I’ve been working on this series of posts for months, but I’ve also been very hesitant to write about this topic. Primarily because, as I mentioned in the last post, it is so easy to look at a person and think that addressing things that can be seen on the outside will lead to changes on the inside. In reality, that is rarely the case. I don’t want to leave the impression that becoming more feminine would lead to experiencing changes in one’s sexual orientation. And I seriously do not wish my own explorations in gender identity to be misinterpreted as some type of definitive standard.
But earlier this week I read this, and it reinforced how important it is for me to at least try to write about this subject, even if I’m not able to be perfectly articulate about it:
This poor kid – this could easily be me. (Especially as she’s wearing a Steeler’s shirt – my favorite team!) She’s only eight years old, and doesn’t think of herself as being a boy, according to the interview recorded along with this article. I really can’t see a reason to make a fuss. And it comes across, once again, as though all Christians take a knee-jerk approach to these issues.
In my case, it wasn’t a Christian school that tried to change my appearance, it was my mom. She did not understand my tomboyishness and couldn’t identify with it at all. When she was growing up, she loved dresses and high-gloss shoes with buckles and wore lace gloves to church on Sunday mornings with enjoyment. Those things felt terrible on me. But any kind of boyishness in my appearance was a terrible embarrassment to my mother. I remember when she was introducing my brother and I to someone and said, “This is my son, R___, and my feminine daughter, Debra.” While saying this she stood behind me and had her hands on my shoulders, rather close to my neck, and shook me a bit for emphasis. I got the message.
I would much prefer to speak to people in person about gender identity, as I don’t want anyone else to feel that kind of pressure and discomfort and lack of acceptance that I grew up with. As you are reading, please don’t look for the key(s) to unlock every door that blocks the way for every person who identifies as gay/lesbian/ etc., or who is expressing their gender identity in non-conventional ways. Although I went through changes in my gender identity, I don’t see myself as someone who has achieved some kind of “feminine ideal.” I don’t think that there is one. And frankly, some of what passes for idealistically feminine in our culture today just isn’t healthy.
Instead, as you read I hope that you will be encouraged that this same God who showed His faithful love to me in specific ways through the years also knows and loves each of you and those you know very deeply and intimately. I pray that you will seek Jesus on your own and spend time with Him. He will help you to grow into the wonderful, unique aspect of Christ-likeness that you have been created to reflect.
What is Gender Identity?
Our gender identity is so very subjective. It is culturally dependent – differing due to what country / tribe you are a part of at the time. And it’s time-dependent – different ages hold different styles and ideals in vogue. What was considered really hot back in the day tends to look rather ridiculous now.
It took a long time for me to sort through the complex threads of my identity as a female. I didn’t want to conform to a cultural ideal – either of the secular world or the Christian sub-culture – just for the sake of blending in. I wanted to learn if the Lord wanted me to make any changes at all, or if He would be happy with me just as I was. And if there was a prodding to make changes, I wanted them to come from the inside out – to still feel like “me,” and not feel fake, as though I was dressing up in a costume.
And, as with my sexual orientation, sometimes the church and fellow believers were very helpful, other times not at all. And sometimes I just sabotaged the heck out of myself along the way. But I came to a place of contentment, (where I happen to still be quite tomboyish), with the sure foundation of what it meant to be “God’s woman.” Not forcing myself into current cultural or Christian sub-cultural trends, but an authentic expression of what it means to be a woman in God’s eyes.
For the follower of Christ, the bigger question is, “What does the Lord tell us about what it means to be a woman in His Word?” Let’s spend some time thinking about that…
Your Hair is Like a Flock of Goats
How beautiful you are, my darling!
Oh, how beautiful!
Your eyes behind your veil are doves.
Your hair is like a flock of goats
descending from the hills of Gilead.
Your teeth are like a flock of sheep just shorn,
coming up from the washing.
Each has its twin;
not one of them is alone.
Song of Solomon 4 :1-2
Oh, how I love these verses! It seems as though this was a compliment, back in the day…which absolutely cracks me up. Several things in the Song of Solomon do translate well through the gaps of culture and time, but this isn’t one of them. I love animals, but the beauty of a flock of goats descending a mountain does not work as a flattering remark when I’m heading out for fun day.
So this passage reminds me to not shoot for the nanny goat look when styling my hair in the morning as some kind of benchmark of how the Lord wishes me to appear to the world at large. We need to remember to read the Scriptures as literature – taking the metaphors metaphorically, the literal parts literally, etc.
Seriously, then, what does the Lord have to say about what it means to be feminine in His eyes? (Which are the ones that count.)
This is not a comprehensive synopsis, but I found these truths to be very helpful when I was looking at what it meant to be feminine from the Lord’s perspective:
- Taking a Spiritual / Kingdom View of People
- We are Created Either Male or Female
- We are Known
- Beauty’s Source
Kingdom / Spiritual View
I do this all the time – look at myself and others as though we’re just people, when really we’re not. We are eternal souls walking around in temporary housing. What we can see is not all there is to life. Three points come to mind about this when we look at the Scriptures:
The eternal overrides the temporary.
Consequently, from now on we estimate and regard no one from a [purely] human point of view [in terms of natural standards of value]. [No] even though we once did estimate Christ from a human viewpoint and as a man, yet now [we have such knowledge of Him that] we know Him no longer [in terms of the flesh]. Therefore if any person is [ingrafted] in Christ (the Messiah) he is a new creation (a new creature altogether); the old [previous moral and spiritual condition] has passed away. Behold, the fresh and new has come!
II Cor. 5:16-17, Amplified Bible
As believers in Christ – this is such great news! We don’t have to get caught up in the “purely human / natural standards point of view.” There is more to us than what we can see, and we are called to look at everyone past when is visible on the surface. It’s also sobering news, as C.S. Lewis expands upon this train of thought in the closing paragraph of his amazing essay, “The Weight of Glory:”
It may be possible for each to think too much of his own potential glory hereafter; it is hardly possible for him to think too often or too deeply about that of his neighbour. The load, or weight, or burden of my neighbour’s glory should be laid daily on my back, a load so heavy that only humility can carry it, and the backs of the proud will be broken. It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilization—these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit—immortal horrors or everlasting splendours. This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn. We must play. But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously—no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption. And our charity must be a real and costly love, with deep feeling for the sins in spite of which we love the sinner—no mere tolerance or indulgence which parodies love as flippancy parodies merriment. Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbour is the holiest object presented to your senses. If he is your Christian neighbour he is holy in almost the same way, for in him also Christ vere latitat — the glorifier and the glorified, Glory Himself, is truly hidden.
~ C.S. Lewis, “The Weight of Glory” (British spelling)
We will all get new bodies anyway.
For we know that when this earthly tent we live in is taken down (that is, when we die and leave this earthly body), we will have a house in heaven, an eternal body made for us by God himself and not by human hands. We grow weary in our present bodies, and we long to put on our heavenly bodies like new clothing. For we will put on heavenly bodies; we will not be spirits without bodies.[a] While we live in these earthly bodies, we groan and sigh, but it’s not that we want to die and get rid of these bodies that clothe us. Rather, we want to put on our new bodies so that these dying bodies will be swallowed up by life. God himself has prepared us for this, and as a guarantee he has given us his Holy Spirit.
II Cor. 5:1-5, Amplified Bible
More good news – you’re not satisfied with the body you’ve got now – when you have put your faith in Christ, you’ll get a new one! According to II Cor. 5:4, our discomfort with our bodies isn’t completely about falling short of the celebrities and models and bodybuilders we see celebrated in our culture. There is a spiritual restlessness that is there because what we’re living in now is just a makeshift stand-in for the eternal bodies we will one day have.
On the flip side – finding complete contentment with ourselves and our surroundings here on earth isn’t necessarily the goal – finding contentment in Christ regardless of where we are is.
So we are always confident, even though we know that as long as we live in these bodies we are not at home with the Lord. For we live by believing and not by seeing. Yes, we are fully confident, and we would rather be away from these earthly bodies, for then we will be at home with the Lord. So whether we are here in this body or away from this body, our goal is to please him. For we must all stand before Christ to be judged. We will each receive whatever we deserve for the good or evil we have done in this earthly body. II Cor. 5:6-10, New Living Translation
There is such a thing as a holy tension – confidently living here, although we’d rather be home with Jesus face to face. But whether we are here or in heaven, our goal is to live out the calling to holiness that God has given each one of us.
No one will be married or get married in heaven.
That same day the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to Him with a question. “Teacher,” they said, “Moses told us that if a man dies without having children, his brother must marry the widow and raise up offspring for him. Now there were seven brothers among us. The first one married and died, and since he had no children, he left his wife to his brother. The same thing happened to the second and third brother, right on down to the seventh. Finally, the woman died. Now then, at the resurrection, whose wife will she be of the seven, since all of them were married to her?”
Jesus replied, “You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God. At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven. But about the resurrection of the dead—have you not read what God said to you, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’[b]? He is not the God of the dead but of the living.”
When the crowds heard this, they were astonished at His teaching.
This might be taken as either good news or bad news. Marriage is not the be-all or end-all of life. When we take our marriage vows, we often commit to one another, “…till death do us part.” Well, according to Jesus, death will part us. Marriage is an earthly institution, but not a heavenly one, when it comes to us as couples. (There is another sense in which the Church is called the “Bride of Christ….” Rev. 19:7-10, but that is another kind of marriage than what we’re talking about here.)
So if you had dreams of being united with your spouse throughout all eternity – that’s not what Jesus says is going to happen. I realize that this is getting a bit off the track of gender identity – however, it was important to me to think this through as the church can tend to worship marriage as though it was an eternal institution. I was single for a long, long time, and that wore thin on me as I was trying to find my footing in the areas of sexual orientation and gender identity. I think it’s important for us as believers to keep an eternal perspective.
Created – Male and Female
We were made different from the get-go, with only two options – we exist as a binary species. I understand that there are movements of people promoting a third or a number of other genders, but I find those are man-made constructs, and create confusion more than bringing clarity.
Now the Lord God had formed out of the ground all the wild animals and all the birds in the sky. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds in the sky and all the wild animals.
But for Adam no suitable helper was found. So the Lord God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, He took one of the man’s ribs and then closed up the place with flesh. Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib He had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man.
The man said,
“This is now bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh;
she shall be called ‘woman,’
for she was taken out of man.”
That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.
Adam and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.
This is the written account of Adam’s family line.
When God created mankind, He made them in the likeness of God. He created them male and female and blessed them.
And of course we’re familiar with the Scriptures that repeat that male and female are united in marriage, without other options being given:
“That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.”
“‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife,’”
“For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.”
When I read these passages I found them to be pretty basic – there isn’t any instruction on how one can be more masculine or feminine within them. But I knew that I wasn’t a eunuch,* and I had been created female.
We Are Known
I found more comfort in knowing that exactly where I was right then, and each day until now, I was known – even beyond my own ability to comprehend myself.
For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.
My frame was not hidden from you
when I was made in the secret place,
when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
In this passage we read that none of us just appear by happenstance. Each of us has been put together in a “fearful and wonderful” way. And as a health care professional, I’ve gotten a bit more of a glimpse into that great truth than the average person. The way our joints are put together, how our heart muscle works constantly throughout our lives without rest – and the mysteries we don’t understand – how cartilage is nourished, how the nervous system could be repaired after it’s severed, etc. It’s all fascinating – we still have so much to learn about digestion, our brains, ageing….on and on.
“So do not be afraid of them, for there is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roofs. Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.
Then, just as I’m about to get dizzy with the details of our biology, I come across this passage that really blows me away. The God who put me together in such a fantastic way, cares about me. He takes that intimate knowledge and watches out for me – even counting the number of hairs on my head. And they come and go, and I don’t even feel it! (We lose about 100 hairs each day, on average.)
“Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.”
1 Peter 3:3-4
There was a great sense of relief when I read the words in this passage. For there I found what I’d suspected was true all along – when it comes to beauty, God cares more about the inside than the outside. It brought echoes of the words Jesus had about “whitewashed tombs” with the Pharisees:
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.”
The Lord isn’t impressed by those who look sharp outwardly, yet on the inside are steeped in evil inwardly. Neither of these passages state that we shouldn’t make an effort to look good on the outside, but rather that we shouldn’t lean on outward appearances to carry the day. The work that goes into the “inward self” the “unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit…” is what is God treasures. Now, let’s check what how that verse (4) reads in the Amplified version of the Bible:
But let it be the inward adorning and beauty of the hidden person of the heart, with the incorruptible and unfading charm of a gentle and peaceful spirit, which [is not anxious or wrought up, but] is very precious in the sight of God.
“Quiet” then means “peaceful” rather than silent. And there is something appealing about women who are peaceful – who aren’t caught up in anxiety – that is relaxingly beautiful in nature.
So this was my summary – no recommended hairdos, clothing, or perfumes – no makeup instructions or guides to the best hat style to wear at this year’s Easter service. When women speak and teach confidently that this is the fashion or that look should be avoided – they aren’t getting it from Scripture.
Instead, I tried to take to heart these truths from God’s Word. Looking at myself and others from a spiritual perspective, remembering that I’ve been created as a woman, in an amazing way, by a God who knows me better than I know myself. And the beauty that is important to God is about my character, not my outward appearance. Keeping these things in mind and in practice helped me to sort through everything I was seeing and hearing from the well-meaning voices around me about what it means to be feminine. And also acted as a filter to protect me from the controlling or selfish marketing voices eager to get me to try whatever they were pushing or selling. It’s still quite helpful today.
*What about eunuchs? They are mentioned throughout the Bible, in the Old and New Testaments, but as this particular situation did not pertain to me, and as I’m not aiming at writing a comprehensive summary of everyone’s situation, I’m not going into that subject here. This series of posts is about my own journey regarding gender identity.