“I was born a girl, but I want to be a boy.”
I never actually said those words out loud, but I thought them a lot. Between the ages of 9 and 15, I did not want to be a girl. I wanted to be a boy. In my mind, I wasn’t fit to be a girl. I wasn’t pretty (or so I thought). I enjoyed sports and rough-housing. I was stronger than the guys my age and more drawn to being a leader.
According to the religion and culture I knew, being a boy made so much more sense. My religion said that only men could be leaders, and my culture told me that women should be beautiful. Since I was a strong leader and didn’t think I was beautiful, I logically thought, “Perhaps I should not be a woman.”
Of course, I never voiced something so taboo out loud. Instead, I made subtle changes to make sure that I was perceived like one of the boys. Over the course of my fifth-grade year, I progressively cut my hair shorter and shorter until I had something slightly longer than a pixie cut. I had already been running around in tomboy clothing since the third-grade, so finding clothes in the boys section of the store was not difficult. When I entered sixth-grade, my teachers actually mistook me for a boy. I was proud.
Many children are going through the same struggles I went through. Puberty hits, and suddenly these children are uncomfortable with their bodies and places in the world. Some of them will decide that they do not fit the manhood or womanhood mold they’ve been exposed to. Logic will then say, “If I am not one, I must be the other.”
Studies show that, left to themselves, these feelings will disappear toward the end of puberty for most of these children. However, in the future, most of these children will not keep their thoughts to themselves. Instead, they will confess their feelings… and then be encouraged to follow them.
Between the rampant media coverage and the Obama administration’s bathroom edict, children are not really being left to themselves anymore. For any child who does struggle with gender identity, our culture is going to assault them with loads of information. And most of this information will not come from the perspective of truth.
The church needs to be ready for an open dialogue about this significant problem. Here are some practical tips for what your church can do to help these children navigate such a serious struggle.
This seems like the obvious “Sunday School” answer, but we truly have no more powerful weapon in this culture war than prayer. Here are some specific things to pray for those struggling with gender identity, or even just children in general:
- That they would know salvation through Jesus Christ.
- That they would know and cherish the Bible as authoritative, and allow it to continually renew their minds.
- That they would have a clear understanding of manhood and womanhood.
- That they would have a clear sense of God’s calling for their lives.
- That they would have a clear view of themselves, the way God sees them.
These items are crucial for any person to pray over any child, but especially for those struggling with gender identity.
2. Teach Biblical Understandings of Manhood and Womanhood
From my own experience in struggling with gender identity and from reading the accounts of people who choose to go through a transition of gender, I find that most people struggling with gender identity simply think they do not fit the mold of manhood or womanhood that they have been presented with.
But we need to understand that womanhood and manhood are not molds like cookie cutters. Just like people come in all different physical sizes, shapes, and colors, women and men come with all different kinds of gifts and ways of thinking that are still compatible with manhood and womanhood.
Even within the scope of biblical roles, our personalities encompass a beautiful spectrum. Women are strong, sensitive, loud, quiet, tough, social, introverted, thoughtful, empathetic, athletic, direct, passive and assertive. They can be gifted with leadership, evangelism, hospitality, faith, creativity and technological intuition. Not one of those items are incompatible with womanhood. Here is the kicker: not one of those items are incompatible with manhood either.
What makes a man a man and a woman a woman involves biology, to be sure, but it also involves a loving God who makes no mistakes and cares about every facet of our lives, including the ways we express womanhood and manhood. Every good thing is gifted to us by God (James 1:17) and gender is one of those good gifts. The logic that initially drove me away from embracing my true gender identity (“I am not this, so I must be that”) is also part of what drew me back to seeing what God had intended for me. “God does not make mistakes. God made me a woman. God also gave me all of these gifts and ways of thinking. Therefore, God fully intended for me to be a woman who thinks, feels, looks and is gifted the way I am.”
3. Practice Speaking Truth
The church is the physical representation of Christ on earth. Therefore, the church needs to speak the words of Christ to the world at large. This includes children, especially children struggling with gender identity.
Call them chosen. Call them beloved. Call them beautiful. Do not wait for girls to tell you they believe they are ugly. Do not wait for boys to tell you that they cannot do anything right. If you wait for that time, you will be fighting an uphill battle. Another part of what drew me back from my gender identity struggles was that I started to hear people when they told me I was beautiful. The thing is, it often takes more than one person to speak into the life of a struggling child before they begin to get the message.
Church, work together! Tell the girls they are beautiful! Tell the boys that they are strong! This is how they will come to know the way that God sees them. Remember, Jesus changed Simon’s name to Peter long before Peter actually became a rock in the church. So call them beautiful. Call them strong. Even if you do not see it yet, our omniscient God does.
The culture will spend plenty of time telling children that they are not enough. The church needs to be a place where they will be told the truth, including the truth of how God sees them.
Ultimately, the church is going to be the key to helping all people navigate through tough issues. In order to do that, we need to open a dialogue about these struggles. People need to know that it is okay to struggle, but it is not good to struggle alone. The church needs to be ready to come alongside these children in their struggles with compassion and understanding. Only then will they be ready and able to listen to truth– the truth about who God is and who He made them to be. This is the truth that actually does have the power to set people free.