Imagine being a teenager who doesn’t feel at home in your own body. You never felt you met the typical gender stereotypes of guys playing with trucks and rough sports and girls dressing up and play with dolls. You aren’t happy, and you so badly want to be happy. Like all teenagers through all generations, you want a sense of identity, of who you are. You would love to be known for something, to be celebrated. You watch lots of Tik-Tok videos about others who have changed their gender identity, and they recount stories of being celebrated and affirmed for their courage.
Imagine being a parent with a young teenager who comes to you and says he or she wants to go by a different name and different pronouns. Imagine not knowing who to talk to and wondering if this is a phase that is going to pass. But as the weeks go on, the conviction in your teenager grows stronger. You begin to read articles online and discover that children or teenagers who struggle with gender dysphoria are much more likely to struggle with suicidal thoughts. You are told in online forums that if you don’t help your child transition you are being a cruel and unsupportive parent.
Imagine being a parent who learns that your elementary son’s bathroom at school has a tampon dispenser in it, and you feel conversations with your child have been thrust upon them at too early an age. Or image a parent whose daughter is playing basketball against someone who clearly was born a male, and people in the crowd are perplexed about what to say.
These are not hypothetical situations but questions about gender dysphoria that I have been asked by people in our community and by people I pastor. Last weekend I preached a sermon answering theses questions—with the desire to be full of grace and full of truth. You can see the whole sermon here, but this blog serves as a bit of a summation.
Starting with Compassion
Gender dysphoria is the sense of mismatch between physical sex (body) and psychological gender identity (mind). Thus, those suffering with gender dysphoria are experiencing a painful war within themselves. A BBC Film titled, Transgender Kids, says “At the heart of the debate about transgender children is the idea that your brain can be at war with your body.”
Who else believes our mind and our bodies can be at war with one another? Christians.
We don’t necessarily wrestle with a battle over our gender, but we have internal wrestles with our sin and with living in a world that often feels like a mismatch to who we are. Christians understand the struggle with our bodies being at war with our minds (Romans 7:22-23). While the Scripture offers a different solution than the transgender movement, we recognize that dysphoria is real. All of us have not felt right. In fact, we came to Jesus because we knew we were not right. So as Christians we should approach this conversation with great kindness and compassion. Gender dysphoria and the transgender movement surface questions about origin and happiness. How did we get these bodies and how can we be happy?
The Scripture teaches that God created each person in His Image, male and female (Genesis 1:26-27). God did not set His Image on the birds, the animals, the sunset, the ocean, or the forest—He set it on people. There is a distinction between men and women in the first chapter in the Bible, and this distinction is not one we gave ourselves or created ourselves. It is a distinction God gave. There is not biochemical evidence or a hormonal cause in the body for one being transgender, so transgender advocates argue that gender is independent of the body.
In her insightful book, Love Thy Body, Nancy Pearcy shows how the world’s view of personhood divides the body from the person. In the transgender movement, feelings of gender are divided from objective, physical sex. Yet, the Scripture’s view of personhood is a high view of the body, with body and soul gloriously connected. We are created in His Image, our bodies are gifts from God, the bodies of believers are temples of the Spirit, and one day every believer will be with Jesus in a renewed and glorified body. The Christian faith has such a high view of the body because Jesus, God the Son, entered our world in a human body and right now He is in a glorified body.
God is the Designer who has authority. Happiness comes when we follow Him and His design—not when we rebel against Him. Lia Thomas made headlines for competing first as a male on the Penn State swimming team and then as a female. Lia is a transgender woman and was nominated by Penn State as the 2022 Woman of the Year. When asked about transitioning, Lia said “I just want to be happy.” God wants Lia Thomas to be happy too, but we are dealing with two views of happiness.
The world is saying “if you face gender dysphoria, then listen to your mind and change your body.” The Scripture says, “offer your body to God and allow Him to transform your mind.” (Romans 12:1-2). The transgender movement says to resolve the tension by changing your body. The Scripture says you may live with tension while allowing God to transform your mind.
I have had helpful conversations with a pediatrician and therapists in our church about the adolescent mind and body. If a teenage girl who is struggling with anorexia believes she is overweight, a loving response is not “well if that is what your mind is telling you, then let’s schedule surgery for you.” The loving approach is to work on the mind to match the body—not to change the body to try and match a changing mind. Our minds are constantly changing, especially when we are teenagers. In fact, the research says that gender dysphoria typically resolves itself. According to Abigail Shirer’s research, 70% of adolescents who are not affirmed in their desire to transition outgrow gender dysphoria.
The first summer we lived in Southern California, I took Evie, my youngest, on a trip to San Francisco. We explored the city, rode bikes over the Golden Gate Bridge, took a chocolate tour, hung out at Fisherman’s Wharf, and went to the Exploratorium, which many believe is one of the best children’s museums in the world. In the summer of 2019, there was a seasonal display on identity called Self, Made. The exhibit stated this:
Meanwhile, categories once thought to be firm and fixed—race, gender, and even humanity—grow blurry and in some cases dissolve under scrutiny. Like it or not, none of us can point to a single, unchanging self. We all live at the intersection of many selves—a shifting set of labels, identities, and affiliations that morph and modulate as we make our way through this world.
Clearly, at a kid’s museum with my daughter, I found myself at a display advocating an ideology that you can decide your gender. “Evie, let’s sit down and talk about this. What do you think this is saying?” She was smart, as kids are smarter than we often think. “That I can change and become anything,” she replied. I asked, “Evie, doesn’t that sound like a lot of pressure? To constantly define who you are? Wouldn’t it be better to receive who you are from God? We sing a song at church, ‘I am who You say I am.’ Which is a better way to live? ‘I am who You say I am,’ or ‘I am who I am deciding I am today?’” “To be who God made me sounds way better,” she replied. She was right. You are not who other people say you are. You are not your past or your struggles. But you also don’t have to live with the pressure of figuring out who you are. You are not self made. You have been made by God, and He is the One who gives joy.
Here is what we say to those struggling among us: “We do not dismiss you in your struggle. We know what it is to believe we are not at home in this world. We do not speak in a derogatory way of you, as we believe you are created in His Image. And at the same time, we believe Christ wants to disciple you towards health and integration of body and mind.”