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Exodus: Gender: Fluid or Solid

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by Mike Ensley

A lot of people lately are talking about a complete overhaul in the way our society thinks about sexuality and gender. One of the biggest concepts being promoted is “fluid” gender and sexuality. It’s coming to our attention more and more that people are having a wide range of experiences in their sexual attractions and responses. Some take this to mean that our sexuality is meant for whatever it may respond to, and people should experiment to try to find their “true” sexuality. Straight, gay, bi and trans can’t even cover all of what’s out there, some are saying.

This same idea of fluidity is being applied to gender. Many are considering that perhaps the binary (two-part) concept of male and female is too rigid. After all, there are so many people who grow up never feeling like they fit into either of the stereotypical gender roles presented to them by society. Some believe that this is evidence that there are other sexes besides male and female, and society should recognize and promote them.

But is this concept of fluid gender and sexuality for real? The thoughts, emotions and urges we experience are certainly real, but are we coming to the right conclusions about them? One thing that we can all agree on is that gender and sexuality are a beautiful and very important part of who we are.

Whenever an idea gets revolutionized in our culture, I think there’s always something good behind it; some wrong that needs to be made right. However, people have a bad habit of swinging the pendulum too far in the opposite direction, and ending up with a mistake that’s as bad as or worse than what they were trying to change in the first place.

I think there’s something to this “fluidity” thing. We should all carefully consider what’s true and beneficial—and what’s going too far. Here are some of my thoughts.

TRUE: Human sexuality is prone to a wide range of experiences.
FALSE: All sexual experiences are equal and should be accepted.

It’s absolutely a fact that humans have a wide range of sexual experiences—by “experiences” I mean attractions, urges, and physical responses. Our sexuality is incredibly subjective, and tons of sex research has shown it can be affected by numerous things.

I once read about a study where college-aged participants were shown a picture of a regular object—like a shoe or a ladder—then shown a pornographic image. After several sessions of this “conditioning,” several of the subjects reported experiencing a sexual response when only looking at the regular object. Their brains had associated the sexual picture with the non-sexual one.

It’s not uncommon for people to associate things with sexual pleasure that don’t belong there. Some people who are sexually abused—even raped—actually experience arousal during the abuse. It’s not because they liked it, and it doesn’t make the abuse right. Our physical bodies simply respond to physical stimuli; our organs aren’t aware of the situation. Still, an experience like that can be very confusing, especially if the victim is an adolescent.

A few people experience what is called a “fetish,” which is an overwhelming sexual attraction or response to an inanimate thing, like a piece of clothing or a household object. Are they born that way? Many psychologists believe this phenomenon can be traced back to a traumatic experience in childhood, or simply a coincidental association they made while discovering their sexuality in puberty. The thing about sexuality is that it builds on whatever you associate it with the more you indulge yourself. As these folks continue to dwell on their fantasy (whatever it may be), they become more attached to it. Soon, they cannot experience sexual attraction or gratification without it. This can severely cripple their ability to have a normal sex life and meaningful relationships, even though the impulses originally occurred quite naturally. Is it best for these folks to follow their urges and be identified by them?

And just think, if people’s sexuality can be affected in such extreme ways, then certainly it’s not far-fetched to think that our sexual desires could become attached to non-sexual needs and relationships, like those with friends of the same sex.

The point is, our sexuality is subjective for a reason. If you follow God’s design and save yourself for marriage, then your sexual relationship with your spouse will help you grow more attached and intimate with them in a special way that only enhances your commitment and closeness with each other. But, we know the world is fallen and imperfect; our sexuality is going to be adversely affected. We’re pulled this way and that by our attractions and curiosities.

This is why God has given us so many rules concerning our sexuality: He wants to protect it and make sure we experience it the way He intended! While the example of fetishes is kind of on the extreme end of things, it’s a picture of what happens to those who fail to discipline and protect their sexuality. People who gratify whatever impulse or desire they have won’t experience the intimacy that sex was truly created for. They may talk like they’re in control, but they are really slaves to the passions they have indulged.

TRUE: Gender stereotypes in our culture are too rigid.
FALSE: Not fitting in with a gender stereotype means you aren’t that gender.

Some people say sex and gender are different. Sex is whether you are biologically male or female; but gender, they say, is how you feel inside. Your gender might match your sex, it might not. Your gender might be male, female, a little of both, or something completely different. Is that how it is for some people?

Do you feel out of place in the world of ‘typical’ masculinity or femininity? Have a hard time thinking of yourself as a ‘real’ man or woman? Join the club! That may seem like a contradictory statement, but it’s true! Most people struggle with feeling like they don’t measure up to the standards of what a real man or woman is. Many of us face feelings of doubt that we can ever measure up.

Growing up in a small town, there were a lot of old-fashioned beliefs and stereotypes I had to face. It seemed like every boy was expected to try out for little-league baseball, and then for football when middle and high school came around. I tried all of these things, and failed miserably. I just wasn’t athletic. That prompted a lot of my peers—and even some grown-ups—to label me as a sissy.

In high school I discovered a talent for acting onstage. I loved drama, and I was really good at it. But, it just wasn’t seen as a masculine thing to do. During this time in my life, it seemed to be more confirmation that I wasn’t like the other guys—I was something else.

But as I’ve grown and matured a bit, I’ve realized that our culture’s gender stereotypes are too rigid. Masculinity isn’t about sports, fighting and womanizing. You may be athletic, maybe not. If you’re talented in dance, singing or acting, don’t you realize that you’ve got the same spirit of daring and adventure that God placed in the heart of quarterbacks and bodybuilders? If you’re a girl who doesn’t like dresses or ‘girly’ things, do you think that means you aren’t still beautiful and mysterious? Well, you are!

Yes, our culture makes a mistake in favoring these limited ideas of what men and women are, but it’s only a greater error to re-identify as something we are not just because we don’t feel comfortable within that stereotype. That doesn’t provide a solution for the stereotype; it actually makes it stronger.

A lot of people say it’s dangerous to pursue counseling to help bring your sexual identity in line with your faith and the life you want, because they say we’re “born that way.” But, in the next breath they will say it’s safe and okay for some kids to take hormone-altering drugs and even go under the knife to change the way they were born, just because they’re confused.

Which do you think is more likely: that God accidentally puts the souls of men in female bodies (and vice versa), or that our understanding of our gender is just one of the many paths human beings can get lost on?

Maybe you feel like you fit in more with people of the opposite sex than the same. Perhaps you’ve considered that you are someone of the opposite sex, or that you should have been. You might be unsure exactly where you fit in.

You don’t need a new body, and you don’t need to invent a new gender for yourself because God really doesn’t make mistakes. There is great diversity within the male and female genders, but the truth is that you don’t need to go outside them to find you.