Earlier this month, the U.S. Departments of Justice and Education released a joint guidance to, in their words, “help schools ensure the civil rights of transgender students.” The guidance cites Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, wherein schools receiving federal money may not discriminate based on a student’s sex. As the document makes clear, students may self-determine and self-report their gender identification, regardless of their biological sex.
I want to get something out of the way: This is no “our culture is doomed” post. I make no predictions about what will actually take place, only what is allowed to take place based on what current laws and ideas now permit.
At first glance, this idea of transgender accommodation may appear as warm, inviting, and inclusive. No doubt we may initially see positive effects in some cases, where otherwise sinful abuse of transgendered people is prevented. But as time unfolds and society allows this concept to be worked out in its full consistency to more and more situations, American culture—including the LGBT community—might be forced to look back and say, “What have we done?”
The federal government has bought into the idea that gender identity is essentially a matter of the mind. On this understanding, one’s gender cannot be examined, measured, touched, seen, or scientifically proven; gender identity relies wholly and exclusively on self-reporting. And this report comes from one’s own internal feelings and self-analysis, regardless of age. We now have our two basic categories for discussion: gender identity has been removed from the visible (anatomy and biology) and located purely in the invisible (what goes on in the mind). Under this view, when a woman is enveloped in male anatomy, the invisible woman takes priority over and is detachable from the visible, masculine form.
When the inherently invisible nature of gender is applied consistently, laws that group people by physical features become meaningless, irrelevant, and unnecessary. Gender fluidity allows not merely a single identity-transition from male to female (or vice versa)—where the visible body may undergo transitions to mimic one’s mental identity—but also identity-transitions to reverse genders (female to male, or vice versa) or even to compound genders (male and female) at any given moment.
If our government defines gender as both invisible and endlessly fluid, what follows is that bathrooms, locker rooms, or changing areas separated based on visible differences become nonsensical. Physical gender disappears and no visible separation of any sort can be consistently defended.
At this point in history, transgender advocates may celebrate this newfound freedom. What was formerly an awkward and potentially harmful experience (bathroom use, locker rooms, etc.) for transgenders now appears to be liberated, changed into an experience with safer options. For progressives seeking cultural victories, this certainly has all the apparent earmarks of a win.
But whether our culture sees the implications of this thinking, the progressive push can only go so far without hurting its own cause. Remove gender identity from the visible and place it in the invisible mental realm, and it will become a roaring lion, seeking to devour any non-liberated belief that comes near it. Think what gender fluidity does to women’s rights: When gender identity is a mental feeling, men can have babies and can claim maternal leave from work; women can be fathers; sports teams, both amateur and professional, have no consistent reason to segregate genders. Again, the point isn’t that this will happen in our lifetime or even at all; the point is that the U.S. government has removed all barriers to these now viable, permissible scenarios.
Perhaps the most intense implications will come from within the LGBT community itself. The “T” has removed the visible gender distinctions from the “LGB.” A physically heterosexual couple can identify as a lesbian couple. A gay couple can identify as a heterosexual couple, with all the rights to a traditional marriage (but later identify as a same-sex married couple if they wish). Don’t let the initial absurdity of the idea fool you just because the idea is new; few may be pondering these implications at this point, but that doesn’t make them invalid.
Finally, severing the visible from the invisible within human identity gums up any attempt at civil rights for various races and ethnic groups. Though we’ve already seen race severed from the visible in the case of Rachel Dolezal, her example was largely dismissed by the broader culture as just obviously absurd. Few were able to see the parallels and implications from that same culture’s celebration of separating visible biology from an invisible gender identity. If I self-identify more as Hispanic than Caucasian, who are you to tell me that my self-reporting is invalid? And if I then feel I’m a Latina woman rather than a Caucasian male, I have a right to check any box I feel is correct on college applications, grant applications, or surveys. I can claim any ethnic heritage for which I identify, and I can do so at any given time.
For those with eyes to see and ears to hear, God has told us what the world is like and how it works. Not only are humans created and designed to be either male or female (Gen. 1:27)—where visible anatomy takes priority over mental identity—but the rest of creation operates and lives based on these differences as well (Gen. 1:20–25). But intertwined with the transgender discussion, Christians shouldn’t miss our chance to correctly apply the foundational principle of inherent human dignity; because we’re created in the image of God, all men and women are to be treated in a way that affirms human value. While that doesn’t include agreement with transgenders on gender fluidity/relativity, it certainly includes advocating for their physical safety and fighting against real harm caused by genuine mistreatment from others. Do we want transgenders seeking help more from the government or from the church?
Though some transgender persons see the Christian message as inherently “unsafe,” part of the Christian call moving forward will be to prove them wrong, both through our behavior and through the reasons we give for why God made the visible world the way he did. Sin has wrecked all of our bodies, but denying the divinely revealed purposes for them isn’t the solution; we’ll still be bodily beings in the new heavens and the new earth (2 Pet. 3:13). Even after Christ returns, our eternal lives will include the visible and the invisible, and from that point into eternity the two will be perfectly matched.