This Strange New World

“An Indian runner who won a silver medal in the women’s 800-meter run at the Asian Games earlier this month has failed a gender test and is likely to be stripped of her medal, news reports said Monday.” According to many news reports, Santhi Soudarajan, a 25 year-old runner, was made to take a gender test after completing her event and placing second. A panel typically composed of a gynecologist, endocrinologist, psychologist, and an internal medicine specialist discovered that she “does not possess the sexual characteristics of a woman.” You can read a report at FoxNews or most other media outlets.

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A couple of years ago I wrote about how this strange society we live in no longer regards gender as something that is absolute, assigned by Creator or nature, but something that depends on the individual. A person with what has traditionally been considered male anatomy may still consider himself [herself?] female and, according to the politically correct rules of our society, we have no right to question this. When I wrote on this topic in the past I did so after reading a tragic article of a young man who hated who he was. At some point in his early teenage years he became convinced that he was actually a girl trapped in a boy’s body. He began to live like a girl; dressing in girl’s clothing and taking estrogen to try to combat his male hormones. As he grew older he began to become promiscuous, engaging in sexual behavior with boys, yet never revealing that he was actually male. Eventually some of the men with whom he had engaged in sexual acts became suspicious and began to think they had figured out his secret. They resolved to find out once and for all, so in a fit of rage tore off his clothes and learned that their behavior had been not only promiscuous, but homosexual. Enraged, they beat him to death and buried him in a shallow grave. One of them later confessed to the crime and they are now (justly) awaiting trial on charges of murder.

I said at the time that this is a perfect but shocking example of evidence that our society no longer believes in absolutes, for now even gender has become relative. The story I read in the newspaper was about a person who was born male – he had male anatomy, male chromosomes and grew up as a little boy – but at some point he allowed his mind to convince himself that he was female. Now common sense tells us that a human being who has male anatomy and male chromosomes in every cell of his body is male! But our confused, politically correct society seems to disagree. Just because every cell in his body cries out that he is male, we should not assume that he is, for his mind may tell him otherwise. And if a boy decides he is actually a girl, we certainly are not to judge her for that decision. We should assume that she is correct and give her full support.”

I mentioned the story of the Indian athlete to my wife today and said that this is undoubtedly only the first of many similar stories we will hear in the coming years. As it becomes increasingly incorrect for us to judge another person’s gender based solely or even primarily on anatomy, there will be increasing confusion about all kinds of issues. For example, should a person with male anatomy who has decided to adopt the identity of a woman use the men’s or women’s bathrooms at a restaurant or the men’s or women’s change room at a swimming pool? Should a male athlete who believes he is female compete against men or women? And really, as time progresses, how are events like the Olympics to differentiate between men and women any longer?

It occurred to me that one organization has already attempted to deal with some of these questions. The Gay Games are the rough equivalent of the Olympics but geared entirely towards people who are gay, transgendered, and so on. Admittedly they are not quite as serious as the Olympics for they are based on the values of “Participation, Inclusion, and Personal Best, and promote a supportive environment, free from bigotry, where participants achieve success by their own measure.” The fact is, though, that they have events where participants compete against people of their own gender. And so the Gay Games have adopted a Gender Policy. This policy states that participants will generally be required to compete in the grouping assigned on their birth certificate or passport. However, if this is not the group in which they can compete in the other group providing that they meet two conditions: “1. A letter from a medical practitioner is provided stating that the participant has been actively involved in hormone treatment for a minimum of two full years. 2. Proof of the participant living as the self-identified gender for a minimum of two years.” Persons who satisfy these criteria will be accredited by the Gay Games host organization in accordance with their chosen or self-identified gender in their chosen events.

This sounds ridiculous, does it not? Of course when the standard of success is personal best and success by one’s own measure, the importance of winning and losing is somewhat diminished. But when it comes to the Olympics we are dealing with athletes who have spent their whole lives training and preparing for one thing: to win. These people are driven to do their absolute best, but even better, to beat others.

A few years ago the International Olympic Committee enacted a policy similar to that of the Gay Games allowing transgender athletes to compete in the Olympics provided they met certain criteria such as completing genital reconstructive surgery and at least two years of hormonal therapy. They believe this will remove any advantage a formerly male athlete may have over his female competitors. Others are not so convinced and regard this decision as a complete travesty.

As far as I know, this issue has yet to rear its ugly head in actual Olympic events, even though the policy was in place during the 2004 Olympics. I am not aware of a case of a formerly male athlete (which is to say, of course, an athlete who is still male but is trying to remove all evidence thereof) competing against females in an Olympic event. But it will come. And our society, politically correct as it is, will have no easy answer to a male athlete who uses his superior strength to beat the competition even though he claims to be a woman. And in the same way our society has no answer to a man who wants to change with women at the pool or who wants to exercise in a women’s health club simply because he has decided to be a woman.

As Christians we must not minimize the differences between the genders, but learn to love and celebrate them. God made us in His image, both male and female. This is not a difference we should apologize for or choose to overlook. As Ligon Duncan taught at least year’s Shepherd’s Conference, it is glorious to celebrate the differences between men and women. When we say that the roles of men and women are interchangeable, (or when we say that the identify of men and women are interchangeable) we suppress a truth that God has built into this world. The differences between men and women are a critical aspect of what makes us image bearers of God. We bring Him honor and glory when we imitate Him, and when we seek to honor the image of God as it exists in us, and even when it exists in us differently as men and women.