‘Gender fluidity’ and the Bible

2000px-Whitehead-link-alternative-sexuality-symbol.svgGiven our wider culture’s confusion around gender issues, how are Christians even to start thinking about the subject?

A series of high-profile cases – transgender celebrities such as Caitlyn Jenner and the Wachowski twins, Brighton & Hove City Council’s decision to ask four-year-old primary school children to choose their preferred gender identity, and the Obama administration’s law to allow transgender students to use the bathroom that matches their gender identity, to name a few – have brought trans issues firmly to public attention. The Danish Girl, a recent film about Einar Wegener, one of the early recipients of gender reassignment surgery, also indicates the changing landscape of what projects studios view as commercially viable, a barometer of wider sensibilities.

One problem in this highly controversial area is that we have not yet articulated an overarching framework within which to think about gender fluidity – and that’s as true for our culture as a whole as it is for Christians.

Binary categories?

For Christians, the starting point has often been the binary division of Genesis 1:27, ‘So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.’ That works well enough for most of us, but it’s becoming increasingly clear that there is a significant minority of the population who don’t fall neatly into the clear-cut categories of male/female (sex) or masculine/feminine (gender), just as we realised some time ago that hetero/homo were far too reductionist labels to classify the full breadth of human sexuality.

  • Gender fluidity is a relatively new idea used to convey the sense that gender identity is not fixed, but can change along a spectrum of masculine-feminine and encompass elements of both genders.
  • Gender dysphoria is the distress associated with a mismatch between biological sex and gender identity – the sense of being in the wrong body.
  • Body dysmorphia is a separate condition, characterised by strong feelings that the body is flawed and must be hidden or corrected, sometimes by extreme means. The two conditions are occasionally conflated but typically treated separately, since they have distinct characteristics and respond to different treatment.
  • Transgender is a term used of a broad range of gender identity issues, lifestyles and conditions.
  • Transsexual relates specifically to those who wish to or have transitioned from one biological gender to another via medical (hormonal and surgical) means.

Whilst the press coverage has recently spiked, the idea has been out there in the mainstream for decades – at least as early as 1970, when the Kinks’ Ray Davies walked into a bar in Old Soho and struck up an acquaintance with Lola (a song inspired by a real-life encounter experienced by the band’s manager). A couple of years later Lou Reed took a Walk on the Wild Side and unpacked a few elements of queer subculture in terms that most rock fans would find more enlightening and challenging than they were quite ready for.

Still unclear

It’s now almost 50 years later, and we’re still not ready for it. We still don’t have much of a clue how to think about trans issues. Or rather, we’re very clear about some things, but they don’t seem to add up to a coherent narrative that we can use to make properly thought-through decisions, either in the Church or our wider culture.

For example, does the research exist to prove the best way of treating gender dysphoria? If the issue is a mismatch between sex and gender – physical body and psychological identity – then which aspect should we address? In another 50 years’ time might we consider today’s surgical interventions as primitive as our attempts to cure homosexuality with electroconvulsive therapy in the 1960s? Should we instead aim to reduce the distress arising from such a mismatch – not least through reducing transphobia? Perhaps such radical solutions constitute pathologising and medicalising a state that is more normal and liveable than we currently care to admit due to our cultural assumptions about what it means to be gendered in the first place, something that is already suggested by the idea of gender fluidity.

Does (as Germaine Greer would argue) acceptance of the very notion of gender fluidity essentially spell the end of feminism? Surely the idea of fighting for equality is meaningless when the state of male or female can be addressed at the level of the birth certificate? What then of the glass ceiling, and the need for and interplay between several protected characteristics of the Equality and Human Rights Commission: Gender reassignment, Marriage/civil partnership, Sex, and Sexual orientation?

Why do we complain that sportsmen receive higher pay than sportswomen? Is the real issue that we should eradicate the male/female boundary in professional sports altogether and let both sexes compete for a joint pot of prize money on an equal footing? What about single-sex hospital wards?

How can we even have a genuine conversation about these things when saying the ‘wrong’ thing – whether accidentally, misguidedly or accurately – is potentially a hate crime?

Biblical principles

There are a small number of proof texts we might use to explore – or perhaps as likely, close down – discussion about trans issues from a biblical perspective. There’s Genesis 1:27, which refers to God’s creation of humanity as ‘male and female’, though this describes the norm before the Fall rather than the complexities of an imperfect world; there is the implication of complementarity in Genesis 2:18, that men and women are equal-but-different. We might draw further inferences from verses about same-sex practice and cross-dressing from Leviticus and Deuteronomy, but it would be a dangerous stretch to make a convincing and properly nuanced argument about gender identity from these.

In terms of overarching principles, we are still lacking.

On one level, it is a simple issue. Christians are called to ‘proclaim good news to the poor… to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour’ (Luke 4:18-19). When we see pain in the world, we are called to address it. Whether that pain is a headache, a broken leg or depression, the response is broadly similar.

The Bible does not support a gnostic dualism. We are embodied souls, reflecting the complex aetiology of many conditions recognised today by the bio-psycho-social model. This becomes more acutely relevant in conditions like body dysmorphia where there is acute psychological distress associated with the sense of being in that body. (One key difference with gender dysphoria is that we do not treat body dysmorphia with surgery, or by addressing perceived problems with the body itself.)

As a further suggestion in this opening piece (it draws no firm conclusions; as a Church and as a culture, we’re still only starting out on this subject), we might look to Matthew 22:34-40. In this passage Jesus summarises the Law and the Prophets – the whole Bible – in terms of love. Everything in the Bible is concerned with relationship. ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind…. [and] love your neighbour as yourself.’ Chiefly this is understood in terms of love for God and love for neighbour, but there is a third aspect we often overlook: ‘as yourself’. A healthy relationship with the self is a pre-requisite for healthy relationships with God and other people. That being said, it is no surprise that many trans people feel marginalised. Indeed, we might expect better integration into wider networks of relationships to go hand-in-hand with closer integration of the body/mind – without necessarily assuming how that should occur or which should happen first.

Further work might explore the idea of identity in the Bible, and the elements that typically construct it – including family, community, geographical location, occupation and, of course, national and religious identity. It would also be important to explore the nature of the internal relationship with the self. This breadth of factors challenges the idea that identity is purely subjective and emphasises that it tends to include a network of relationships and factors outside the self.


Read also:

Gender Dysphoria’, Christian Medical Fellowship (CMF) files no. 59.

Born with the wrong body?Christianity Magazine, June 2016.


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Category: Reports and Articles

May, 2016

Comments (14)

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  1. Kaylee Smith says:

    Great article, I’m TG but I want to be female not TG. TG is a state, a process for matching my outward gender to my inner gender, it’s not about who I want to have sex with, we already know that is not part of gender.
    Christianity is for everyone, he really does love us all if we let him. Wether you consider me a sinner or not he still loves me. Gender disphoria for me is how I ‘need’ to be treated in society, as a woman and not a man and the person I see I the mirror was not what I was expecting to see for decades. Its like the mirror was lying, showing me an animation of the male version of me and not the true me.
    Now it’s better but still disconcerting every day seeing myself, seeing the male through the makeup but He is there and my church community is there for me and I now can be there for other people when needed because of their acceptance of the real me and not the shell I walk around in.
    Thank you.

  2. Christine Ehlers says:

    I agree with Kaylee. The mention in the article of “love yourself” is critical in the expression of love and accepting love as we as TG are marginalised and more so in conservative churches where the ideological argument to gender is purported.

    • Jeremiah says:

      Well, if you “love yourself” then why not stay as you are biologically? What you are really saying is love what you think you are. Statistics show this “love” isn’t enough, as the suicide rate after transformation isn’t any better. Our minds change regularly. Our favorites change, our interests and hobbies change, our love for our spouses changes, for the better and worse. Our biology doesn’t change from birth. So, does it honestly make sense to enable this mental disorder based on fallible and changing “feelings” and ignore science and absolute biology? Is age based on how I feel? If gender is a choice, can species be a choice as well? Can I get a full body black tattoo and have my legs sewed together and have you legally required to recognize me as the world’s first and only talking sea lion?

      • Frederic Slayton says:

        Perfect analogy!

      • Austin says:

        Not to be late, but I feel the need to point out something. Equating gender change and species change is a fallacy known as false equivalency. As I become a sea lion do I intend to eat the same food? Live in the same habitat? Fornicate with other sea lions? Will my surgery to have my legs sewn together allow me to swim like a sea lion? Essentially can I live successfully in the role of a sea lion? The likely answer is that I will not and will continue to live as a human albeit with sown together legs. As a mimicry, I wouldn’t even be successful.

        Secondly, if I “love myself” why should I ever change anything about myself? Loving me is realizing I’m ok today as I am. Still, it would be narcissistic to think that there is nothing I would like to change. Either for society or myself. My grandpa loves himself but alters his biology with insulin shots every day. This has kept him alive for many visits from me and my siblings and I’m very grateful.

  3. The greatest command given to us is to love one another not judge and condemn one another. What would life be like for all of us if we did this one thing? Imagine that world. That is the world I want for my grand children ….for everyone. Thank you for this article.

    • Jeremiah says:

      Theresa, nowhere in the Bible does it say not to judge one another. What you are referring to is a “damning” judgement which is reserved for God. We are, in fact, commanded to have discerning judgement. One couldn’t share the Gospel to someone without “judging” them. You are actively summing them up and based on a judgement, deciding they might not know Christ. God tells us what is expected of us. We are commanded to love, and it isn’t loving to watch someone live a life of sin and perversion without trying to help them.

      • Federic Slayton says:

        This is absolutely correct!

      • rosecoloredglasses says:

        Amen! 🙂

      • Austin says:

        Matthew 7: 1 “Do not judge, or you too will be judged”

        Luke 6: 37-42 “Can the blind lead the blind? Will they not both fall into a pit?”

        John 8:1-8

        James 4:11-12

        Romans 2:1-3

        Romans 14:1-13

        So many verses and not just about damnable judgment. I always thought the overarching message of the Bible is that we are all living a life of perversion and sin. If you disagree, perhaps you can throw the first stone at the adulterer?

  4. :) says:

    Hi im struggling too sometimes i wish i was a guy to not fall into certain stereotypes and ive realized ive always gotten along better with guys and since i grew up with 2 older brothers i was kind of raised in a more masculine way. but despite all this i dont want to wish i was a guy because i want to be happy with myself and also because i am the youngest and the only girl. I know my parents really wanted a girl and im scared of upsetting them saying that that i want to be a boy. I also love Jesus with all my heart and i dont want to disappoint Him. (I dont like girls by the way) so i dont know if i should tell my parents or not. Ive also wanted to get this topic off mychest

  5. Rather not say says:

    This is actually something I have been struggling with the idea of sex and gender as two completely different things as the article suggests.

  6. Sarah says:

    Do you think that maybe our culture has gotten it wrong? I wonder if our culture has done us a disservice by allowing for stereotypes to be attached to what it means to be masculine and what it means to be feminine. Biologically, we are born male and/or female. That is our assigned sex.
    Maybe the Bible’s assertion that we are created “male and female” doesn’t have to contradict our own identities and opinions of ourselves. (I’m not speaking of our orientation regarding our attractions to men or women, but our opinions of our own identities.) Can I be confident in my identity as a female and still experience some character traits that the culture would define as masculine?

  7. Johnny Thief says:

    You could try actually reading the thing in the ORIGINAL LANGUAGE. http://www.sojourngsd.org/blog/sixgenders

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