Does Gender Identity Matter?

Facebook occasionally prompts me to update my profile. Among the categories I can revise is my gender. Besides the obvious male and female options, there is a “custom” option. From there, I can choose from one of 56 additional genders. That’s right. I can identify with one of 58 total genders. Some of the options include “transsexual,” “genderqueer,” “non-binary,” “pangender,” “androgynous,” “gender questioning,” or “two-spirit.”

The fact that I’m incredulous about this development (which I know is not a new development), already has earned me the label “intolerant.” I’ve read I’m old-fashioned, a traditionalist, or—worse—a backwards-thinking religious zealot.

What is gender? Is it malleable? How should Christians think about this subject? Scripture makes two key points. First, Scripture teaches that God made human beings in only two sexes: male and female (Gen. 1:27; 2:23–24). The creation account is predicated on the duality (only two) and the complementarity (different, but function together) of the two sexes.

Second, Scripture teaches that our gender identity (our psychological belief about what gender we are) should follow our biological sex. Since there are only two sexes, there are only two options. If we’re born biologically male, we should identify as male. If we’re born biologically female, we should identify as female.

What Scripture says, however, does not deny the reality that many people experience a range of psychological beliefs about their gender identity. Of course some biological males perceive their psychological experience to be female. Of course some biological females perceive their internal state as both female and male. Of course there is tremendous variation in how people experience their gender identity. God is not surprised by this reality.

He does, however, anticipate the tendency of some people to accept the incongruence of their biology and gender identity as “who they are.” That’s why when Scripture talks about people crossing gender boundaries (e.g., a biological male who attempts to take on a female gender identity), it describes it in a negative light. For example, the Mosaic Law states, “A woman shall not wear man’s clothing, nor shall a man put on a woman’s clothing; for whoever does these things is an abomination to the Lord your God” (Deut. 22:5). God made men and women different and laid down this law to maintain the distinction between the two sexes.

The New Testament also addresses this matter. The Apostle Paul—inspired by the Holy Spirit—cautions the Corinthian church from accepting unrighteous activities including “effeminate” behavior (1 Cor. 6:9–10). This word is translated from the Greek word malakoi, which literally means “soft men.” It refers to men who act like women through their mannerisms, dress, makeup, and sometimes even through castration. Paul, as if predicting what the Church will face in our generation, warns that some believers will be deceived into thinking that crossing gender boundaries is no big deal. Indeed, there are now even “Christian” organizations that affirm such beliefs, which is why this topic is essential to understand.

But let me offer an important clarification here. If you’re male, this does not mean you must model yourself after the typical 21st-century American male. Many of our gender stereotypes come from society (movies, fashion, school, and our peers) and are not biblical. For example, if you’re a male and you don’t like football, fast cars, and french fries, it doesn’t mean you’re not manly. If you prefer art or playing the flute, you’re still a man and not any less of a man.

Likewise with being female. If you don’t like shopping, sappy chick flicks, or pedicures, that’s not a problem. If you prefer sports or going to the gun range, you’re no less a female. You are not required to follow the gender-typical norms created by culture to qualify as a woman. God is our Creator. His Word is our guide. We should take our cues from Him.

Scripture’s directive, therefore, is not about following American gender-typical activities or roles, but about which gender you identity with—whether you actually believe you’re a male or female. That’s what God is concerned with.

People who identify with a gender that’s different from their biology (e.g., who identify as transgender) aren’t necessarily doing it to be trendy (though some admit they do), but are often deeply confused about who they are. Often they experience severe psychological and emotional distress. Tragically, 41% of transgender people attempt to commit suicide (compared to 1.6% of the general population). In other words, though believers are rightly concerned about countering false cultural messages about gender identity, we need to be equally compassionate about those who are deeply hurting inside. They need our friendship, love, and care. Most importantly, they need the gospel—like every other person on this planet.

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Alan Shlemon

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