Understanding Gender Identity
About the Guest
Author John Majors coaches parents on how to instill a strong gender identity in their sons and daughters. As they study God’s Word, teens can discover the primary calling of each gender.
Understanding Gender Identity
Bob: It’s not uncommon for a young teenager to be very confused about identity- related issues during their teen years. John Majors says the fundamental issue parents need to help teens wrestle with during this time is: “What do they believe about God and the Bible?”
John: Do I trust that He knows what’s best for me, even if I feel differently than what He has said is true? You’re left with a choice, and I think this is a choice that all Christians are left with: “Am I going to trust my feelings first, or am I going to trust God’s Word first?” That’s really the core issue we have to come back to—not that our feelings aren’t important—but I need to get to a place where I filter my feelings through His Word rather than His Word through my feelings.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Tuesday, October 31st. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine.
How can parents help their teenage sons and daughters focus on what God says is true rather than how they feel or what their friends say? We’ll spend time talking about that today. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. You know, there’s a question—I don’t think I ever had even the thought to ask the question—that a lot of young people today are asking as they hit puberty or maybe even before then. I never asked the question, “I wonder if I’m a boy or a girl?”—I pretty much knew what I was. But there are a lot of young people today who are asking all kinds of gender-related questions that just seemed self-evident to me when I was 15 years old.
Dennis: We get lots of emails and letters from our listeners, who are telling us, as parents—they’re really wondering, “How do we address this issue of sexual identity with our teenage young men and women?”
Bob: Including a mom who got in touch with us—this was awhile back—she said, “My daughter came to me and said, ‘I have a girlfriend,’ and she didn’t just mean a friend—she meant, ‘I’m attracted to girls.’” This mom wasn’t sure what to do with that and started digging in and started having conversations with her daughter. What she came to realize—and what the daughter ultimately came to realize—is that the daughter wasn’t really romantically attracted to other girls; but she realized that, in this culture, being cool meant being open to stuff like this and exploring stuff like this; and she wanted to be cool.
Dennis: And with peer pressure being what it is—just to be cool would be to say, “Yes; I’m exploring this with all my friends.”
We have a brand-new book that has come out, [authored] by one of our colleagues, here, at FamilyLife, John Majors, who joins us for a second day. John, welcome back.
John: Thank you; good to be here.
Dennis: John and his wife Julie speak at our Weekend to Remember® marriage getaways. They’ve served on staff, here, at FamilyLife for 17 years. They have three children and have been married since 1999.
John has written a book called True Identity. As we talk about this subject of identity, especially with an adolescent who’s in the early years of adolescence—say 12/13 to 15/16—not the later years but more in the time where there’s the most confusion—John, where does a parent start?
John: In our culture, when there’s a lack of clarity around the essential definitions of manhood and womanhood that just is going to lead to tons of confusion, where I try to take parents to begin with is: “How do you define manhood?” and “How do you define womanhood?” You have to start there before you can ever talk about: “What does it mean to be attracted to someone of the opposite sex?” or “…to feel like you’re maybe a boy when you were born a girl?”
Before you can have those conversations, you really have to press into: “What does it mean to be a man? What does it mean to be a woman?”
We press into: “Here’s what the Bible says about manhood—a man should stand firm. He should take initiative, engage with wisdom and grace, plan ahead and provide—all comes out of 1 Corinthians 16:13-14: “Be watchful, stand firm in the faith; act like men. Be strong. Let all that you do be done in love,”—a lot of this comes out of the work we’ve done together on Stepping Up. “How do you really give a young man a vision for manhood?”—we start there, with the men.
And then for young ladies: “What does it mean to be a young lady in today’s world?” If you ask a young man or a young lady—if you ask adults, “What does it mean to be a man or a woman?”—you’re going to get all kinds of confusing answers—people really don’t know. So, we walk through some of the essential elements of womanhood—holy beauty / you know, an internal beauty that radiates more so than your outward appearance.
Outward appearance is overly-praised—it’s important, but it’s not the most important part of who you are—you’re not just the sum of your body parts; there’s an internal beauty that is more important.
John: “Charm is deceitful; beauty is vain; but a woman who greatly fears the Lord will be praised,”—Proverbs 31:30—so holy beauty—heart of a helper / a life-giver.
When I first met my wife—that was the thing that stood out to me about her: “Here’s a woman who is giving life to people around her.” Of course, women will give physical life and birth to everyone who’s ever been born; but there’s also an aspect of helping a young lady to see you can give life to others in how you live your daily life.
And then there’s just having an eternal focus: “How do I make sure, in the midst of living my life, I’m not caught up in just the temporal but thinking about the eternal side of life?”
Bob: You are stepping into some politically-incorrect kinds of areas when you start talking about manhood and womanhood.
I’m imagining listeners going: “Now wait! Men need to have an eternal focus, and they need to have inner beauty as well; and a woman can protect and provide—so how do you fit these into compartments of masculinity and femininity?”
John: I’ve tried to say, “What does the Bible say is the primary role of a man or a woman?” Some of those attributes will also be true of the opposite sex; but “What is the primary calling that God gives to a man and God gives to a woman?”—help them see that.
Dennis: And I would say to the parents, who are listening to us—you may not agree with how John has come up with a definition of manhood and womanhood. My question to you is: “What’s yours? What’s the essence of biblical masculinity and femininity?”—make a pass at it. The point of this is for you to know what your definition is, and what you are reinforcing, and how you’re building a sense of confidence in your son or in your daughter to help them be who God created them to be and to feel content in that and comfortable with that in the midst of a culture that’s wanting them to be confused and to experiment.
Bob: Well, what about the parent, though, who says: “I’m not going to try to define masculinity and femininity. I’m just going to define: ‘You are you,’ and we’re not going to worry about whether you’re a man or a woman—and not going to put artificial constructs around that—we’re just going to say, ‘You are you,’ and ‘Whoever you are, that’s who you should be’”?
Dennis: And I would say they need to go back and read Genesis, Chapter 1. With all due respect, the Bible opens with a very clear statement that God made two distinct sexes, male and female—who were to reflect the image of God, who were to reproduce a godly heritage, who were to reign together in spiritual battle as husband and wife. God did make us with physical distinctives but also, I think, responsibility distinctives as well.
John: And if you leave a 15-year-old young man or woman in one of the most confusing stages of life without any clarity around this and just say: “You are you. You figure it out yourself,” that might work if the culture was giving some clarity around it and there were prevailing messages around them shaping that; but there is so much confusion all around them now. They have nowhere else to look; and again, we need an eternal standard—something that we can stand on when things are tough and when things don’t make sense.
Bob: Now, you know that there are going to be some 14- or 15-year-olds reading your book, who are wrestling with areas of gender and sexuality, who are thinking to themselves: “I am attracted to other boys,” or “…other girls,” / “I wonder sometimes if I’m really a girl trapped in a boy’s body,” or “…a boy trapped in a boy’s body.” You try to help young people think through these issues if they’re experiencing some of that self-doubt or some of those questions; right?
John: We have to stop and ask, “What things are really just cultural labels around manhood and womanhood, and what things really are rooted in Scripture in terms of a definition of manhood and womanhood?”
I usually, every other year or so, go to Fiji and teach a course there. You will see most every Fijian male wearing a skirt—that’s part of their cultural attire. It doesn’t mean they’re girlish; in fact, Fijians are some of the toughest guys around—they regularly win rugby competitions on a world level.
We tend to think a skirt means you’re a woman; and in our culture, that is what women wear. But, even as a young man, if you see things that—what are defined as “womanly” in our culture—let’s say ballet dancing. I think a lot of people would point to that and go, “Yes, that’s the kind of thing girls do.” Or classical music or maybe even art—
—it’s kind of the artistic side of life, in our culture, has kind of become more of a feminine thing; whereas, historically, some of the most well-known figures of history, like Beethoven, are incredibly artistic and were considered incredibly manly in that era of history. We have to separate what’s a cultural value from what is really a biblical value, and then we can deal with that.
Bob: So, the things you’re outlining—like standing firm, taking initiative, protecting, providing—you’re saying this is rooted in how God defines masculinity/femininity—there are verses in the Bible where God speaks directly to women and where God speaks directly to men. And if there’s a differentiation in Scripture—if you read a verse and it says, “Women,”—then you should stop and say, “Well, God is talking to women here,” and our antenna ought to go up and say: “He’s not saying ‘Everyone,’ / He’s saying, ‘Women,’—so what’s the distinction and what’s the difference there?”
John: And the other side of it is: “So there’s the cultural side of being able to discern: ‘What’s just a cultural value that doesn’t really point back to what manhood and womanhood are about?’ The other side of it is trusting God: ‘Do I trust that He knows what’s best for me, even if I feel differently than what He has said is true?’” You’re left with a choice; and I think this is a choice that all Christians are left with: “Am I going to trust my feelings first, or am I going to trust God’s Word first?”—that’s really the core issue we have to come back to—not that our feelings aren’t important—but I need to get to a place where I filter my feelings through His Word rather than His Word through my feelings.
Dennis: Earlier, you quoted 1 Corinthians, Chapter 16:13 and 14. I just want to read it again, because it really gives a clear distinctive for how men are to behave like men. It says: “Be watchful, stand firm in the faith; act like men. Be strong. Let all that you do be done in love.”
Well, that first command in verse 13 says, “Be watchful.” It means men need to be on the lookout. They need to be protectors of their wives, their children, [and] their community. It’s a responsibility for a man.
I love the illustration that John Piper and Wayne Grudem use—they talk about if there’s an intruder breaking into your home in the middle of the night. A man doesn’t reach over and get the ball bat and say, “Okay, Sweetie—I did it last night;—
Bob: “—now, it’s your turn.”
Dennis: “—it’s your turn tonight.” No; any self-respecting man knows that it’s the man who needs to crawl his carcass out of the bed and tiptoe through the dark, facing down his own fear, and protect his family / find out what’s going on. It’s a unique assignment for a man.
John: That’s a pretty easy example that we often give, but when it comes to these kinds of questions—transgender/same-sex attraction—as a man, I need to have the same level of initiative.
I need to say: “If my daughter and my son have questions around this, I’m not going to leave it up to someone else. I’m going to press into it.”
Dennis: And I want to agree with you there, John—and put a double underline—it’s not if the questions are being asked of your son or your daughter—
John: So true.
Dennis: —it’s how many of them are being pounded at them by the culture, by music, by movies, by their teachers, their coaches. I mean, you can’t begin to evaluate and screen all the messaging that’s coming at your children. It means you do have to find out what’s being communicated and what your son or your daughter thinks about what’s being said, and to help them know how to think, and to allow them freedom to be confused / to have doubt.
Bob: You know, John, when my son—when one of my sons was, I think, 13 or 14 years old—he went on a youth group retreat with the church. The speaker at that retreat said, “Guys and girls are different.”
He said, “You know, guys like sports / girls like to read.” And my son sat out there and he thought: “I’m not real big into sports. I love to read.” It bothered him; because he walked away thinking, “Is this guy saying I’m not a man because I like to read and I’m not that into sports?”
This is where we do have to be really careful, as parents, that we’re not imposing some personal standard, where we say: “This is how I think manhood is. So, this is what you have to be,” and that we’re not just melding in with the cultural standard. We do have to go back and say, “Okay; what does God say is at the core of this?”—and then help our sons and our daughters—say, “This is what you need to be embracing, and affirming, and aiming toward.”
John: There’s a great illustration Tim Keller gives of the power culture has on the way we view our lives. I think, as Americans, especially, we tend to think we have complete autonomy and control over the way we view ourselves and shape our world.
He says: “Imagine an Anglo-Saxon warrior in the 12th century walking down the street. He has two feelings inside of him—one is anger / he just wants to smash people.
John: But in his culture, that would have been praised—strength was a high value. The other might have been same-sex attraction. He would have said, ‘That is not me. That is not who I am. That is not acceptable in this culture; I’m going to suppress that.’ Come to modern Manhattan—take those same two emotions—the young man feels anger inside and he says: ‘I need anger management; that is not acceptable in my society.’ Yet, same-sex attraction—he says: ‘No; that is who I am. I will express that.’”
There are so many messages coming at our children that are shaping the way they think about themselves. We have to be proactive, Dennis, as you mentioned. How can we be proactive and get ahead of a conversation that we know they’re going to hear?
Dennis: I just have to say, at this point—I am troubled as I look at our culture, which has so deified tolerance.
It’s made us think that the middle of the road is really the safe place. It’s the place where you’re going to get run over. If you want to know how to raise children in this culture, you have to get back to the Book and let the Book speak to your life. I’ll just tell you a passage of Scripture—if I was raising children today—I would be on the lookout for. It’s really a passage of Scripture that contains some of the harshest words for what’s taking place in our culture—Romans, Chapter 1.
In this passage [Romans 1:20-22]—I’ve just been reading and rereading this, just thinking about this—but it says here—it says: “For God’s invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived ever since the creation of the world in things that have been made.
“So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks to Him; but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.” Then comes some of the most damning words in Scripture: “Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles.”
A lot of this battle we’re watching in the culture today is a battle against Almighty God and how He made things. He didn’t stutter in Genesis 1—He made them male and female. The culture has come along and said there are 60 genders—6-0.
Now, I just have to say—when I read through that list of 60 genders and I think about how this is impacting my grandchildren—I get angry, because I believe that a godless culture is purveying a message upon my grandkids that’s a lie. Although they’re acting like they’re wise in being all-inclusive in their language, they, according to the Scripture, are becoming fools.
What we, as moms and dads, really have to protect—we have to watch how we speak about this. We have to speak with love / with compassion. We have to understand that a person who doesn’t know Jesus Christ, and who doesn’t agree with the Bible, is not going to promote biblical thinking; but “How do we raise kids in this culture today? How do we help them know how to love people who disagree with them?” And so, yes, we are compassionate to them—we aren’t judging of them / we don’t point our fingers at them and curse them and tell them they’re going to burn in hell.
Instead, we compassionately reach out—present the truth and, if given the opportunity, we talk to them about their relationship with Jesus Christ. I think if we don’t train our young people to be on the offensive, they are going to become casualties; because they’re going to be so conformed to the culture—to be liked, to not take a stand, to not disagree—that they’re going to get brainwashed; and they’re not going to know who they are or whose they are.
Bob: Your book, True Identity, is not exclusively about gender issues—that’s just a component of what you’re dealing with. It’s a big component in our world today, but you’re trying to help young people understand identity is a bigger issue: “Who did God make you to be? What are your gifts? What are your abilities? What are your skills and talents? What does it mean you’re a child of God, if in fact you have a relationship with Him?” and “What does it mean about your identity if you’re a rebel to God?” and “What kind of a mission has God called you to?”
I was thinking, John—you know, you also worked on the Passport2Identity™ project for parents who have 14-/15-year-old kids to get away for a couple of days and to listen together to the audio that you’ve created. If parents went on one of those Passport2Identity trips with their kids and then said: “How about, for the next seven or eight weeks, we get together for lunch and we just go through a chapter at a time? You tell me what stood out to you, and I’ll tell you what stood out to me. We’ll just have a conversation around that.” If you have to bribe your kid to do it, I’m not—I used to bribe my kids with all kinds of things; right?
John: Amen. But “incentivize” is the Christian way to say it. [Laughter]
Bob: That’s right. To do that, most parents are just going to put it on their kids’ bed and say, “Hey, you might be interested in this.”
Well, that’s never going to work; right? You have to be a little more engaging than that.
Dennis: And not be afraid of the questions they’re going to ask and not be afraid of not having an answer.
Dennis: A parent doesn’t have to know everything. He just needs to be fearless in stepping off into these discussions and go—maybe, at a point, say: “You know, when I was your age, I didn’t have any of these messages coming at me; but you do. You know what? If I don’t have the answer, I’ll go find it—we’ll go find it together—but let’s discuss: “What’s God’s opinion? What does He say about this?”
Bob: Right; yes. If listeners will go to our website, at FamilyLifeToday.com, they can hear a sample of the audio that you’ve created for Passport2Identity and hear how we frame up these topics for moms and dads to have the conversation with their sons and daughters. Find out more about Passport2Identity and about John Majors’ book, True Identity, when you go to our website, FamilyLifeToday.com.
Passport2Identity comes in both a young men’s and a young women’s kit. Of course, the book, True Identity, was designed to be read by middle school-aged young men and young women. So again, find out more, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com; or call if you have any questions or if you’d like to order by phone: 1-800-FLTODAY—1-800-358-6329—that’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
You know, it seems like in every season of life there are places where the culture collides with what the Scriptures teach—where cultural values clash with what God has said is true—and certainly, that’s the case when it comes to the issues we’ve been talking about today—the issues of identity, especially as it relates to teenagers.
Here, at FamilyLife, we want to be a resource to remind people of what God’s Word has to say on subjects like our identity, our sexuality, [and] our gender. The questions that the culture is raising, we want to keep pointing you back to practical biblical wisdom about how to address those issues in your marriage and in your family.
Those of you who help support this ministry—you’re making it possible for more and more moms and dads / husbands and wives to be able to take advantage of the resources we offer, the audio that’s available on radio and online, the events that FamilyLife hosts. You make all of that possible when you support the ministry of FamilyLife Today.
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Now, tomorrow, we’re going to continue talking with John Majors about how, as parents, we can be actively involved and engaged with our children as they go through some of the difficult issues they’re going to face during their teen years. I hope you can join us back for that tomorrow.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We will see you Wednesday for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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