When a friend or loved one finally discloses to us the struggle that they have had with their gender, whether it be simply feelings of gender dysphoria or a revelation that they have had hormone treatments or are now considering surgery, it is an important moment. What should be our response if we want to help our friend?
Of course our reactions can be various. If we are unfamiliar with this experience, we might recoil at its strangeness. Or we might be mad that this is the first we are hearing of it. No doubt we are sad for our friend’s struggle, but may be confused at what is right in this situation. We may be scared at the implications of what this may mean for this friend’s relationships. Or all of these could be swirling around inside of us at once.
I hope that this moment can be the initiation of an honest dialogue with our friend, listening to the experience and seeking to understand as best we can what has led to this confession. Usually one of the planks that underlies our friend’s path to this moment is the questioning of where gender comes from and the belief that gender is a social construct (i.e., not real). Let’s say that the friend is a man. The friend noticed a while ago that he just does not fit in to the model of what a man is, what his culture is saying he should be. Because he doesn’t like guy stuff, or guy activities, or guy movies, or guy talk, or guy [fill in the blank], he has come to feel that he is not a guy, and he should just be honest about it. Isn’t he not a man?
To this question, we should definitively agree with a great big ‘yes’! He is not a man according to his culture’s definition of manhood. Because the culture doesn’t know what a man is. It is the unspoken elephant in the room. Yes, we can agree, you are NOT a cultural boy.
Listening is the initiation of the dialogue, but it should not be the end. There are truths to affirm if we are being a true friend or caring family member, to love as best we can.
The further truth, which can help, is that gender cannot be defined culturally, but only in relationship. If he hasn’t been affirmed in other relationships with men, perhaps because he is outside the cultural box, he may be at a disadvantage, but it does not mean that he is not a man or cannot be a man.
The ultimate expression of his manhood, according to the Scriptures, is found in his relationship with the close women in his life. Even if he doesn’t fit the cultural types, we can help him to see that he can lay down his life for the women in his life. He can take charge for them, secure them, and capture the mission of God for their common purpose. There is great power in showing a man the things which really do define his manhood.
So let us be quick to say ‘yes’ when a friend realizes the falsehood of what is false.
Are you helping someone with this struggle?
Robert Burns wrote, “A man’s a man for a’that.”
If gender is understood in relationship, then I think it begins first in one’s relationship to God, our Creator. This struggling person was born in the image of God. He was born male. Therefore, he is a man. Grounding his sense of self in that objective truth (which comes from outside of himself, apart from his feelings and perceptions) is the first step he must take in learning how to grow into his gendered manhood. As with anyone held captive to unbiblical worldviews, we know this will be a process and a struggle. That understanding of how he has been made before God, and by him, will be the first step that will anchor all of the other steps to come. You say this, in essence, in your blog, “Didn’t Jesus Understand Hair Dye?”, so it might be good to direct your readers with a link to that post.
I appreciate your thinking on gender and transgender issues, Sam! You give me a lot to think about!
Good word, Nicholas. Thank you for the suggestion to link to the post, “Didn’t Jesus Understand Hair Dye?“. Maybe I can get better at cross-referencing in this way.