Which is it: Gender or Sex?Changes in the secular culture are also changing our vocabulary. For example, the term “gender” no longer means only male or female. Instead, gender now takes into account identity and expression. (According to healthline.com there are 64 terms that describe gender.) There is even disagreement on the number of biological sexes. The New York Times states that “biologically speaking, there are many gradations running from female to male; along that spectrum lie at least five sexes — perhaps even more.” While many people talk about sexual orientation, there is no agreement based on legal, medical, or psychological definitions. Those of us committed to the Christian worldview base our view of gender and sex on the biblical book of Genesis: “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them. And God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth.’” Therefore, the Christian worldview on gender and sex takes into account not only the creation of a biological man and a biological woman, but also love, marriage, fidelity, and reproduction.
What is gender dysphoria?The word “dysphoria” is a clinical term for unease or dissatisfaction. Gender dysphoria is the feeling that your emotional and psychological identity doesn’t match the biological sex you were born with. There are two types of gender dysphoria: Early onset gender dysphoria involves someone’s distress over their sex that begins in early childhood, usually between the ages of 2 and 4. According to Psychology Today, only a small number of children with gender dysphoria will continue to have symptoms in later adolescence or adulthood. Rapid onset gender dysphoria, an increasing social phenomenon, affects teens and adults who have identified with their own biological sex for years, then decide they want to change genders and sometimes alter their bodies. This developmental crisis, seen especially among adolescents, is seemingly associated with “peer contagions” such as:
- Social media influencers celebrating the ideology of gender fluidity.
- Peers embracing transgender behavior as popular and trendy — and as an avenue for social celebration or unique recognition.
- Clubs sponsored within public school systems to promote acceptance of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) identity framework.
How can parents help instill a secure and stable sense of sexual identity as God designed?Ideally, parents will begin the following approaches early in a child’s life, nurturing a healthy, biblical view of gender and sexuality. For even more help on this topic, read our article Talking to Your Children About Transgender Issues and this information on Helping Children With Gender Identity Confusion.
Initiate early, consistent, age-appropriate sex education at home.Use correct terminology for body parts and their functions. You wouldn’t wait until your child asked you about how and why to wash their hands before proactively teaching them to do so. Likewise, don’t wait until they ask you how and why girls and boys are different to begin to explain it to them. Normalize talking about age-appropriate, healthy sexuality from a faith perspective. Ongoing, open communication is a very different mindset from the old attitude of putting off “the Talk” as long as you possibly can. Educate yourself about healthy childhood sexual development so you can be on the offense instead of the defense. Being proactive is the best way to ensure your child gets trustworthy, biblical teaching on sensitive, important topics such as sex, gender identity, homosexuality, and transgenderism.
Become aware of any patterns creating problems at home.Watch for cues that your child may have experienced something that confuses or bothers them. Ask them questions and help them identify their feelings and when those began. If you uncover issues you don’t know how to handle, seek the counsel of a professional Christian counselor. Consider these possibilities:
- Has there been a breakdown in the child’s family life such as abandonment, foster care, adoption, infidelity, separation, divorce, cohabitation, or remarriage?
- Has the child over-identified with, perceived rejection from, or been abused or abandoned by one parent?
- Are LGBT media influences or people close to the child influencing them with extreme or unhealthy modeling of what it means to be male or female?
Focus on enjoying God instead of simply teaching moral behaviors.One of the biggest misperceptions about Christianity is that it’s simply about acting right. When Christian parents overemphasize their child’s behavior rather than their heart, the real message they send often has more shame than love. This distorted view of the Gospel leads people to reject traditional gender roles as being just another Christian idea that’s outmoded and unnecessarily restrictive. The message our kids (and the world) really need to hear is that forming your spirit in deep friendship with God is the only way to peace, salvation, and your true identity.
Prioritize honoring God above pleasing people.Honoring God out of reverence for who He is and from gratitude for His saving grace is an appropriate heart response toward our Creator. However, others around us may care very little or even ridicule this kind of living from our faith. When people close to us aim to pull us away from this devotion, boundaries are necessary. Loving God results in loving others, but dishonoring God inevitably leads to dishonoring others as well. This is important to remember as we protect our children and teach them to guard their hearts and minds. So much of the reasoning behind the LGBT movement is based on people’s feelings and experiences. Their legitimate pain calls out for compassion and support, touching our hearts, as it should. But when we elevate people’s stories, feelings, preferences, and experiences above scriptural truth, we have built a house of cards instead of a foundation for life. Those who create their own principles of sexuality are not models to follow. Only God’s perfectly designed plan, as communicated in His Word, should be the standard to which we aim. Well-meaning Christian parents may fall into the trap of thinking that it’s loving to acquiesce to their child’s gender struggle without considering the more important responsibility of shepherding their eternal souls. But putting your acceptance of your children’s preferences and behavior above their relationship with God doesn’t truly help them. As Edmund Burke wrote, “Whatever disunites man from God, also disunites man from man.” Encouraging your children to honor God and lean on Him as their gracious Helper is the most loving thing you can do as their earthly parent and, hopefully, as their eternal brother or sister in Christ. Staying compassionately connected to the heart of your child does not require distancing from the heart and plan of God.
Take your gender roles from Scripture, not man-made tradition, family, or feelings.It’s possible for a family to be quite healthy and their child still experience gender dysphoria. Kids react in various ways to forces outside the home every day. Also, children may perceive relationships and their place in the family in ways adults may never expect. That’s why, for many families, the roots of their child’s confusion began at home without their parents even realizing it. Some Christians who are upset over their child’s trans identity may also be embracing their own skewed version of masculinity and femininity. Their view of what it means to be male or female and how to live that out seems normal to them because it’s based on their own personal comfort zones or what they saw growing up. Some people unconsciously continue their own parents’ unhealthy patterns; others react to them and become legalistic or dogmatic. But neither of these approaches are much more stable than what their teen may be doing by basing gender on individualized feelings. Rather, focus on the overall theme woven in Scripture (and in nature) that male and female are equally valuable and complementary — each displaying aspects of God as their differences work together. There are any number of family power struggles or dynamics that can become problematic and offer children a distorted view of God. For instance, religious legalism (rule-following instead of relationship) provokes children to rebel against parental authority and doubt God’s authority. Parents lament the emerging exodus of teens and young adults who are abandoning the faith. Unfortunately, many of them are actually reacting to a home and church characterized by legalistic qualities. To see how family systems reap consequences in a child’s perception of gender and sexuality, let’s examine just one example of an unhealthy, imbalanced family system. Of course the overbearing parent can be either sex, but for the sake of discussion we’ll say there is a family with a controlling, domineering father and an anxious, passive mother. A girl raised in an atmosphere of chauvinism and misogyny often develops a distorted view of womanhood.
- She may think her value lies in always being passive and subservient.
- She may feel her only other option is to rebel and demand her rights in traditionally masculine ways.
- Her ability to relate to males can be delayed or distorted.
- He may feel disconnected from his father.
- He may develop an overall negative association with masculinity.
- He may over-identify with his mother and sisters.
- He may seek to connect with other men in unhealthy ways to fill his father-wound.
How can we encourage healthy gender identity?
Teach your children the truth about gender and transgender identity.From an early age, teach them that our human bodies matter. The body is connected to our personhood — who we are. Emphasize that their body is good and worthy of respect and protection. Help them celebrate their unique qualities of maleness or femaleness. Become informed on this topic through trustworthy resources and encourage your kids to bring their questions to you or your spouse as their primary source of reliable information on any topic, especially private or uncomfortable ones. And when you see a trans person, don’t model a sense of disgust or make disparaging remarks. Show respect and love for them as God’s image-bearers and use the encounter later as an opportunity to discuss the experience with your kids.
Let their individuality flourish within healthy limits.Boys don’t all have to be rough or aggressive — they can also be sensitive, creative, and nurturing, according to the unique personality God has given them. Girls can be tough, sporty, and prefer toy trucks over dolls but still be accepted and celebrated as an example of strong, lovely girlhood. On the other hand, you don’t want to allow behaviors that emasculate your son, such as wearing their sisters’ dresses and painting their nails. And what if your daughter wants to shave her head? Or your son wants to take up knitting? Where is the balance between being too strict and too lenient? The mistake a lot of parents make when their child exhibits traits that are more commonly associated with the opposite sex is to react in fear or anger. Instead, watch for opportunities to help them enjoy and develop their talents and interests in the context of still being a boy or a girl. For example, reacting to a tomboy with disapproval and shame sends the hurtful message that she can’t possibly be accepted as a girl the way she is. But her being rowdy isn’t a serious cause for concern. The real problem would be if she hates being a girl and resists all things that are essentially (not just traditionally) female. These are signs of a deeper internal conflict she needs help to work through.
Consider the future effects of your parenting decisions.Wise parents consider the long game in their parenting. Girls and boys have many needs that overlap, but they also have some that are unique to their sex. Fortunately there are some great resources available to help today’s Christian parents anticipate what their children need to thrive and develop a healthy, secure sexual identity. Perhaps your child’s behaviors have already gone beyond the circumstantial issues of dolls versus trucks. Parents are under tremendous pressure to support their children’s and teenagers’ feelings and preferences without question. However, once you say yes to the “lesser” trans behaviors like cross-dressing, you’re soon going to be asked to sponsor greater ones. By opening the door to things you may later have to disallow in your home, you’re actually setting your child up for longer-term concerns. Parents need to explain clearly, “I love you unconditionally and I always will, but I can’t relate unconditionally to everything you ask for.” Just as you wouldn’t allow them to drive the car illegally and unsafely, there are likewise serious, scriptural, psychological, and medical reasons not to sponsor their trans behaviors. Of course, they may do whatever they choose while they’re at school or when they move out, but you do not have to endorse wayward and sinful behavior by condoning it in your home.
Live joyfully as a man or woman of God.Deuteronomy 6:6-8 describes how parents should teach their children to love the Lord every day as they go about their normal everyday lives. This overflowing lifestyle is also the best way to teach them about other important topics like sexuality. If you’re a trauma survivor, or you tend toward anger and criticism, or perhaps you struggle with depression, deal with your own needs diligently before they spill over onto your children. It’s OK to be imperfect and to let them see it, but they also need to see you becoming more like Christ every day. When you enjoy your godly manhood or womanhood in healthy ways, your kids will naturally emulate that pattern. Be sure to provide other role models in your children’s lives too. They need to see healthy people — secure men and women — who are thriving in their faith as part of the body of Christ. This example is good for all children but is especially important if a parent is a poor role model or is absent through death, divorce, or abandonment.
Teach your children a biblical worldview.
- They need to know that the way they view God is the most important thing in their life.
- They need to learn why God created men and women and how those roles reflect important aspects of His nature.
- They need to understand why we uphold standards of purity and integrity.
- They need to see you joyfully and purposefully center your family’s life around grateful obedience to God’s standards.
How should I respond to my prodigal child?First, your adult children must be allowed to make their own choices. Trying to control the behavior of another adult is an unhealthy approach to any relationship, regardless of the person’s faith or how they are related to you. Now that your child is out on his own, your importance to him is not necessarily less, but your authority over him is.
If your adult prodigal claims to have a relationship with Christ …
- Encourage them to lean into their faith and to simply keep talking with the Lord as they struggle and question.
- Remember, the most important aspect of humans is not their sexual or gender orientation; it’s their identity in Christ.
- Pray for them and rest in God to do what only He can do. This article on How to Trust God With Your Adult Children offers practical encouragement for this important task.
- Encourage them to revisit the Scriptures for truth about the nature of God, the creation of male and female, life in the Spirit, and sexuality.
- When speaking to them about God, make sure it’s about relationship, not moralism.
- Maintain an eternal mindset. Understanding sexuality as God intends it is actually a God-designed picture for seeing and understanding more about Him. Sexual morality is not merely an end unto itself. In other words, the most important issue in God’s eyes is your child’s heart and connection to Him. Keep that bigger priority as your focus, too.
If your adult child doesn’t claim to have a personal relationship with Christ …That changes how you should approach moral issues with them. 1 Corinthians 5:9-6:20 explains that we must deal with the sins of believers and non-believers differently.
- Don’t expect a non-Christian to place any value in your way of thinking. Without the power and influence of the indwelling Holy Spirit, none of us seeks to obey God. Your unsaved child has no reason to want to conform to what seem like arbitrary, outdated social norms, much less follow the precepts and principles of Scripture.
- Trying to force a non-believer to behave in ways that honor Christ is offensive to them, breaks the relationship, and undermines your future witness.
- People separated from God don’t need to act better; they need new life in Christ. For advice on sharing your faith with your adult child, click here.
- Compassionately consider the spiritual task that lies before them. The average non-Christian has to trust God with their soul for salvation. Most of us didn’t have to think about giving Him our struggle over something as uniquely personal as our gender identity, too. Trans people who come to Christ must surrender their sexual identity to Him in a profound act of trust. For an account of a person who did just this, read Walt Heyer’s amazing story.
Standing firm in God’s truth is the best way to help your child.Have you ever noticed in the story of the prodigal son that the father didn’t have to kick the son out of the house? The son chose to leave. He wanted a lifestyle of excess and sin, and the father allowed him to make that choice as an adult. It was simply a given that the son had to leave his father’s home in order to live in this manner. The father didn’t cave to the fear of losing his son and compromise to get him to stay. He didn’t even use financial control and withhold his inheritance. In the end, what changed the son’s heart wasn’t his father preaching at him or pleading with him. Instead, God’s Spirit used the emptiness and filth that a rebellious lifestyle naturally yields over time to make the son yearn for his father’s comfort and care. God works in ways we can’t comprehend, even using the consequences of our sin. He is able to do far beyond what you can do for your child in your own wisdom and strength. Your job is to maintain personal integrity, love, and solid faith in God’s truth. For more information and encouragement in dealing with a prodigal child, click here.
What if I’m a Christian experiencing gender dysphoria?
- Body: a trustworthy, Christian physician who can address any physical problems such as brain chemistry, depression, anxiety, or endocrine problems.
- Mind: a professional Christian counselor who can help you find healing from any trauma you may have experienced.
- Spirit: a pastor and several spiritual friendships who can mentor and walk with you into deeper friendship with God.
Remember that your body was purposefully designed.The human body is the home of our behaviors, appearance, mannerisms, and habits. Consider some things the Bible says about the human body: We reflect the image of our Creator. “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” (Genesis 1:27 ESV) Being made in His image separates us and the purpose of human sexuality from all other creatures, elevating our status and imprinting us with His likeness. Our bodies are not our own. (1 Corinthians 6:19-20) Imagine receiving an original, priceless painting. Would you even consider getting your paints out and changing it? Not only did God create you, but He also sacrificed His Son to purchase you back from sin and death. To alter healthy sexual organs denies that you are God’s masterpiece and embraces the lie that your value and identity come from your appearance, preferences, and sexuality. Sexual sin is spiritually devastating. (1 Corinthians 6:18) Changing appearance, genitalia, or hormones doesn’t actually change a person’s sex. It also doesn’t change God’s standards or His original design for your life. The biological sex God granted is coded into our DNA and every cell of our God-ordained bodies. It’s a harmful denial of Him and this reality to reject our body in this fundamental way. Your body was created to be a temple of the Holy Spirit. (1 Corinthians 6:19) Just as God gave Solomon specific instructions for every detail of the temple’s construction, He also purposefully designed every detail of our bodies. Some of His purposes we understand now and others we will learn about in heaven — but all of them are for our good and His glory. He is our God. We are not our own gods to do with ourselves as we wish.
Saturate your mind with the truth.Your mind is the home of your thoughts, emotions, memories, and imagination. Modern brain science confirms what the Bible has always said: Renewing your mind transforms you over time and as you grow in Christ. To begin to willingly open yourself to God’s intent for your sexuality, embrace these key tenets: A high view of Scripture. God’s Word provides principles and precepts for instruction in everything believers might encounter. It explains His purposes in creation, including the human body and its two distinct sexes. Creationism is foundational to the other truths of Scripture. When you believe a loving Father created you with care and purpose, your identity has a more secure foundation. A high view of God’s purposeful design for creation. The creation account in the Bible (Genesis 1:1-27) is a story of God separating many things:
- He separated the darkness from light.
- He separated the waters above from the waters below.
- He separated the dry land from the waters below.
- He separated the day from the night.
- He separated humankind into two biological sexes.
Nurture an intimate friendship with God.The human spirit is the seat of your desires, inclinations, affections, and identity. It is the deep well from which recovery springs. Many people get stuck at the level of the mind, asking “Why?” This prevents them from going deeper, repenting, and uniting with Christ. You don’t have to fully understand your inner conflict in order to surrender it to God. If you are a Christian who struggles with gender identity, we encourage you to start with these important steps:
- Lean into God’s presence right where you are instead of trying to fix your behaviors first. Even if you can’t find rest in your sexuality yet, will you dare to find rest in God’s love?
- Find a church home with a high view of Scripture. Live in community with other Christians who will come to know and care for you.
- Ask the Holy Spirit to convince you that God intentionally made you male or female and that your body at birth is His blessing and work.
- Consider what it means that God’s ways and thoughts are higher than yours. Ask Him to help you cooperate with His good purposes for your life. Cultivate the truth in your heart that God has restored others with sexual identity issues, and He not only can, but He desires to do the same for you.
- Take heart in the fact that your pain does not have to go to waste. By definition, Christians are called to live a life of sacrifice. But Christ’s completed work on the cross makes your pain redemptive too. He invites you to join in the fellowship of His sufferings.
- When thinking of God, make sure it’s about relationship instead of just behaviors. Jesus said, “If you love me, keep my commandments.” The relationship is what creates the obedience, not the other way around.
Be patient with yourself and others.Finally, please bear with well-meaning people who don’t yet understand your journey. When you reflect on discussions with family members and friends about your gender identity or about your child’s journey, keep in mind that you have been dealing with this issue for a while, but they may have only learned of it a few minutes earlier. Someone is likely to have hurt or disappointed you, but it doesn’t necessarily mean they don’t love you or have your best interests at heart. That’s why articles and brief education like this exist — to help bridge that gap. This is not an easy topic for anyone, but learning to love fully and help practically is so worth the effort! What Jesus did in leaving God’s side and coming to earth wasn’t “easy” for Him either, but deep saving grace and love compelled Him! We hope the small steps and ideas of this article will contribute to compassionately and biblically encouraging anyone who needs support and direction on this topic. For more testimonials, resources, and related articles visit www.FocusontheFamily.com/TransgenderResouces
 “How the definition of a ‘sexual orientation’ is shifting under our feet … and why that’s a problem.” Glenn Stanton, PRC Meeting, October 9, 2020.