On this edition of Truth in Love, Dr. Lambert talks about how parents should respond when their child desires to change their sex. Dr. Lambert begins by defining relevant terms and helping listeners to think through the difficulties of the situation. He talks about the difference between a secular understanding of the situation and a biblical understanding of the situation.
Evenson: Today we are dealing with, “What should I do when my young son wants to become a girl.” This podcast is also for the reverse of that; when a little girl wants to become a boy. Today we are aware of all kinds of news stories of parents who don’t know what to do when their child wants to be the opposite sex. One news article on CNN reports a young child named Ryland Wittington who is a biological girl whose parents’ claim is transgender. In Missouri, there was recent story of a teenage biological boy who is transgender and wants to use the women’s restroom. So Heath, I would love for you to describe for us what is going on here. What is this?
Lambert: This is the problem of gender dysphoria; which is a technical label that our culture gives when someone has a desire to be the opposite sex. It is important to understand that in our cultural understanding, the problem of gender dysphoria is not inter-sex. The problem of inter-sex is a biological difficulty, which makes it hard or even impossible to identify whether a child is born as a boy or as a girl. So, gender dysphoria is not inter-sex, and it is also not homosexuality where someone has a sexual desire for members of the same sex. Gender dysphoria is its own unique problem and is a situation where a child has a desire to be a gender other than the one that they have received biologically. Those desires can exist along a continuum of relatively mild to relatively strong desires, but it is a problem in any event.
Evenson: What is the problem when you have a child who wants to be the opposite gender?
Lambert: Well, the first thing we have to say is that everybody believes there is a problem. When you have a young boy who believes that he is really a girl, or a young girl who believes that she truly is a boy, that is going to create difficulties. The question is what is the problem. The leading secular understanding is that the problem is your body and the pain that flows from being trapped in a body that is opposite of your feelings. So, what’s wrong in the secular understanding is your body, not your perception of who you are. Because the belief is that the trouble is your body that leads to all kinds of terrible interventions that happen to try to remediate these difficulties. That assumption of the problem is very different than a uniquely biblical perspective. The Bible teaches that God makes human beings with two distinct genders. In Genesis 1:27 it says, “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” So, the Bible says that God makes man male or female and will not have a gender that is at odds with the biological sex, which we are assigned at birth. A Christian perspective on this is not that the problem is your body; the Christian understanding of the problem is that your perception is at odds with your biology. This is rebellion against the Creator at the level of your own body.
Evenson: What are some of the consequences in the lives of young people?
Lambert: Well, there are heartbreaking stories. You’re talking about Ryland Wittington at the top of the Podcast; other names are strewn about headlines all across the country and the world. There are heartbreaking stories about this and there is so much pain that comes into the lives of people who are experiencing this difficulty in their life. There is pain in the lives of parents who want to be good moms and dads and are trying to figure out how to be as loving and as helpful as they can. They want to protect their kids from all kinds of difficulties and can feel overwhelmed by a problem that they don’t know how to address and they don’t know where to find help. There is also pain in the lives of children who experience this difficulty. This is agonizing spiritually for children who are looking at their bodies and hate what they see or else have a very strong sense that who they are in and of themselves is different than their biology. So this is very painful and people who are understood to have what our culture calls gender dysphoria experience sorrow, depression, anxiety, levels of self harm that are far outside the range of normal for the rest of the population. The physical treatments that they often are subjected to in order to deal with the apparent physical problem make matters worse. So there is all kinds of pain, but ultimately we have to say as Christians that people are separated from God; that is the most significant consequence and without repentant faith in the Lord Jesus Christ they will remain separated from God. The consequences are serious and even eternal.
Evenson: What would you say we need to do about the problem of gender dysphoria as it is becoming more prevalent every day?
Lambert: Just as you said before, everybody thinks there is a problem, and so we have to say here everybody thinks we need to do something. Everybody wants to help; there is nobody out there that is looking at these kids who are in trouble or their parents who are confused and say we don’t need to offer a solution. So everybody wants to help, the question is what are we going to do? The issue is that your response will depend on your understanding of the problem. So, if you have a secular assumption that the problem is your body, then you are going to engage in physical solutions to try to address the problem such as cross-dressing and engaging in hormonal efforts to delay puberty and suppress gender development. Ultimately, as many do, you will pursue gender reassignment surgery to try to erase the obvious physical indicators of gender. All of these solutions though are awful; they are terrible, they make matters worse especially when you consider the fact that 80% of children who experience these concerns in childhood grow out of them by adulthood.
I think we need to think in terms of three biblical solutions. First, we need to emphasize parenting. Proverbs 22:6 says, “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.” This is a proverb that instructs parents to be parents. We need to be the people who are telling our children how to live and how to grow up into adulthood. Parents have to be parents. We have to tell our kids how to grow and mature. We do not let our children’s desires rule the day when they say, “I want to go play in traffic” or “I want to jump off the top of the house” or “I want to be disrespectful to the neighbors.” We parent them; we train them up in the way that they should go. We need to do this in regard to gender too. We need to tell our kids, “Hey, that’s not how boys act, son” or “Honey, that’s not how little girls act.” Help them understand the toys that boys and girls play with and the way that boys and girls are suppose to interact with other boys and girls. We need to parent.
A second biblical strategy that we can think about is thankfulness. We need to encourage thankfulness in the hearts of our kids. Colossians 3:17 says, “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” The thing of thankfulness is a huge one in the Bible. It is actually a very important strategy to undercut the strong kind of inappropriate desires that are on the table in gender dysphoria. Little kids who are struggling with the body they have received from God do not need to be told simply how little boys are suppose to act or how little girls are suppose to act, we need to encourage them to be thankful to a good God for what that good God has given them. God is not going to give a bad gift even in the form of a body to a person. He is going to give a good gift to them and we can teach our kids to be thankful for what they have received from the Lord, even at the level of their own gender.
Then finally, as parents we have to point to Christ. Romans 1:16 says that the gospel is the power of God. These kinds of desires are strong; the pull that a child can feel in his or her life to try to accommodate his or her physical gender to his or her desires about what that gender can be, can be overwhelmingly strong and we need something that is stronger than our desires. The Bible says that such power comes in the gospel of Jesus Christ to all who would turn from their sin and trust in Him alone.