THE END OF GENDER?

by Bob Wheeler

           This week the world stared in astonishment at the cover of Vanity Fair magazine which features former Olympic athlete Bruce Jenner posing as a woman in a corset. The sight has prompted admiration from some, sympathy from others, and outrage from still others.

What are we to make of all of this? What is in view here is a stark contrast between two opposing views of human sexuality. But behind these two different views of sex there looms an even larger contrast between two different worldviews. Jenner’s actions strike right at the core of human existence: who are we as human beings, in what kind of universe do we live, and is there any universal set of norms to which we are required to conform?

We need to be perfectly clear about one thing: genetically Jenner is still a male human being – he has both “X” and “Y” chromosomes. He was born a male, he competed successfully as a male athlete, he was married to women three times and fathered several children by them. Physically he was a normal male human being. His decision to transition to a woman was based on his feelings and emotions.

Jenner says that he has suffered since youth from Gender Dysphoria, or Gender Identity Disorder, as it used to be called. What makes this claim a little hard to accept is that boys with Gender Dysphoria are typically effeminate, whereas Jenner went on to star in athletics. He did engage in cross-dressing years ago, but that might indicate a different condition known as “transvestic fetishism.”

But let us assume for the sake of the argument that Jenner really does suffer from Gender Dysphoria. There is a great deal of discussion and debate about what exactly causes this disorder, and many psychologists will say that it is still something of a mystery. There is evidence, however, that it is the result of a problem in early childhood socialization. An individual’s gender identity develops between the ages of 18 months and 3 years, and during that time a child’s relationships with his parents and peers is critical. In boys an overly possessive mother and a detached father is a common pattern.

But granted the diagnosis, what should the treatment have been? Logically we would think that there would be two choices: 1) try to change the mind to match the body, or 2) change the body to match the mind. Jenner chose the latter course.

But Jenner’s decision raises some profoundly disturbing moral questions. Does it matter what gender we are? Are we free to choose whatever gender we like? What kind of impact does that have on other family members, or society at large?

The transgender movement is the logical outgrowth of radical feminism, with its denial of gender roles. Radical feminism, in turn, is rooted in Existentialist philosophy, which held that existence precedes essence. In other words, as we come into the world (presumably through a blind, impersonal, natural process) we simply exist – we have no particular identity or “essence.” Our identity we acquire through our interaction with other human beings. Therefore in order to be truly free and equal we must create our own identity and force society to accept us as we are. Thus feminist pioneer Simone de Beauvoir could write, “it must be repeated once more that in human society nothing is natural and that woman, like much else, is a product elaborated by civilization . . . Woman is determined not by her hormones or by mysterious instincts, but by the manner in which her body and her relation to the world are modified through the action of others than herself” (The Second Sex, Conclusion). Thus society must be changed in order for women to be truly free and equal.

But what is good for the goose is good for the gander. Should men be confined to specific gender roles? Why should anybody be constrained to think or act or dress a certain way – or sleep with a member of the opposite sex for that matter? Thus, the logic goes, Bruce Jenner should be allowed to change his gender if he so desires. The mere fact that he was born a biological male should not constrain him to be one as an adult.

All of this, however, presupposes that God does not exist, and that therefore there is no reason or purpose for anything in life. But what if God does exist? Everything then would have a specific purpose and meaning because it was created by an intelligent Supreme Being. Sex exists for a specific reason and purpose, and we are not free to manipulate it any way we want in order to suit our own selfish desires.

Gender, in fact, is something created by God. “So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them’ (Gen. 1:27; NKJV). Eve was created to be “a helper comparable to” Adam (Gen. 2:18,20), and together they were to “be fruitful and multiply” (1:28). Thus men and women are different from each other (by design), and they have different roles which complement each other. Thus together a husband and a wife form a functioning family unit. But in order for the family to function the way it is supposed to both the husband and the wife have to fulfill the specific gender roles assigned to them.

One might be tempted to look at Bruce Jenner and sympathize with him. But where does that leave the rest of society? If we create the impression that there are no rules, that anything goes, then no one will feel obligated to do anything he doesn’t feel like doing. How, then, will anyone make a marriage work or successfully raise children? In showing compassion for one person we create a dysfunctional society, and in solving one individual’s problem we create a myriad of other problems. The latter end is worse than the former. Can we as a society afford to suffer the consequences?

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