The latest issue of Time magazine features an essay by Jessi Hempel telling the story of her brother, Evan, giving birth to a son.
That opening sentence might catch you off guard, especially since human biology does not allow for biological men to give birth. Such an idea is common knowledge, but in our own day the claim that only women are able to give birth needs to be reasserted. The photo the story features is designed to elicit attention, as it shows what looks like a man breastfeeding an infant son. But the story’s title—“My Brother’s Pregnancy and the Making of a New American Family”—is designed to document the brave new frontier transgender individuals are promising to bring to America, a frontier that requires accepting the supposed reality that men can give birth.
Hempel tells the heart-wrenching story of her brother who had undergone a female-to-male transition at 19, but who still desired to give birth—and did so at 35. The writer describes the long-ago transition that included Testosterone injections, which produced thick hair over her former sister’s knuckles, a vestige associated with masculine hands. Evan elected not to have her breasts removed. Recounting how much they once looked alike, Hempel laments the loss of her doppelgänger.
The story is not without painful admissions. At one point, Hempel observes that her brother, while pregnant, experienced a “traumatizing disconnect between his masculinity and the female attributes of his body.” Such trauma should be expected when a person tries to live out in their mind what their body contradicts.
Hempel goes on to ask a question that helpfully frames how Christians should begin thinking about the transgender revolution: “What if you are born into a female body, know you are a man, and still want to participate in the traditionally exclusive rite of womanhood? What kind of man are you then?”
Pew Behind You
We might be tempted to respond to this type of question—and this kind of person—with shock and dismissal, reducing someone like Evan’s psychological experiences of gender dysphoria1 to bizarre novelty or even derangement. But that’s most certainly not the Christian response to a person experiencing gender dysphoria. Instead, we must approach these individuals with both grace and truth (John 1:14).
Some respond that dismissing the legitimacy of a person’s experiences is to dismiss them wholesale. To be clear, we shouldn’t dismiss but feel compassion for anyone experiencing mental distress about a perceived misalignment between their gender identity and their body. Not dismissing the reality of their inner feelings, however, is not the same as affirming those feelings. It’s important for Christians to understand that people who experience distress, anguish, and conflict over their perceived gender identity really do exist. They’re not freaks. They’re not simply cross-dressers or people desiring to “gender-bend.” In most cases, their experience cannot be reduced to simply “living a lie” since most don’t feel they’re lying to themselves. In fact, just the opposite is true. People with genuine cases of dysphoria believe it’s their biological body that is lying. A person in this situation truly believes he or she is a member of the opposite sex.
Though statistically rare, people experiencing gender dysphoria are closer than we may think. They are our sons and daughters, our brothers and sisters. They’re people who may have been sitting in the pew behind us for decades, those who have fought against the desire to see themselves as the opposite sex but who struggle nonetheless.
And each one of them is an image bearer of God, imbued with endless dignity and eternal worth.
Psychology Doesn’t Change Ontology
So how do we evaluate this phenomenon?
First, Christians welcome all into the grace of the gospel, because our gospel is applicable and available to all (1 Tim. 2:4; 2 Pet. 3:9). So, first and foremost, we must offer genuine love to our gender dysphoric neighbor (Mark 12:30–31).
But as Christians, we’re also required to confront new challenges with biblical truth. God made men and women different (Gen. 1:27). Contrary to mistaken interpretations, sexual difference does not exist on a continuum where some men are more like women or vice versa. Men and women are different at the deepest levels of their being. Our chromosomes are different. Our brains are different. Our voices are different. Our body shapes are different. Our body strengths are different. Our reproductive systems are different. The design for what our bodies are structured and destined for are different, and these designs bear witness to differences that reflect God’s creative will for humanity. Because men and women are different, it’s philosophically impossible for a man to become a physical woman or a physical woman to become a man. Those who say otherwise are trafficking in fiction about human nature. In fact, there is no scientific proof to verify the claim that one is trapped inside the wrong body.
If God made men and women fundamentally and comprehensively different, then the idea that a man could ever become a woman (or vice versa) is simply impossible. The differences between men and women can’t be overcome simply because one person feels they’re a member of the opposite sex. Your psychology (feelings) cannot change your ontology (being).
Path to Freedom and Joy
Understanding why persons might perceive themselves the way they do, and giving biblical counsel that doesn’t simply repeat what political correctness demands, offers an opportunity for genuine counsel and compassion (Prov. 3:5–6). Biblical counsel would begin by helping a person embrace, however difficult it may seem, that their birth sex is a testimony to their true nature, and that perceptions of a different gender identity, while sincere, do not constitute an actual identity change.
As those who believe that love rejoices in truth (1 Cor. 13:6) and that truth sets people free (John 8:32), we must state what Time and a culture of enablement won’t: If Evan was born with XX chromosomes, Evan is not a man, nor can Evan ever be a man.
Hempel goes to great pains to deny Evan’s innate and inescapable femaleness. Why? Because it takes extroaordinary effort to paper over how our bodies are designed to function. Hempel indicates that Evan (whose former feminine name is not given) was born a healthy female. The act of Evan’s female biology naturally re-emerging after stopping hormone treatments in order to go through the pregnancy reveals this is true. We cannot remake ourselves according to self-will or even our deepest perceptions. No amount of suppression or repression can deny what is true of our bodies.
Suppressing what we know to be true will never produce the joy we desire. Whatever the state of an individual’s self-perceptions or feelings, the deliberate thwarting of healthy embodiment cannot yield lasting happiness. This is one reason transgender individuals who transition still report high rates of anxiety and depression.
Cloaked in pleas for compassion and sympathy, stories like the one in Time will become the new normal in America. And given the pace of acceleration, the implications will be enormous, touching almost every area of life. This will require Christians to have an understanding of compassion and sympathy—as well as love and hope—that goes deeper than simply affirming another’s experiences as normative and praiseworthy.
Our desires, perceptions, and bodies all testify to the disorder of a sin-ravaged creation. The good news for people like Evan, as for each one of us, is that the broken bodies we live in all need redemption (Rom. 8:18–25). And in Jesus Christ, all things are promised to be made new (Isa. 65:17; Rev. 21:5). While Christianity doesn’t guarantee total relief in this life, it does guarantee future resurrection from our desires, perceptions, and bodies that are subject to decay and death (1 Cor. 15:50–56). Because our biological sex doesn’t lie, and because our minds are susceptible to confusion, repentance and sanctification for the dysphoric individual involves the long work of bringing their perceived gender identity back into conformity with their biological sex. A person may never fully arrive at peace, but putting on the new self, remade in Jesus Christ, means embracing and trusting God’s authority over every facet of our existence (Col. 3:1–11).
Though it may bring new conversations and experiences many of us will not understand, ministry to those with gender dysphoria means walking with each precious soul through what could be years of psychological valleys (Gal. 6:2). We need Christians who will walk alongside these individuals in every season, in victory and in defeat, encouraging each toward greater faith in the Lord Jesus (Rom. 12:12; Jam. 1:12).
Only Christians humble enough to recognize their own brokenness will be capable of walking with people through struggles that seem very different from their own.
1 Mark Yarhouse defines gender dysphoria as “the experiences of distress associated with the incongruence wherein one’s psychological and emotional gender identity does not match one’s biological sex.”