Gender Identity: Boy? or Girl?

Posted by on Jul 29, 2013 in Blog: Doing sex God’s way

Gender Identity: Boy? or Girl?

Gender identity refers to the ways a person develops a fundamental sense of belonging to one sex and not the other, and to one gender and not the other.

A very young child (2-3 years) typically would state unequivocally “I am a Boy” or “I am a Girl”. It seems such a basic and intrinsic characteristic. And yet there are those for whom their identity as male or female does not correspond to their biological sex.

For a YouTube on a transgendered child check the site: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bk_YlBM5JAE

Ideally there is congruence between biological sex and gender identity. However in a small minority there is a disjunction between them. Here a biological male with XY chromosomes, testis and male internal and external genitalia is convinced (usually from a very young age) of a female gender identity. The reverse is seen in a biological female with a male identity.

The term ‘Gender Identity Dysphoria’ or ‘Gender Identity Disorder’ is used to describe this condition. Gender identity dysphoria refers to discomfort or distress that is caused by a discrepancy between a person’s gender identity and that person’s sex assigned at birth (and the associated gender role and/or primary and secondary sex characteristics). Transgender and Transsexual are other terms used for this condition.

How common is it?

It is difficult to know the frequency or incidence of people with gender identity dysphoria. One study done in 2007 puts the incidence of transsexuals at 1:11,900 to 1:45,000 for male-to-female individuals (MtF) and 1:30,400 to 1:200,000 for female-to-male (FtM) individuals.[1]

We must be careful to not mistake people with gender variant or atypical behaviour with those who have gender dysphoria. Gender nonconformity refers to the extent to which a person’s gender identity, role, or expression differs from the cultural norms prescribed for people of a particular sex. In other words their sex role behaviour does not fit the accepted norm. This could be just a character trait or a phase of behaviour that a child grows out of. We need to teach our children early to not bully those who are different to them in this way.

If you are interested in this area, visit the web site of the world professional association of transgender health (WPATH) at http://www.wpath.org/

What causes Gender Dysphoria?

An interesting interview with a pioneer researcher Professor Milton Diamond can be seen at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rmXZ65992Iko

For a Christian response we go to the words of Jesus in Matthew 19. Having reinforced the Genesis order of male and female in marriage [‘Haven’t you read,’ he replied, ‘that at the beginning the Creator “made them male and female,” and said,For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh” So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.’’ – Matthew 19:4-6]; he said [Not everyone can accept this word, but only those to whom it has been given. For there are eunuchs who were born that way, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others – and there are those who choose to live like eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it.’ – Matthew 19:11-12].

We live in a world where all aspects of our being is subject to our fallen nature. This affects our chromosomes, our biology, our gender roles and sadly our very gender identity and sexual orientation. We groan while we wait for the final consummation [Romans 8:22-25]

What do people with Gender Identity Dysphoria do?

Some people with this condition decide to change their biological gender (they can’t change their chromosomes, only remove their gonads and surgically change their external genitals). This transition is traumatic, painful, and expensive and takes a long time. People don’t do it lightly – “hmm – I think I’ll be a woman today”. The following is a description of the stages in the process:

  1. Diagnosis my more than one professional;
  2. Live in the chosen sex for a period (usually 3 years);
  3. Hormone therapy;
  4. Surgery for secondary sexual characteristics (mastectomy, depilation for body hair); and
  5. finally genital surgery.

Many of those with gender dysphoria people don’t get surgery done. They live in their chosen gender, without biological change, as a transgendered person.

So:

A biological male who knows ‘herself’ to be a female would live and dress and conduct herself as a female, while remaining in a male body, or vice versa.

What is a pastoral response?

Dealing with transgendered people is a difficult issue in the church. It is one that needs deep compassion and a depth of wisdom.

The Pastoral question is not to ask why it happens but seek to support the person to live in the gender they are in to the best of their abilities.

But: How can we support people to live in the gender they are?

More information on gender issues in general from a biblical perspective can be found at:

The web site: http://www.sexualidentityinstitute.org/dr-mark-yarhouse;

And the article:

Stanton L. Jones (January, 2012), “Sexual orientation and reason: On the implications of false beliefs about homosexuality,”digitally published at www.christianethics.org; an abbreviated version of this essay was published as “Same-sex science,” First Things, February, 2012, pp. 27-33

My next post will be on Sexual orientation.



[1] De Cuypere, G., Van Hemelrijck, M., Michel, A., Carael, B., Heylens, G., Rubens, R., Monstrey, S. (2007). Prevalence and demography of transsexualism in Belgium. European Psychiatry, 22, 3, 137-141