Bending Gender Norms: Why the Narrative Is Not So Unified

If you are like me, your news feeds on social media have been overwhelmed by the Jenner transition from Bruce to Caitlyn. Everyone has an opinion, and no one seems to agree on how to address it. The range of responses runs the gamut from ESPN deciding to give Jenner their Arthur Ashe Courage Award to some describing Jenner’s transformation as evidence of mental illness (and then pretty much every possible response in between). My goal here is not to address the Jenner story directly but to expose the underlying narrative of the cultural conversation. That underlying narrative is the not-so-unified agenda within the LGBT movement.

Many Americans see the LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender) movement as a unified whole marching toward an end-goal of equality, acceptance, and significance within society.1 The four letters used to describe the coalition flow off the tongues and through the keyboards of activists and dissenters alike. However, not everything  is as unified as some may portray. Is the narrative of the LGBT movement really a unified whole, or are there underlying differences between factions in the group? Is there a unified political goal to be achieved that hides a schism below the surface? Such questions are beginning to be asked, and Christians contending for truth need to be aware of fissures within the LGBT movement.

What rests beneath the surface is a conflict of narratives between the LG’s (Lesbians and Gays) and the BT’s (Bisexuals and Transgenders). Jillian Todd Weiss acknowledges this division when she observes,

While many gays and lesbians feel that ‘bisexual’ and ‘transgender’ are simply names for part of their community, others actively reject the idea that bisexuals and trans- genders are part of their community, seeing them as entirely separate and distinct. Heterosexism against bisexuals and transgenders exists not only in the straight community, but in the gay and lesbian community as well. Some feel, as we shall see, that bisexuality and transgenderism are detrimental to the social and political acceptance of gays and lesbians.2

The divisions between LG’s and BT’s are clearest on the issues of gender and marriage. This essay will sketch out the typical, public LGBT narrative on gender and marriage and then demonstrate some of the divisions that undermine the public agenda of the LGBT movement. In doing so, we will see that this coalition of convenience may rupture unless one of the two groups is willing to shift its narrative to appease the other.

THE GENDER NARRATIVE

The supposedly unified LGBT agenda attempts to remove any distinction among genders, particularly for roles in relationships, ability in the workforce, and cultural stereotypes. There is a commitment to pure egalitarianism whereby no specific gender has a unique role or function. This is crucial especially for homosexuality because the nature of their relationships require no gender differences. When two women or two men enter into an intimate relationship, any gender roles they express must be socially constructed rather than biologically determined. Thus, one of the points of the LGBT narrative is that gender has no real impact on roles. Supporters of the LGBT movement who also claim to write from a Christian perspective have picked up on this and even point out the inconsistency of Christian egalitarians for dismissing specific gender roles in heterosexual couples as unbiblical while still holding to anatomical differences for a proper understanding of sexual intercourse.3

An added aspect to the LGBT narrative regarding gender is the idea that any gender roles evident in society are the result of outdated cultural stereotypes. These stereotypes have been carried along from days of yore by older generations, but the LGBT movement  calls on the younger generation to jettison such distinctions between male and female for the sake of gender equality. They demand equality without distinction. They want culture to be “gender blind.” While these calls for gender equality have some merit—because it is important to acknowledge there have existed and still exist women who are oppressed—the current push for gender equality goes much further than a desire for equal rights or equal pay. The LGBT agenda demands that there be no distinction made on the basis of gender for anything—public  facilities, athletic competition, and even marriage. The LGBT position on gender appears to be the epitome of egalitarianism. But is it consistent?

CHANGING GENDER REINFORCES  STEREOTYPES

The often-forgotten quadrant of the LGBT movement is the ‘T’—transgendered  individuals who sometimes face the scorn and opposition of the more mainstream lesbians and gays. Even though some may find it odd that there is division in the ranks of this powerful movement, there is good reason for division. Transgenderism undermines the public gender narrative that has been successfully promoted in the culture.

Susannah Cornwall describes transgender people as those “who feel that their gender identity, or sense of being a gendered self, doesn’t ‘fit’ their biological sex according  to the usual pattern.”4 As a result of this conflict of identity, transgender individuals take various measures to conform to their sense of gender. This can include anything from dressing in styles typical of the opposite gender, taking hormones to change hair growth and voice, or even include the radical measure of gender reassignment surgery to change their genitals to match their sense of gender. In June 2014 Time released a magazine issue with the cover story headline: “The Transgender Tipping Point: America’s Next Civil Rights Frontier.” In the article, Katy Steinmetz follows the lives of several people who have made the transition from the gender with which they were born to the opposite gender. In each case, however, the transgendered individual took steps to conform to the cultural norms of male or female. In no example did the author attempt to demonstrate how transgendered individuals sought to lose all gender identification.5

The problem with such behavior for the LGBT movement  is that changing appearance or physical features conforms to stereotypical gender norms that the LGBT movement publicly dismisses as unimportant. Thus, it should come as no surprise that there is a competing narrative within the LGBT community regarding gender. The public narrative calls on society to erase gender distinctions and make gender a cultural artifact. At the same time, transgendered  individuals seek to conform to cultural stereotypes of dress, appearance, voice pitch, and sometimes even sexual complementarity.  Such conformity undermines the public narrative on gender. However, as Weiss notes,

The difference between ‘homosexual’ and ‘GLBT’ is elusive to many Americans. . . . Many are unaware of any significant distinction between ‘GLBT’ and ‘homosexual.’ Yet within the GLBT population itself, these distinctions mark intense personal and political struggles. The divisions between gay and lesbian and bisexual and transgender are far deeper and more significant to each other than to those outside.6

For those of us pursuing a biblical understanding of gender, we can actually take note of the division within the LGBT movement to emphasize our perspective. While we do not condone the lifestyle of transgendered individuals, we recognize that they have a glimpse of the truth that gays and lesbians have sought to eradicate. The underlying goal of transgendered  individuals  is to pursue the unique gender distinctions of either male or female. The problem is that they deny their own biological gender to do so. Thus, they see the beauty of gender distinctions, but they deny the gender they were born to be. Gender distinction  is part of what God has revealed to us in nature about how he created mankind (Gen 1:27; cf. Rom 1:18–32); however, the specific way that transgendered individuals pursue such distinctions  is still corrupted by the fall. Even in sin, we sometimes get a glimpse of the truth.

A CALL TO BIBLICAL SEXUALITY

The LGBT movement is not as unified as the public face of the community would have us to believe. There are major divisions and inequalities in the movement that typically rest below the surface of what most people in our culture see. However, the divisions are real, and they threaten the strength of the movement if they ever come to the surface.

Even though the focus of this essay has been to expose the fissures in the LGBT movement, I want to end with a call back to biblical sexuality. Genesis 1–2 gives us a clear picture of God’s design for sexuality from the beginning. In Genesis 1:27 we read, “God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female, he created them.” From the outset, God created two genders—male and female. Every example of godly sexual expression we see from that point forward in Scripture comes through the union of a man and woman in marriage. Genesis 2:24 tells us, “For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh.” When Jesus discusses marriage and sexuality in Matthew 19 and Mark 10, he appeals to these two foundational verses in Genesis. When Paul talks about marriage in Ephesians 5, he also appeals to the complementary nature of man and woman and points back to Genesis 2:24 as the key text.

Monogamous,  heterosexual marriage is commended, and even celebrated,  as the biblical expression of sexuality. All departures from this standard are considered acquiescence to the sinful, fallen nature of mankind. Thus, we do not point out the conflict in the LGBT movement as an end in itself, but we do so for the purpose of calling everyone caught up in sexual sin back to God’s plan for sexuality. We should be reminded of the words of Paul in 1 Corinthians 6:11 after he pointed out a number of sins—including some of a sexual nature—in the church at Corinth: “Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.”

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1. As it stands today in the ever-evolving world of queer studies, LGBT is an outdated acronym. As Allen Metcalf observes in a recent article in The Chronicle for Higher Education, the alphabet soup of queer studies now includes queer and questioning, unidentified, intersex, asexual, and genderqueer, resulting in a new acronym: LGBTQQ2IA (Allen Metcalf, “LGBTQQ2IA,” Lingua Franca, August 19, 2014, accessed October 24, 2014, http://chronicle.com/blogs/linguafran- ca/2014/08/19/lgbtqq2ia/). For the purpose of this article we will simply focus on the first four classifications.

2. Jillian Todd Weiss, “GL vs. BT: The Archaeology of Biphobia and Transphobia Within the U.S. Gay and Lesbian Community,” in Bisexuality and Transgenderism: InsterSEXions of the Others, ed. Jonathan Alexander and Karen Yescavage; (New York: Rutledge, 2012), 29.

3. Matthew Vines, God and the Gay Christian (New York: Convergent, 2014), 27–28.

4. Susannah Cornwall, Theology and Sexuality (London: SCM Press, 2013), 47.

5. Katy Steinmetz, “America’s Transition,” Time, 9 June 2014, 38–46.

6. Weiss, “GL vs. BT,” 29.

*This post is part of a larger essay that was published in the Journal for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. They subsequently posted the essay in its entirety on their blog as a response to the recent news about Bruce Jenner. You can read the entire essay here.

One comment

  1. Hello there. I read your article about Bruce Jenner etc. There is a lot I could say about it. But here are a few short thoughts. I could be mistaken but it doesn’t feel like the author knows or has any friendships with those in the trans community. Using LG disunity as a way to discredit the movement is kind of bizarre. “See look. Even the gays think it’s wrong.” I took a course with Ephraim Radiner on the Unity of the Church. Needless to say there were few examples of Christian unity in comparison to disunity. Does this disunity of the Christian witness discredit our gosepl? Lastly, the way he commented on heterosexual marriage seemed to view it as sinless in comparison to other gay relationships. I understand the position he’s coming from and we disagree on a number of points but regardless his arguments seem illogical and lacking compassion. Just my thoughts. I know Facebook comments can get out of hand. I would have commented but couldn’t! But feel and know this is a better format. I don’t say any of this in judgment. On the contrary I see it as unproductive in helping Christians to form friendships with those in the LGBT to know Christ and make him know. It seems to me, at least in Canadian culture, that staring by pointing out someone’s ‘sin’ is not the best way to start a faith based dialog regardless of who its with. Anyhow. Just food for thought! I really should be finishing my sermon for tomorrow!!! But I took a break and couldn’t resist.

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