Friday, June 10, 2016

A book review of Understanding Gender Dysphora

Understanding Gender Dysphoria (2015) is not for the faint of heart. For starters, this text is for those already familiar with debates regarding gender and homosexuality.[1] Second, Yarhouse does not shy away from technical language and research that quickly bogs down a book intended for a general audience. If, however, you have cut your teeth on introductory writings and now want to minister faithfully to people with questions about gender and sexuality, Yarhouse can help.

Gender dysphoria is a clinical diagnosis describing a person who has acute discomfort or distress regarding their psychological and emotional identity, which feels in contrast with their biological sex (e.g., a biological man feels he is a woman). 

Yarhouse argues there are three different frameworks to consider when ministering to those with gender dysphoria: 

1)      In the “integrity framework,” Christians uphold the Biblical testimony of gender being either male or female (Genesis 1-2). Thus, they teach that any practice (dress, behavior, etc.) contrary to one’s birth sex/gender is unbiblical. Yarhouse argues (in straw-man fashion, unfortunately) that the integrity framework is quick to blame a person as sinful and guilty for their own gender dysphoria. (In my experience, many Christians hold to the integrity framework on sexuality and also hold with integrity God's command to love all people and to serve each person, regardless of their sense of gender, sexual orientation, or behavior. They are marked by offering grace, not shame or blame.)

2)      In the “disability framework,” Christians would continue to uphold the Biblical testimony regarding gender, but they would see conditions like gender dysphoria being the result of the Fall. As such, Christians would not assume gender dysphoria is the result of individual sin or choice, but a matter of brokenness and in need of compassion and care. As such, Christians would minister to those with gender dysphoria like those who have any manner of psychological disorders, long-term addictions, and/or post-traumatic conditions.

3)      In the “diversity framework,” some Christians would offer full acceptance and celebration of people who want to live out a gender identity contrary to their biology, even offering support of transformations via dress, hormones, surgery, etc. In another version of the diversity framework, Christians would not necessarily support comprehensive efforts at adopting a gender contrary to their birth, but they would celebrate diverse gender experiences and create safe places for growing in Christ.

Yarhouse believes Christians should interlock all three frameworks for an integrated approach. The strength of the integrated approach is it both upholds historic Christian doctrine and keeps love and compassion central. Its weakness is that the diversity framework can quickly trump the other two. Likewise, the emphasis on diversity has all manner of practical and doctrinal concerns (Would we celebrate someone who felt like a dog trapped in a man’s body? Would we celebrate an anorexic woman who thought she was fat? I'm not equating gender dysphoria with these types of dysphoria, but at the end of the day, someone has to have an external authority determining what is healthy and appropriate thought patterns). Certainly, Christians must love the hurting and confused, the sinner and the saint, but we should be careful to only celebrate what is good, true, and beautiful (Romans 12:9).

Despite my hesitancy to fully embrace Yarhouse’s integrated approach, his commitments to Scripture and love in a broken world are essential for the raging debates before us, and more importantly, the immortal human persons around us.

[1] Better starting books would be Kevin DeYoung’s What Does the Bible Really Teach about Homosexuality, Wesley Hill’s Washed and Waiting, and any of the excellent writings of Rosaria Butterfield and Christian Yuan.

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