I’m going to quoting a lengthy section from a book by Tim Keller, called Preaching: Communicating Faith in an Age of Skepticism. He brilliantly picks apart the modern ideas of our culture, including the myth of “choosing to be yourself.” He begins by affirming what is good about telling people to be themselves. I agree with him that there are certainly good aspects of being true to ourselves, such as not being ashamed of our personality, sex, race, etc.
But it was his critique of this mantra, this long passage below, that was particularly helpful for me, and I think it will be helpful for all of you who are struggling with crossdressing or transgender feelings. Perhaps the most common argument in favor of crossdressing is this, “you must be yourself” or “only you can discover who you truly are, other people can’t decide for you” or “you must not suppress those feelings because they are part of who you truly are, your true identity.” Keller shows that this type of thinking is not only not right for a Christian, but even for non-Christians, this type of thinking doesn’t actually work. Read this quotation from the book, and then I’ll make some more comments:
“Many argue that the most fundamental of the late-modern narratives is that of identity – that we must discover our deepest desires and longings and then do all we can to realize them, regardless of constraint or opposition.”
“There are many severe problems with the sovereign self as a philosophy of life. To begin with, it assumes that we know what we want – that our inner desires are coherent and harmonious. Modernity tells you to discover your deepest desires and fulfill them, but our deepest desires often contradict one another. A desire for a stellar career will often be in conflict with the desire for a particular relationship. And our feelings constantly shift. So an identity based on our feelings will be unstable and incoherent.”
“An even more serious problem is that an identity based on expressing ourselves – without listening to outside dictates – is actually an illusion.”
“Imagine an Anglo-Saxon warrior in Britain in AD 800. He has two very strong inner impulses and feelings. One is aggression. He loves to smash and kill people when they show him disrespect. Living in a shame-and-honor culture with its warrior ethic, he will identify with that feeling. He will say to himself, ‘That’s me! That’s who I am! I will express that.’ The other feeling he senses is same-sex attraction. To that he will say, ‘That’s not me. I will control and suppress that impulse.’ Now imagine a young man walking around Manhattan today. He has the same two inward impulses, both equally strong, both difficult to control. What will he say? He will look at the aggression and think, ‘This is not who I want to be,’ and will seek deliverance in therapy and anger-management programs. He will look at his sexual desire, however, and conclude, “That is who I am.”
“What does this thought experiment show us? Primarily it reveals that we do not get our identity simply from within. Rather, we receive some interpretive moral grid, lay it down over our various feelings and impulses, and sift them through it. This grid helps us decide which feelings are ‘me’ and should be expressed – and which are not and should not be. So this grid of interpretive beliefs – not an innate, unadulterated expression of our feelings – is what shapes our identity. Despite protests to the contrary, we instinctively know our inner depths are insufficient to guide us. We need some standard or rule from outside of us to help us sort out the warring impulses of our interior life.”
“And where do our Anglo-Saxon warrior and our modern Manhattan man get their grids? From their cultures, their communities, their heroic stories. They are actually not simply ‘choosing to be themselves’ – they are filtering their feelings, jettisoning some and embracing others. They are choosing to be the selves their cultures tell them they may be. In the end, an identity based independently on your own inner feelings is impossible.”
Here is a great cartoon illustrating the above paragraphs by Tim Keller in a simple way – The gay Anglo-Saxon warrior
We cannot discover or create who we are. And one can easily see how this would be quite the burden if we actually had to do that. In contrast, in Christianity we don’t have to ‘discover’ and ‘create’ who we are. We are wonderful, valuable, honorable beings because we are made in the image of God. As Keller argues further in the book, we don’t achieve this identity through our accomplishments, but we receive our identity from God in Christ.
These arguments in favor of crossdressing or transgenderism, “you must be yourself” or “only you can discover who you truly are, other people can’t decide for you” or “you must not suppress those feelings because they are part of who you truly are, your true identity,” in the end are not really good arguments. There is a component of cultural relativism. It is your culture telling you who you are, not only you yourself. But not everything is relative to culture. The color of my skin is part of who I am and there is no relativism about it. I did not choose it, nor can I can change it no matter what culture I am born into. But sexuality and desires are different. We might not choose our desires, and I do believe many of us crossdressers and many of those with same-sex attraction were in some way born with these dispositions and desires. But we surely can choose whether to act on them or not, whether to resist them or not. That makes these issues very different from something like the color of my skin. (Unless you think there is no such thing as freewill and everyone is only 100% a product of their genetics, but I don’t believe that, and I doubt that those who profess to believe that are actually living that way).
All of us have many many desires, and some of them are conflicting. We all have to choose to resist some desires and give in to some others. Sometimes it is as simple as choosing to not eat more potato chips so I don’t gain more weight. I want the chips, but I want the better health more. Sometimes it is more serious. I want to crossdress, but I also don’t want to hurt my marriage, I don’t want to fall into addiction, and I don’t want to displease my God who I love.
It comes down to this. Many of you crossdressers out there have strong, deep, passionate desires to crossdress. And likewise, I have deep down desires for crossdressing. I have largely been freed from them, but honestly the desires come up once in a while. But how do we look at those desires? Well, many of you crossdressers will look at those desires and say, “that is who I am.” As for me, I say that “those desires do not represent who I am.” They are a manifestation of my brokenness and fallenness because of sin in this world, but not who I am now in Christ and who I am becoming. But for me, I am not basing this on the whims of my culture and experience. I base it on the unchanging, infallible Word of God that is relevant to every culture and teaches me who God is, who I am, and how he wants me to live.
Through God’s Word I learn that as a human, I am body and soul together, and so my male body is part of who I am. Through God’s Word I learn that sexual pleasure is a good gift of God, but meant to be achieved through sexual union with my spouse of the opposite sex, and not to be achieved by me lusting after myself pretending to be the opposite sex. Through God’s Word I learn that my comfort, stress relief, and hope should come from God, not from fabric or women’s panties. Through God’s Word I learn that men and women are made differently in ways that complement one another. Those differences are beautiful and because of them I can reject the various whims and movements of different cultures regarding sex/gender. I reject the idea that the sexes are not different at all, and I also reject the opposite idea which stresses the differences of the sexes too much and stifles people who do not fit rigid gender stereotypes (stereotypes which usually do not fit what the Bible says about men and women are to be).
I do not have to discover my identity. I know my identity in God, as his child, as his beautiful creation. In this knowledge I am free. I don’t have to constantly sift and wonder about my feelings and try to decide who I want to be. I am free, knowing who I am, knowing that I am deeply loved by God, knowing that he made me with purpose, knowing that I have eternal life, and am forgiven for all my sins because of Jesus my savior.
There is a second problem with this mantra of “just be yourself.” It is true that my crossdressing desires are a part of who I am, in the sense that it has shaped my identity, in the sense that yes crossdressing is one of the sins that I personally have struggled with. But it is better to think of these desires as describing my old self, not my new self in Christ. So the problem is, if all of us were true to ourselves, the world would be an ugly place! If we were all true to ourselves, everyone would spend over half the time, not loving others, but being selfish and greedy.
The Bible teaches me about myself, that I am a sinner. It’s true that I have crossdressing desires, that I am selfish, and am a messed person in a myriad of ways. But in Christ we receive a new identity, our true identity. In him we receive forgiveness and new abundant life. We receive joy. We become children of God. It is out of this new identity I want to live.
So I’d rather not tell people to “be yourself.” Because most likely they will take that to mean they should embrace their sinful self in all of its manifold brokenness. Instead I want to say to you, and to myself, let’s not be true to our old selves, but let’s be in Christ. Let’s embrace our new identity in him and live like him. Our identity is no longer our own but wrapped up in him.
2 Corinthians 5:17 –
17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!
Galatians 2:20 –
20 I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
Romans 6:1-14 –
6 What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? 2 By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? 3 Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.
5 If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection. 6 For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with,a that we should no longer be slaves to sin— 7 because anyone who has died has been freed from sin.
8 Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. 9 For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. 10 The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God.
11 In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. 12 Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. 13 Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness. 14 For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace.
1 Corinthians 12:27 –
27 Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.
Philippians 1:21 –
21 For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.
Ephesians 4:20-24 –
20 You, however, did not come to know Christ that way. 21 Surely you heard of him and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. 22 You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; 23 to be made new in the attitude of your minds; 24 and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.