Of Boxes and Labels
The steam has been building this year on the topic of gender-identity with Bruce Jenner's decision, the Michigan Planet Fitness incident, and Leelah Alcorn's suicide. Now, after Target stores announced they were doing away with gender specific signs for bed sheets and toys, some loud and popular people in American Fundamentalist Evangelicalism are having a fit: SpiritualSoundingBoard: Targeting Gender Confusion of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood and Franklin Graham. With all the media attention surrounding this issue, it has been impossible for me not to think about the subject of gender identity and sex change. When I read comments, articles, or blog posts, what I see from writers is an underlying and desperate desire to find out "who they are". But many make the mistaken assumption that "who they are" is defined by what they look like, and it is the same problem that Fundamental Evangelicals have with gender identification and so-called Biblical roles of manhood and womanhood.
Man Looks At the Outside Appearance
If there is one Bible verse I find myself repeating the most often, it is 1 Samuel 16:7, "Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart" (The second, in case you were wondering, is Matt. 23). To put it a different way, don't judge a book by its cover.
However, some people put all the emphasis on a person's outside appearance, labeling others or themselves as boy/girl, fat/skinny, strong/weak, tall/short, etc. It is interesting to note, that most people label themselves with what they consider their most important trait such as religion, gender identity, sexual preference, job title, and other life-style choices or cultural backgrounds. I always feel stuck when someone asks what I do, because there are so many (and different) things I do that are all important to understanding me.
All people like boxes and labels. It helps us stay sane in an information-packed world. It is impossible to get to know every person we pass on the street, or even those we may work with everyday. Some people are more private than others, some wear masks to hide their true selves, and even if everyone were totally open and honest, we still wouldn't have enough hours to learn about everybody.
Still, stereotyping, although natural and survival-based, is something to work against. When we label others or ourselves, not only do we drive wedges between people or groups, it also becomes so easy for us to feel superior. After all, that neighbor is a Republican, or that lady is a faux Christian, and that man watches Game of Thrones. What brief statements those are, and yet such insinuations!
The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’ “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ (Luke 18:11-13)
What a particular person may look like, is not often who a particular person is. Who they are entails what they want, what their strengths and weaknesses are, what they enjoy, what they dislike; in other words, personality traits, that can sometimes be colored or limited by physical traits like eyesight, height, weight, or disability.
Just as skin color, religion, or age have been culturally acceptable or not throughout the ages and lands, one's sex/gender is often culturally limited. The false wall that dictates "who" people are and what they "can" or "should" do based on which set of genitals an individual has, employs an appeal to an argument of nature. A woman is "made" to be a certain way, women have one kind of brain, men have another. Men and women are "different", goes the argument, and of course they are.
Men and women have different parts, different looks, different hormones. Women's bodies, and not men's, were made with childbirth in mind, among other things. This is neither "good" nor "bad", this does not dictate that the female must stay home to nurture her young (there are other ways of nurturing and providing besides being a stay-at-home-mom), the fact that a woman may be capable of bearing children does not dictate that she "should", the fact a woman may not be capable of bearing children does not make her "bad". These things just "are".
"The state of being male or female" has no bearing, I repeat, no bearing (even and especially Biblically speaking) on what a person is capable of or where their talents may lie. God has not put up boundaries on the sexes, no matter what church teachers or Christian authors may say. No matter what you or others may look like, it is time to stop labeling and boxing people in.
This excellent 12 minute video from BrainCraft, shows how easy it is to label and box others, and what some of the frightening consequences can be.
For further investigation on the subject of Biblical equality, check out The Junia Project blog