I was recently completing an on-line survey produced by a major US university (name not important) when I came to a page that stopped me short. It was simply titled, ‘Gender’. What caused a double-take was the answer options – Male, Female, Other. Other? I looked again, wondering if this was either a typo or a subliminal way for the surveyors to see if I was really paying attention. But there is was…Other.
My curiosity got the best of me so I emailed the psychology professor whose name was listed as the contact person and asked him for an explanation. Here is what he said,
“As far as the designation of other for gender, we like to leave space for people to self-identify their gender in whatever way is the most meaningful to them. Some people may identify as transgender, queer, or other designations that we cannot anticipate. In a small effort to respect the diversity of perspectives regarding gender we like to leave this open so that people who have other perspectives are able to answer in a way that reflects their experiences.”
Three words jumped out at me as I read this very politically correct response; self-identify, perspectives and experiences. It raises the question, is gender a physiological fact or an existential state? That is, are we born male or female based on our genitalia (among other things) or do we become male or female based on our experience, preferences and decisions? Is gender a choice?
The question took me back to Eden and the reminder that the great sin of the first couple was a denial of the goodness of God. Their Creator had chosen for them all that was good and rejected everything that would cause them harm, including evil itself. But through the guile of the serpent they succumbed to the lie that perhaps God is not really, totally good, and the only way to know was to grasp the chance to choose for themselves and trust in themselves.
Our gender would seem to be the one thing that is an unequivocal part of our very DNA and over which we have absolutely no say or control. God chose to create us male or female and he did so out of his enormous love for us and his plan for us to live abundantly into that reality. “Male and female he created them.” (Genesis 1:27). Our biological designation is integrally connected with our Creator’s intent to fashion a creature that would bear his image in clarity and joy. That image is ‘male and female.’ To deny our gender is to deny our very personhood.
So, what are we to make of ‘Other’? There are only two possible answers; either the person who selects this option believes they are both male and female, or neither. They are either so confused as to their gender that they cannot decide between the two normative options, or they believe that they have no gender at all.
In our sin, we have made gender either meaningless or optional. By choosing ‘Other’ we deny the form in which we were born, and reject the mark of God’s image in us. By denying that maleness and femaleness are the indelible marks of God’s creative intent, our culture has reduced them to nothing more than expressions of our personal desires and choices. And if that personal choice does not align with either of the normative ways of talking about our personhood (or somehow aligns with both), we can choose ‘none of the above’.
The presence of the option for ‘Other’ regarding our gender reflects an astonishing mistrust in a lavishly faithful God. The moral depravity of our age has reached the level where even this most objective, seemingly unquestionable mark of God’s image in us has been twisted by the sin of Eden into yet another choice over which we demand control. As absurd as it may sound, we want to reject God’s goodness even to the point of denying our gender.
While we rightly denounce such moral decay, as God’s people we must, in the same breath ask where in our own life we repeat the sin of Eden and choose for ourselves in direct opposition to God’s gracious and loving choice for us? The way we spend our money? Use our time? Treat our neighbor? Care for the poor? Steward God’s creation?
God help us trust in your goodness and lay aside our sinful desire to reject your image and play God ourselves.