Observations on life; particularly spiritual

Gender confusion

Australian passports have three gender options male (M), female (F) and indeterminate/intersex/unspecified (X). Today it’s possible to change one’s preferred sex! And the Western Australian Law Reform Commission has recommended leaving gender off birth certificates, as well as adding a third official option of “non-binary”. Meanwhile, Facebook has 71 gender options (see Appendix)! The reason for this is that the word “gender” has different meanings today. I thought that it meant whether one is biologically male or female. But now it’s also used for the behavioral, cultural, or psychological traits typically associated with one sex and to indicate whether one feels male or female regardless of their biological sex.

Popular culture accepts the idea that gender is fluid and is disconnected from biological sex. If gender is fluid, a biological male can identify as a female. If gender is fluid, perhaps there are more than just two genders. And gender can be seen as more of a spectrum. Now gender is seen as a matter of choice – an expression of how we see ourselves and how we show ourselves in the world. But this can lead to stress and confusion if our gender doesn’t match our biological sex.

Context

According to Corney (2016), there are four stages in the recent history of sexual politics in the West. These are:
– Stage one: The cause of women’s rights to equality.
– Stage two: The decriminalisation of homosexuality and Gay rights.
– Stage three: The legalization of same sex marriage.
– Stage four: The gender fluidity debate. This is the stage we are currently entering. Gender fluidity is based on two ideas; a sharp distinction between sex and gender and the claim that our gender identity is not determined by our biology or the prevailing social construct of heterosexuality but by individual choice.

What does the Bible say about biological sex?

The Bible says that God created humanity as male and female (Gen. 1:27; 5:2). As this happened before the fall of humanity into sinful behavior, it was God’s original perfect plan. Jesus repeated that “at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female’” (Mt. 19:4; Mk. 10:6NIV). So the Bible teaches that the biological sex of human beings is binary/dual – each person is either male or female.

Our biological sex is determined at birth. Every baby I know is called either a girl or a boy. There is no ambiguity about this. And it can’t change throughout life. Every cell in our body has either XX (female) or XY (male) sexual chromosomes. Our chromosomes are different. Our hormones are different. Our voices are different. Our body shapes are different. Our body strengths are different. Our reproductive systems are different. We think differently, learn differently, and are generally motivated by different ideas. And we can’t change that! It’s claimed that “up to 1.7% of people have intersex traits” (where it’s difficult to know whether a baby is a boy or a girl), but I don’t know anyone in this category. So, I think this figure is inflated. The figure mentioned for USA is 0.05% of the population.

What does the Bible say about gender?

The first gender role mentioned in the Bible is marriage: “That [the creation of woman] is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united [in marriage] to his wife, and they become one flesh” (Gen. 2:24). In this basic human relationship, the male’s role is as a husband and the female’s role is as a wife. As the first marriage (between Adam and Eve) happened before the fall of humanity into sinful behavior, it was God’s original perfect plan that gender is fixed and is connected to biological sex. Biblical marriage is between one man and one woman.

After the fall into sin, all God’s creation was flawed. So gender behavior didn’t always follow God’s plan. For example, there are examples of adultery, rape, and polygamy in the Bible. These are reports of what happened in biblical times and not commands or models for us to follow.

Jesus repeated God’s command for marriage that “For this reason [the two sexes] a man will leave his father and mother and be united [in marriage] to his wife, and the two will become one flesh” (Mt. 19:5; Mk. 10:7). So about 2,000 years ago, it was still God’s intention that gender is fixed and is connected to biological sex. But in a sinful world this is not always the case. For example, in Australia it’s legal for a man to marry a man or a woman to marry a woman (homosexual marriage, or “marriage equality”), even though this is against what God says in the Bible.

Jesus used one set of terms to refer to “male and female” – two biological sexes. He used a different set of terms to refer to a “man” and his “wife” – two gender roles. There are two sexes, and there are two genders. This strongly suggests that biological sex determines gender as the norm for human existence.

In Paul’s commands about marriage, he always assumes that marriage is between one man and one woman (1 Cor. 7:1-16; Eph. 5:22-33). And he repeated God’s command for marriage that “For this reason [the two sexes] a man will leave his father and mother and be united [in marriage] to his wife, and the two will become one flesh” (Eph. 5:31). This shows that under the new covenant, God’s plan is still that gender is fixed and is connected to biological sex.

Proper gender behavior in marriage is important because it symbolizes the relationship between divinity and humanity. In the Old Testament, God is symbolized as the husband and the nation of Israel is symbolized as His wife (Jer.3:14). Likewise, in the New Testament, Jesus Christ is symbolized as the husband and the church (Christians) is symbolized as His wife (Eph. 5:22-32).

What does the Bible say about cross-dressing?

The Israelites were not to cross-dress: “A woman must not wear men’s clothing, nor a man wear women’s clothing, for the Lord your God detests anyone who does this” (Dt. 22:5). According to the context of this verse it seems that the main reason for this law is that cross-dressing blurred the basic distinctions of gender duality (male and female) established in creation. The issue at stake is blurring the distinctions in external appearances between women and men. God is saying here that a man ought to look like a man, and a woman ought to look like a woman. The law is against the wearing of any item specifically intended for the opposite sex. The distinctives of each sex should be maintained and protected in regard to outward appearance.

At that time men probably wore a shorter skirt than women and may have carried weapons and tools. Whereas women’s clothing may have used finer materials, vivid colors and distinctive embroidery. This law under the Mosaic covenant isn’t mentioned in the New Testament. But Paul mentions a gender distinction in hair length (1 Cor. 11:14-15). So a possible conclusion is that God still wants His people to do their best to avoid any confusion over gender identity.

We are to respect and honor God’s perfect decision to create us as women or men. We are not to alter our clothing, accessories, cosmetics, hair styles, gait, body language, speech patterns, lifestyles, or anatomy in order to appear to others, or ourselves, to be the opposite sex. To do so is to tell God that His decision to make us a woman or a man was wrong. That is rebellion.

Discussion

The Bible does not give us free rein to choose our sexual preferences and gender identity. Our culture has taken something simple and obvious, and made it complex and complicated.

The entire Biblical context is that of men and women each operating within the biology given to them by the one true God who created all things. God determines our biological sex. And there is no mention of us determining our own gender identity. Any mismatch between the two is a result of human sinfulness. Sin is when one actualizes their own desires that are contrary to God’s desires. When a person says they are a different gender than their biology indicates, they are saying “I know better than God”.

The Bible clearly differentiates between temptations to sin and the committing of sins (Jas. 1:12-16). To have “feelings” of confusion and to experience temptations to adopt a lifestyle of the opposite sex (either temporarily or permanently) is not sinful. But when one gives in to temptation and does anything contrary to God’s will, it’s sinful.

Meanwhile, our culture’s gender stereotypes are often too rigid. Masculinity isn’t only about sports, fighting and womanizing. And femininity isn’t only about dresses or ‘girly’ things. We don’t need a new body, and we don’t need to invent a new gender for ourselves because God doesn’t make mistakes. There is great diversity within the male and female genders, so we don’t need to go outside them to find ourselves.

Life is difficult and we all feel insecure at times. If we find our identity in things that don’t last, we will be disappointed. But we are all made in God’s image and we all have a unique genetic makeup in every cell of our body (Gen. 1:27). That’s a good start, but Christians have a new identity that’s eternal (2 Cor. 5:17). Christians are chosen, loved, accepted, forgiven, possessed by God, and indwelt by God (Eph. 1:3-14; 1 Pt. 2:9-10). They are set apart for God and through Jesus they have direct access to God. And they are to serve God. God has given them this identity and purpose so they can reveal God’s identity to others. And they look forward to spending eternity with God. This is the only robust and secure identity that’s available to us (Heb. 6:19).

The reason we struggle to find our identity and meaning in life, is because we’re separated from God (Rom. 3:23). But Jesus bridged the gap so we can be reconciled with God (Jn. 3:16). If we chose to follow Him, our identity is in Jesus Christ.

Conclusion

The biblical perspective is that human gender is fixed and is connected to biological sex, which is binary (male of female). Gender diversity/fluidity is a rejection of God’s plans for humanity. It’s sinful to change our gender according to individual choice. According to the media, this kind of sin is becoming more prevalent. As believers, like Jesus we can love, help, and serve sinners without condoning, accepting, or compromising with behavior that God deems sinful (Jn. 8:3-11).

Appendix: Facebook’s 71 gender options

Agender (without gender identity; no gender identity)
Androgyne (a combination of masculine and feminine characteristics; ambiguous gender identity)
Androgynes (a combination of masculine and feminine characteristics; ambiguous gender identity)
Androgynous (a mix of female and male characteristics in appearance and dress)
Bigender (changes between masculine and feminine behavior for the situation)
Cis (“cisgender”, gender identity matches biological sex)
Cis Male (male with masculine gender identity)
Cis Man (male with masculine gender identity)
Cis Woman (female with feminine gender identity )
Cisgender (gender identity matches biological sex)
Cisgender Female (female with feminine gender identity)
Cisgender Male (male with masculine gender identity )
Cisgender Man (male with masculine gender identity)
Cisgender Woman (female with feminine gender identity )
Female to Male (female with masculine gender identity)
FTM (“female to male”; female with masculine gender identity)
Gender Fluid (experience an entire range or spectrum of gender identities over time)
Gender Nonconforming (do not dress, behave, or otherwise “fit in” with gender expectations)
Gender Questioning (exploring their gender identity and how to express it)
Gender Variant (gender identity does not conform to socially defined masculine or feminine gender norms)
Genderqueer (embrace a fluidity of gender identity)
Intersex (characteristics are not either all typically male or all typically female)
Male to Female (male with feminine gender identity)
MTF (“male to female”; male with feminine gender identity)
Neither (not putting a label on one’s gender identity)
Neutrois (genderless)
Non-binary (nether masculine or feminine gender identity)
Other (choosing to not provide a commonly recognized label to one’s gender identity)
Pangender (inclusive of gender diverse people)
Trans (gender identity doesn’t match  biological sex)
Trans Female (male with feminine gender identity)
Trans Male (female with masculine gender identity)
Trans Man (female wit masculine gender identity)
Trans Person (gender identity doesn’t match  biological sex)
Trans*Female (male with feminine gender identity)
Trans*Male (female with masculine gender identity)
Trans*Man (female with masculine gender identity)
Trans*Person (gender identity doesn’t match  biological sex)
Trans*Woman (male with feminine gender identity)
Transexual (through surgery and/or hormones, gender identity is opposite to biological sex)
Transexual Female (male with feminine gender identity through surgery and/or hormones)
Transexual Male (female with masculine gender identity through surgery and/or hormones)
Transexual Man (female with masculine gender identity through surgery and/or hormones)
Transexual Person (gender identity is opposite to biological sex)
Transexual Woman (male with feminine gender identity through surgery and/or hormones)
Transgender Female (male with feminine gender identity)
Transgender Person (gender identity doesn’t match biological sex)
Transmasculine (female with masculine gender identity, but not wholly)
Two-spirit (individual spirits are a blend of male and female)
Asexual (lack of sexual attraction to others)
Female to male trans man (female with masculine gender identity)
Female to male transgender man (female with masculine gender identity)
Female to male transsexual man (female with masculine gender identity through surgery and/or hormones)
F2M (“female to male”; female with masculine gender identity )
Gender neutral (without gender; no gender identity)
Hermaphrodite (characteristics are not either all typically male or all typically female)
Intersex man (characteristics are not either all typically male or all typically female, with masculine gender identity)
Intersex person (characteristics are not either all typically male or all typically female)
Intersex woman (characteristics are not either all typically male or all typically female, with feminine gender identity)
Male to female trans woman (male with feminine gender identity)
Male to female transgender woman (male with feminine gender identity)
Male to female transsexual woman (male with feminine gender identity through surgery and/or hormones)
Man (male with masculine gender identity)
M2F (“male to female”; male with feminine gender identity)
Polygender (multiple gender identities)
T* man (female with masculine gender identity)
T* woman (male with feminine gender identity)
Two* person
Two-spirit person (individual spirits are a blend of male and female)
Woman (female with feminine gender identity)

References

Dascalu, O (2014) “The rationale of the ban on cross-dressing in Deuteronomy 22:5”, Andrews University Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary.

Corney, P (2016) “Gender and gender fluidity: A Christian response”

Written, September 2018

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