Building Identity When Everything Is Not Awesome

One of my kids may struggle with their sexual identity. I have six kids, and it’s very possible that one of them, or one of their friends, will experience gender dysphoria—anxiety and confusion about their gender.

I’ve started talking to my kids about how they build their understanding of gender. One of the areas we have yet to tackle is sexual attraction. Is it best to follow attractions? What if their attractions don’t line up with the gender norms, their physical body, or God’s design? I’m working to resolve how to have these conversations, especially if their attractions don’t fit the cultural norm.

I started piecing together my Lego man of sexuality after a summer shopping trip to H&M with my two oldest sons. I picked up suspenders, a pair of skinny-shorts, and some socks. Classic dad apparel. As we plopped my findings down at the checkout my nine-year-old pulled on my shirt. My ten-year-old caught my eye and nodded toward our cashier, who was wearing eye liner and sported a Marilyn Monroe piercing next to their lip. There were at least six piercings that wrapped around their left ear and—at six-foot-three—they were tall. I say “they” because I’m not totally sure if the person self-identified as a boy or girl. In fact, I couldn’t tell their biological gender from their appearance. It was clear that they were transitioning.

After some cordial conversation, the cashier laughed with me at my plans to drive through the night on the Fourth of July, and then said a parting farewell. Walking down the hallway of the mall, one of my kids asked if the person we talked to was a boy or girl. I told them it mattered, but not in the way they thought it did.

Gender is desperately important, and it has more significance than just as a self-defining box to check on an application questionnaire. Defining gender is a very real and significant process of wrestling out our identity. With so many different people telling us what gender is and isn’t, our growth in purpose, hope, and who we are can feel shunted inside the gender debate. It is incredibly valuable for us to think about how we build an affirming identity in relation to our gender. Are we male, female, or can we self-identify and build our own identity—as the world tells us we can?

Many scientists who work with people who struggle with their gender identity say it is important to align gender with reality—meaning the sexual organs a person is born with should dictate how we build our gender identity. Many in the world say that a person’s identity and gender preference can go against the physical reality, but scientists say this is problematic.

Dr. Paul McHugh from Johns Hopkins notes that changing a person’s sexual organs doesn’t solve the issue of their gender identity. “‘Sex change’ is biologically impossible. People who undergo sex-reassignment surgery do not change from men to women or vice versa. Rather, they become feminized men or masculinized women.” 

Changing reality to match a desire or passion doesn’t solve the heart of the issue. Walt Heyer discovered this. He was a husband and father of two children before he followed his heart and desires and transitioned to a woman. He later transitioned back to a man and said, “Changing genders is short-term gain with long-term pain… Instead of encouraging them to undergo unnecessary and destructive surgery, let’s affirm and love our young people.”

Sometimes people find more enjoyment in same-sex friendships, and they may even be same-sex attracted. However, these feelings do not define a person, even if the person acts on these feelings a few times. A person’s gender identity is defined by much more than their gender attraction or gender leanings.

The Bible gives one of the most comprehensive answers to how we should build our identity. God created man and woman in his image. That means that our identity is not bound up in how we feel or who we’re attracted to, but is instead bound to the character of God. As we study and understand God, looking into his Word for wisdom and understanding and seeking out Christian adult mentors, we find a better understanding of who we are and who we’re made to be.

Sometimes our attractions and desires don’t match up to God’s design in the Bible. There are countless examples of this in the Scriptures, too. Adam and Eve wanted to form their own reality of good and evil. There were significant consequences to this. But this is one of many examples where humankind follows their heart away from the design of God, trying to make reality match their desires.

If we’re looking to build an understanding of who we are, we need to understand that our identity is not built by our feelings, desires, or our own work. Our identity is established in the fact that we bear God’s image.

With this established, our gender identity is likewise defined not by our feelings about gender, which may change continually throughout our lives. These feelings are a result of the Fall into sin. Satan is working to confuse and disorient us. It is our challenge to align our hearts and minds to Jesus while living in a distorted culture.

While we may have varied attractions, and may struggle to have love and security in opposite sex relationships, the fact of the matter is that God has designed humankind with two genders to glorify him in a complementary relationship. Our identity has little to do with us building a sense of self or finding purpose in life. Identity is most firmly built in submitting to the revealed design God has established.

So, while it’s possible my kids may struggle with their gender, that doesn’t mean that they are LGBTQ+. That is a definition the world wants to place on those who are struggling with reality. We all battle with reality, in very real and often different ways. The beauty is that our identity is not tied to our struggle. Our identity has been built for us in the design and purpose God displays for us in Scripture and through his Son, Jesus Christ.

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Wayne Stender is Director of Admissions at Hillcrest Lutheran Academy, the Lutheran Brethren’s boarding high school. Wayne speaks and writes frequently on topics related to culture and worldview.

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