A couple of weeks back I watched a Sunday documentary about a downhill mountain bike rider who is causing a bit of a stir in the sporting community. Anton Weatherly rode as a male until December last year. His performance was average, crossing the finish line midway in the field. Then Anton switched genders and became Kate and started riding in the women’s division. In January she raced in the New Zealand national women’s championship in Wanaka and won by almost 13 seconds. The other female riders are crying foul.
You can hardly blame them.
Sporting bodies in NZ and worldwide are grappling with how to accommodate transgender athletes. How do you support human rights and diversity while ensuring a level playing field? No one knows. Like the saying goes – it’s complicated. The first thing we need to do is get our heads around what transgenderism is all about. Let’s start with some terminology.
When we use the word gender, we are referring to the social and cultural aspects of being male or female. Think masculine verses feminine; facial hair verses lipstick.
Gender identity is a person’s internal sense of their own gender, whether male or female or something else. If I asked you the question, “Do you sense you are male or female?” (not, do you look male or female), I’m enquiring about your gender identity.
The term Transgender (the “T” part in LGBT) is an umbrella term to describe a person who experiences a gender identity that differs from the sex assigned to them at birth.
Gender dysphoria is the term used to describe a person experiencing distress or discomfort because of a mismatch between their sex assigned at birth and their gender identity. They often use phrases such as being “trapped in the wrong body.”
Tansitioning refers to the steps a trans person takes to live in the gender with which they identify. Sometimes this involves hormone therapy, medical intervention, surgery, and almost always some kind of counseling.
If you want to know where the transgender trend is heading, just look at the social networks. Facebook, which is on a mission to be the most “progressive” social network on the web now has 71 gender options to choose from. They’ve been outdone by Tumblr which has at least 300 (to date).
How did we get to this?
The answer lies where all societal changes lie – in a worldview or a belief system. Everyone has a worldview. It is what we use to make sense of life. There’s a belief system driving transgenderism. And you need to understand it (I wrote about this in a previous post on Love Thy Body, so I apologize if it appears that I am repeating myself).
Back in the 1960’s and 70’s there was a very well-known Christian thinker and apologist by the name of Francis Schaeffer. Schaeffer recognized a deep division running through all Western thought and culture, between science and morality; between facts and values. This division has its roots in the period of the Enlightenment when intellectuals began to put human reason over and above divine revelation. He illustrated it with the metaphor of a two-story building:
Private, Subjective, Relativistic
Objectively true, Testable
In the lower story is empirical science – that which is objectively true and testable. On the upper story is the realm of theology and morality, which is considered subjective and relative. When you hear people say, “That can be true for you but not for me,” you’re looking at the upper story.
Here is the same fragmented worldview using different terms:
Private, Subjective, Relativistic
Objectively true, Testable
Nancy Pearcey points out in her book Love Thy Body this two-story worldview is the underlying current beneath many of the social issues in our society. What has happened, she explains, is our concept of what it is to be a human being has also become fragmented into an upper and lower story, with the body in the lower story and the real person in the upper story. The two-story worldview for them looks like this:
PERSONHOOD / AUTHENTIC SELF
So, you no longer have an integrated but fragmented human being, in which the body is treated as something different from and in some cases disconnected from the authentic self.
How is it possible people think this way? Because of our dualistic worldview, spawned in the period of the enlightenment, nurtured in our education system, and now bearing fruit in society. For those who saw it coming, it’s of no surprise. But it is also tragically wrong. And I want to tell you why.
Real answers from a Caring Creator
True freedom is not found in asserting our independence and trying to be something we are not made to be. True freedom is found in being who we are. Vaughn Roberts describes it this way:
“A fish that decides to make a bid for freedom by jumping out of the water will not be free – because it is created to live in the environment of water. And as soon as we try and become what we are not, far enjoying freedom, we can’t expect to flourish.”
So then, who are we? How should we as human beings view ourselves? God, our Creator reveals that to us in the opening pages of the Bible in Genesis chapter 1.
“Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” (Genesis 1:26–27)
The Bible tells us we are first and foremost creatures. We are not machines. We are not just atoms and molecules banging into each other. We are secondly, embodied creatures. Our bodies are an essential part of our true selves. God sees us as an integrated whole. Third, we see that we are embodied sexual creatures, in the form of male or female.
You might have heard of the “brain-sex” theory. It claims that sex differentiation of the genitals and the brain takes place at different stages of fetal development. OK, so they are partly right in that. We had scans on all our kids and their biological sex wasn’t determined until a later stage. But then they go on to say that a baby in the womb can be developed with male genitals and a female brain.
There are over 37 trillion cells in my body. There are 46 chromosomes in every human cell. ‘Two of these are specialized chromosomes called sex chromosomes. I have one X and one Y chromosome in every cell of my body (if you are a female you have two X’s). These remain in my cells from conception until death and do not change. I am “hard-wired” to be a male down to every cell in my body.
You say, “Well if that’s true – if we are really ‘hard-wired’ to be male or female since birth, how is it that some people seem to be genuinely struggling with their identity? Why the disorders? Why do some men feel they are women trapped in a man’s body and some women feel they are really men trapped in a woman’s body?”
The answer lies in Genesis chapter 3: The Fall. Sin has corrupted us in two ways: physically, with our bodies and psychologically, with our minds. The result is we have disordered bodies. We have sickness and disease. There are corruptions in the genetic code causing all kinds of defections and abnormalities in our bodies. But we also have disordered minds. We struggle with stress and depression and all kinds of mental health issues. None of us are immune. Some of us are born with a predisposition toward addiction or schizophrenia or OCD or ADHD. Some experience gender dysphoria. It’s all part of the fall. And it’s not right to point to one group of people over here and say, “you’re queer” or “you’re not normal” because, since the fall, none of us are normal. We have dysfunctions of one kind or another. So we need to be understanding to people who are experiencing these strange feelings.
The question we want to ask next is – is there any hope for them (and us!)? Has God offered any solution? Yes, he has! He put into plan something wonderful: a rescue mission, to set right all that had gone wrong.
God sent his very own Son into this world to redeem us. Jesus Christ was born as a human being – a wonderful affirmation that God values the human body. He lived in perfect submission to his heavenly Father. Then he took our place on the cross, bearing our sin, and taking the place we deserve for punishment for our sins. On the third day, he rose from the dead – bodily. Again, another powerful statement about the importance of our human bodies.
After his resurrection Jesus told his followers to take the good news to the world: every man, woman, and child can be completely forgiven and renewed, simply by turning from their sin and rebellion and putting their trust in Jesus to save them. They will, in return, receive a new identity, a new mind, new desires, a new citizenship, a new family (the family of God), and one day, a new resurrected body.
That doesn’t mean that everything changes completely overnight. The change is sometimes slow, and agonizing. There will be an ongoing struggle with our disordered bodies and disordered minds. Some of us struggle with depression and anxiety. Others struggle with addictions and lust. There are even those who struggle with same-sex attraction or gender dysphoria. God does not promise to take these things away immediately. But he does give us His Holy Spirit, which gives us the power to work on them. He calls us to deny some of those desires, take up our cross and follow Him. There is pain involved with that. But the temporary pain is worth every much the final gain.
If you are reading this and you struggle with some kind of sexual disorder – whether it be pornography or same-sex attraction or gender dysphoria, Jesus’ message to you is the same for everyone:
“Come to me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take up my yoke and learn from me, because I am lowly and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matthew 11:28–29)
I’m not telling you, “Get your sexual disorders sorted out and then come to Jesus.” That’s not how it works. I am saying, “Come to Jesus and he will start to put you together again.”
Jesus the rescuer has come. He has died, he has risen, and he has sent his Spirit to make it possible for us to be changed and transformed to what God, in the beginning, intended us to be – men and women who are made in the image of God, wholly integrated in soul, mind and body.
That’s where I am convinced our ultimate freedom and happiness is found.
 Mark A. Yarhouse, Understanding Gender Dysphoria, p.67.
This post was based on a sermon on Gender Identity. It is part of a Hot Topics series we are working through at our church. You can listen to the full audio on our website here. You can also listen to the discussion forum that followed here.
Here’s the Sunday documentary I referred to in my introduction. It is interesting viewing and runs for around 12 minutes.