Popping the Gender Balloon concluding the Gender Agenda 

Will the trend to define your gender in a myriad of ways last? I suspect that in a few years people will look back in bemusement at our gender obsessions, although maybe that is wishful thinking, after all gender is now an industry, it creates jobs from academia to counsellors, charities and clinics to the toy industry’s explosions of pink not to mention the myriad of online discussion forums and advertising revenue for vloggers. Yet despite all of this I know teenagers who are beginning to find the whole discussion boring and irrelevant. Identity politics polarises people between the evangelists and the skeptics. Millennials are not generally speaking out against this and seem to be hurtling headlong into new understandings of gender identities but I think the tumult will subside (just not quickly). Voices from older generations have voiced strong concerns: controversial figures like Germaine Greer [1], and others like writers Ian McEwan (who following an intense backlash retracted his remarks) [2] and Lionel Shriver who wrote a long piece for Prospect magazine entitled ‘gender good for nothing’ [3]. In a recent interview Shriver said this:

‘Identity politics is a very restrictive way of thinking about both oneself and other people and I’m dismayed by the whole movement.I feel that it’s all going in the wrong direction. It’s encouraging us to think of each other in terms of stereotypes and little boxes. It’s also encouraging people to cling to disadvantage as a weapon. Never mind that it’s a weapon — that means that you’re clinging to your disadvantage. That’s not helpful. It means that you’re attached to it and you don’t want it to go away.’ [4]

It may be that the trend to construct a variety of gender identities will become less fashionable or it may be that we are entering into a new way of understanding humanity that will stay for many generations. The way gender is understood today is very new and the jury is out as to whether or not it will stick. As Christians we have to get our heads around the culture in which we live because we want to communicate the gospel into it. We don’t want to just dismiss ideas because they are different and likewise we don’t want to just absorb them uncritically.

So how should we respond to all this gender identity stuff?

1.We need to understand how gender is perceived and then move on beyond the narrow constructs of the word. I am convinced that our fixation on gender is unhelpful and distracting. We need to insist on our identity as being so much more than our gender. We are created in Gods image, we have all rejected God and all of us are broken but Jesus came to rescue us and restore us. Our primary identity is as God’s created creatures, made in his image, male and female, needing rescue but in Christ given a new identity greater than anything we can imagine.This is the message we all need, cisgender and transgender alike. Before Him we are all equal, in Him we are all equal. Our message is that our relationship with Him matters more than our ability to be comfortable with ourselves and our concepts of gender identity. Our identity does not come from our internalised view of ourselves but from our heavenly creator. We need to understand ourselves as created beings, called to fear the Lord more than we need to understand ourselves as gendered beings. It matters where our focus is — outward at God not inward on ourselves. Peter Sanlon says this:‘Jesus, not sexual gender, is the lens through which the universe was designed to be viewed’[4]. As we walk with Christ we are not yet what we will be, and each of us carries a multitude of different burdens, different hurts, and different temptations; we experience struggle but trying to define ourselves without acknowledging God does not bring wholeness however we try to do it.

2.We must lose the baggage we bring to the table when we think about what it means to      be godly men and women and instead ask ourselves what it means to be godly in our relationships with each other, as wives, husbands, parents, children, brothers and sisters , members of churches,etc. We express our gender in the way we relate to others but we have huge freedom to express ourselves in a variety of ways. Men and women are different but as soon as we try to pin that difference down we end up prescribing things in ways that are unhelpful. When navigating how we live as gendered beings we need to understand the boundaries and freedom God has given us. I am not sure if I really know what it means for me to be a woman or even what it feels like but I do know what it means for me to be a wife and a mother and I have huge freedom in how I fulfil those responsibilities. In as much as I  live out my gender it is lived out in relation to others rather than an internalised identity. My gender is not about focusing on myself as much as focusing on others. We must teach beyond gender and return to the basic principles of scripture. Let’s burst the gender balloon not inflate it.

3. Finally I hope that as we share the gospel with those who are transgendered they may experience a new freedom by discovering their identity in Christ and be less burdened by their sense of dysphoria. I pray that our churches may welcome them and support them to be godly in the relationships that they already have particularly if they are husbands or wives or parents. I pray that we will learn to be patient with those whose sense of self is different from our binary views and that we will not demand things from such individuals that God does not ask. We have a poor track record in this area having historically treated those who battle same sex attraction in a condemnatory way. We need to be very gentle with each other , after all we are all of us muddy when it comes to living out our lives in relationship to others and many of us have things to repent of; we all live with both dignity and damage.

I share the vision of Mark Yarhouse:

‘I know many people who are navigating gender identity concerns who love Jesus and are desperately seeking to honour him. I think it would be a mistake to see these individuals as rebellious (as a group) or as projects. Some do identify as transgender or use others labels or ways of naming their reality, and I would like the church to provide a supportive environment for them as they navigate this difficult terrain. Rather than reject the person facing such conflicts, the Christian community would do well to recognise the conflict and try to work with the person to find the least invasive ways to manage the gender identity concerns’ .[6]

Finally the gender agenda challenges us to think again about what it means to be godly as men and women. Amidst the confusion and brokenness of our fallen world this is a chance for us to examine and lose the unhelpful baggage we have collected over generations from culture and reflect afresh on our identity and calling in Christ.

[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7B8Q6D4a6TM

[2] https://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/apr/06/biology-not-always-destiny-says-ian-mcewan-after-transgender-row

[3] http://www.prospectmagazine.co.uk/magazine/gender-good-for-nothing

[4] http://www.spiked-online.com/spiked-review/article/i-wont-ask-permission-to-say-what-i-want#.WHO2orGcbq0

[5] Peter Sanlon  Plastic People - how queer theory is changing us  The Latimer Trust

[6] Mark A. Yarhouse, Understanding Gender Dysphoria, IVP

    © 2020 Karen Soole