More Than Body Parts Indeed

More Than Body Parts Indeed

A kid in Colorado with male genitals is prohibited from using the girls’ bathroom.

That’s the straightforward backstory on a recent piece from Donna Rose, a transsexual journalist writing her opinion for CNN. A Colorado school district has decided that a six-year-old child with male anatomy should use the boys’ bathroom at school, or a private one, Rose reports. Rose decries the school’s decision as discrimination because the child apparently has a deep sense of being a girl.

This six-year-old child, Rose writes,

knows she’s a girl. She dresses as a girl. Her legal documents recognize her as a girl. Her parents accept her as a girl. On the playground, you would have difficulty identifying her as different from any of the other girls, because in all ways that matter socially and legally, this child is a girl.

We are talking about a transsexual first-grader. A first-grader. Thanks, Mom and Dad. You see, in all the ways that really matter, this child is a boy. But the parents, ABC news reports, say when he was 18-months-old he began to “struggle with gender identification.” In short, he played with Barbie dolls and said he wanted to be a girl. So Mom and Dad took him to a “specialist” who diagnosed him with gender identity disorder and there you have it.

So it’s a disturbing story, to say the least, but with that said, I appreciate a couple things Donna Rose writes about it. She is right to say that the surrounding moments of a person’s birth are significant, and she is right to say that gender identity is not just body parts.

Those Moments Surrounding Birth

Rose writes, “I doubt many people stop to consider that the single most significant moment in their lives happens within minutes of their births. That’s when, upon simple inspection, a doctor or a nurse pronounces a baby a boy or a girl.”

That is a significant moment. Not counting my own, I’ve been there to see three of these moments. It was in those moments that my wife and I received our children as the boy or girl that God had given us, not as the children whose gender we determine ourselves. That’s one blaring problem in this story. Rose talks like this child in Colorado vacationed at Walden Pond and decided that she was really a girl. But actually, to Rose’s point, those moments surrounding this child’s birth were insanely significant. It seems as though Mom and Dad just weren’t settled that their boy was a boy. Perhaps they needed the infant to speak up after coming through the birth canal and explain that his penis was there for a reason. That what they see is, well, what they get.

The injustice didn’t happen in a Colorado school. It happened in the home of this child. It happened when this child’s parents thumbed their noses at God and decided they’d treat their son as if he were a daughter.

Gender Identity Is Not Just Body Parts

The title of Rose’s piece is, “Gender identity is not just body parts.” This is absolutely true. Gender identity is more than body parts, but not less.

This is true because reality is more than biological. That is one perspective on personhood, alongside societal witness and our existential sense, which informs our sexual identity. Not one of these three perspectives determines our sexuality on its own, but each work together — as three vantages on one whole — to inform us on who we are. Three distinctions of “sex,” “gender,” and “gender identity” can serve to highlight these perspectives. You might call them normative, situational, and existential. Theologian Kevin Vanhoozer explains:

In brief: sex is something biological (chromosomal marker); gender, something sociological associated with perceptions of masculinity and femininity (cultural marker), and gender identity, something psychological (consciousness marker). (“Four Views,” Kindle Locations 3251-3254)

The biological, normative perspective is the chromosomal make-up, expressed in the anatomy. It’s the recognition, Rose says, that comes by a simple inspection by the doctor that causes “reverberations for the rest of our lives.” Rose is right again. It is a simple inspection, because it is simple. If you have a male’s anatomy, you are not a female. And at the same time, the anatomy doesn’t say it all. The Ethiopian eunuch was not less than a man when he believed the gospel (Acts 9:27ff).

Then there is the social, situational perspective. It’s the perspective that says if he looks male, walks male, and talks male, he must be male. We live in a sexual world, and we’re hardwired to see reality through this binary lens. Take most languages for example. Again, it’s not the say-all, but we recognize masculine and feminine.

Lastly, there’s the personal, existential perspective. It is how we perceive ourselves. It is how we feel. In most cases of transsexualism, this is the linchpin. Despite the chromosomes God gives, despite the way the world sees, the way we feel must be the only truth-teller. But actually, in the case of this child in Colorado, it seems biology is the only faithful witness. The parents have said one thing over and over and over. They’ve dressed the child in pink and put bows in the child’s hair. But every time the child has to potty, he knows. When his chest doesn’t look like the other girls’, he’ll know. When he has to take medicine to hold back the hair from growing on his face, he’ll know. When he can’t get pregnant because he doesn’t have ovaries, he’ll know. Poor child. How tragic that his parents have done this to him.

Good News for Donna Rose

Rose admits the existential perspective in mentioning her own struggles. It’s the part, I presume, that most transsexuals believe nobody else understands.

This is a topic close to home for Rose. And lest I sound like a distant commentator, this is a topic close to home for me, in my extended family. So Rose doesn’t sound weird, she sounds like someone I could have grown up with. She sounds like someone I love. And therefore, with the sincerest warmth, I want to say to Donna Rose what I’ve said before to someone much closer: I understand you feel broken.

It’s not strange that our psychological perspective is messed up, that you might feel one way although your biology and society says something else. We are all broken people somewhere, whether in our sexual attraction or our deepest thoughts or a thousand other ways. Sin taints us. But how we feel is just one perspective among three. This is one angle that informs our sexuality. Only one.

So yes, gender identity is not just body parts. All three of these perspectives — biological, social, psychological — inform who God created us to be. And no matter how hard we try, we can’t manipulate all three of these perspectives to say something they don’t. You can think yourself female, and you can fool society to see female. You can even go under the knife and reorder the look of your anatomy. But you can’t make XY become XX. You just can’t. God’s imprint will haunt our every effort to rebel against his handiwork. And the fact is, when the dust settles, you’ve only suppressed your identity with a surgical procedure and hormone injections.

But surgery and injections can’t pass for a Creator. As much as you’d like to believe that these props made you finally become “who you should have been,” there’s one voice still calling. It’s the voice of the One who made you, the One who knit you together in your mother’s womb (Psalm 139:13). It’s the voice of the One who knows how broken this world is and how broken you feel. He knows because he himself has come to this earth and walked in your shoes. He knows because he took all of your brokenness, and sin and guilt and pain, and he died on the cross to give you a new identity summed up in one word: his.

He came to make you whole in him, not in artificial hormones.

Turn from them and trust in Jesus.

As broken as you feel in this world, believe that you were created for another.


Recent posts from Jonathan:

Jonathan Parnell (@jonathanparnell) is a writer and content strategist at Desiring God. He lives in the Twin Cities with his wife, Melissa, and their four children, and is the co-author of How to Stay Christian in Seminary .