We live in confusing times. One facet of life that seems straightforward – gender – is rapidly becoming more confusing. In April, a controversial ad for J. Crew depicted the company’s president, Jenna Lyons, painting the toenails of her son, Beckett, hot pink. The caption below the picture read, “Lucky for me I ended up with a boy whose favorite color is pink. Toenail painting is way more fun in neon.” This ignited a brief skirmish between those who, disdaining gender stereotypes, celebrated the ad and those who saw a mother encouraging her boy to paint his toenails hot pink as transgender propaganda.
Fast forward one month to the story of a couple in Toronto who have decided to raise their newborn baby without gender identity. They will keep the baby’s gender secret and allow “it” to choose “its” own identity from the toys “it” plays with to the clothes “it” wears. Naming the child “Storm”, Kathy Witterick and David Stocker announced to friends and family in an email, “We’ve decided not to share Storm’s sex for now — a tribute to freedom and choice in place of limitation, a stand up to what the world could become in Storm’s lifetime.” The kind of genderless world Storm’s parents envision may be a pipe-dream – wishful thinking won’t change biology or anatomy – but it is a world dreamed of by more and more.
Or take the case of Andrew Viveros. Last week the transgendered teen known to classmates as “Andii” was voted by seniors at McFatter Technical High School in Davie, FL to be their prom queen. He is the first transgender prom queen at a public high school in the United States and won the title over 14 girls who competed against him. In an article in the Miami Herald Oscar Viveros, father of Andrew/Andii, offered this advice to parents in similar situations: “Let them grow to be whatever they want to be, as long as they’re good. Let them blossom into whatever they want to be. Support them 100 percent.”
The message builds from Beckett to Storm to Andrew with increasing clarity. The individual is god. No one can restrain “my” freedom and “my” choices. “I” will not be determined or ruled by anything. Parents, institutions, cultures, norms, communities, families, and now biology and God himself have no authority over the little god of self. Of course, this thinking is ultimately ridiculous. A man may wish to be a woman or vice versa, but hormones and surgery can still not change the biological reality. You may want to have the basketball skills of Lebron James, the intelligence of Stephen Hawking, and the voice of Scotty McCreery, but no amount of self-determination or identity manipulation will change the reality that you have the basketball skills of Napoleon Dynamite, the intelligence of Larry the Cable Guy, and a voice that sounds like a hyena attacking a wildebeest. We may want to be free of the authority of our family, community, culture, and God, but we are not. So we rebel against that authority and against God.
This is how sin began in Genesis. Adam and Eve were presented with nearly limitless freedom except for one provision in Genesis 2:17, “…but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat.” But that wasn’t good enough for our forebears. They refused God’s authority, doubted His goodness, questioned His character, rebelled against their Creator, and attempted to become gods themselves. While the results of their sin was disastrous, we have continued their project ever since.
At the heart of these stories of gender confusion is a rebellion against our Creator who “created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.” God has created each of us with a gender identity of male or female; to reject this is to reject His design. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 11:14-15, “Does not nature itself teach you that if a man wears long hair it is a disgrace for him, but if a woman has long hair, it is her glory?” Paul is not passing on tips for hair stylists; in this context he is encouraging the church to avoid gender confusion in the way they fellowship and worship. Men should look and act like men and women like women.
At the beginning of the music video for her song “Born This Way”, Lady Gaga announces that the current generation is a “race which bears boundless freedom.” While the idea of boundless freedom is silly (All freedom has limitations – I can’t breathe underwater, buy a Lamborghini, or even eat a cement block) it summarizes the attitude of our time. This ultimate freedom of the self to determine its identity and course and to follow its desires and urges is what has spawned the present gender confusion.
Christians have been graciously redeemed for a better way – not of rebellion against the Creator but of obedience to Him. Freedom isn’t found in self-determination but in self-surrender. Our example isn’t the person who “did it their way” but the One who “though He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Phil. 2:6-8). Our lives should declare with the Psalmist, “With my whole heart I seek you, let me not wander from your commandments” (Ps. 119:10).
As Christians, let us celebrate the Creator’s good gift of gender and not embrace the confusion. Our freedom is found in Christ and in joyful obedience to God’s design and commands; not in the freedom of becoming our own god through self-determination. At the same time, let us love those caught in the confusion with the love Christ showed to us in our rebellion. We can never look down on those made in God’s image; my sin leaves me just as guilty before a holy God as the most gender confused among us. Christ loves and died for those who struggle with this particular form of rebellion. May the Becketts, Storms, and Andrews of this world find the joy and freedom only surrender and obedience to the God Who died for us can bring.