Our grandparents might never have imagined the issues that are up for debate today, but the fact is our world is marked by confusion at the deepest, most foundational levels. Christians have always found themselves in a “culture war” of one kind or another – that’s just the nature of the case. But oh, if it were only that simple! The 1960s had its “sexual revolution,” but today gender itself is under question. What does it mean to be male? Or female? And is there a third alternative? Is “sexual minority” a meaningful category? Does sex necessarily determine gender? Is gender necessarily tied to biology and anatomy? Is sex merely biological and gender merely psychological? Just what is “gender identity”? And what determining role does it have? Can we decide and declare our own gender? It’s not likely that your grandparents ever considered such questions.
More perplexing still, what of those who are genuinely confused as to their own gender – their body tells them one thing and their mind another? This is “gender dysphoria.”
“Dysphoria means being uneasy about or generally dissatisfied with something. Thus, gender dysphoria refers to the experience of having a psychological and emotional identity as either male or female, and that your psychological and emotional identity does not correspond to your biological sex” (p.19).
This is the subject of Mark Yarhouse’s new Understanding Gender Dysphoria. Yarhouse is professor of psychology at Regent University, and his thorough acquaintance with his subject is evident on every page. I will not survey the book for this blog – we hope to provide a thorough review by another of our reviewers. But I want at least to introduce the book to give it some deserved exposure. You can see his approach here:
Table of Contents
1 Gender Identity, Gender Dysphoria and Appreciating Complexity
2 A Christian Perspective on Gender Dysphoria
3 What Causes Gender Dysphoria?
4 Phenomenology and Prevalence
5 Prevention and Treatment of Gender Dysphoria
6 Toward a Christian Response: At the Level of the Individual
7 Toward a Christian Response: At the Level of the Institution
Yarhouse provides a revealing sketch of the most recent research in this field and a helpful analysis of the various “frameworks” for approaching this question, seeking to sort it all out in a way that is both biblically faithful and pastorally sensitive.
What struck me first while reading Yarhouse’s new Understanding Gender Dysphoria is just how dreadfully complex these questions have become. It’s easy to condemn the “effeminate” man, but what do you say of the little boy who shows sustained preference for his sister’s dolls over his baseball glove and toy guns and who wants to wear his sister’s dress and have long hair like Mommy? What of the adolescent who wants to be faithful – to God, to his church, to his family – but finds himself attracted to the same sex? How do you respond? And what of the one who was born male but later underwent sex change surgery and is now a “woman” – who wants to attend your church? Do you have a bathroom he/she can use? The questions continue seemingly forever, and each next “situation” shows this problem to be more thorny and complex than – probably – most of us have recognized. Yarhouse is enormously helpful on this score.
Considering all this inevitably also brings a new recognition of the devastating effects of the Fall. Sin has ravaged humanity, body and soul. Yes, there are rebels who defy God’s good gift of gender, and that of course is a huge issue today. And there are broken and repentant sinners who are left with the agonizing results of their past rebellion. But there are also bodies that were born “confused,” and minds that from early years think in a direction contrary to that of their bodies. Yes, some choose and nurture that which is “against nature.” Of course. But what of those who must struggle against it. What a fallen world this is. (I would be curious to know statistics and percentages here and to see some analysis of possible contributing factors – cultural, familial, whatever. But Yarhouse provides sufficient scenarios from his own experience of these more “innocent” cases to establish their sad reality.)
And then what of the church? Have we any idea how to respond? On the level of the culture war, it’s relatively easy – at least on that level the issues are cut and dried. But what help do we have to offer that teenage girl who prefers all things “masculine”? And what do we have to say to her parents?
These questions are enormously complex, and given their high profile in today’s Western society, the church needs to be well-informed. In that respect Yarhouse has done us a service – his book is nothing if not timely, and it is virtually the only one of its kind. It is a book that needed to be written.
The strongest point of Understanding Gender Dysphoria is just that – helping us understand the problem of gender dysphoria in all its devastating complexities. The book is not as strong, however, in framing the question biblically and theologically. (Indeed, I suspect that as a result many will question some of Yarhouse’s judgments regarding individual case illustrations.) Understanding the problem accurately, as it is in itself, is essential, but we are not done until we understand it in light of related biblical revelation. Just what is it, biblically speaking, to be male? Or female? These questions are screaming for definitive answer today, and we would expect a book like this to address them straightforwardly. How does the biblical teaching regarding sexuality, gender, and the roles of men and women bear on the question of gender and gender dysphoria? And how ought it shape our response to it? And at what point does gender dysphoria become sinful and more than merely reflective of general human fallenness? Understanding gender dysphoria in light of precise biblical and theological exposition is a book that needs yet to be written.
Still, Understanding Gender Dysphoria is a well-written, powerfully engaging, important contribution – certainly a book that would benefit every pastor. No pastor in our culture can afford to lack understanding on this question – we need the “understanding” Yarhouse provides in order both to shape our counsel and temper our preaching.
Fred G. Zaspel
Buy the books
Understanding Gender Dysphoria: Navigating Transgender Issues In A Changing Culture