Some people argue that because babies are occasionally born inter-sex, “male” and “female” are not clear categories, but that everyone is on a spectrum with completely male at one end and completely female at the other. They also say that our bodies don’t have to define whether we are a man or a woman, but that if someone’s feelings don’t match their body, they should be able to decide whether they want to be recognized as male or female—or perhaps as “non-binary” or “gender non-conforming,” meaning they don’t want to be recognized as either a man or a woman.
Someone who was born with a male body but later identifies as a woman would be described today as a trans or transgender woman, and someone who was born with a female body but identifies as a man would be described as a trans or transgender man. Transgender people often take new names. For example, someone called John might switch to Jane and ask people to talk about “she” or “her” instead of “he” or “him.” Someone who identifies as non-binary or gender non-conforming might ask to be talked about as “they.” So what does Christianity say about all of this?
To begin with, it’s important for us to listen to other people and understand their feelings and experiences. When I was a kid, I didn’t want to wear dresses and play with dolls. I wanted to sword fight with my brother in the woods. My mum made me do ballet. I hated it. Someone once gave me a pink “My Little Pony” for my birthday. I flushed it down the toilet. (Don’t try this: it’s really bad for the toilet!) I don’t recall wanting to be a boy. That was never an option in my mind. But at my all-girls school, I acted every male role I could. As a teenager, I never wanted to paint my nails, wear makeup, shop for clothes, or talk about boys. Girly things weren’t my thing.
Some teens feel like I did, except much, much more. They feel like the body they were born with doesn’t match how they feel on the inside. Some people choose to dress in ways typical of the opposite sex. They might also take medicines or have surgeries to make their bodies look like the opposite sex. If you have never felt this way, it can be hard to understand why someone would do this. Sadly, people who feel this way have often been laughed at or bullied. It is never right for Christians to mock and bully people. Jesus calls us to love others—especially if they are different from us. But Christians also believe that God made us male and female on purpose. So how should Christians think about someone wanting to change their gender identity?
First, we know that Jesus cares a lot about our feelings. He knows us from the inside out. He knows what we love and what makes us scared or sad. He knows when we feel like we don’t fit in and when we wish we could be different. He loves us so much that he died for us! So if you are a boy, but you desperately wish you were a girl, or if you are a girl who longs to be a boy, Jesus sees you and knows you and loves you with an everlasting love.
Second, the Bible tells us that God created everything through Jesus (John 1:3). Jesus made you. If you were born a boy, he meant for you to be a boy. If you were born a girl, he meant for you to be a girl. This doesn’t mean that it will always be easy, or that you have to do everything other people expect from girls or boys. As we saw earlier, Jesus cried, and cooked, and loved babies, and when people beat him up, he didn’t fight back. If you’re a follower of Jesus, it’s okay to be different. Unlike lots of women, I hate fashion and shopping for clothes. But my husband, Bryan, likes both those things—and that’s okay! But the Bible also teaches us that we shouldn’t always trust our feelings. We find our true selves not by following our feelings, but by following Jesus, so when our desires don’t line up with following Jesus, we need to trust him.
Following Jesus always means trusting him with our desires, even if it’s really hard. Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matt. 16:24–25). But Jesus doesn’t ask us to do this alone. He gives us his Spirit, and he gives us his body (other Christians) for help. So if you are struggling with being a boy or a girl, look for a Christian friend to talk to about your feelings. If you feel comfortable with your body, try to be the kind of person who could support a friend who was struggling in this way.
How should Christians relate to transgender people?
If you’re a Christian and some of your classmates identify as transgender or non-binary, your job is not to avoid them or make fun of them. Your job is to tell them about Jesus and show them his love—just as you would to others. Loving people doesn’t mean agreeing with all their decisions. My non-Christian friends make all sorts of decisions I disagree with. They’re not working from the same roadmap. But I can still love them and listen to them. In fact, listening to someone’s story is often the best starting point for showing love. Everyone wants to be known and understood. At times, though, loving someone means telling them when you don’t think they’re making the right decision.
In one of my favorite moments in the Harry Potter series, Neville helps Gryffindor win the House Cup, because he stood up to Harry, Ron, and Hermione when he thought they were doing the wrong thing. Dumbledore gives Neville five points for this act of courage saying, “It takes a great deal of bravery to stand up to our enemies, but just as much to stand up to our friends.”1J. K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (London: Bloomsbury, 1997), 221. Questioning whether it’s the right decision for someone to live as the opposite sex, perhaps even taking medications or having surgeries to change their bodies in ways they can never reverse, can be seen as being hateful in our culture today. But telling a friend that you love them as they are, and that you think the body they were born with is good isn’t hateful. All of us make decisions in light of what our friends and family think and sometimes we need encouragement from our friends to accept ourselves.
It can be easy to think that making a change to our bodies is the key to happiness—whether it’s getting thinner, or stronger, or taller, or having larger breasts, or changing whether we are seen as a boy or as a girl. But just as it’s not hateful to tell a friend you love her just the weight she is, it’s not hateful to tell a friend you love her as a girl, or that you love him as a boy, even if our friends don’t fit the stereotypes about boys and girls that say, “Girls should be like this, and boys should be like that.” What’s more, when you think about it, if we no longer let our bodies tell us if we are male or female, those stereotypes are all we have left. Let me explain.
What do “man” and “woman” mean?
Earlier this year, the actor (Daniel Radcliffe) who played Harry Potter in the films of J. K. Rowling’s books made a public statement: “Transgender women are women.” When he said this, he meant that people who were born with a male body but feel like they belong in the world as a woman should be recognized as women just as much as people who were born with a female body. Daniel Radcliffe said this in response to J. K. Rowling herself saying that—while she personally thinks it’s okay for people to live in the world as the opposite sex—the bodies we are born with and grew up with still matter, and that someone who was born male should not be treated as female in every situation. Some people were very angry with J. K. Rowling for saying this, and Daniel Radcliffe wanted to make clear that he didn’t agree. But Daniel Radcliffe’s statement highlights an important question: What does “man” or “woman” mean?
Up until recently in our culture, for me to say, “I am a woman” would mean—first and foremost— that I was born with a female body. There are significant differences between male bodies and female bodies. Even beyond what we can see with our eyes, scientists could tell whether you were a boy or a girl by examining a single cell from anywhere in your body.2See David C. Page, “Every Cell Has a Sex: X and Y and the Future of Health Care,” Yale School of Medicine, August 30, 2016, https:// medicine.yale.edu/news-article/13321/#:~:text=Humans%20have %20a%20total%20of,X%20and%20one%20Y%20chromosome. But if Daniel Radcliffe’s claim that “Transwomen are women” is true, and being born with a female body isn’t at the heart of what it means to be a woman, then what does it mean to be a woman? Does it mean wearing dresses and makeup, or wearing your hair long rather than short? Some women in our culture do those things, but no one would say that was the definition of being a woman. Does it mean other people thinking you were born with a female body? If so, then the identity of a transgender person would depend on people not knowing the truth about his or her past.
In conversations about transgender questions, people often talk as if there is something deep inside of us—not connected with our bodies—that defines whether we are male or female more than our bodies do. But while some people struggle with their gender identity throughout their life, others who feel uncomfortable with their bodies as teenagers find that those feelings change as they get older.3There is much controversy over the exact numbers, but it seems that some significant proportion of those who experience gender dysphoria in childhood find that it resolves in adulthood. For example, a study published in 2013 in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, followed up with 127 adolescent patients at a gender identity clinic in Amsterdam and found that two-thirds ultimately identified as the gender they were assigned at birth. If there was something other than our bodies that more truly defined us as male or female, we would expect that sense of identity always to stay the same throughout someone’s life. Many people today think that Christians are foolish for believing things that cannot be measured with the tools of science. But the idea that there is a thing deep within us that tells us if we are male or female against the evidence of our physical bodies does not line up with science at all. And we are still left with the question: What does it mean to be a man or a woman, if it doesn’t relate to our biological sex?
As a Christian, I am not surprised that our society is struggling to define what it means to be a man or a woman. Without belief in a Creator God who made humans in his image, we are left without a real definition of what it means to be a human being, so no wonder we don’t know what it means to be a male or female human. Without belief in a Creator God who gives us moral laws, we are like cartoon characters who have run off a cliff and keep running in midair for a few seconds before we crash to the ground.
As a Christian, I do believe that there is a voice deep inside me that tells me who I am. That voice is God’s Spirit, who unites every believer to Jesus like a body to its head, or a wife to her husband. The Spirit speaks through God’s Word (the Bible) and guides his people. But from a Christian perspective, this voice inside isn’t disconnected from our bodies, because the same God who lives within us by his Spirit also created our bodies. Jesus tells us that God created humans “from the beginning male and female” (Matt. 19:4). If we’re trusting in Jesus, he knows us from the inside out, and he makes us belong even when we feel like we don’t fit. Growing up, I often felt inadequate as a woman. I still sometimes feel that way today. But when I do, I trust Jesus that he made me a woman on purpose and that he loves me just as I am.
Content taken from 10 Questions Every Teen Should Ask (and Answer) about Christianity by Rebecca McLaughlin, ©2021. Used by permission of Crossway.
- 1J. K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (London: Bloomsbury, 1997), 221.
- 2See David C. Page, “Every Cell Has a Sex: X and Y and the Future of Health Care,” Yale School of Medicine, August 30, 2016, https:// medicine.yale.edu/news-article/13321/#:~:text=Humans%20have %20a%20total%20of,X%20and%20one%20Y%20chromosome.
- 3There is much controversy over the exact numbers, but it seems that some significant proportion of those who experience gender dysphoria in childhood find that it resolves in adulthood. For example, a study published in 2013 in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, followed up with 127 adolescent patients at a gender identity clinic in Amsterdam and found that two-thirds ultimately identified as the gender they were assigned at birth.