenderism in light of the full biblical revelation, we also understand that this is not a person's biggest issue. A person's issue is not that they have same sex attractions, it's not that they identify as a man and yet are actually a woman. It's not that they are prideful. Their biggest issue is their lack of repentance and faith in Jesus Christ.
So when we talk with a person we need to keep that in mind but more than that, not just keep it in mind, but make sure that the way we talk and the amount of time we spend talking about certain topics conveys what the relative importances of those topics are.
You can't always choose how much time you spend on a topic or what the other person wants to talk about, but nonetheless, we need to be clear and make explicit that whatever this person’s struggles are, those struggles aren't the biggest issue. Al of us have our struggles but ultimately, the biggest problem is that a person has not been redeemed by Christ.
Now, for the person who says, "I am a Christian and yet identifies as transgender." I think we really need to to call them back to what the Bible says, to what Jesus says, to what Genesis one and Genesis two say, that God created them male and female. It's very obvious to look at that creation almost all of the time and determine what that gender is. Is it male? Is it female?
Anatomy tells us that. What we should do is try to make our immaterial self, our mind, become in line with our physical self. Now obviously, that is easier said than done, but encouraging someone in a different gender identity than their physical self, only will lead to more of a felt dissonance and incongruity there. It'll only lead to more tension, because their physical self isn't going to change.
For some people who say, "Well, they can have a sex change operation. Or a ‘sex confirmation surgery.’” That's not actually true. You can't change your sex because every cell in your body still knows that it's either XX and hence, female, or XY and hence, it's male. You can't change your sex.
You can, and I say this with full knowledge of the fact that it is politically incorrect, you can mutilate yourself though. You can change your anatomy but that doesn't change your sex and it doesn't change your gender. We shouldn't encourage people in that type of operation either because it is extremely parallel to the person who says “my arm doesn't fit and so I want to cut it off, it's not actually a part of me. I don't identify with that arm.”
So we should have compassion on people who are struggling with those types of issues. But we also need to tell them the truth. That God loves them. That God created them. That he made people male and female and we should strive to align our mental impressions with how the Bible tells us that we were created.
It's in the same way that we know we were created to glorify God, but we don't have desires all the time to glorify God. That's not a reason though to not glorify God. Simply having desires doesn’t make the thing we desire good. We need to call people back to what the Bible says about living for the glory of God.
So, We've covered what transgenderism is: a disparity and incongruity, a mismatch between one's biology and their idea of their self with regards to their gender. We've talked about how we should have compassion on those people. That must be a very difficult condition to live with. We shouldn't encourage people in that, either. We should encourage people, but not encourage them in adopting a different gender identity that matches their biology, because it's only going to lead to more of a mismatch, more tension, and more hurt and brokenness.
Names and Pronouns
I briefly want to talk about names and pronouns.. Often as a part of transitioning or identifying as a different gender, someone may wish to change their name and the pronouns that they're called, and I think we need to think about this carefully as Christians from a Biblical worldview.
The first point is, let's say there's a biological man named Mark, who now identifies as a woman and he wants you to call him, “her” and he wants you to call him “Mary.” I think you should call Mark, Mary. Names are arbitrary. Kind of like nicknames. Names are not grounded in the physical world. They don't reflect physical things. They point to people, but there's nothing inherently masculine about the name Mark. Mary very well could've been a masculine name too, it just depending on how society chose and how social conventions have gone. I think we should call people by the name they choose. There's nothing wrong or difficult about that and it is polite to call people by the names they choose.
However, I think pronouns are a different story. Whether you refer to someone with he, she, him, or her is important, because those are gendered words. Gender reflects, or has historically until the last 10 years or so, reflected a physical reality. When you call someone a “him,” you are referring to that person as male. You are saying this person is a male, because you have used a male pronoun, and the same when you call someone “her” or “she.”
You were using a feminine pronoun because you were saying that person is female and so these words are actually pointers to biological, physical realities. So, I'm not going to call someone a her if they are biologically a “him.” You might be saying, "Well, that just sounds very rigid."
I want to bring out a concept that I may have talked about before. In any conversation there is always one more person in the audience than we think. Here's what I mean. You could be talking with a coworker in the break room and you think it's just the two of you, but there are really three people watching and hearing that conversation. There's you, the coworker, and there's God. I don't want to speak about God's creation, about what he has created, male and female, in a different way than he calls those things.
I want to be faithful to him about what he has created for his glory, the way he has created it. This is the key distinction. Sometimes there's a tendency to talk about God, or the Bible, or the gospel, or people in a different way than God himself does so as to make the idea you're trying to put forth more palatable to the person you're talking with but at the expense of biblical and realistic accuracy.
I don't think that's good. But even if that weren't the main consideration, it's still important to consider what you're telling this other person. If you use the pronouns that don’t match their biology, you are affirming to this person that you think they're a male, even if they're biologically female. That's not helpful, because you're encouraging them in a choice of gender identity that is opposed to how they were actually created to design.
We don't work well as people, flourish, or enjoy life to its fullest as we are intended to, when we live outside of Gods design. So, I'm not going to encourage someone in that way.
Now, I do want to point out that there are people I respect who think you should call people by the pronouns they choose. I will briefly explain why they say that, because I think it is worth allowing you to make up your own mind on that and be informed of both sides, even know I do have a definite perspective. They would say that if you call someone by the pronouns they want, it allows you more of an opportunity to converse with that person. To maybe contend for the truthfulness of the gospel, to further the conversation, so it doesn't cut off dialogue in the relationship. I understand that. I think that's a noble point.
I think that principle though, can't be consistently applied because that would lead to us downplaying other things, potentially, that the Bible calls a certain way. I think we have to be careful with that type of thinking. I do very much appreciate the intent.
It is also possible to just not use any pronouns. You could call them a “they,” you could say “you,” you could refer to the person by their name and never use a pronoun if you're cautious or careful. Those are all options that are at our disposal, even though I do have my own perspective on this, people I respect do hold a different position.
All of that to say, transgenderism is something we, as Christians, need to be prepared to talk about truthfully with compassion from a biblical worldview. Because even if someone doesn't become a Christian, if they live in concert with her biological sex, and their gender identity aligns with that, there's a greater chance for human flourishing. That's obviously easier said than done, and I've glossed over a ton of issues, but when we live in the way God has designed us to live, it generally works out better for people.
I hope this is been helpful, and I look forward to talking with you next week on Unapologetic.