Gender Identity Presentation
11/12/2019 2:28:09 AM
Gender Identity Presentation
November 10, 2019
Rev. David Williams
I want to welcome all of you here this evening. It is with some fear and trepidation that I stand before you this evening to talk on this topic. Why? Because if you’ve spent any time looking at this topic over the past 5 years or so you have seen how quickly any discussion on issues of Gender Identity becomes toxic. If I was just speaking to my church, I know there is likely a range of opinions and experience on that topic, but in that context I have built (I hope) enough relationship capital that if people in my congregation disagree with me, we can still get along and even talk about our differences. But tonight, I am very aware that there are many people here who do not know me and I don’t know you. I don’t have the relationship with you that we can discuss this topic, disagree, and, at the end of the evening, part on good terms! I am also sure that there are numerous people here who either struggle with Gender Identity themselves or are close to people who do.
So let me begin tonight by establishing from the get go that my primary concern this evening is with your well-being and with the well-being of others. If nothing else, at the end of the presentation this evening, I want you to be able to go home and reflect on what was said and how it was said and at the very minimum conclude that I am deeply concerned with the well-being of those affected by questions surrounding gender identity. Whether you’re here in person tonight, watching online, listening to a recording or reading the transcript of this message, I want you to be able to say, “I may disagree with what that pastor said, but I hear in his words that he loves me, he loves those around me and those affected directly by questions of gender identity.”
Frankly, I don’t “want” to be up here talking to you, exposing myself to potential hostility whether in person or online after the fact. To speak on this topic and say anything other rehearsing the current politically correct narrative exposes a person to all sorts of name calling, criticism and attack. But, because of my deep concern for and compassion for those who struggle with questions of gender and those who love those who struggle with gender identity, I am here to share with you some new ways to think about this question.
This issue, unlike many issues of philosophy, theology, politics or economics, is so fraught with emotion because it has to do with people directly. We may disagree on political theory, but few of us hold our political theories so close that we equate them with our very identity! Which is why, whether you agree with me or not, whether you are a Christian or not, it is vital that each and every one of us make a conscious decision that when it comes to discussing the topic of Gender Identity that we always do it with deep compassion for those who are affected by Gender Identity questions. That is, that we demonstrate, in word, deed and action, a deep seated care for those experiencing the distress that inevitably comes when one’s inner sense of gender is out of sync with their biological sex.
Regardless of our beliefs on the proper solution to such a sensation, we must recognize that it is a painful experience! Most of us are familiar with the term “euphoria” which means an intense feeling of happiness or excitement. The opposite of euphoria is dysphoria- an intense feeling of unease or dissatisfaction with life. If there was no negative feeling to this experience, then people would not choose to undergo radical surgery, or even a series of radical surgeries, in an attempt to harmonize their biological sex with their inner sense of gender. We’re not talking about a small decision or a small procedure! To endure such procedures must be the result of intense, negative symptoms and feelings. So, contrary to some opinions, I will refer to “Gender Dysphoria” throughout the evening. If there was no dysphoria to this experience, it truly wouldn’t be a big deal and we wouldn’t be trying to provide a remedy and the discussion surrounding it wouldn’t be so charged and toxic!
So if you are a person who experiences Gender Dysphoria (GD), I want to express to you that I am sincerely concerned with your well-being. It is my desire that you find harmony between your inner self and your physical self. I can only imagine the difficulty of living life when those two things are out of harmony.
Which brings me to my second point. I don’t want to argue or discuss whether or not GD is a “real” thing. It is. People experience this discord between their physical body and their inner sense of self and gender. It is a real phenomenon. The question at hand is not if it exists, but what is the best or appropriate treatment for it. How, as individuals and as a society, should we respond to this phenomenon and to the people who experience it? That’s really where the disagreement lies and where the discussion should be. Telling someone who experiences GD, “Your gender is determined by your biological sex” is no more helpful than telling a depressed person, “Life is good, cheer up,” or a person who suffers from anxiety, “Don’t worry, be happy!” GD is a real experience for some people and, as the cultural discussion continues to highlight it, more and more people will wonder if that is the source of any dysphoria or emotional distress they are feeling. So I’m not going to discuss whether or not GD is a “real thing” or not. Rather, I want to discuss how we respond to it as individuals, as Christians and as a society.
Let me engage in a thought experiment. Imagine, for a moment, a young girl in her doctor’s office. The girl is 8 or 9 years old, just at the outside of puberty, or just beginning puberty. She tells her doctor that ever since she was little, she liked to climb trees and play with trucks. She never really felt like a girl. Most of her friends were boys and she’d rather wear pants and make mud pies than wear dresses and play with dolls. She’s never felt like she fit in with the girls around her or wanted to engage in the activities they seemed to enjoy so much. This girl then tells her doctor that she has concluded she must be boy trapped in a girl’s body. She asks the doctor to start giving her puberty blocking drugs and she wants to start the process for gender reassignment treatment, eventually to undergo gender reassignment surgery.
Now, imagine a similar, but slightly different scene. A similar girl, is sitting with her doctor, perhaps a few years older, describing how since she was little she liked to climb trees, play with trucks, make mud pies and play with boys. She’s never liked pink frilly things, never wanted to wear dresses or play with dolls. She doesn’t feel feminine and never has. But inside, she knows she is a girl, she just doesn’t feel like it on the outside. She is flat chested and has a narrow waist. She then asks her doctor to start giving her female hormones and wants breast implants to make her more feminine and womanly. She feels like her body doesn’t match her inner feeling of gender, so she wants the doctor’s help to make her body match her inner sense of gender.
Today, what our society is suddenly saying is that this first girl, the pre-pubescent girl should be “affirmed” in her conclusion that she is a boy trapped in a girl’s body. We are being told to celebrate her, that this is her true identity and that the medical community and all of society should champion her decision to change. Suddenly, there are numerous doctors and clinics that would gladly supply the girl who feels like a boy trapped in a girl’s body any drugs or surgeries she requests, based purely on her own inner sense of her true identity.
But in the second case, the girl who wants estrogen and breast implants, she would be told to wait. She would be told that she should wait until her body has finished growing and changing. There would be too many risks giving her extra hormones and people would counsel her that breast-size is not indicative of gender. In fact, she would probably be told not to engage in stereotypes about girls- that they have to wear dresses, like pink, play with dolls, want to be mommies when they grow up, or that having curvy hips and large breasts is important to womanhood and female gender identity! People would address the second girl’s preconceptions about femininity and her sense of what gender is, breaking down stereotypes and addressing her sense of self.
Why is it that suddenly we don’t give the same counsel to the first girl too? Why don’t we tell the person who feels like their physical sex doesn’t match their gender to wait until after they’re done developing to make such a decision? Why don’t we challenge their preconceptions of gender? Why can’t boys like pink? Why can’t girls be tom boys? Why can’t boys be sensitive and like lace? Why is it that we intuitively know it’s not helpful to give the flat chested 14 year old girl breast implants to bring her physical body into harmony with her inner sense of gender but we are being told to give other children puberty blocking drugs?
In order to start wrapping our heads around how we’ve gotten to this place as a society, we need to take a step back. We need to look at the bigger picture and see that our current struggles with how to respond to Gender Identity issues is actually an application of bigger picture questions, because ideas matter!
Some of you have heard the term “postmodernism.” Postmodernism is a movement in philosophy that is complex and nuanced, but the aspect that is pertinent tonight is the postmodern assertion that truth is relative. How this has boiled down to a cultural, “man on the street” level is in the phrase, “What’s true to you is true to you, what’s true for me is true for me.” We have all become our own arbiters of truth, as well as our own arbiters of right and wrong. There is no longer a sense that truth is objective, that truth is something “out there” that we can all come to see if we have the same information. If truth is as I see it, then I no longer look outside myself for objective truth that you can see too. Instead, I look within myself for truth, right and wrong.
But here’s the problem with this: if I no longer have an objective or outside criteria for determining truth, right and wrong, then when I look within myself, I have no way to discern what is good and what is bad, what is valuable and was is harmful. What if, when I look within myself, I find a mixture of what is good and what is bad. What if something I find within myself is actually harmful to me or others? What if, when I look within myself, I see racism, or hatred or violence?
In popular culture today, a common statement we hear is, “Look within and find your true self.” The way this works itself out is the belief that “true human flourishing” involves looking within, determining who we are and then “living out” that true self that we find within. The problem with this is that it assumes everything we find within ourselves is good! Is assumes not only the general goodness of people, but the absolute goodness of people! It assumes that everything I find within myself is part of my “true” self, or at best that it’s up to me to decide which parts of what I find within is to be kept as my “true self” to be lived out. Without an objective criteria for right and wrong, without objective truth, what is to stop someone from looking within, seeing violence, manipulation and hatred, and choosing that their own “true self” involves becoming a sociopath?
Two thousand years ago, Jesus spoke to this exact problem. In both Matthew 15 and Mark 7 we have recorded teaching of Jesus about this issue of what is inside us. Let me read from Mark 7:20-23. Jesus is talking to the religious elite of his day. These men were academically trained, financially established, successful upper class people who their culture believed “had it all together.” Jesus is addressing their cultural practice of washing everything to make it clean, which was a representation of their own moral correctness. Literally, they believed cleanliness was a sign of godliness!
He [Jesus] went on: “What comes out of a man is what makes him ‘unclean.’ For from within, out of men’s hearts, com evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and make a man ‘unclean.’”
Jesus’ point is that we do need to look within ourselves and consider what we see. Where Jesus differs from our present thinking is that Jesus was a realist. He recognized that the problems in our world of greed, slander, theft, murder and the like do not have their root in “society” but in the human heart! The problems of society are rooted in the members of society. And he was right!
The core belief of Christianity is that at least part of what we find when we “look within ourselves” is contaminated. We are not wholly good! We are not pure individuals. And if we look around at society, we quickly see the objective evidence of our lack of pure goodness!
The secular recipe of “true human flourishing” is to look within, like what you see and live that out to the fullest. But here’s the problem with that in practice: What if what is “within” is contaminated? Even just slightly, what if it’s “radioactive” or slightly impure, or slightly out of alignment? What if what is within reflects abuse in our past, or mental health issues, or false labels we’ve accumulated and believed, or we hold stereotypes we don’t know how to revise?
This is the big picture, the philosophical view that has lead us to where we are as a culture today. This is also why discussions on difficult topics have become so toxic. This is why we seem to have come to the end of civil discourse- the ability to humbly discuss topics with people who hold opposing views without vilifying, dismissing or ignoring those people. Why? What if what you think it true differs from what I think is true? Sometimes we can just go our separate ways. But if the way you seek to flourish is in conflict with the way I seek to flourish and there is competition over resources, we no longer have a source of objective truth to arbitrate between us! The result, then, in true Darwinian fashion, is that the stronger person gets their way. Whoever has the loudest voice or the most followers wins. Whoever can accuse the other of bigotry, or being a Nazi or a fascist first wins the moral high ground and gets their way!
This philosophical view that truth and morality are relative is also how we got to this dilemma about the appropriate treatment for people who experience Gender Dysphoria. Under this view, if I look within and it disagrees with objective, physical reality, who can arbitrate between my inner feelings and physical reality? For example, if I look within and believe deeply, consistently and insistently, that I am grotesquely overweight, but my doctor says that I am a healthy weight, or even under weight, our society’s recipe for true human flourishing means that my inner feelings supersede the doctor’s evaluation. I can object to the body type a doctor assigned to me at my check up and decide that I am overweight and reduce my caloric intake as I see fit, take diet pills, or induce vomiting to lower my weight until I feel like my physical body is in harmony with my sense of inner self.
Similarly, if I feel that I am a burden to society and to my family, if I don’t feel like it is worth living any more, our society’s recipe for human flourishing means that it’s up to me to decide if I live or not. And this isn’t even about whether or not I’m experiencing chronic pain or a terminal illness any more. Quebec just struck down the restriction of “reasonable, foreseeable natural death” in the legislation guiding assisted suicide as being “too restrictive.” My own inner sense of despair is now sufficient grounds for me to request assisted suicide.
If I look within and see that I am female, but my body tells me I am male, who arbitrates between those two? Which perspective should the medical community seek to change? In pretty much every other case, my internal, psychological or emotional perspective is what needs to be addressed.
Hopefully you can start to see how ideas have consequences, how the big picture of thinking about truth affects the smaller picture, or individual picture of experience.
So how, then, are we to respond to the issue of GD? First and foremost, as I said earlier, respond with compassion. Respond with compassion to individuals who experience gender dysphoria and to their family and friends! In the case of children, the diagnosis of GD often comes from the parents’ assessment of their child. We need to respond with compassion to parents who are desperate to protect their children!
The second response to the issue of GD, and to many other things in our society, is to ask the person if they are “looking within themselves” for their true identity. Are they sure that everything they find in there is good and will truly lead to their flourishing in life? Because I know when I look within myself, and I am honest about what I find, I get scared! Introspection is vitally important and not enough people actually do “look within.” The problem, though, is that those who do look within often do so with rose coloured glasses! We need to take a cold hard look at what is within and find some criteria other than our own thoughts and feelings to sift through what we find and assess which parts are good and which parts are harmful.
Broadly, when it comes to a societal, political or policy response to GD, we must also begin with compassion. There’s a lot of fear surrounding responses at this level because people don’t want to open themselves up to charges of bigotry! It’s not helpful to dismiss GD. It’s not helpful to dismiss how people feel. Remember, we are not arguing over the reality of GD, but over the appropriate treatment of GD! So on every level, we must treat people with respect, acknowledging that their experiences of pain, discomfort, unease or dysphoria is real. Do not dismiss them or their experience!
But we must get beyond this idea that patients get to self-diagnose and select their own treatment. If I have a lump that isn’t a bruise and it doesn’t go away after a week, it is not up to me to diagnose myself with cancer and demand chemotherapy treatment, or to have the lump surgically removed! In fact, if a doctor did give me chemotherapy for a lump that wasn’t cancer, he would be doing me far more harm than good!
If a person is experiencing symptoms of Gender Dysphoria, what if the problem is not their body? Walt Heyer lived as a transgender woman for 8 years before regretting his surgery and transitioning back. He now operates a website “sexchangeregret.com” and has been in touch with literally hundreds of transgender people who regret their transition and want to transition back. Walt Heyer does what he can to help them through that process. In his experience, every single person who has come to him expressing regret over their transition had other psychological or emotional reasons at play that lead to their transition in the first place. Called “comorbidity” it basically means they had more than one issue to deal with. Transitioning didn’t help them!
This is one of the problems with our society’s current approach to this problem. Heyer describes numerous examples of other reasons that may lead a person to feel disharmony between their biological sex and their inner sense of gender. For example, a person born a girl could be abused sexually at a young age. She feels weak and fears future abuse. So she seeks to become less feminine in order to be less attractive to a potential male abuser. Her inner sense of self, her desire to be masculine and male, doesn’t match her body. Or boys sexually abused seek to remove their genetalia to prevent further abuse. In both cases, the real problem, though, is not their physical body, but trauma! They are the victim of sexual abuse, and their coping mechanism is to try to change their sex!
Regardless of what such patients believe about their gender identity, sex-reassignment surgery, rounds of hormone treatment, puberty blockers, etc. are not the appropriate treatment for trauma! But doctors and psychologists are being handcuffed in their diagnoses and other doctors and psychologists are just giving blanket prescriptions for all conditions that may potentially be gender dysphoria. This is not compassion! This is not taking the patients seriously or treating their conditions respectfully.
With children, many parents observe behaviour that doesn’t fit male/female stereotypes. They conclude that their child must be transgender and then teach this to the child! But children are incredibly open to influence from adults. That’s why repeatedly telling a child they’re an accident, or stupid or overweight causes emotional and psychological trauma. What effect do you think it would have to tell a child their gender is different from their bodily sex? And at this point in our society, not conforming to gender stereotypes can quickly lead parents into believing their child is transgendered, when in fact their girl is just a tomboy, or their boy is just sensitive or likes pink or dresses!
I did some research, looking at secular, trans-affirming psychologists’ work who cite numerous studies that show a majority of children and youth who experience GD outgrow it by the end of puberty! [http://www.sexologytoday.org/search/label/Transgender?updated-max=2018-10-17T20:57:00-04:00&max-results=20&start=1&by-date=false] The studies range in their percentage of young people who outgrow GD, in part because sample sizes are small, but every single study shows a majority of children and youth outgrow GD if they are not given puberty blockers or cross-sex hormones. Interestingly, kids who are put on puberty blockers and then, once puberty sets in, cross-sex hormones, almost never stop taking them. Potentially, the treatment maintains the symptoms! [https://www.dailysignal.com/2017/07/03/im-pediatrician-transgender-ideology-infiltrated-field-produced-large-scale-child-abuse/?fbclid=IwAR2eWDfvEonRKgx0bZRPmkg_DgCHW2LzwivALAv6z-iQ2Fs5FOePayWu88s]
Some of you may be thinking, “But what’s the big deal if a kid takes puberty blockers for a while? Or cross-sex hormones?” Sadly, puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones permanently sterilize the patient. Similarly, sex reassignment surgery has permanent effects. So children and youth, two categories of people easily influenced by peer pressure and not known for effective risk-assessment, are undergoing permanent medical treatment for a condition more than 50% of them would outgrow if they were left off the medication and given other forms of treatment, like counselling or psychotherapy.
The current criteria for diagnosing GD are way too broad. If the patient “consistently, persistently and insistently” declares their biological sex does not match their gender identity, they are diagnosed as GD. Many psychological treatment handbooks suggest a “watch and wait” approach, precisely because so many children outgrow the symptoms, but many transgender clinics and therapists are ignoring those guidelines. Yes most children and youth are consistent, persistent and insistent about many, many things! And, as we have seen, looking within is not always a healthy source of truth!
Let me conclude. If you are a person wondering about your gender identity, if you are experiencing tension between your biological sex and your sense of gender, let me express to you that I have compassion for you. You are a person in pain and I grieve that pain. I can only imagine how difficult it must be, how confusing and isolating it is. Please, know that you are deeply loved and that you are fearfully and wonderfully made in the image of God. What you are experiencing is the product of living in a broken world. But let me also encourage you to stop looking within yourself for your identity. Instead, look to Jesus who came to earth, experienced physical life and death and ultimately died to reconcile you to God. He paid a tremendous price because he loves you and though him you can find a new identity as the beloved child of God, an identity that is far superior than anything any one of us can find within ourselves!
If someone you love is experiencing GD, continue to support them as a person. Combat any isolation they may feel. But offer some outside perspective. Encourage them to consider other solutions or treatments to their symptoms. Raise the standard of diagnosis, especially if you are their parent! Because the consequences of transgender treatment are permanent and that is not something you want to get wrong! You wouldn’t encourage them to amputate a limb because they just have a “consistent, persistent, insistent” sense that the limb has or may develop cancer. You would encourage them to watch and wait to see what happens.
To everyone here, stop looking within yourselves for your identity. Yes, look within to see what is there! Self-reflection is vitally important! But it is not a source of our identity. True human flourishing does not come from living out what you find within yourself. Instead, when you look within, bring with you an objective set of criteria for discerning what is good, what is harmful, what is significant and what is secondary.
Jesus gives us a great set of such criteria! Jesus said he came that we might have life to the full, life abundantly (John 10:10)- that we might experience true human flourishing! Jesus says that your identity is that of a creature created in the image, the likeness of God who is dearly loved by God and of great value to Him. However, Jesus also says that your heart, you will, your mind and desires have been contaminated by sin- both your sin and that of others. This contamination has caused a rift, an alienation between you and the creator who designed you and values you so highly. Your relationship with God has been ruptured and that has meant your relationship with others has been ruptured, and even your relationship with your true self has been ruptured! But Jesus came to repair that breach, to restore that relationship and reconcile you to God, to others and to yourself.
Whether you experience Gender Dysphoria or not, somewhere in this life you will experience a deep sense of unhappiness and discontent. That discontent is the result of all the contamination that comes out of human hearts that make up society. Jesus came to clean up, to detoxify us from that contamination. In him we find our true identity. And, amazingly, his resurrection points forward to a time when we will be given new, physical bodies that will be in harmony with our inner selves, and will no longer be subject to the decay and death that comes from our contamination. Being in relationship with him leads to true human flourishing. Amen.
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