More than a decade ago I read a paper that came from a women’s conference in Beijing. It’s proposition was that human beings should be able to choose their gender – and opt in and out of whichever gender they chose, whenever it suited them. At the time the whole notion struck me as far-fetched, bizarre and impossible.
Since then we’ve seen that notion become a reality for some. Gender is seen as something that is fluid, which can be chosen, and there is now a bewildering range of labels that someone can choose to identify with. (A speaker at one event, instead of beginning his address with Ladies & Gentlemen, went on to use over 60 terms of address.)
Gender on a spectrum
Underlying the concept of choosing one’s gender is the assumption that gender lies on a spectrum – as supposedly does sexuality. The concept of a spectrum is useful in all sorts of contexts, but it appears to be unthinkingly applied when it comes to the idea of gender.
Adopting the notion of a spectrum means that the idea of male/female being a binary concept is now being seen as being outmoded, unnecessary and even dangerous. The understanding that has shaped Western civilization for thousands of years (and other civilisations also) that humanity is male and female, made up of men and women, is being undermined.
Created in the image of God
Recently a Facebook page announced a birth. ‘It’s a girl!’ shouted the glad pronouncement. That is usually one of the first questions we ask when a baby is born – what is it? A girl or a boy? It’s a natural response in wanting to know the identity of this new human being who has just arrived.
This response is entirely in line with the Biblical understanding that humanity is created in the image of God, as male and female. But there are some in our Western society who are saying that this is a black and white, binary way of looking at things.
That outmoded thinking has to be left behind, the argument goes, and a more enlightened understanding of humanity as having a much more diverse gender make up is being promoted. So, diversity is becoming the catch-cry today. Human rights are being shackled to the whole idea of diversity (hence the rainbow flag) and gender is but one example of that.
People are being criticised for ‘assigning’ a gender to a child. Finding out if a newborn is a boy or a girl is not a matter of ‘assigning a sex!’ (Expecting a child to grow up and behave in so-called predetermined gender roles is a different matter and is not what I am talking about here.)
Some feminists too are criticising men for treating them as women; instead these feminists are saying men should leave gender out of it and simply treat another person as a person and not as a specific gender. Of course, we treat a person as a person – but how do we do that in a way that denies or ignores gender?
‘Male and female’ is who we are
There is another way of looking at the gender issue. If we see male and female as the way in which God has made us, we can still make allowance in this imperfect world for the fact that there are aberrations in this process. (We don’t have to place these aberrations on a spectrum.)
Whether it’s during conception and gestation, or later development, human beings can still be regarded as being made in the image of God, even if they are born with club feet, spina bifida, or some other abnormality. They are still fully human. Yes, about 6% of all babies born have a serious birth defect which means they have some condition that needs care and acceptance and treatment. And it is only a tiny percentage of that 6% that includes a child born with a DSD (disorders of sex development) and for whom gender issues may be a concern.
The psalmist says ‘we are fearfully and wonderfully made’ - and that includes our gender. The image of God includes both male and female, so we can embrace and accept that this is the way God has made us. It also means that we treat everyone else with respect, not as objects, but as fully human beings who are also made in the image of God.
And for those of us who do have issues with gender identity, for whatever reason, these too are made in our God’s image, even if their gender may be obscured or ambivalent or they question their identity. Neither gender is better than the other – who we are doesn’t depend on our gender, and we are more than our gender. However, that is who we are – male or female. And as the French say, Vive la difference!
When Liz Hay first wrote this article, gender issues were coming to the fore. Now they are to be found frequently in the media, in workplaces, schools and educational institutions, and are affecting many young people. Girls especially are wanting to transition in unprecedented numbers. Schools are expected to affirm young people in this desire; no other model of care is offered or allowed.
Liz Hay rejoices in living in a beautiful part of God’s creation in a high country mountain basin; and she also rejoices in hearing stories of God at work in people’s lives. One of her favourite activities is reading fascinating biographies that illustrate the wonderful ways God works uniquely with each person.