Sugar and spice and puppy dog tails: part three

Children can be cruel to one another and even to themselves. Boys with feminine traits might be called “sissies,” while girls with masculine traits might be called “tomboys.” Sometimes these are temporary phases, part of childhood development. Sometimes they reveal characteristics that will remain part of an individual’s personality into adulthood. Most of the time, they are not related to an individual’s gender identity and sense of self. They might be teased or bullied at school because they are different from their peers, but even that experience is not as harmful as having adults overreact to those childhood tendencies, having those adults try to respond in a permanent way to behavior that is only a temporary part of being children.

This leads to discussion of a distinction made in my daughter’s nursing school materials, which is the distinction between gender identity and gender presentation. Some men enjoy dressing as women and acting as women, even though they still consider themselves men and are comfortable with their masculinity. Some women like to dress as men and act as men, even though they still consider themselves women and are comfortable with their femininity. For men, cross-dressing might have comic effect, as in Flip Wilson’s Geraldine character or the female characters portrayed by the male Monty Python cast. For women, dressing and acting like men might seem necessary in their professional lives, things they must do to be accepted among male coworkers. The Bible contains one brief prohibition of crossdressing (Deuteronomy 22:5), but Bible scholars are not in agreement about how that commandment applies to situations like those listed above.

The world is confused about gender and the various issues associated with gender. Since some expressions of gender vary from place to place and from time to time, even sincere Christians who are striving to live according to God’s commandments might be unsure about what is acceptable to God and what is prohibited by God. Several considerations should be kept in mind as Christians struggle to steer through the foggy paths of gender-related issues in the contemporary world.

  • Just because something can be done, we should not conclude that it should be done. This applies to gender-changing therapy, including hormone treatment and surgery, as well as counseling that might direct a person towards those changes. Except in those rare cases in which human gender is ambiguous in an individual’s chromosomes, the better path is encouraging children and adults to adjust their gender identity to match their biological gender.
  • Children especially need role models that help them understand and define masculinity and femininity. Boys need to be steered away from “toxic masculinity,” inasmuch as that label describes inconsiderate and abusive attitudes and behavior towards other people. Boys also need to be guided away from portrayals of weak masculinity, including the bumbling fathers that appear in much family-oriented entertainment from the past seventy years. Girls likewise need to be shown examples of femininity that are confident, competent, and compassionate, neither defenseless victims of abuse nor militant opponents of men.
  • Children need to be taught to accept differences rather than teasing, bullying, and abusing peers who are different. This includes acceptance of different appearances, languages, and cultures; it also includes respect for varying temperaments among their peers. Children do not need to be informed about adult sexuality or about divergences in adult behavior while they are young. Rather, they should be taught that all people are to be treated with kindness and consideration, even when those people are different in any way.
  • Sexuality ought to remain a private and personal matter. Christians will not be able to demand a Biblical model of relationships and family life be imposed on their nonChristian neighbors. At the same time, it should be possible to live as neighbors, to cooperate at the workplace, and to share public spaces without discussing gender-related issues, especially gender preferences. Public facilities may find it helpful to create more single-use restrooms in order to avoid controversies about inappropriate sharing of such facilities. In general, though, it should be possible for most people to live a normal day without being confronted by controversies about gender confusion that exist in the contemporary world. J.

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