A Christian vision for gender non-conforming boys

Slate.com has an article about a youth camp for gender non-conforming boys. It’s a retreat for prepubescent young men who behave in ways that are feminine. The camp provides a place for parents and children to feel “protected” as these young boys act out in ways that they wouldn’t normally do in public. The article pictures boys wearing dresses, parading down runways, and putting on makeup—all of it with their smiling parents looking on in approval.

The article—and especially the pictures—are grieving for more reasons than I will enumerate here. But there was one particular line from the report that stood out to me as uniquely revealing. Here it is:

Although it is unknown if the kids at the camp will eventually identify as gay or transgender—or even if the way gender and sexuality are defined throughout society will evolve—the camp allows the kids to look at themselves in a completely different way.

The utter moral confusion of that one sentence is astonishing. According to this author, it’s not just these boys’ gender that is unknown. It’s also the very definition of “gender and sexuality” that is still up for grabs. It is an unwitting admission that the sexual revolutionaries and gender revisionists don’t really know where they are trying to lead us. Yet they confidently call us and our children forward to follow them over the cliff.

This is exactly where the Christian vision of humanity has so much to offer people like the ones profiled in this article. The Bible puts solid ground beneath our feet so that we don’t have to guess at what it means to be male and female—so that parents don’t have to sow even more confusion into their child’s bewilderment.

The spirit of the age tells us that gender is nothing more than a social construct—a set of behavioral patterns and tendencies that we absorb from our culture and upbringing. In this way of thinking, gender norms are arbitrary and fluid. Thus to raise a little boy to be a little boy can be cruel and abusive if that little boy wishes to behave like a girl. Gender is a choose-your-own-adventure story, and the parent’s job is to get out of the way and let it happen.

The Christian vision is so very different from this and so very freeing and affirming of what we were really meant to be before God. In the biblical view, every single person is created in the image of God. God did not make us into undifferentiated genderless automatons. On the contrary, he made us male and female (Gen. 1:26-27), and that fundamental biological distinction defines us. Gender norms, therefore, have their roots in God’s good creation and are revealed in nature and scripture. The task of parenting requires us to understand those norms and to inculcate them into our children—even those children who have deep conflicts about their “gender identity.”

But the parental vocation is not an easy one. We are a fallen race. That means that we—as well as our children—are born with deep-seated antipathy toward what God made us to be. There is a brokenness in our bones that groans to be healed. As the Psalmist has it, we have all been brought forth in iniquity and conceived in sin (Psalm 51:5). A parent’s job, therefore, is not to “get out of the way” but to get in the way of every disposition or habit that threatens to derail what God made children to be (Prov. 22:6). Parents who refuse to correct the destructive tendencies in their own children aren’t loving their children. They’re failing their children (Deut. 6:6-7).

And therein is the singular tragedy of this story. Camps like the one profiled above teach parents to abandon children to their fallenness. They celebrate the very brokenness that Jesus died on the cross to forgive and to heal (1 Pet. 2:24). They confuse and distort not only gender norms but also what the role of a parent is—to know the truth and to teach their children to walk in it (3 John 4). To miss this is to miss everything about what it means to be a parent. And it is to miss everything about what it means to be created in God’s image as male and female. In short, it is to miss everything that is most important about life.

As the sexual revolutionaries rally with cries of “liberation,” they are steadily leading us and our children over a cliff. Are you going to follow?

31 Responses to A Christian vision for gender non-conforming boys

  1. Barry Deutsch July 24, 2013 at 3:33 am #

    i don’t think you’re right, Denny. When the country was run more according to your principals, lesbians and gays were raised to think of themselves as perverts, undeserving of respect or love. It’s horribly painful to grow up like that, and for most genderqueer people, right-wing Christianity has never offered any relief. Or any kindness.

    (There are a small number of lesbian and gay Christians who have found contentment and happiness in Christianity and, sometimes,in chastity. Good for them! But the large majority who will not be able to find happiness that way do not deserve to live lives of self-hatred and misery.)

    How do you know what’s best for all those kids at this camp? What makes you think you know what’s best for them better than their parents do?

    • Andrew Orlovsky July 24, 2013 at 7:45 am #

      Barry, I agree that Christians need to show more love to genderqueer people, but I do not believe true love is simply affirming these actions and further encouraging them to rebel against their God given gender in favor a state that is the result of the fall of man. Are you a Christian? If not, I could understand how you can be confused talk of what is God given and the fall of man, but as a Christian I cannot simply support moral relativism and believe that all value systems are equal. The truth is that none of us are deserving of God’s love, which makes that fact that God chooses to love us anyway even more amazing. The least we can do is further trust in him to conform our wills to his, even if it means giving up something we think is pleasure.

      Also, for all the talk above love from liberals, because of our society’s gender confusion, an increasing amount men are seeing no reason whatsoever to get married. This is resulting an a huge increase of chilren raised by single mothers and therefore, an increasing number of children these days are being denied the love of a father.

      • Barry Deutsch July 25, 2013 at 2:02 am #

        Andrew, I guess I’d like to see Christians – and you’re right, I’m not Christian – practice a little humility for once. I know that you think that your sneering at these children’s parents is just doing what God tells you to, but every single cruelty practiced by the Christians of decades past upon lgbt people was thought of by those Christians as just doing what God told THEM to do.

        Those past Christians, who tried to use the force of law to punish lgbt people, who condemned and ostracized them, who approved of “cures” such as shock treatments – they were not stupider than you are. They were not less loving than you are. They were not less devout than you are.

        Yet, by current lights, even most Christians would say they were mistaken about what God wanted them to do, and the way they treated lgbt people were wrong. Why do you think that you can’t be mistaken, if they were mistaken? Do you think you’re better than they were? Shouldn’t Christians, given their history of being not just wrong but cruel when dealing with sexual minorities, practice restraint rather than leaping to judgement?

        Regarding parenthood, there’s a lot to talk about regarding how to respond to changes in marriage rates, but blaming the crisis on little boys who want to wear dresses and look pretty is both ridiculous and scapegoating.

  2. Alonzo "Zo" Thomas July 24, 2013 at 5:24 am #

    Denny, you are so right. But we are a society that increasingly flaunts our “independence” in God’s face. We put Him ” in the dock” thinking the created has every right to judge the Creator.
    There is increasing pain to come as we deny God’s ways for us.

  3. Jacob Holman July 24, 2013 at 8:28 am #

    I can’t for the life of me understand why anyone would have a problem with giving effeminate boys a space to be free to be themselves. Honestly, why do you care so much? How does it hurt you?

    • buddyglass July 25, 2013 at 9:11 am #

      It’s perceived as per se harmful to the children involved. To the ears of someone who looks askance at this camp your question might as well be, “I can’t for the life of me understand why anyone would have a problem with abusing a child. Honestly, why do you care so much? How does it hurt you?”

      You can, of course, disagree with the idea that the camp is harmful, but the idea that nobody should care about what happens to kids unless it directly impacts them personally is hard to support.

  4. Don Johnson July 24, 2013 at 8:32 am #

    I think Denny is being way too simplistic in his analysis of gender. There is no discussion of intersex people, for example. It is simply not true that every human is born male or female and the very first thing is to acknowledge that truth when speaking on gender.

    • Denny Burk July 24, 2013 at 8:44 am #

      I have a chapter that deals with intersex in my forthcoming book. I wrote what I wrote with full awareness of such persons.

      • Chris Ryan July 24, 2013 at 8:04 pm #

        Is there anything you can share, Denny? Like the Song of Solomon this topic doesn’t come up much with Christians, lol.

  5. James Hewitt July 24, 2013 at 10:34 am #

    I agree with Denny. Not because its my opinion, or because its Denny’s, but because its God’s word. He says it, so I believe it. People ask, “who are you to say?” My response is, I am no one, and my opinion does not matter one little bit. My opinion and thoughts and feelings are flawed, that is why I rely on what God has said is truth. Those children should be loved and cared for and shown affection and protected. But God says that they even need protecting from themselves, from there own faulty thinking and desires. We are all born in the same condition, born with a sin nature that only God can cure. Just because we desire something does not mean it is good for us. I have a younger sister that when she was very young, had a desire to eat dirt and drink Ketchup strait from the bottle. You could say she was born with the desire to do it. We didn’t foster those desires, we corrected them. I know that is a silly simplistic example, but it demonstrates a valid principle. Just because you want, desire or feel a certain way, does not mean it is good for you.

    • Tom Parker July 24, 2013 at 1:15 pm #

      James: I agree with you; the example you gave about your sister is silly and simplistic.

  6. Nathan Cesal July 24, 2013 at 11:22 am #

    You and the Bible are correct.. I was made male and female.

    I know that’s not what you meant. You make a lot of conclusions based on those 2 verses in Genesis that aren’t supported elsewhere in the Bible and which conveniently support your preconceived ideas of gender.

  7. Mike Little July 24, 2013 at 12:46 pm #

    “A parent’s job, therefore, is not to “get out of the way” but to get in the way of every disposition or habit that threatens to derail what God made children to be (Prov. 22:6).” God made each of us so unique Denny. You seem to be advocating the old line that boys must play with trucks, like to wrestle and throw some sort of ball — and girls must play with dolls, be fascinated with cooking and like styling hair. Maybe, just maybe, parents that try to force these stereotypes on children are the ones “getting in the way” of what God intended that child to be — be it a boy that loves theater or a girl that likes to build. As a parent of three VERY unique kids, I can say that my job is to walk beside them and allow them to become all that God has created them to be.

  8. Suzanne McCarthy July 24, 2013 at 5:31 pm #

    Sounds kind of like what camping does for girls. Wear cutoffs, paddle your own canoe, start your own campfire, climb your own trees, set up your own tent. Women get away with this kind of behavior all the time. Men just think women don’t do these things, but I know numerous women who camp with all female friends, or camp on their own. The secret life of women – all good.

  9. James Bradshaw July 24, 2013 at 5:41 pm #

    “Gender norms” are often arbitrary. Our founding fathers wore silk stockings and powdered wigs. Pink used to be considered a boy’s color, while blue was denoted as feminine. Women used to be consigned to the kitchen, but now even conservatives will support a woman in high public office. There are heterosexual male chefs.

    It’s fine to talk about biology, but let’s remember that many cultural associations we have with gender have nothing to do with that at all.

    • Chris Ryan July 24, 2013 at 8:02 pm #

      I think this is an instance where I find Denny and James both right. As James was saying gender “norms” are highly specific to time and place. In other countries behaviors which mark effeminate or homosexual behavior may instead mark heterosexual behavior. This was reinforced on a trip to India when I noticed numerous men walking hand in hand, or walking with their arms around each other, or dancing with one another. This is in a country that’s scandalized by on screen kissing scenes, lol! Holding hands, draping arms over one another, and dancing with each other simply did not have a romantic/sexual connotation. Of course we’re all familiar with European men who kiss one another as a greeting even though they’re heterosexual.

      Gender behavior even varies here in the US over time. As James says pink wasn’t for girls & blue for boys until big retailers told us it was so—beginning ~1940. Until then it was often the reverse. The Smithsonian has a great, brief article abt this here: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/When-Did-Girls-Start-Wearing-Pink.html#ixzz1SqlaDyO9 Be sure to take a look at the picture of FDR as a kid. By today’s standards he looks like a girl, but he grew up to be heterosexual. Hence gender norms are just not fixed. A more recent example: Ten years ago soap was soap. Now if you walk into Target there’s a woman’s soap aisle and men’s soap aisle. The Ivory liquid soap I’ve bought for years is now found on the woman’s aisle. Ivory soap has been sold for 140 years, how did it suddenly become feminine? Does that suddenly make me gay for buying it? One more: Up until Michael Jordan men who wore earrings were considered gay. Not so anymore.

      Where I agree with Denny—and here liberals & LGBT activists will probably strongly disagree with me—is that because much (most?) of gender is socially defined, there’s no way to tell at an early age if a child suffers from gender dysphoria. Liking pink or playing with Barbie dolls is not a sign. My younger brother wanted to be Wonder Woman as a little kid b/cs she had an invisible plane; he’s a happily married heterosexual man today. The best thing a parent can do is to simply remain neutral on their kid’s gender non-conforming behavior. They’ll grow out of it.

      There are parents on both the Right & the Left who use their kids to grind their political ax. Some of those on the Left take the fact that their son likes pink as some sign that they’re transgender. I think what really exposes that is the recent case in Colorado where a parent of triplets sued their school district to let one son use the girl’s restroom on the grounds that he was transgender. Since these 3 kids have the exact same DNA, how is it that 1 kid could be transgender and the other 2 not be? Sometimes its not politics at all but just personal desire. Some dads simply want a baby boy & some women simply want a baby girl and despite gender they just push their kids into these roles by reinforcing behavior that fits what they want. That’s as lamentable as parents who disown their kids b/cs they’re LGBT… So, yeah, I feel really sorry for these kids.

      (sorry for the length! I’ve enjoyed people’s comments!)

      • Barry Deutsch July 25, 2013 at 12:23 pm #

        Chris, thanks for that excellent comment. But I do disagree with you about some things.

        It is true, of course, that “there’s no way to tell at an early age if a child suffers from gender dysphoria.” A little kid going through a temporary phase, and a little kid expressing a lifetime preference, look alike. I’m surprised that you think liberals & LGTB activists would disagree with that; it seems like common sense to me, and I’m a liberal.

        “The best thing a parent can do is to simply remain neutral on their kid’s gender non-conforming behavior. They’ll grow out of it.” I agree that “remaining neutral” is the thing to do, as long as that doesn’t forbid being supportive about the child’s genuine interests. (There’s nothing wrong with sending a little boy who love dressing up to a dress-up event or camp, any more than there’s something wrong with sending a little boy who loves baseball to a baseball event or camp.) My nephew goes to baseball camp because he’s mad for baseball; that doesn’t mean his parents are committing him to loving baseball his whole life long.

        Also, you’re mistaken to say “they’ll grow out of it.” Sometimes they will (probably most of the time), sometimes they won’t. Either way should be fine.

        Finally, you apparently don’t realize that there are multiple cases of twins in which one twin is transgender and the other twin is not. (Google the story of Nicole Maines – Nicole’s parents initially resisted her gender identity, rather than pushing it on her). One possible explanation for this is that, although twins (and triplets) DNA is identical, their prenatal environments might not have been – for example, about a third of identical twins have separate placentas – which can have large consequences for future development.

        I simply don’t buy that there are large numbers of liberal parents forcing their unwilling children into transgender lives. Aside from your triples example – which is based on a false assumption – is there any evidence for this extraordinary claim?

        • Chris Ryan July 25, 2013 at 2:28 pm #

          Hi, Barry. I never said there were large #s of such parents. I think the # of parents who encourage/support their children’s non-conforming behavior is quite small actually, so I don’t think there are many stats on it. My belief is based on interviews of parents I’ve seen.

          In terms of growing out of it abt 90% of kids grow out of it if I recall my stats correctly…In terms of support/encouragement I think sending a kid to such a camp encourages the behavior. Very small things–“Atta boy!” or tousling their hair or patting their back–are perceived by kids as rewards. If the child is simply going through a phase, you shouldn’t do anything that might encourage them to lengthen the phase. About the worst thing that can happen if you send your kid to a baseball camp is that they twist their ankle; gender dysphoria, however, is a serious condition and parents should avoid doing anything that might exacerbate a phase. There are plenty of things to praise your kids for other than gender non-conforming behavior.

          There are obviously children who do suffer from gender dysphoria, just like there are children who suffer from claustrophobia or agoraphobia. I think by being neutral parents can better isolate those kids who really do suffer from gender dysphoria rather than encourage a kid who isn’t to behave as if they are. We know very little abt gender dysphoria & the neutral approach seems the best approach to me, but I understand that psychologists debate it back & forth.

  10. Akash Charles July 24, 2013 at 8:55 pm #

    Voluntarily deciding to wear a DRESS and put on make up so as to act like a girl is completely different from all the examples given above where most are passing phases- playing with dolls etc ( also what the heck does camping have to do with masculinity- last I read women have been setting up tents for 1000’s of years!!!)

    all I see here is an agenda to try an eliminate gender differences between boys and girls- unfortunately for them one puberty kicks in the differences are pretty clear!!!- hence why they try to convince their child that just because they play with dolls or like pink are a different gender ( SERIOUSLY?!!!!!!) so that they can give them hormonal treatment to prevent the normalising process of puberty

    also nothing wrong with teaching your son to play with lego or trucks and same for your daughter too

    some people here doubt that male chefs are heterosexual???– pls look through history most of the bakers and cooks etc happened to be male!!!

    also considering the fact that men are raised to be extremely unambitious and as weak as possible these days ( much to the delight of feminists etc) I hope more father raise their boys to be tough- nothing wrong with that- if you raise your daughters to be tough why not your sons?!!!

  11. buddyglass July 24, 2013 at 11:33 pm #

    The flip side to this camp are conservative, Christian parents who have overly narrow visions of “maleness” and “femaleness” and cause their children no small amount of pain trying to shoehorn them into those boxes.

  12. Denny Burk July 24, 2013 at 11:45 pm #

    Hello, all. Thanks for your comments. Just for clarification, when I talk about gender norms I have in mind the norms established by scripture, not cultural stereotypes that may or may not have anything to do with manhood and womanhood as the Bible defines them.

    • Nathan Cesal July 25, 2013 at 1:39 am #

      Please elaborate. I would like a Biblical description of masculinity and femininity untainted by current cultural influences.

      I personally don’t think such definitions exist. If I’m wrong, I would like to know.

      • Akash Charles July 26, 2013 at 9:15 am #

        first few chapters of Genesis instructing what Adam has to do and what Eve had to do is clear enough

        • buddyglass July 26, 2013 at 9:31 am #

          1. Dominion over the animals: both sexes.
          2. Made in God’s image: both sexes.
          3. Be fruitful and multiply: both sexes.
          4. Work and keep the garden: given to the man.

          Or were you talking about Genesis 3:16-19? Those certainly seem more descriptive than proscriptive.

    • buddyglass July 25, 2013 at 2:23 am #

      Pardon the expression as applied to the Bible, but “the devil’s in the details”. Some folks find scriptural support for certain gender norms while other folks dispute them as being scriptural. As an extreme example, I’ve it argued (from the Bible) that women shouldn’t wear pants.

  13. Suzanne McCarthy July 25, 2013 at 3:26 pm #

    Curiously, beauty itself is distributed equally to men and women in Hebrew. Joseph is described in identical terms as his mother Rachel. Both are yafeh toar and yafeh mar’eh, beautiful in form and appearance. In English, of course, Joseph is “handsome and well-built.” It is easy to prove from the English Bible that men and women have different attributes, but I don’t think it can be done from the Hebrew.

  14. Paul Reed July 26, 2013 at 7:51 am #

    So many people on here see trying to help these effeminate or gay kids as being like a doctor who performs unnecessarily surgery on a healthy child, and gets him sick. What we do is iatrogenic in secular eyes, as well as to people who know nothing of the power of the gospel.

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