Chapter 8

What Is Gender and What Does It Mean to Me?


Strive for full restoration, encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you.

2 Corinthians 13:11

You are raising kids in a strenuous environment when it comes to the issue of gender identity. Politics, education, and entertainment have adopted sexual identity as a major point of discussion. As a result, concerned parents need to prepare themselves to answer sensitive and potentially embarrassing questions when it comes to their children’s acceptance of their sexual identity.

The Mystery

Every child goes through a complex process of discovering the sexual reality of their life. It begins with an awareness of their body with all its wonder, physical capabilities, and ability to experience pleasure. It is impossible for young boys to not be aware that they have a penis or for young girls not to be aware they have a vagina. Since the head of the penis and the clitoris contain concentrated bundles of nerve endings, kids periodically experience sensations that feel good and get their attention.

The process of kids discovering the sexual realities of life can be awkward, humorous, and spontaneous. One couple was driving through central New Jersey when their eight-year-old daughter saw a road sign that read “Exit for Middlesex.” She tapped her dad on the shoulder and asked, “Are there towns called Beginning Sex and Ending Sex?”1

The progression continues as emotional reactions take place in relationships. As kids grow, they meet people of both genders who touch their hearts. It is common for boys to become infatuated with girls in their peer group that create feelings in their heart, stomach, and groin that are strong and mysterious. It is also common for boys to be impressed by other boys in their peer group and conclude, “I want to be like them.” In the same way, girls become infatuated with boys and meet girls in their peer group who elicit strong emotional reactions. These emotional responses are captivating, mysterious, and too powerful to ignore, so they become part of the process of determining a young person’s gender identity.

Adolescence adds another layer of complexity as hormones create dramatic changes in the bodies of young men and women and relationships become a major factor in their lives. Teens experience such dramatic change that their orientation to life actually takes a different course than it did when they were kids and the course it will take as adults. In simplest terms, teens experiment with their lives. The dramatic development of their bodies and the vibrant nature of their emotions make it harder for them to think through the issues of life and develop discernment. The typical approach is for teens to move from peer group to peer group trying on different identities. When they are with athletes, they take on an athletic approach to life. When they are with musicians, they act like musicians. When they are with the technologically competent, they build their lives around technology. When they are with the socially popular, they play the game with skill, and so on. They can literally be different people in the morning, at lunch, during the afternoon, and then at home, all in one day.

When it comes to sorting out the issues of their heart, they tend to “feel” their way through. If they are romantically attached to a member of the opposite sex, they think, “This is great. We are so close and my feelings for this person are so strong. It must be love.” If they notice that someone of the same sex is attractive, they may think, “Why am I attracted to this person? What does this say about me? Does this mean I am homosexual or bisexual?” If no one seems to pay attention to them, they may conclude, “Something must be wrong with me. If I was normal, I would be asked out on a date. I have never had a boyfriend/girlfriend so I must not be attractive.”

As adults, we tend to overreact to these developmental steps in our kids’ lives by either accusing them of being perverted or homosexual or by not addressing their behavior at all. Stan and Brenna Jones share insight that all parents ought to keep in mind as they help their kids navigate these emotionally charged waters:

Because teenage sexual arousal can be unfocused, many normal heterosexual teens find themselves on occasion feeling sexual response to hearing about homosexual acts or thinking about another girl’s or boy’s body. Help teenagers to take this in stride by recognizing it for what it is. They are going through a period when identity as a sexual mature adult is being shaped…Only 11 percent of young men who initially reported they had some same sex attraction still reported those feelings a year later. Earlier in this process they do not have a definite “form” to their sexuality as they will later. Warn them about these experiences, and tell them not to worry about them. Such occasional feelings are to be expected and will eventually resolve. Their job during this period is to be thankful for their awakening sexual feelings, make the right decisions God wishes for them, enjoy their relationships, and be patient with themselves as they grow up. They do not have to act on any of the sexual feelings they experience.

Children and teenagers engage in sexual experimentation, including same-sex behavior, and this needs to be discussed as well…Same sex experimentation can take the forms of guys wrestling and grabbing each other’s genitals, girls practicing kissing or petting as they talk about dating, two boys watching each other masturbate, and so forth. It is vital not to label such behavior as homosexual; to do so is to brand the person on the basis of an action. If you discover your child engaging in any of these activities, never say, “Stop that homosexual play!” or “Are you trying to be gay?” Children can be branded by such statements. Instead discipline them for their failures to protect the privacy and sanctity of their own bodies, but always in the context of affirming their normalcy.2

Steer the Power

Gender influence and sexual attraction is one of the most powerful forces in the lives of our kids. The desire, curiosity, and temptations that accompany sexual development are emotionally and chemically powerful even though they lack the ability to think and discern. They have been given by God to create motivation to be in relationship with another caring, committed individual and to give rise to the next generation. Beyond that, our sexual urges do not, on their own, think through long-term implications or discern the emotional, spiritual, or interpersonal health of those we are attracted to.

For boys, we like to compare our sexual drive to fast, powerful automobiles. I (Bill) had the opportunity to travel 130 miles per hour in a Mini Cooper on Germany’s autobahn. It was an awesome experience that was made even more awesome by the presence of a Porsche Turbo. I first saw it in the rearview mirror as it appeared to stalk us like prey. We moved over to the right lane as the Porsche blew by us as if we were standing still. I may be mistaken but I think the powerful engine growled at us when it passed by. I remember thinking, “Wow, I wish I could be in the driver’s seat of that car!”

Within an hour we passed the same car, except this time it didn’t look like a car. It was a crumpled, smashed clump of metal. The driver of the car failed to have proper respect for the power of the machine he was driving. He skidded out of control, smashed into a concrete pillar, and ended the experience with extreme damage. It’s not hard to see the parallel with the sexual reality of our lives. The power is awesome, but it needs to be controlled and guided by sound thinking and clear decisions.

Most girls are not as impressed with powerful machines but they can be equally captivated by friendships and clothing. Young ladies seem to implicitly understand the power of interaction. They love conversations, friendship activities, fitting in, being loved, and finding acceptance among their peers. One woman we know describes relationships as “the jet fuel that empowers their lives.” Girls are right in identifying the potential of relationships, but that doesn’t mean that every relationship is safe or desirable. Friends must be chosen wisely with discernment or they can create turmoil, ruin reputations, and distract responsible young people from their real priorities. The draw to friendship is powerful, but it must be directed by sound thinking and healthy decisions.

Clothing likewise can become an overstated issue in the life of a young lady. One of our granddaughters had the opportunity to attend a parent/child soccer seminar. The plan for the day was to have both parent and child on the field learning soccer skills to introduce young kids to the game. Well, the day came and our little angel insisted on wearing a princess dress complete with high heels and a crown to the soccer practice. She was cute but her clothing did not fit the context. In the same way, romantic and sexual desires are strong and attractive but they have a context that must be guarded with wisdom and resolve.

We never want to tell our kids and teens that their sexual feelings are wrong because they have been given by God for good and to add value to our lives. At the same time, we never want to naïvely accept the notion that all sexual decisions are of equal value or think our kids will figure out the context and boundaries on their own. Just as we give young people driving lessons and take young ladies shopping to help them learn these pursuits with skill, we want to help them develop skills that lead them to a healthy acceptance of their gender and all the wonders that go along with the way God created them.

In helping our young people reach biblical conclusions about their gender, we must keep in mind that they are living in a minefield. It has become fashionable in politics, education, and entertainment to glamorize and legitimize homosexual relationships. Since these influences confront them every day, it can be rather intimidating to the young people we care so deeply about. In addition, the conversation that is taking place in the public arena is based on emotional, self-centered conclusions rather than logic. Our kids are being told they are mean-spirited or have a hateful attitude if they disagree with the emotional conclusions being presented to them. In light of this, we as loving parents must speak the truth with simplicity, conviction, compassion, and heartfelt passion.

Boys and Girls Are Different

We have written extensively on the topic of gender in our book Men Are Like Waffles—Women Are Like Spaghetti. We know that boys and girls are different! It all begins with creation. The Bible clearly states, “So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:27). Every boy and every girl is a reflection of the image of God. We love because God loves. We are creative because God is creative. We are passionate about life because God is passionate about life. In His creative genius, God chose to reflect His image in two different genders. Both are equally valuable, equally beautiful in design, equally capable of significant influence, and equally filled with awe and wonder. When we accept and exalt the differences, we honor God as the Creator of life.

We also line up our minds and hearts with reality since research increasingly validates the fact that men and women are different by design. Of course, there are obvious physical differences that can be seen with even the most cursory glance. There are, in addition, profound differences between males and females that cannot be seen with the naked eye. Here are some of the more interesting differences:

When a man solves problems he uses only one side of his brain. A woman uses both sides of her brain when solving a problem. While every fetus begins its path in life as a female, the presence of the Y chromosome in males sends out a signal to interrupt the development in the female direction with high levels of testosterone. During this “testosterone bath,” many of the connections between the two sides of the brain are severed. As a result, women literally have more connections between the two sides of their brains than men.

When a man eats, the part of his brain that makes him feel happier is stimulated. When a woman eats, the part of her brain that sharpens her eyesight is stimulated. She becomes more aware of her environment and has more to talk about. This is the reason so many good memories are developed around meals. One of the best ways to build healthy relationships is to deliberately and consistently share meals with the people you love.

Men seek out risk and danger more often than women. This happens because males have higher levels of testosterone in their bodies than females, which influences a more aggressive approach to life. “Women appear to be less willing to risk being caught and convicted of speeding than men…On average women made safer choices than men when it came to making risky consumer decisions, such as smoking behavior, seat-belt use, preventative dental care, and having regular blood pressure checks.”3

While male brains are, on average, ten percent larger than female brains, the part of the brain that monitors verbal fluency is larger in females. As a result, boys learn to influence through rough play while girls learn to influence through words. “Young boys come to appreciate a power that resides in an active, physical world; and later, as men, they rely more on physical withdrawal as one means of coping with challenges. But women (vs. men) rely more on language—verbal and nonverbal—to influence others, to the extent that as young girls they polish their communicative skills in managing personal problems. Accordingly, women tend to use a wider array of communication strategies, including negative messages, when confronting their partners.”4

This reinforces the observation that young ladies are more active in relationships than young men. They tend to have more friends, experience more self-disclosure and intimacy in their friendships, and exhibit similar behavior with both male and female friends. Young men, on the other hand, tend to limit the number of friends they have and change their behavior around girls to be less combative, competitive, and aggressive. As a result, a boy is often under more stress when he interacts with a girl and a girl gets disappointed more often as she tries to figure out why the boy she likes is awkward around her.

Marriage Is a Major Part of Our Value System

As believers in Christ, we understand that the relationship between a husband and wife is the clearest picture of God’s saving grace on earth. “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh. This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church” (Ephesians 5:31-32). It is a spiritual value we hold dear because it helps proclaim the greatest message in the world. God created us and wants to have a relationship with each and every one of us. To make it possible, Jesus died on the cross for our shortcomings so He can offer forgiveness freely. God loves us unconditionally and He asks us to respect Him, honor Him, and follow Him. To help us understand how a relationship with Him works, He gave us the relationship between a husband who loves his wife and a wife who respects her husband.

We do not, however, live in a society where everyone is a Christian. What, then, are the values that guide our laws and decisions as a society? This is where the Judeo-Christian ethic comes into play. It is a worldview that assigns the values upon which our society operates. These values provide stability, wisdom, and direction when it comes to the decisions that shape society and limit people’s activities. In America, we invest in education because we hold the value that all citizens ought to be educated. We punish those who commit murder because we value human life. We prosecute financial fraud because we value personal ownership of property and contractual integrity. The same value system that gives us our most cherished rights and privileges includes a conviction that marriage is a relationship between a man and a woman. Redefining marriage would require that we adopt a different value system than the one America was built upon and gave people the freedom to even talk about changing it.

Our values also respect people’s right to choose lifestyles we may not personally endorse. We are not on a crusade to persecute or aggressively hinder people from having relationships we disagree with. Our value system, however, does not include these relationships in the definition of marriage. It is interesting that this one type of relationship has been singled out for redefinition. We willingly say that each of us can only have one spouse so we do not refer to polygamy as marriage. We cannot marry when we are minors and we cannot marry people to whom we are too closely related. Few of us would ever feel pressure to change the definition of marriage in these cases or be made to believe we are hateful and judgmental if we refuse to do so. That is because these relationships are defined by a value system we collectively trust. Helping our kids hold to the historical view of marriage is, therefore, training them to trust the values that build the most successful societies.

Gender Is Genetic

When we talk about being male and female we are talking about a reality of life that can be genetically verified. A female has two X chromosomes that affect the development of every cell in her body. A male has one X chromosome and one Y chromosome that likewise affect the development of every cell in his body. These chromosomes are carried in every cell of the human body so a test of any would verify the individual as either male or female.

It should be noted that most of the differences between males and females are related to hormones. Men’s muscles are larger; women’s hips are wider. Men grow facial hair; women do not. Women’s lungs are more efficient when it comes to metabolizing oxygen; men break down lactic acid more efficiently so they experience less cramping. The list goes on because there is a genetic foundation. The Y chromosome contains a sex-determining gene called SRY which stands for “Sex-determining Region of the Y chromosome.” The SRY gene converts the gonad cells of the early human embryo into testes, which in turn triggers development of male sexual organs. This leads to a testosterone bath in the womb and the production of high levels of testosterone during puberty that creates profound differences between the genders.

Homosexuality Is a Choice

Homosexuals will often say, “I was born like this. I have always been this way.” Homosexuality is now being wrongly labeled as a civil rights issue, just like race and gender. This is unfortunate because homosexuality cannot be objectively confirmed. It is a self-reported condition that has no genetic, scientific, or physical means to evaluate whether the claims made by the individual are true or not.

Different groups have varying opinions about the morality and appropriateness of the homosexual lifestyle and it is healthy for us as a society to give all parties an opportunity to share their opinions. Taking a self-reported personal choice, however, and elevating it to the status of a civil right blurs the discussion and establishes a purely emotional basis for discriminating against the majority of the population. We would never accept this line of thinking for other areas of life. For instance, if someone vehemently proclaimed that he had blue skin when he obviously did not, we wouldn’t accept it as true. And yet for some reason we are being told that homosexuality is different from all other choices in life.

As concerned parents, we must hold the line on the facts. We understand this is a lifestyle choice even though the current of modern culture is attempting to say otherwise. Our kids are going to hear emotional appeals and friendly demands that they accept the legitimacy of the homosexual lifestyle. We can’t combat the assault with simple logic. We must have calm conviction based on truth. If we get intimidated by the assertions, appear to be afraid of the conversation, overreact to the statements our kids repeat, or respond with anger when the topic is brought up, our kids will assume what they heard outside our home is true. If, however, we are confident in our position, consistent in our assertions, open to answering questions for which we know the answers, and committed to finding answers to new questions, our kids are likely to conclude that we know what we’re talking about.

Homosexuality Is Rare

If you base your conclusions on what you hear from modern culture, you would think that homosexuality is pervasive and commonplace. In a 2011 Gallup poll Americans estimated that 25 percent of the population was homosexual.5 The next year, Gallup conducted another poll in which 121,290 people responded to the question, “Do you, personally, identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender?” The result of this survey was that only 3.4 percent of the population actually identify themselves according to one of these titles.6 In light of this, we must communicate the rarity of these alternative lifestyles confidently and consistently without overreacting.

Regardless, 80 percent of homosexual men and 70 percent of homosexual women report having been sexually abused. If your child is expressing gender concern issues, there might be more pain under the surface. Getting qualified counseling is certainly in order.

Homosexuality Is Not the Ultimate Sin

In an attempt to protect our children, we often react to discussions about homosexuality with disdain, disgust, and demeaning remarks. This is usually well-intentioned, but it is neither necessary nor appropriate and has the potential to backfire. If we overreact to the conversations about alternative lifestyles, we run the risk of encouraging undue curiosity, eliciting intense reactions that overshadow logic, or creating a reputation for being judgmental and unapproachable. If these responses take hold, our kids will avoid us as they make decisions about their sexual activity rather than consulting us.

We live in a world where some people will quickly accuse us of hating those who choose an alternative lifestyle simply because we disagree with them. We cannot stop them from jumping to that conclusion, but we can keep them from confirming their thinking by remaining loving, compassionate, and conversational. Our kids will pay attention to our approach and they will evaluate what they hear as they interact with their peers. Rest assured: Calm confidence on our part is a powerful counterbalance to emotional leverage when it comes to our own children.

The human race has a history of responding poorly to behavior that is explicitly restricted. It began in the Garden of Eden when God said to Adam, “You must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die” (Genesis 2:17). Satan played upon people’s natural curiosity when he tempted Eve to break that one rule.

Ever since, men and women have been captivated by this same process. We begin to wonder why we “must not” do this or that. We evaluate what God has said about the way life works the best. Curiosity and the desire to be in relationship with others breaks down our willingness to exercise self-control. The notion that a forbidden behavior actually makes you more insightful, more enlightened, and more modern takes over. The Old Testament and human history have proven that this approach does not lead to healthy decisions.

Excellence Is the Goal of Grace

In contrast, the grace of the New Testament presents a pursuit of excellence based on who we are. The attitude of the New Testament is you have been created by God, chosen by God, and adopted into God’s own family. You are the place on earth where the Holy Spirit dwells. As such, it makes sense that you would live a life of excellence, pursuing worthwhile goals and self-discipline. Athletes work out extensively and monitor their diets because they want to compete effectively. Musicians practice relentlessly and avoid activities that would interrupt their ability to play the music they love. In the same way, we will seek to make high-quality decisions and pursue healthy relationships when we embrace the reality of who we are in Christ.

As parents, we will be most effective when we consistently remind our kids they are valuable, talented, capable, and worthy of honor. It is easy for us to be afraid for our kids because of the challenges in our world and to resort to constant criticism and intense reactions in an effort to keep them safe. In parenting by fear, however, you run the risk of tapping into that unhealthy curiosity that has plagued the human race. How many young people have concluded, “Well, my mom and dad already think I am bad and will mess up so I might as well do it.” Instead, we want to be instruments of grace who lovingly correct poor behavior as we train our kids and applaud their successes. When it comes to gender identity specifically, we want to affirm over and over that our gender is God’s creative plan and that He made us either male or female because He knows it is best for us.

Answers to Have Ready

We cannot leave this decision to the impulses and experiences of our kids. Sexual decisions are some of the most important choices in the lives of our children. First Corinthians 6:18-20 states, “Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a person commits are outside the body, but whoever sins sexually, sins against their own body. Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.” Sexual immorality includes sex before marriage, sex after marriage with someone who is not a spouse, pornography, homosexuality, and any other activities that involve sexual arousal with anyone to whom you are not married.

If your child is struggling with a gender identity issue, do exactly what you would do if he or she had any illness or emotional pain. Find the best experts, the best doctors, and the best mentors and create a team of support, safety, and biblically sound advice to guide you and your child through the rough waters to the stable shore.

As parents, our desire is to protect the hearts of our kids and to enable them to experience the full influence of the Holy Spirit. Every sexual choice affects the condition of their hearts and their comfort level with the presence of the Holy Spirit in their lives. As your son or daughter is in tune with God, God will layer gender identity confirmations into his or her life in small ways, day upon day, until they are secure in their gender identification. Our job is just to echo the truth about what God says about men and women and allow it to sink into the soil of our child’s heart and mind.

Despite what you may have heard, your influence as parents still has a more profound effect on your kids than the media, peers, or any other adults in their lives. As you confidently remind your children that they are created in the image of God and are highly valued, you can anticipate that they will hold to God’s values in their ever-shifting world.

Parent to Parent

You will need to have a few sentences ready to talk with friends and family about this very prominent topic. The National Organization for Marriage explains the best wording to explain a pro traditional marriage view is simply: “Gays and lesbians have a right to live as they choose, they don’t have the right to redefine marriage for all of us.”7

In 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 the apostle Paul clearly explains that God’s will is that we choose to leave behind behaviors that God does not see as healthy for our lives:

Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.

There are two important things to note in this verse. First, homosexuality is in a list of many sins and not singled out as any worse than the heterosexual sin of fornication or others named. Second, these sins are listed in the past tense—“This is what some of you were.” This clearly teaches that you cannot be a Christ follower and follow your own lust for the same sex. It is a choice that must be made—“God’s view or my own view.” We encourage you to help your child, tween, or teen to elect for God’s view on all topics, including this one.

You should be equipped to answer questions and defend your views on traditional marriage, homosexuality, bisexuality, and any other form of sexuality outside God’s intended plan of one man and one woman for life.

Answers for Your Heart

Dakota Ary was a freshman football player and honor student at his public school. A teacher posted a photo of two men kissing. Disturbed by it, he told his parents and together they again talked through what the Bible says about homosexuality. Shortly after this, the teacher brought up the subject of homosexuality in class and a student, one of Dakota’s friends, asked what Christianity had to say about the subject. Dakota turned to address his friend and he shared his thoughts, saying that he believed the Bible and God thought homosexuality was wrong. The teacher suspended Dakota and he was sent to a four-hour in-school suspension room, missing some of his other classes. With help from the Liberty Counsel, Dakota and his family filed suit against the school and teacher for taking away his right to free speech. Dakota’s mom said, “Parents need to empower their children [and show them] that they are going to back them up.” They won the suit.8

So perhaps there needs to be a new game show. Instead of “Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader?” it should be “Are You Braver Than a Freshman?”

When our oldest son was a freshman we daily encouraged him to stand up for his beliefs and God’s values. One day in a quiet time God simply asked, “Are you being as brave as you are asking your son to be?” That day became the seed for the book Becoming a Brave New Woman. In that book I (Pam) wrote, “Show me the size of your God and I’ll show you the size of your courage. Big God—Big Courage.”

Write down a list of your fears, and then write down one of God’s traits that will counteract those fears (compassionate, forgiving, righteous, loving, etc.). Look up some verses about that trait and begin to memorize and meditate on those verses to bolster your courage. That way you’ll have plenty of courage to loan to your kids as they need it! My job is to know God, and the natural outcome is God will make me brave. Your job is to know God so He will make you brave. And if we help our kids know God, He will make them brave too.