It’s the age of awkward elbows. Growth spurts. Acne. Body-image distortions. Hushed whispers at the lockers you’re convinced are about you.
Adolescence can be terrible.
But today’s young people face a new challenge on top of all the regular stuff: the ubiquity of transgender ideology.
Kids are regularly exposed to transgenderism: the assertion that an inner sense of gender trumps our biological sex. This ideology shows up on social media, in advertising, and in entertainment. Kids are also hearing it from their friends.
But kids are also hearing about transgender ideology from the front of the classroom. School districts in nearly every American state include sex-education curricula that teach kids, sometimes as young as kindergarten, that their “sex assigned at birth” may not correspond to their “gender identity.”
An executive order signed by President Biden in January mandates that public schools allow students who identify as transgender to use the restrooms and locker rooms of their choice. Many schools have begun allowing boys who say they’re transgender to compete in girls’ sports (the reverse—girls who wish to compete in boys’ sports—is exceedingly rare). Some schools even forbid teachers from alerting parents that their child has asked to be referred to by a different name or sex.
This is an emergency for the church. If Christians want to maintain the credibility required for telling our friends and neighbors the truth about Jesus, that he rose from the dead and is the image of the invisible God, what we say about all reality matters. As people of truth, we simply can’t afford to lie about our created bodies—no matter how good our intentions. If we do, why should anyone believe us about truth that also transcends our physical bodies?
How to Contend for Truth
Christians want to tell the truth not just for our credibility’s sake, but because by telling the truth we love our neighbors and honor the God of all things. Transgender ideology is a lie, which means by its nature it hurts and destroys.
So if transgender ideology has captured so many kids’ imaginations, how can parents, alongside the church, guide them back to reality?
1. Re-catechize About God’s Image.
Transgender ideology falsely proclaims that the specifics of our physical bodies don’t matter. (And, inconsistently, it holds up surgical and hormonal alterations to the body as an essential right for transgender people.)
At the root of this confusion is denying or forgetting that every human is made in the image of God. We are the crown of creation: “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (Gen. 1:27).
Our kids need to hear that their bodies are a good part of God’s good design. That means parents need to show we aren’t afraid of our bodies or afraid of talking about them. The age at which we teach our children about sex may vary based on their maturity levels. But kids—especially in the age of awkward elbows and transgenderism—need to hear that our bodies are not bad.
Nor are they imaginary. They do not bend to our inner feelings. That’s because they were made by Someone outside of and bigger than ourselves—an infinitely wise God who made each of us (and every part of us) on purpose.
2. Reclaim the Beauty of Bodies
Transgender ideology depends on the lie that our biological sex might be “wrong.” Kids navigating puberty might find that notion all too relatable.
But God created man and woman before sin entered the world. Both men and women are made in his image. That means that our sex, as either male or female, is good. It also means women demonstrate a part of God’s nature that men cannot, and vice versa. We need each other to tell God’s story.
Kids—especially in the age of awkward elbows and transgenderism—need to hear that our bodies are not bad.
In her 2020 book Irreversible Damage: The Transgender Craze Seducing Our Daughters (read TGC’s review), Wall Street Journal reporter Abigail Shrier explores Rapid-Onset Gender Dysphoria (ROGD), a phrase coined by researcher Dr. Lisa Littman. Not every case of gender dysphoria fits this description. But Littman said ROGD in particular presents like a “social contagion”: rather than indicating true sexual confusion, it is more likely the newest expression of the desire to fit in, or to find community among others who feel they don’t belong.
Littman found that ROGD seems to affect girls almost exclusively. Shrier’s theory is that the issue isn’t so much that girls want to be boys, but that they don’t want to be girls. Part of this, research suggests, is the result of watching porn: girls see how women are treated and say, “I don’t want that.” An obvious solution is to protect children from the dangers of pornography. But another, especially for young girls, is to teach them to appreciate their femaleness as a special expression of the image of God, and of a body that can do incredible things that men’s bodies cannot.
But if we’re to teach kids that our sex matters beyond the social and cultural stereotypes on which transgender ideology so strongly depends, we must not embrace fake sexual stereotypes. Instead, Christians should affirm that there are many beautiful ways to “be a woman” because there are many women. Likewise, there are many ways to “be a man” because there are many men.
Christian parents can introduce their kids to men and women exploring their unique callings in a variety of ways—in parenthood, in singleness, in teaching or preaching or hospitality or missions. Parents might capture their kids’ imaginations by finding biographies or stories of Christian men and women in the past who have served Jesus and the church in beautiful, even unexpected, ways.
Christians should affirm that there are many beautiful ways to ‘be a woman’ because there are many women. There are many ways to ‘be a man’ because there are many men.
In fact, parents might use this as an opportunity to celebrate all kinds of differences in the church: the lives of Christian women and men in China look very different from those in Iran or Kenya or Mexico. Just like there is great beauty in the uniqueness of God’s people in the forms of race and ethnicity, so too is sex an expression of his purposeful creativity.
3. Remember: Kids with Gender Dysphoria Are Hurting
What’s especially cruel about the rise in acceptance of transgenderism in public education and even the medical community—where potentially sterilizing hormone treatments and body-mutilating surgeries are quickly becoming standards of care, even for young kids—is that our cultural leaders are explicitly ignoring the deeper issues that gender dysphoria reveals.
Christian parents of kids who are not dealing with gender dysphoria should remind them often: their friends or classmates facing this challenge are not icky or scary. Like each of us, they need love, community, friendship, and to know Jesus. Medical professionals and public educators can’t provide for those needs while leaning into a lie. But if they can’t help kids in this situation, perhaps the church can.
In his 2019 book When Harry Became Sally, writer and researcher Ryan T. Anderson reported that a radically disproportionate number of people suffering with gender dysphoria die by suicide, as compared with the general population. But Anderson also found that gender-transition surgeries and hormone treatments do little—if anything—to reduce the danger of suicide in this population.
This means reminding our kids that we don’t help or love our neighbors by lying to them. In fact, lies are cruel; and giving in to the lie that our friends were made wrong is to deny them both the psychological help they need and the truth that God knew them before they were born and made them on purpose for his glory.
We don’t help or love our neighbors by lying to them.
This is a complicated calling for Christian parents. But whatever else we do in response to the normalization of transgender ideology, we can’t not talk about it with our kids. Make no mistake: they are hearing about it—in entertainment, online, at school, and from their friends.
Kids of different ages may be called to respond differently to this cultural moment. Some parents may want to limit their kids’ exposure to the internet and social media. For younger children, parents may use this larger discussion to teach them about the beauty of sex. Parents of older children might encourage their kids to befriend classmates dealing with gender dysphoria and to provide the kindness and hope they’re looking for.
But no matter how old our kids are, transgenderism gives all Christian parents a welcome opportunity to remind their kids of this central truth: our souls and bodies are knit together by God and for eternity.