The transgender debate is complex and multi-layered, including physical, psychological, social, cultural, political, moral, and religious components. In this this article, we limit ourselves to a brief theological evaluation of gender dysphoria and transgenderism based upon three significant biblical teachings.
Creation & God’s Design
The first significant biblical teaching is found in the first chapter of the first book of the Bible: “In the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (Gen. 1:27). God created human beings in his image as the culmination of the created order, with the distinction between male and female being essential to his design. He created men and women with equal dignity and worth, but with different characteristics. The differences are intended by God, and they are not interchangeable.
This means that God is the ultimate authority in the transgender debate. He designed human beings as male or female, and we should tremble to override the Creator’s design. Attempts to supersede the Creator’s design, in truth, are futile. It cannot be done. When people reject God’s design for them, they are in a very real way rejecting God. Adam and Eve were designed to have fellowship with God and obey his commandments. The moment they deviated from this and pursued an alternate plan, human history began its spiral toward destruction. Rejecting God’s design is a weighty matter.
God designed the world in a specific manner, and when we attempt to nullify or suppress that design, we will meet with frustration and failure. Despite today’s technological advances, our bodies have limits and are not endlessly pliable. We are designed beings; no matter how hard we try to suppress God’s design, we cannot. The blueprint can’t be erased.
A good example of this reality is the 2014 women’s mixed martial arts bout between Tamikka Brents and Fallon Fox. During a two-minute beating, Brents suffered a concussion, an orbital bone fracture, and needed seven staples to close wounds on her head. “I’ve fought a lot of women and have never felt the strength that I felt in a fight as I did that night,” said Brents.
As it turns out, Fallon Fox wasn’t born female. She is a biological male who identifies as transgender. Brents thought Fox had an unfair advantage. “I can’t answer whether it’s because she was born a man or not because I’m not a doctor,” said Brents. “I can only say, I’ve never felt so overpowered ever in my life, and I am an abnormally strong female in my own right.”
I’m not surprised that the first instances of transgenderism in athletics are flowing in this direction. I haven’t heard of any biological women who claim to be men in order to compete against men. Nor do I expect to. The physical differences are so overwhelming that professional female fighters cannot compete effectively against other professional male fighters.
Most sports activities are segregated by sex because of biological reality. On average, men are physically stronger than women because we have, on average, more total muscle mass. Men also have greater cardiovascular reserve, greater lung volume per body mass, denser and stronger bones, tendons, and ligaments. These factors give men a natural physical advantage over women in sports. This physical difference doesn’t mean that men are, ontologically, better or more important than women. But it should be obvious that they’re different. And that is why, until recently, public policy made these biological distinctions the basis for issuing sex-segregated policies concerning restroom usage and housing policies in college.
The Fall and Disorientation
The second significant teaching follows on the heels of the first. As I just mentioned, Adam and Eve decided to reject God so they could control their own lives (Gen 3). It didn’t go well for them, just like it doesn’t go well for us when we usurp his authority. At the bottom of our rejection of God is our false belief that we will not be satisfied unless we act on our heart’s desires. That rejection is now part of the warp and woof of our society, which is actively encouraging the next generation to “look within” for true meaning, to “follow your heart” and “be true to yourself” in order to find freedom. It sounds appealing, but it’s the same lie Adam and Eve bought into in the Garden.
It is a dangerous mistake for those who experience gender dysphoria to take the concrete steps of changing their gender identity. Although it is not a sin to experience confusion about one’s gender, it is a sin to try to alter the gender identity assigned by God himself. And like all sin, it promises life and delivers death. The current media depiction of transgenderism is one of liberation from bondage: trapped in the wrong body, transgender people are given a chance—through medical marvels—to become who they really are. But actual experience shows that gender dysphoria goes much deeper than this. It can’t be “fixed” with surgery, and we don’t help things by pretending that it can.
People with gender dysphoria may have a unique struggle, but in the most important ways, they are like the rest of us. They are born with broken bodies, just like you and me. They experience suffering and temptation, just like you and me. The answer lies not in ignoring suffering or succumbing to temptation, but in offering up our broken bodies to God. This may not be easy, but it is the only path to true freedom and life.
Redemption and Reorientation
That’s the third significant biblical teaching: God offers to save us from our sin and—eventually—to restore us entirely. In other words, he makes one offer we can take him up on immediately: he will save us from our sins and transform our hearts in the here-and-now. And he makes a promise for the future, that he will return one day to fix the brokenness of this world and the brokenness of our minds and bodies.
For a person experiencing gender dysphoria, this means that God offers to transform their hearts so they can love God. It means it’s possible to live according to the way God designed them and their bodies. This won’t be magical, and it certainly won’t be immediate. God doesn’t promise he’ll right now put an end to their dysphoria, to their desires to live like a member of the opposite sex. That may persist until their dying day. But he does promise that if they’ll wait patiently for him to return and set the world aright, they will finally experience life without the temptation to live differently than God’s design.
[Note: The current post is the third installment in a five-part series, “Evangelical Guide to Transgenderism,” including an introduction, a brief explanation of significant terms, a biblical evaluation of gender identity and gender dysphoria, a reflection on relating to individuals with gender dysphoria, and a response to transgenderism as an ideology and a movement.]