There are a number of ways in which western society has become confused about gender. Not only have we lost any clear sense of what it uniquely means to be a man or what it means to be woman, we have also lost any clear sense of what a man or a woman is. For almost the entire scope of human history that question would have been answered biologically. For the first time ever that is no longer the case.
In 1990 Judith Butler published Gender Trouble which argued that gender is not something we are but something we do. Which was more or less the same time that the first gender reassignment surgery took place. Thus began, more or less, the great decoupling between your biology and your gender.
Although Christians such as Mark Yarhouse and Robert Gagnon are gamely discussing these issues the culture is galloping at great speed towards accepting, well pretty much everything. Transgender rights and activism have become the current civil rights movement of the progressive movement. The World Health Organisation is about to declassify transgender as a mental illness. This train is picking up speed.
The speed of change in the public square certainly has the extra disadvantage of making the church even more anachronistic than it already it is. While at one end of the spectrum toys become gender neutral at the other end the US military is opening all combat positions to women (despite it would seem the evidence and the arguments of feminists). In the light of these kind of developments Christians debating the roles of men and women in the church look ever more pre-historic.
We will probably look back on 2015 as the year the transgender agenda took hold. From Caitlyn/Bruce Jenner to films with Oscar winning actors playing a transgendered man/woman. In their review of The Danish Girl starring Eddie Redmayne, The Economist says the film “is simply representative of today’s particular moment—of the striving, in more prominent ways, to understand and support the transgender community.”
A slightly different film, Zoolander 2, also has what would appear a transgendered character this time played by Benedict Cumberbatch. Because Mr Cumberbatch is not transgendered that seems to have upset those who are. The increasing visibility of the transgendered has strained the ability of most people’s vocabulary & understanding of biology. As Michelle Goldberg illustrates in her article What is a woman?
The members of the board of the New York Abortion Access Fund, an all-volunteer group that helps to pay for abortions for those who can’t afford them, are mostly young women; Alison Turkos, the group’s co-chair, is twenty-six. In May, they voted unanimously to stop using the word “women” when talking about people who get pregnant, so as not to exclude trans men. “We recognize that people who identify as men can become pregnant and seek abortions,” the group’s new Statement of Values says.
This isn’t a phenomenon that is anyway secret, not when the BBC is publishing articles titled Beyond ‘he’ and ‘she’: The rise of non-binary pronouns and The New York Times has begun using the gender-neutral honorific ‘Mx’.
There are plenty of people who still believe that biology matters in determining whether one is man or a woman, yet that is no longer acceptable as Germaine Greer recently found out. This maybe a new battle for most people but not for radical feminists. Way back in 1973 Robin Morgan said,
I will not call a male “she”; thirty-two years of suffering in this androcentric society, and of surviving, have earned me the title “woman”; one walk down the street by a male transvestite, five minutes of his being hassled (which he may enjoy), and then he dares, he dares to think he understands our pain? No, in our mothers’ names and in our own, we must not call him sister.
Church historian Carl Trueman comments that,
When Germaine Greer is under attack for being too right-wing in holding such a view, then the rest of us had better be very worried. A phrase about lunatics, an asylum and a takeover comes to mind.
As armed forces open their doors and toilets begin to change from single-sex, so sooner or later, will education and other public spaces. The pace is rapid, unprecedented and probably unstoppable. The Church still fighting battles from previous decades will soon be swept up in another fight it is ill-equipped and unprepared for. It will serve to push it further than ever to the margins of Western society.
There will be challenges for everyone although not in equal measure. As I’ve maintained in this space on a number of occasions, I think the egalitarian use of Galatians 3:28 is an own goal if they also want to uphold any kind of notion of man and woman, and ultimately that marriage is to between only a man and a woman. It’s very important in our role as light to the world that when everyone else gets confused about gender, we remain true to the One who made men and women in His image.