Many people treat gender identity conflicts and sexual orientation as if they are the same. If a sexual orientation is something you are born with and is thus immutable (a claim I would contest as a Christian), then gender identity must work the same way. It’s something you’re born with and can’t be changed. If therefore a child embraces a gender identity at odds with his/her biological sex, then it would be harmful and wrong to try and change that gender identity to align with the child’s biological sex. It would be harmful and wrong in the same way that trying to change sexual orientation is harmful and wrong.
Because trying to change a child’s mind is harmful and wrong, the best way to deal with gender identity conflicts in children is to try and change the body. And so more and more, hormone suppression and cross-dressing are prescribed to young children who experience gender identity conflicts. The cross-dressing establishes them socially in their preferred gender. Hormone suppression prepares their bodies for gender reassignment surgery at a later point—because again, changing the body is less harmful than trying to change the mind. At least that’s how the politically correct orthodoxy has developed.
This way of thinking is very common but has many problems from a Christian perspective. To begin with, to say that same-sex attraction cannot be changed contradicts studies that have shown orientation to be more fluid than some people think. More importantly, denying it can change flies in the face of core Christian teaching that grace can transform even the most intractable of sins (2 Cor. 3:18).
But even if we grant that people tend to experience same-sex attraction as a more fixed, stable reality, it does not follow that gender identity conflicts work the same way. In fact, the data indicate that these conflicts are very fluid. And that most children grow out of them with no intervention at all.
And that is why a column in today’s Wall Street Journal is so important. The author is a Canadian scholar named Deborah Soh, and the article is titled “The Transgender Battle Line: Childhood.” Soh is not by any stretch of the imagination writing from a Christian perspective. In fact, some of her opinions are not consistent with Christian teaching at all. Nevertheless, she does show that political ideology is now having a distorting influence over how people think about transgenderism. The result is that progressives are ignoring and even suppressing scientific claims about transgenderism, and they are doing so at children’s expense. She concludes:
The most current science has been trumped purely because it is at odds with the dominant political view concerning transgender development. We don’t allow children to vote or get tattoos, yet in the name of progressive thinking we are allowing them to choose serious biomedical interventions with permanent and irreversible results.
The silencing of those who oppose this sends the message to parents that early transitioning is the only valid and ethical approach for a gender-dysphoric child. This message—pushing children to transition at increasingly younger ages so that they will fit neatly into one of two gender categories—is false and unscientific.
Indeed it is, but this is precisely where we find ourselves now. We are telling children that it is less harmful for them to change their body than it is for them to change their mind—that it is less harmful to amputate fully functioning limbs than to alter the way that they perceive their gender identity. Read about the 16-year old girl, for instance, who underwent a double-mastectomy under the influence of this kind of thinking. This is a contradiction that defies common sense, but it has nevertheless taken hold. And it is one that ultimately hurts the children that it purports to help.
Christians cannot give in to the distortions of this particular political ideology. We must recognize that it is not only harmful to children but to everyone who is swayed by it. Why? Because it contradicts what God has revealed to us about ourselves and about His intention for us. Scripture teaches that God has made us in his image as male and female (Gen. 1:26-28). This sexual binary is one that Jesus himself recognized and affirmed as good and right (Matt. 19:4). Understanding this binary used to be common sense, and this understanding is no less true even if it is less common.
This latest “transgender battle line” points to a much deeper spiritual rot. It exposes what has always been at the heart of the sexual revolution. The Creator’s purposes for male and female must give way to the creature’s autonomous will. If a guy feels like he’s a girl, then he is one even if his biology says otherwise. The Creator’s distinction between male and female must bend to accommodate the sovereign will of the creature. Thus changing the body is better than changing the mind.
Even though in a fallen world people do experience gender identity conflicts, the scripture reveals a normative connection between biological sex and gender identity. Attempts to change the body instead of changing the mind, therefore, are an attempt to suppress the truth in unrighteousness (Rom. 1:18). That means that gender identity conflicts—in children or in adults—should be resolved in keeping with one’s biological sex. It is neither loving nor compassionate to conceal this truth from our neighbors—especially from the children.