Sex, Gender and Identity

Rev. Scott Stiegemeyer

The world can be a very confusing place. Jesus even said that the devil is the ruler of this fallen order, so of course it's a confusing place. The devil is a deceiver. He is the Father of lies. When he lies, he is speaking his native language. He wants you to be baffled about things that matter. Sexual design is an important part of human life because marriage is a visual representation of the relationship between Christ and His Bride, the church. The devil will do whatever he can do to distort that image. He does not want people to see Christ and His Bride.

Let us try to make things more clear. In the past, the words "sex" and "gender" have been used interchangeably. Nowadays, it is customary make a distinction however. In this case, "sex" refers to your reproductive organs and other physical traits that mark you as male or female. "Gender" refers to how you feel about yourself and how you wish to be identified by others. Your sex is what the doctor and your parents recognized at your birth. Your gender is whether you feel more like a boy or a girl. This is the way these terms are commonly used today.

In truth, there are only two sexes. The Bible teaches that when God created humankind, He made us male and female. (Genesis 1:26-28). However, because of our fallen, corrupted state, many people are confused about sex and gender. In rare instances, a man may wish he could be a woman or a woman may wish she could be a man. The word "transgender" is an umbrella term to refer to anyone who strongly identifies with the opposite gender. A person can become very unhappy about being born a man or a woman. Sometimes people describe feeling like they have the wrong body. When this feeling is intense and lasts a long time, it is called gender dysphoria. A person can experience gender dysphoria in varying degrees, from mild to extreme.

In order to alleviate these negative and painful feelings, people might try things like cross-dressing or adopting a name of the opposite gender. Eventually, if they are suffering badly enough, they might seek medical intervention. Contemporary medicine can provide hormone treatments and a range of surgeries to help a person look more like how they feel they really ought to look. When a person is undergoing this medical transition, we use the term "transsexual."

Sexual orientation is an equally complex issue. In today's way of speaking, your orientation is whether you are sexually attracted to someone of the same sex or someone of the opposite sex. A person with gender dysphoria may or may not be homosexual. Some transgender people are attracted to their birth sex and others are attracted to the sex they wish to become. When people say they are pan-sexual, that means they can be sexually attracted to all kinds of people: male, female, transgendered, or transsexual.

There are also people who are intersex. This refers to a number of medical conditions that result in a person being born with ambiguous sex organs. As you can see, human sexuality is very complex.

The desire to possess a different body is not God-pleasing, even if it is inborn. Nor is it God-honoring to surgically meddle with fully functional and healthy body parts. Because we are fallen creatures, we are born with many sinful desires -- desires that we do not always choose to feel. What makes the struggle so difficult is that just because we are born with certain desires or tendencies, we are not thereby given liberty to act on them. To do so is sin.

While medication is a helpful tool, we can't use it ultimately to treat sin. Neither do we treat mental illness with surgical interventions. Cutting off a diseased limb in order to save the life of the person is one thing. Surgically altering your healthy anatomy is something else. When there is gender identity confusion, the problem lies with the mind, not the reproductive organs and we should always encourage people to favor their God-given sex, since it is the sex we have been assigned by the Creator. Additionally, we can encourage people to seek out professional counseling in order to help them cope with the feelings of emotional distress and dis-ease that come with gender dysphoria. We also remember that we treat spiritual illnesses with spiritual weapons, like Confession & Absolution, prayer, and the Word of God. Unfortunately, the brain and mind are so complex, current medicine doesn't really know what to do to cure gender dysphoria so we must show compassion to anyone who is struggling to navigate these difficult waters.

A lot of people today think that sex-reassignment-surgery will fix gender dysphoria. There is evidence that people do feel better after such surgery. But the data is troubling. A study in Great Britain indicates that post-operative transsexuals still feel unhappy. A 30-year-long Swedish study says that post-operative transsexuals still commit suicide and abuse drugs at a higher rate than the average population.

God is our creator. He is the maker of heaven and earth, of all things visible and invisible. When God created the world it was perfect in every way. He does all things well. Martin Luther says in the Small Catechism: "I believe that God has made me and all creatures; that He has given me my body and soul, eyes, ears and all my members." But our world as we experience it is anything but perfect. Sin corrupts everything: our bodies, our minds and even the very earth is cursed.

People with gender dysphoria are not choosing to feel a certain way. They just do. However, this should not be used as an excuse to indulge these desires. Though we may not have a lot of control over some of our feelings, we do have a fair bit of control over our actions. A person can't help if he has gender dysphoria but he does not need to act on it by transitioning or identifying as the other gender.

The good news is that Christ paid for all of our sins upon the cross. We are reconciled to our Father in Heaven entirely by what Jesus did. And this is applied to us through our baptism, which joins us to the cross and resurrection of Christ. In Him, we are a new creation. Not only does He forgive our sins, He also heals our brokenness.The Holy Spirit grants us the power to fight the temptations and desires which arise because of sin as even as He covers the failures and sins into which we fall in these struggles.

And yet, so long as we live in this fallen world, we still have a toe in its corruption. We have been declared innocent and guiltless before God. That's a done deal. At the same time, we still bear the marks and flaws of our sinful nature. This means that Christians are not exempt in this life from terrible things like cancer, depression and even gender identity disorders.

If you or someone you know is suffering from gender dysphoria, love them. Show them the kind of mercy that God has shown all of us in Christ. It's never okay to bully or mock someone. Talk with him about how he feels. Let her know that you won't reject her. Encourage him to talk to his pastor. Pray for him and with him. Sometimes people become so overwhelmed that they think of harming themselves. Take this very seriously. If you think a friend is suicidal, tell an authority and get help.

In the new creation, men and women are being restored and perfected and glorified. Jesus said, "Behold, I make all things new." This newness is something that belongs to us right now, though you and I won't experience the full benefit of it until Christ comes again. But rejoice! A day is coming soon when we will be free of all the disorder and distortion that plague us now.

Rev. Scott Stiegemeyer is Assistant Professor of Theology & Director of Ministerial Formation at Concordia University Irvine's Christ College.

Created: October 23rd, 2015