Category Archives: Identity

children, sexual identity, and counseling


“All Things Considered” on NPR ran a two day story on children and gender identity. Two days ago, they ran a story on two families with toddler to preschool boys who are attracted to girl-oriented toys, colors–one of whom sees himself as a girl, changing his name from Jonah to Jona as he entered school. His parents now refer to him as their daughter. Yesterday, they ran a story about a prepubescent boy wanting to take hormones to delay or stop puberty. You can click here to read or hear the stories and additional content on their site.

What makes this fascinating is the two psychologists interviewed. The first, Dr. Ken Zucker, sees the problem as gender identity confusion, something to be modified. The second psychologist, Dr. Diane Ehrensaft, sees it as something biological and fixed and then the job is to help the child and parents transition to transgender. Dr. Zucker rejects that idea and likens the acceptance/transition approach to that of accepting that a Black child wants to be thought of as white (I wonder if he would also liken it to accepting a psychotic child’s hallucinations were real). His response sounds behavioral in that the boy has his dolls and dresses removed and play with boy type toys is reinforced. Dr. Ehrensaft opposes this as controlling and suggests the best treatment is to go with the flow and allow the child to express him/her self as they see fit:

Ehrensaft, however, does not use that label [gender identity]. She describes children like Bradley and Jonah as transgender. And, unlike Zucker, she does not think parents should try to modify their child’s behavior. In fact, when Pam and Joel came to see her, she discouraged them from putting Jonah into any kind of therapy at all. Pam says because Ehrensaft does not see transgenderism itself as a dysfunction, the therapist didn’t think Pam and Joel should try to cure Jonah.

“She made it really clear that, you know, if Jonah’s not depressed, or anxious, or having anything go on that she would need to really be in therapy for, then don’t put a kid in therapy until they need it,” Pam says.

Ehrensaft did eventually encourage Joel and Pam to allow Jonah to live as a little girl. By the time he was 5, Jonah had made it very clear to his parents that he wanted to wear girl clothes full time — that he wanted to be known as a girl.

While I disagree with his approach, I would humbly suggest that Zucker’s diagnostic view is more accurate. Children may go through fixations and personality response types that do not carry into adulthood. To treat even an entrenched viewpoint of a small child as fixed is unethical. A child simply does not fully understand themselves and the world yet. We do not accept our children’s fears of monsters as normal, we do not accept our children’s hitting to get their way. Why? We know they are not old enough to understand. We empathize but correct.

This is not like trying to make a left handed child be right-handed, to force feed peas when the child gags. Our identities may be rooted in biology, they are not fixed. Zucker rightly accuses some of being essentialists–a form of biological reductionism. Even the APA does not do that when it comes to personality. A child cannot be given a personality disorder until 18 because we know that personality is flexible even when shaped and rooted in early years.

However, Zucker seems harsh in that his treatment is to remove all girl playtoys. While I would not want a child of one gender to accept and believe they are the opposite gender, I would want they and the parents to expand their view of gender. If a boy likes pink, silky things, dolls, etc. so what? There is nothing essentially male about trucks. My wife as a child was a cowboy. She’d be more likely to have six shooters than a doll. Thankfully, her family didn’t make it an issue (which may be the cause of some folks’ gender identity confusion). 

Of course, a family will want to draw some lines, such as saying no to referring to oneself as the opposite sex. “No, God made you a boy, but he gave you interests in soft things…” Instead of wearing dresses which in our culture isn’t the norm, the boy might be able to enjoy softer materials.

It would seem that some, in the interest of helping everyone self-actualize, lose their ability to think critically about child development. This is not unlike the misguided notion that all bad behaviors are about low self esteem and so we should only praise. In fact, many have too much esteem of self and so abuse others.

ADDED: Check out this link for a local Philly news article on the subject of a transgendered 9 year old and see that they spoke to the ever controversial Paul McHugh from Johns Hopkins.

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Filed under Cultural Anthropology, Identity, News and politics, parenting, Psychology

Considering sexual identity


Tonight I’m talking to a large group of teens at Monmouth Chinese Christian Church in NJ on the topic of sexual identity. Unlike a good sermon, I have four points: Is sexual identity important? Does God have anything to say about it? How does it get formed and deformed? What can we do to protect our identity and desire.

Should be fun. I’m going to start them out with this question: What words, ideas, images, characteristics, etc. come to mind when you complete the sentence, “A man is…” or “A woman is…”

We all have images and words and ideas that pop into our heads. We have an image of a “manly” man and a “womanly” woman. I want the audience to think for a bit about where those images come from.

What images pop into your head? How do these effect your own evaluation of your manhood or womanhood? Where did that script come from?

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Filed under Identity, sexual identity, sexuality

A biblical basis for affirmation?


Have you ever had a negative reaction when listening to Joel Osteen, reading Guideposts, or hearing someone spout pop psychology that God loves you and wants you to be happy and that you are special? I confess I have that reaction all the time when I hear superficial platitudes self-esteem talk like this. I always think of the SNL character Stuart Smalley (I’m good enough, smart enough, and doggone it, people like me).

Daily Affirmations By Stuart Smalley

But, I admit I’ve probably overcorrected in the effort to avoid self-serving, self-promoting, crossless thinking (it is a serious human disease!). John Armstrong of Act3 offers a great corrective to my suspicious mindset and lays out the beginnings of the biblical basis for appropriate affirmations and peace with the person God made us to be. I commend you to read him here: http://www.act3online.com/current_a3_weekly.asp 

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Filed under Biblical Reflection, christian psychology, Doctrine/Theology, Identity

Parent-teacher conferences and being graded as a parent


Our annual parent-teacher conferences took place this morning. We met with with our children’s teacher to get their first quarter grades and discussed pertinent matters. Every time we do this I find myself holding my breath, wondering what I’ll hear. There’s a part of me that believes I’m getting graded as well or I’ve just been sent to the Principal’s office.

What external things do you use to assess your “grade; your identity?” Your kids behavior in public? Your job title or pay? Your gpa? If we’re honest, we use things like this to determine our success or failure in life. Many of  these things we have little control over and yet we allow them to “determine” what we think and feel about ourselves.

By the way, I feel good about myself because both kids made honor-roll.

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JesusCreed on “Ex-Gays”


Starting on 10/2 Scot McKnight is going to start a post series at www.jesuscreed.orgon Stan Jones and Mark Yarhouse’s new book, Ex-Gays? Yesterday, he merely announced that he would start the series and it brought on the usual discussions that one encounters when talking about homosexuality, sexual orientation, etc. (e.g., is it right/wrong? Did Jesus say anything about the matter? What is orientation? Does it really change? Why do we give special attention to this particular activity and avoid things like gossip and adultery?). All good questions, but they may miss the actual issues raised by this particular book.

Personal experiences play a huge role in much of the public conversation about sexuality (we all have broken sexual experiences and friends and family with their own experiences). It will be interesting to see whether readers of JesusCreed will be able to consider the merits of the questions that Jones and Yarhouse ask: Is it ever possible for someone to change their sexual orientation using religious means? And, is it harmful to try?

Chapter one lays out the controversy (i.e., the scientific and political claims in the debate, whether sexual orientation is a thing or a construction) and articulates their view of the relationship between science and faith.

Chapter two provides an overview of a Christian/biblical view of sexuality (what it was designed to be and how it is broken). In short, they report that the biblical text gives sexual intercourse a fixed meaning (an good act between husband and wife) rather than have the act defined by the intent of the participants. “Nonreligious persons today are accustomed to thinking that the meaning of their sexual actions are conferred by their intentions for those acts….But the Christian tradition asserts the opposite: that sexually intimate acts have fixed meanings by their very nature” (p. 49).  God provides the boundaries, but given our fallen nature, every aspect of our personhood reflects humanity’s rebellion against God. They then detail both Christian ethical responses to homosexuality as well as pastoral responses by well-known agencies.

Chapters 3 and 4 are the defense of their rationale and methodologies. Of note is the small sample size. But remember, they want to know whether it is ever possible for someone to change orientation through religious means. They do an interesting discussion of what kind of study they wanted to do and what they actually did in the end (chapter five) and why. They also address matters of researcher bias here. Chapters 6-9 explore how one might measure sexual orientation change and report their results.

Whether you agree or disagree with their sexual ethic, agree or disagree with their interpretation of orientation or their view of what makes for a robust empirical finding, you ought to agree that this is a well-written book that attempts to very slowly walk through the issues (scientific, biases, change, identity and orientation) without slandering opponents and yet maintaining their apologetical stance.

A worthy book to read by anyone. Stay tuned to JesusCreed to see how readers there respond to the issues when it gets to the details of the chapters.   

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Filed under counseling science, Identity, sexual identity

Who do you represent? Race, identity, and the cost of being a minority


Has anyone ever asked you to speak for a whole people group? If you represent a racial or cultural minority, you have undoubtedly been asked to explain, defend–even apologize for–your group’s ideas, thoughts, beliefs, practices. I suspect most Christians have had that experience some time in their life. Some well-known Christian blows up his life and you are asked to explain how someone could get up on Sunday and say Christian words but in private be having an affair. You are asked to explain why, “you evangelicals talk about grace but hate homosexuals” or something similar.

So how do you feel when you have to speak for a whole people group? Continue reading

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Filed under church and culture, Cognitive biases, Cultural Anthropology, Identity, Race

By what story do you construct your life?


By what story do you construct your life? What story dominates your life? Continue reading

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Filed under biblical counseling, christian counseling, Cultural Anthropology, Identity, Meditations