What makes you feel like a ______ (man/woman)?

In a weak moment last week when I couldn’t take NPR or news radio I surfed the local radio stations in my car. Here are two phrases I heard in the span of 5 minutes. I have no idea who the artists are nor am I all that interested…

“Man, I feel like a woman.”
“I’m yo man…” (but something about needing to get down at her place because he had a girl at home)”

Suffice it to say I’m not going back anytime soon to the music on the radio. But, I will admit it got me thinking about how we know what feelings are quintessentially male or female. In the first song the woman feels like a woman because she has the power of attraction but does her own thing. In the second song, I assume the male singer feels like a man because he can sexually please a woman all night long.

What makes us male or female? (No, I’m not talking genetics here.) Sometimes we look at behaviors and interests. Sometimes we look at attitudes or attraction to the opposite sex. But most of the time I think we look at how others perceive us. If they treat us the way we think our gender should be treated (or, is commonly treated even if we don’t like it), then we feel like our gender. When we are invisible to others, treated differently (or so we perceive) based on our interests, behaviors, body type, etc. then we may feel that we are not like most of our gender.

Why is this important to consider? I have clients who have wondered about their orientation due to their feeling different than most of their friends of the same gender.

The simple answer is to assume that God makes a diverse group of males and females and that we ought not interpret our differences as having that much meaning. Of course, we rarely find the simple answer helpful. So what are we to do when we do not feel like others of our gender? Is this a big issue out there or just something we counselors see?


Filed under christian counseling, christian psychology, Cultural Anthropology, Identity, Psychology, sexual identity, sexuality

4 responses to “What makes you feel like a ______ (man/woman)?

  1. Lana

    I saw an interview w/the author of “Middlesex” this past week; and it got me thinking: ” How do we as believers respond to human beings (created in God’s image) who are born intersex? This is a separate issue from transgendered, etc. I’m tempted to read the book for the quality of the writing – but hesitant because of the content. I’m quite ignorant of the issues surrounding a person who is born intersex. So, I’m curious as to other’s thoughts on this. I know Phil – my question strays from your original – what makes me feel like a woman! Feel free to shut this discussion down. 🙂

  2. Lana, it is a serious question for a very small minority of individuals. In the past, doctors and parents decided the sex of the child and raised them in ignorance of their sexuality. Now, parents are encouraged to let the child choose. Neither answer seems great.

    I do see some individuals using these extreme cases as reason to make certain policies but I don’t think that is a good idea either.

    I do think that we need much grace and flexibility. Consider a person born with both genitalia (but with more feminine external characteristics) choosing to get married to a woman because this person sees self as a male. I’m sure some would think it wrong.

    Certainly it raises interesting questions that need to be considered by those going through it. But maybe we should leave that to them…

    But back to the question of the day 😉

  3. Mark O.

    I think this is a difficult question, and I don’t have a direct answer, but I do have a few thoughts.

    I think before we can answer any questions about feeling like our gender, we need to know what the biblical truth of gender is. To put it another way, what parts of masculinity and femininity are essential to being male and female? What parts are social constructions?

    In our culture, generally women are more emotionally sensitive than men. However, a young man (especially one who is going to become a counselor) might be more emotionally sensitive than his male friends. This person will feel less like a “man” if he understoods manhood as being unemotional. In this instance I think we need, as you said, to value the diversity found in men and women.

    At the same time, I think the Bible does call men to a special role in leadership in a family, to lead the family to Christ through sacrificial leadership and service. So a young man getting married who doesn’t feel like a leader, might think he is inadequate for the task of being a man. In this case, there’s a biblical role that he’s being called to that he needs to take up. We might do well to explore his feelings of inadequacy.

    Finally, this leads me to my last point. I suspect many issues related to not feeling like one’s gender have deeper pathological and spiritual roots…

  4. Mark O.

    I realized I didn’t really answer the question…so I’ll add this. I feel like a man when I’ve been obedient to God. I feel like a man when I build something. I feel like a man when I kiss my wife. I think the time I feel most like a man is when I desire to sacrifice myself for others, and when I’ve got my spiritual priorities in order.

    So much of feeling like a man for me is synonymous with feeling like I’m committed to Christ.

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