I am going to guess that when you read the title, the word sex jumped off the page. Perhaps there was even a moment of titillation and excitement. After all, you are human and for most of us, sex is fun.
Or maybe you had a different response tied to the same physical act. Perhaps for you, sex is predominantly a tool of manipulation or an act of violence. Then again, it could be something you biologically yearn for but for any number of reasons, it is denied. Sex can bring up deep feelings of shame or confusion. For any of these readers, sex is anything but titillating and fun.
Gender and the Culture War
Either way, the dynamic changes when you get beyond that one word and see the rest of the title. By following up sex with gender, suddenly sex takes on a whole new meaning. It becomes clear we are no longer talking about a physical act that stirs an array of responses. Instead, we are now exploring a hot-button culture war issue. We have gone from something that is supposed to help people connect to one that does little but divide.
Those who are more traditional might feel their blood pressure increase as they grunt, “That’s redundant. Sex and gender are the same thing!” Going a bit more banal and graphic, some might respond in a fluster, “Boys have a penis and girls have a vagina, is it that difficult?” Or maybe there are thoughts of a slightly more nuanced argument about chromosomes. Simultaneously, the political Left will often minimize or even disparage bodies while breaking out charts revealing all, 63, no, make it 81 genders. And if you do not agree with them, you are hateful. Both stances only further the divide.
Gender and the Bible
It is clear where broken Christianity lies on these two extremes. But today I am going to dare to suggest that Christian faith invites us to take a different perspective. This third way begins with the cosmological myth of Genesis 1. There God creates humanity in the divine image and explicitly describes that image as male and female.
Stop and think about that for a second. The God of Genesis 1, who has no sexual organs, yet will ultimately self-describe using the masculine relational labels of Father and Son, along with the gender-neutral label of Spirit, links both male and female to the divine image. The Hebrew Bible goes on to repeatedly characterize this deity as embracing both genders (see Deuteronomy 32:18, Psalm 131:2, Isaiah 66:13, Hosea 13:8 for examples of God as female) and personifies divine wisdom as female (see Proverbs).
So how do we make sense of the Apostle Paul describing the biologically male Jesus, as “the fullness of God in human form” (Colossians 2:9)? If Jesus embodies the fullness of God, then Jesus must embody both male and female. This means the Bible invites us to think about male and female in ways that extend beyond reproductive organs and even chromosomes. This is one reason why I find it helpful to draw a distinction between sex and gender. Sex is about organs. Gender is about the complimentary masculine and feminine energies.
Masculine and Feminine
Masculinity is thought-driven and focused on reason, logic, and getting things done. There’s a strength there and a sense of adventure, coupled with a primal need to survive at all costs. But without the feminine, the masculine has no purpose, no concept of beauty, no image of the good life to guide its decision-making.
Femininity on the other hand moves from the heart. There’s empathy, compassion, and a desire to nurture others to health. There’s a clear picture of beauty in the feminine, but it lacks roots and grounding. It’s ethereal and in need of a tangible frame to give it substance and structure. The feminine without the masculine is like a work of art with no canvas to put it on.
In other words, the masculine needs the feminine as much as the feminine needs the masculine. They are interdependent. When we value one over the other we do evil, casting ourselves and others into the watery abyss of nothingness.
But binding gender to genitalia denies a very real part of who we are. So does clinging to the side of the gender spectrum that we most innately connect with. Both are ways we can fail to honor the fullness of our divine image. Taking either side means missing out on some aspect of what it means to be fully human.
The truth is, we all carry the masculine and feminine. The majority of people tend to most strongly identify with the gender most commonly associated with their sexual organs. And that is not a bad thing. Where things go awry is when social celebration of our masculinity or femininity invites us to neglect a very real aspect of who we are. We become all yin with no yang.
Until recently, when gender and sex were not normative, society at large often demanded people step into the unfamiliar. The world called them to deny what felt most real, and that is vile. But today’s more liberal responses that dismiss or even demonizes sex in favor of gender also miss the point. This too invites us to neglect a vital aspect of ourselves.
However you look at it, the problem is not with our sex, our gender, or what we feel most connected to at any given point in our life. What needs fixing is a society that demands we be masculine or feminine. These polarized views are two sides of the same coin, both rejecting the fullness of the image of God. The problem is the lack of invitation to nurture both the masculine and feminine within each of us. In the end, if we are going to truly bare the divine image, if we are going to be people who are fully human, then gender is not about either/or, but both/and. It is what I call gender-full.
Video: An HONEST Discussion on Gender with Dr. Deborah Soh on Relatable with Allie Beth Stuckey
While there are any number of videos out there, I selected this one because it features a host I almost universally disagree with who dared to engage with an author and scientist she largely disagrees with. Together they have a dynamic conversation about sex and gender.
Article: The Nature of Gender: Gender Identity in Persons Who are Intersexed or Transgendered by Heather Looy in the Journal of Psychology and Theology
Looy opens by delving into the science of human development surrounding both sex and gender. She then explores the challenges of being either intersex or transgendered in modern society. Having laid out the science, she moves on to common Christian concerns.
Book: Under Saturn’s Shadow: On the Wounding and Healing of Men (affiliate) by James Hollis
This might seem like an odd title to include here. After all, it is largely about men who lead with masculine energy. That said, Hollis’ work reveals how this leads to a society that is unhealthy for everyone, including the men it seems to benefit.
Journal on where you see yourself embodying both the masculine and feminine. Does one or the other seem to dominate? Is there one aspect that might need some loving attention?
If the fullness of being human means to embody both the masculine and feminine, why have men and women?