BY BENJAMIN R. LEE, Assistant Pastor, Oakwood Presbyterian Church
Over the last several years Caitlyn Jenner has become one of the most well-known celebrities in American culture. Even people with little knowledge about American pop culture can pick Caitlyn out of a line-up. And we know why Caitlyn is famous. Before Caitlyn Jenner became Caitlyn, Caitlyn was Bruce. Most of our readers will remember the 1978 Montreal Olympics when Bruce Jenner became America's most beloved gold medal athlete after demolishing the field in the decathlon. In the 70s and 80s, Bruce Jenner fit the macho-man stereotype to a tee. He was attractive, wealthy, and jacked out of his mind. But in 2015 in an interview with Dianne Sawyer, Bruce informed the world that for all that time he had, in fact, always been a woman. He said he'd always felt out of place in his own body, and that while he had the body of man, he’d always had a woman’s soul. So his real self, he said, was female. It wasn't long after that interview that Bruce emerged as "Caitlyn" in that now-famous Vanity Fair article, cross-sex surgeries fully completed.
Bruce Jenner’s “transformation” into Caitlyn brought the transgender moment into clear view. It was perhaps that moment that shined the greatest light on the phenomenon of transgenderism in the modern world. Though transgenderism is nothing new, in recent years the number of trans-identified people has hit epic heights. In the last decade, the number of adults in the US identifying as transgender has doubled. Among teenagers, the number of trans-identified people has skyrocketed. In 2019 the CDC estimated that 2% of American high schoolers identified as transgender – a shocking number of whom are female.
This truly is a phenomenon. These numbers might not seem all that high, but consider that before the early 2000s transgenderism was so rare that statistics on it were not kept. Moreover, until only recently gender dysphoria was almost exclusively a problem found in young boys under the age of 4. Almost never did adolescent females present with gender dysphoria.
But now, all of the sudden, it’s everywhere. Why? Why is this happening? Why are people turning to hormones and surgery? And is this the answer the culture says it is?
We could posit any number of theories behind this phenomenon. Some sociologists have even tied the rise of transgenderism in adolescent females to pornography use. Others see it as a social trend, i.e. girls come out as transgender because their friends are doing it. These things undoubtedly are part of the problem. But what if those theories are only the fruit of the central problem? What I want to suggest is that the reason so many people are identifying as transgender, and the reason so many support it, is because transgenderism is a kind of gospel. It’s the gospel according to Caitlyn Jenner.
The gospel according to Caitlyn Jenner says: Do you feel uncomfortable in your body? Do you want to be happy? I have good news! Your biological sex doesn’t matter. You can be saved from your physical appearance and find fulfillment by sacrificing the anatomy of your birth and by taking on a new identity based on whom you feel you are. And this new identity will satisfy all of your desires. It’s salvation by surgery. In this gospel, deliverance comes by offering up your biological anatomy as a kind of sacrificial lamb in pursuit of psychological wholeness and happiness.
But does the gospel according to Caitlyn Jenner pay off? Despite what you hear in the media and from YouTube influencers, the overwhelming answer is a resounding no. Here's are some things you won't hear from YouTube influencers about things like hormone therapy and cross-sex surgery. Did you know that if a young girl takes testosterone, the male hormone, that after only a few months the changes are permanent? Did you know that if an adolescent female takes testosterone for very long not only will it prevent puberty from taking place, but if she ever decides she’s made a mistake, the chances are high that her body will not kick start puberty? She’ll never develop as a woman should. Did you know that after only a short time of taking testosterone a girl can become sterile and unable to have children? That’s in addition to the fact that the high levels of testosterone required to make a woman begin to look more masculine means that a girl is 5 times more likely to have heart disease and the likelihood of various cancers increases dramatically.
And surgery? It’s no answer. A doctor can make a person appear more like the opposite sex, but the parts they can provide aren't real. They don't function like the real thing. And because of the complex nature of our biology, the minimal functionality that can be provided comes with extreme risk. Because of how complex these things are it is not uncommon to hear of botched surgeries that leave bodies permanently malformed.
And what’s worse is that there is no scientific data suggesting that hormones or surgery alleviate gender dysphoria. In other words, you can take the hormones, you can get the surgery, you can present as the opposite sex, and you are still going to feel that you are out of place in your own body. Often hormones and surgery make the dysphoria worse. And unfortunately, you won't hear in the media that hormones and surgery could be avoided altogether because most of the time children with gender dysphoria grow out of it by adulthood.
These are reasons why there are more and more “de-transitioners” – people who realize they've made a terrible mistake and are trying to go back. The trouble is once you've had the surgery and been on cross-sex hormones for years, there isn't much doctors can do. All of these things contribute to the sad reality that in the transgender community the suicide rate is 20 to 40 times higher than the national average. Some suggest the increase in the suicide rate is because of hateful bigots who won’t affirm a person’s identity. But what if it’s because the gospel according to Caityln Jenner just doesn’t work?
But consider the gospel according to Jesus. Just like the gospel according to Caitlyn Jenner, the true gospel recognizes that people suffering from gender dysphoria (the feeling that one’s inner sense of self doesn’t match their biological anatomy) have a real need. This is, of course, completely in line with Christian theology. The Bible is very clear that the fall has marred everything in creation. Sin does disrupt the created order. We ought not to be surprised, therefore, when a person says he feels like his biological sex does not align with his inner sense of self. It's not only possible but even normal, that in a fallen world sin can tell us that what God has created as good is wrong.
This is something that Christians need to understand. When you encounter a person struggling in this area, you’re not dealing with some kind of a freak. You’re not dealing with someone who just wants to rebel or be wicked. You are dealing with someone who is hurting profoundly. You are encountering someone in whom the effects of the fall have wreaked havoc in very particular and devastating ways.
But the gospel sees yet another problem, a problem that is at the root of things like gender dysphoria. The fall can leave us alienated from our createdness only because the fall has left us alienated from the Creator. A person’s alienation from their body is the fruit of their alienation from God.
The gospel according to Jesus addresses both. God sent Jesus into the world to reconcile us to himself – to remove the alienation between us and him. And through that reconciling work, God is reconciling all things to himself. The gospel according to Jesus wants to save your soul and renew your mind so that your inner world can be reconciled to your exterior reality.
So, what our transgender friends need is not hormones. It’s not surgery. It’s not to be told that they can find happiness by living according to their own inner reality. That will only exacerbate the problem. What transgender people need to hear is that there is a better gospel than salvation by surgery. What the transgender person needs to hear is that somebody else has already become the sacrificial lamb. They need to hear that God loved them so much that he sent Jesus into the world so that through his blood they might be reconciled to him, and that through that reconciliation they can find true relief from the alienation they feel from their bodies.
Here is what the gospel does. Just like the gospel according to Caitlyn Jenner, the true Gospel gives you an identity. In transgenderism, your identity is your maleness or femaleness. Your sex defines who you are and fills your life with meaning and happiness. But the gospel gives an identity that supersedes sex. It says that the core of who you are is not defined by whether you are male or female, but by who you are in Christ.
And who are you in Christ? You are a child of God the Father. And what happens when you begin to live out of this identity is you start to believe that this good Father doesn’t make mistakes. A person struggling with gender dysphoria begins to see that what God created in the womb, what he formed with his hands, isn’t a genetic malfunction. Instead, it is a magnificent reflection of His image. And perhaps slowly, perhaps with difficulty, this identity begins to remove that alienation so that a person’s inner world becomes increasingly reconciled to their exterior reality. The gospel according to Jesus is the answer to transgenderism.
The gospel according to Caitlyn Jenner is everywhere. We see it in the media. It’s in our schools. It’s on our kid’s social media accounts. You probably have friends who are dealing with it. And it is hard to figure out how to respond and how to help. But Jesus is great enough to provide the answer. The question is, are we willing to listen?