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Boy? Girl? Transgender?

Warning: this is long. But the story is fascinating.

From an excellent article by Hannah Rosin in the November 2008 issue of The Atlantic, titled “A Boy’s Life“:

As a toddler, Brandon would scour the house for something to drape over his head—a towel, a doily, a moons-and-stars bandanna he’d snatch from his mother’s drawer. “I figure he wanted something that felt like hair,” his mother later guessed. He spoke his first full sentence at a local Italian restaurant: “I like your high heels,” he told a woman in a fancy red dress. At home, he would rip off his clothes as soon as Tina put them on him, and instead try on something from her closet—a purple undershirt, lingerie, shoes. “He ruined all my heels in the sandbox,” she recalls.

At the toy store, Brandon would head straight for the aisles with the Barbies or the pink and purple dollhouses. When teachers divided the class into boys’ and girls’ teams, Brandon would stand with the girls. In all of his kindergarten and first-grade self-portraits—“I have a pet,” “I love my cat,” “I love to play outside”—the “I” was a girl, often with big red lips, high heels, and a princess dress. Just as often, he drew himself as a mermaid with a sparkly purple tail, or a tail cut out from black velvet.

“Brandon, God made you a boy for a special reason,” she told him before they said prayers one night when he was 5, the first part of a speech she’d prepared. But he cut her off: “God made a mistake,” he said.

The basic idea: many kids are”born in the wrong body,” as the transgender community says. Although the term “gender-identity disorder” is sometimes used, they don’t like the implication that something is actually wrong with them. They are considered “transgender” — a male who wants to be a female or vice versa. In many circles, the stigma is starting to go away — there are now national conferences on the issues, support groups, chat rooms on the Internet. Parents of transgenders are beginning to give into their child’s wishes more often, feeling relieved of their guilt now that they can let their child act as they want. As Rosin writes,

now (the) transgender wing (of the gay-rights movement), long considered the most subversive, is striving for suburban normalcy too. The change is fueled mostly by a community of parents who, like many parents of this generation, are open to letting even preschool children define their own needs. Faced with skeptical neighbors and school officials, parents at the conference discussed how to use the kind of quasi-therapeutic language that, these days, inspires deference: tell the school the child has a “medical condition” or a “hormonal imbalance” that can be treated later.

One mom calls it “the disorder we cured with a skirt.” Doctors have taken it to another extreme. They now employ puberty blockers — drugs that that suspend the development of teenagers. They prevent all the typical characteristics of males and females from developing, allowing them in effect to choose their genders.

Not everyone thinks this is the best approach:

Zucker’s belief is that with enough therapy, such children can be made to feel comfortable in their birth sex. Zucker has compared young children who believe they are meant to live as the other sex to people who want to amputate healthy limbs, or who believe they are cats, or those with something called ethnic-identity disorder. “If a 5-year-old black kid came into the clinic and said he wanted to be white, would we endorse that?” he told me. “I don’t think so. What we would want to do is say, ‘What’s going on with this kid that’s making him feel that it would be better to be white?’”

There’s much more that I can’t quote here without holding you hostage. (Read the whole thing, as they say. It’s really worth it.) But the story raises all sorts of issues: is gender hard-wired into us? Can we change it based on our environment? Is it healthy for children to express whatever they want? What should parents allow their kids to do? What should we do with children who legitimately have these issues? What does the Bible say about this?

While this seems more like a topic that Al Mohler should be tackling, a few thoughts: we’re treading on dangerous ground when we begin to claim God is making mistakes. When we base major, creation-altering actions on the way we feel or the way our children feel, rather than on what we know to be true, something is very, very wrong. When such radical steps are necessary to line up our biology with our emotions, that should be a clue that perhaps we’re taking the wrong approach.

Genesis 1:27 says, “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” Seems pretty straightforward. We’re created male and female. We don’t get any other options.

That’s not to say kids and adults never struggle with those kinds of feelings. What especially should we do with kids who face this? While I’ve never had to deal with the problem, my instinct is to say we treat it with the same basic principles we’d treat any other issue: correct the child, point him in the right direction and then use all available means to fight for what we believe is right. As Dr. Zucker said, we wouldn’t indulge children who wanted to change skin color. We’d flood them with resources to help them accept the skin they’re in (ahem, sorry). To dry out an alcoholic, we don’t surround him with booze — we get him away from any source of the temptation.

The Bible repeatedly mentions that homosexuality is wrong. It doesn’t say people never struggle with it or that it’s not a temptation. It just says that it’s wrong and implies that people have dealt with it effectively (“such were some of you”). Transgender issues seem to fall in the same category — changing gender is a violation of a creation ordinance that God would not bless, and therefore, we should fight against it.

The key in The Atlantic’s story is the parents. There’s a reason God gave them to children. Parents are theoretically wiser than their children — they should act like it.

And over all of this is the grace of the gospel of God. Without grace, there would be no reason to fight gender confusion. Without the gospel, boys could be girls and girls could be boys. There would be no standard to suggest otherwise. But because of Christ, there is grace, there is hope, there is a reason (and help!) to live rightly before the face of God.

For more on transgender issues from a biblical perspective, check out the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood at www.cbmw.org. Here’s a listing of some of their transgender references.




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