Controversies and debates about gender define much of today’s cultural landscape. In reality, if you take away all debates about gender, gender roles, and sexuality, our world would be a much quieter place. Nevertheless, the world we know is a world increasingly in revolt against the idea that gender is assigned by our Creator and is thus a fixed category.
A perfect illustration of this confusion is found on the May 12, 2009 op-ed page of The New York Times. There, along with articles by the paper’s own columnists, was an article by Jennifer Finney Boylan, a professor of English at Colby College in Maine.
Professor Boylan argues that we should just accept and celebrate “the elusiveness of gender” and see the most difficult questions about gender as “sometimes unanswerable.”
As you might expect, there is a story here. Professor Boylan begins her column with reference to the fact that Gov. John Baldacci of Maine recently signed a law making his state the fifth in the nation to legalize same-sex marriage. Then Boylan drops the bombshell. Even before Maine’s governor signed the law, there were legally-recognized same-sex marriages in Maine (and other states as well). As Boylan explains: “These are marriages in which at least one member of the couple has changed genders since the wedding.”
“I am in such a marriage myself,” Boylan explains.
As the story unfolds, Boylan tells of marrying Deidre Finney in 1988 in Washington’s National Cathedral. Boylan was at that time legally recognized as a man. All that changed in 2002, when Boylan was declared to be legally female. Since Boylan and Finney were not then required to divorce, their union was, at least legally, a same-sex marriage.
Boylan tells the story of how Deidre Finney remained in the marriage, arguing that “our marriage, in the end, is about a lot more than what genders we are, or were.”
Confused? Boylan insists that gender issues involve “a lot of gray area,” adding: “And efforts to legislate a binary truth upon the wide spectrum of gender have proven only how elusive sexual identity can be.”
In the parlance of postmodernism, “binary” is bad. The postmodern theorists of deconstruction argue that those who force issues into binary categories (such as right/wrong, left/right, male/female) are merely exercising power in an oppressive way. Resistance to binary categories is central to the postmodern quest. Yet, binary categories are stubborn things.
Look closely at Boylan’s argument here:
Legal scholars can (and have) devoted themselves to the ultimately frustrating task of defining “male” and “female” as entities fixed and unmoving. A better use of their time, however, might be to focus on accepting the elusiveness of gender — and to celebrate it. Whether a marriage like mine is a same-sex marriage or some other kind is hardly the point.
Well, it is one inescapable question. After all, Boylan resists “binary” categories, yet when it comes to gender she offers only two options — male and female. She changed her own legal gender from one to the other, but there remain only two designations. She is as “binary” as the rest of us. We cannot make sense of any conversation without using terms like he/she, man/woman, male/female, father/mother, son/daughter, and his/her’s. We live in a stubbornly binary world.
Armed with this realization, we face a clear choice: We will see this binary understanding of gender as a gift from God revealed throughout creation, or we will see it as a socially-constructed reality that we can (and should) deconstruct. Are we bound to these categories by a Creator? Or did we do this to ourselves?
The Christian worldview is clear at this point. The Bible presents gender as part of the goodness of creation. God reveals his glory in every aspect of creation, and this is abundantly true with respect to the two sexes. God glorifies himself in creating humanity in his own image, both male and female. To deny or confuse this distinction is to deny God the glory that is his due. And, that which brings God’s greatest glory will also bring us greatest joy.
The distinction between male and female survives even after the Fall. We should thank God for this gift and lean into it, preserving and honoring this distinction as necessary for understanding what it means to be human.
While Christians must see persons struggling with gender confusion as those who deserve our care, concern, and compassion, the worldview of the Bible leaves no allowance for sex-change procedures or legal determinations of gender change. Transgenderism and transsexualism are evidence of just how confused human beings can be. This confusion can ultimately be traced back to Genesis 3, but the demand that we can make ourselves in our own image is central to the modern cult of self-expression and personal autonomy.
We cannot make sense of life without the integrity of terms like “male” and “female,” “man” and “woman.” Even those who argue against these “binary” terms are forced to use them. This is common grace visible to all — a law written into human consciousness.
So much is at stake in this controversy. This is not just about same-sex marriage, homosexuality, or the way society should understand sexuality, marriage, and gender. This is about recognizing that the Creator has given us these categories for his glory and for our good.