How should we think about the growing number of children being told they are transgender? A recent YouTube video from parents of a six-year-old transgender child named Ryland went viral, with well over six million views in just a couple of weeks. A beautiful little girl announced she was a boy, insisted she was a boy. Her parents’ research apparently was limited to LGBT (lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender) sources, and they decided to raise her as a boy, cut her hair like a boy, dress her like a boy, and use male pronouns to feed her illusion that she is a boy. The internet exploded with enthusiastic praise for this family.
That’s the key: we need to understand that this is really a worldview issue. Perspective is crucial. Where you start makes all the difference. If you leave God out of it, starting with the person trying to make sense of the feeling that one’s body is not aligned with their internal sense of gender, then confusion is inevitable. If people feel free to define themselves as they wish, then sex and gender can be seen as elastic or fluid—and manipulatable. It’s the modern-day expression of an Old Testament phenomenon that never worked out well, when “every man did what was right in his own eyes” in the times of the Judges (Judges 17:6).
But if you start with God as creator, with the right to choose a baby’s gender, then that makes a huge difference. When baby Ryland’s birth was announced with a happy, “It’s a girl!”—God was speaking His intention for her identity and her life.
Sometimes children try on alternate identities—girls saying they are boys, boys saying they are horses. Parents are responsible for modeling logic and wisdom (not to mention life experience) in their response to this kind of proclamation. When Ryland started screaming “I’m a boy,” it was a perfect opportunity to ask some critical thinking (and critically important) questions: “What is a boy?” “Why don’t you like being a girl?” Their video says that Ryland “began to show aversion to anything feminine.” This, of course, is the story of many girls whom God created as tomboys, who don’t like the stereotypical pink-girly-girl attributes our culture labels as feminine. The problem is not an aversion to pink frills; the problem is a too-narrow definition of femininity. [Please see my post The Gender Spectrum.]
If Ryland’s parents continue down the path of other parents who enable their children to feed the unrealistic fantasy that they can choose to be anything they want, including the other gender, that will include giving Ryland powerful hormones to suppress puberty, and other powerful hormones to cause her body to mimic maleness: muscle mass, a stubble, a deeper voice, more body hair. But as one girl who stopped taking testosterone put it, “This is not who you are. You are hiding behind a chemically induced mask.” No hormones or surgery can turn Ryland into a male. Nothing will change her XX chromosomes. Most boys grow up to become fathers, but she can never father a child. She is NOT a boy, she will NEVER be a man. It is neither loving nor wise to cooperate with confusion, which will only get worse with age.
When adults tell a child “you are transgender,” and the child then parrots that idea, both the parents and the child get something right and something wrong. The something right is an awareness of a heartbreaking brokenness, which is what can happen in a fallen world. The something wrong is the diagnosis of what is broken: it’s not their body, it’s their feelings. Transgender transition and therapy try to change the part that is healthy (one’s body) and bring it into alignment with what is broken (one’s thinking and feeling).
To return to a biblical perspective: God says, “Be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:2). Regardless of what the situation, whenever our thinking and feelings are out of alignment with God’s intention, we need to submit our will and our thinking to the transforming power of God. What does that look like? Speaking the truth to oneself, encouraged by other truth-speakers. In the case of those struggling with their gender: “God made me female (or male), and I choose to trust that He is good and He knows what He’s doing. I surrender my beliefs and feelings about femaleness (or maleness) to Him. I choose to pursue intimacy with Him over my own sense of self, and allow Him to change me from the inside out.”
It’s not easy, but it’s always the right thing to choose the truth over an illusion. Over a lie.
This blog post originally appeared at blogs.bible.org/tapestry/sue_bohlin/transgender_children on June 17, 2014.