“For years I was a gender-identity itinerant, migrating somewhere between the masculine, feminine and neuter.
This meandering did not immediately cease upon my conversion. But a major turning point came when I was two years old in the Lord.
‘Jeanette, stand in front of the mirror every morning and thank God that he’s made you a woman.’ This challenge came from a teacher at the Bible School I attended as a young Christian.
What a ridiculous task! I thought, but reluctantly agreed. The next morning I got up and struggled to look at myself in the mirror. Try as I would, I could not acknowledge myself as truly female.
Day after day I persevered. For the first week I fought merely to hold my gaze at the mirror, unable to utter a word. After about ten days, I was able to look at myself full face. But when it came to saying anything, I could not speak. I just cried, too frightened to acknowledge who I was.
Only after several weeks could I stand in front of the mirror and say, ‘Thank you, Father, for making me a woman.’ No sentence had ever been as hard to say as that one. Yet it was a key step for me to take in the process of changing my gender identification. By accepting my God-given physical gender, I was bringing my thoughts into alignment with God.” (Howard, 2001, pp. 177-178).
“All women lie somewhere on the spectrum between acceptance and rejection of their gender and feminine identity.
On the one hand you may have encountered those lesbians who personify all that is feminine and have no problems seeing themselves as such. On the other hand, you may have come across women who have denied their gender identity and femininity so much that, except for the obvious physiological differences, they could be mistaken for a male. But, the majority of those struggling with lesbianism fall in the murky middle ground” (Howard, 2001, p. 186-7).
It is difficult to find a concise, full definition in the Bible for what true femininity is. The Bible provides us with plenty of guidance as to the role of women and how women are to relate to men both in the context of marriage and the church, however, simply performing these roles is not what makes a woman a woman. While studying and understanding these roles are important they are not where a woman finds her feminine identity. A woman’s feminine identity is found in acknowledgement and acceptance of the fact that God, when he was forming her, chose to make her a woman. Trust becomes the key. Trust ultimately that is rooted in the character of God. (Genesis 1, Psalm 139:13-18)
The first step towards acceptance of ones gender comes in choosing to believe in God’s goodness and sovereignty in his assignment of gender and giving thanks to him for it (Romans 8:28, Isaiah 46:8-10, Daniel 4:35, Genesis 1:31, Psalm 34:8, Psalm 107:1). It can be very tempting for a woman to become extremely inward focused in an attempt to change ones identity, however the key in successfully coming to a place of trust and thanksgiving is not to obsess over changing feelings about ones gender but to turn ones focus and belief to the character of God. When the mind is renewed by thinking on the eternal wisdom and knowledge of God in his creation and design, as well as his goodness to us ultimately displayed on the cross, feelings about gender begin to take a backseat to what we know to be true.
Jeanette Howard offers great practical advice in how to go about working this out in one’s life.
“A good starting point in achieving gender security is to ask yourself pertinent questions. What is my self-talk? Who do I say that I am? Compare your thoughts of yourself with God’s thoughts of you. Consciously reject all thoughts that do not measure up with the truth. This will take time. But change will take place if you combat your misbeliefs and replace them with God’s truth” (2001, p. 193).
When a woman begins to become secure in her gender based on the fact that God has carefully and lovingly designed her to be a woman “she automatically opens the door to femininity” (Howard, 2001, p. 192).
As I (the author) began to believe in God’s goodness as it related to his creation of me as a woman I began to emotionally understand that my femininity was not found in a list of do’s and don’t or in a certain stereotypical picture of how a woman was supposed to look or the kinds of activities that a woman was supposed to enjoy. Rather, I found freedom to continue in many of my enjoyed activities and styles of dressing and yet remain confident in my femininity since the presence or absence of these activities no longer defined or formed the basis for my femininity. On the other hand, as the Lord continued to make me secure in my gender, I felt a conviction to slowly pursue some activities and dressing styles that were more culturally feminine than I had previously pursued. This was both as an outward expression of the work God had done in my heart and a help in continuing to align my emotions about my gender with what I now believed in my mind to be true.
Jeanette shares a similar story of her friend’s journey into femininity:
“Recently, my friend Carol visited me for dinner. After the meal, we spent time perusing the photograph album she had brought. Struck by the obvious change in Carol’s appearance over the past five years, I questioned her regarding the transformation.
‘It wasn’t as easy as grabbing a credit card and waltzing off to the shops,’ she laughed. ‘Actually, at times, it’s been a pretty traumatic process.’
I nodded, reflected for a moment on my own journey, and then commented. ‘I remember the sickening feeling when I realized that the next step in embracing my true femininity was to outwardly walk in the healing God had done in my life.’
‘Yes,’ agreed Carol. ‘Part of me was content to stay in jeans and sweatshirt for the rest of my life. But I knew that my wardrobe choices could hold me back, almost locking me into an androgynous mindset…I found that as I began putting on dresses and experimenting with make-up, I created a framework from which God could work. He could bring my emotions in line with my outward appearance.’
‘But this transformation didn’t happen overnight, did it?’ I asked.
‘Oh, no!’ Carol reflected for a moment. ‘It all began three years ago. The leader in my small group had arranged for a cosmetologist to come to an evening meeting. She arrived, armed with “war paint” and a selection of mirrors.
‘How did you feel as you were going through the whole make-up process?’ I queried, recalling my first encounter with a bottle of foundation.
‘Like a performing monkey. I detached emotionally. It was all too weird for me to fully comprehend in one sitting. When I finally looked in the mirror, I was horrified at the reflection. Not because the make-up looked bad—it didn’t—but the person looking back at me was not me.
‘I looked different—radically different—but I felt the same. Make-up didn’t magically change my feelings; it merely highlighted the detachment I had always felt from everything feminine and soft.’
Carol paused, gathered herself, and continued. ‘I allowed my eyes to focus steadily on this woman in the mirror. For the first time in my life I saw an outward reflection of my hidden self, the woman within. This feminine person had been suppressed for twenty-five years, and now I was looking at her. I questioned the face staring back at me. Who are you? What do you want from me? What are you thinking?—What am I thinking?’
‘Immediately, I ran to the bathroom and wiped all the make-up off,’ she continued. ‘Later that night the four of us in the small group prayed to God to bring each one of us comfort and a sense of completion as we got in touch with this feminine part of ourselves.
‘Over the subsequent weeks, I dabbled with make-up. I just began with a touch of mascara and blush. Nothing too drastic. With every step I began to feel more comfortable’ (Howard, 2001, pp.193-195).
Jeanette also shares some of her own healing process:
“I (Jeanette) pointed to a photograph taken at a friend’s wedding. ‘But look at this picture. Look at the dress you’re wearing. You seem to be really comfortable. Were you?
‘Yes, but that photograph was taken last year. I can show you some really awkward looking older photographs if you want.’
‘No thanks,’ I smiled. ‘I’ve got plenty of my own.’
Carol looked quizzingly. ‘I didn’t know that you had difficulty wearing dresses.’
I looked at her incredulously. ‘Who do you think I am—Elizabeth Taylor?’ We laughed.
‘Nothing in my healing process has come naturally to me…I still prefer to wear trousers rather than a dress, and that’s okay. It’s not essential that other people think I’m feminine. I feel my attitude towards—and acceptance of— myself, speaks for itself. I’m happy to be who I am.”
‘Amen to that!’ Carol agreed enthusiastically. ‘But tell me more about your dress problems.’
‘Well it wasn’t a big problem,’ I continued. ‘I just felt uncomfortable…I knew that I had to feel comfortable wearing a dress if I was to ever look comfortable in one. So I began by wearing a dress around the house. I would select certain days where I knew I would be alone, and I would spend it as a “woman”.’ I burst out laughing and added, ‘Sort of like a female impersonator! Often I would be taken by surprise if I caught my reflection in the mirror, but, over a period of time, I grew used to seeing this new person. The next step was to present myself to the outside world… It wasn’t too difficult in places like the shopping mall. No one knew me to care if I was wearing a dress or not. Interestingly, I found that shop assistants treated me differently.’ I paused for a moment. ‘Actually, maybe I treated them differently. Who knows?’
‘What happened when you went to church?’ Carol interrupted.
‘That’s where I encountered my first real difficulty. Putting on the dress and make-up was easy in comparison to receiving compliments regarding my actions. Compliments like, “Oh, you look so pretty,” were really hard to swallow. Friends were not stating the fact, like, “You are wearing a dress.” They were commenting on the effect of my actions. Internally, my reaction was to disagree with their assessment. Words like pretty, attractive, and delightful were not adjectives I administered to myself.’
‘But I hear you responding very graciously now when someone compliments you.’
‘Yes, The breakthrough occurred when I was able to receive God’s name for me, “Woman”. Since that point, I’ve made a conscious effort to embrace their compliments. There are still hurdles to cross in this whole area of gender identity and femininity. But the main barrier has been crossed. Realizing that femininity wasn’t a question of behavior, but more a question of who God says I am, allowed me my quirks and idiosyncrasies without questioning my identity” (Howard, 2001 p. 195-196).
As a woman begins to trust and obey God concerning her feminine identity this will open a door to a desire to learn and obey the roles that God assigns to women specifically, as well as the character qualities that he desires women to embrace and develop.
There are plenty of articles dealing with biblical gender roles so I will not get into that here. I will simply say that as you are working with women with SSA, it will be important to teach these roles, however, do not equate the “essence of femaleness” with a simple adherence to these roles.
This foundational trust in God will also lay the foundation to begin to allow feminine qualities to emerge and develop that may be lacking or have been shunned. Some of these qualities may include a quiet and gentle heart and spirit that is approachable, vulnerable, comforting, welcoming, nurturing, helping, and inclusive (I Peter 3:4, Genesis 2:20).
There is so much more that could be said about each of these qualities, however, I will leave that to the experts. For those who would like to read more about biblical femininity I recommend reading The Accidental Feminist: Restoring Our Delight in God’s Good Design by Courtney Reissig.
Every woman who is willing to seek and trust God for her gender identity and security has the hope of experiencing change. This change may look different for every woman. Some will reach a place where she has very little struggle, others may experience feelings that vacillate throughout their life, and some may remain in a place of intense struggle. However, for these women, there is much hope, peace, and joy to be found as they continue to turn their minds towards God, believe in the goodness of his design and plan for them, and rest in the value God has assigned them as women, image-bearers and daughters of Himself. No matter where a woman may find herself in this spectrum of struggle she can find hope in the fact that her God is pleased, that despite hardship, she continues to struggle towards trust and holiness. She can also be greatly encouraged to know that because she is a child of God the good work that He has started in her He will one day complete (Philippians 1:6).
See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!…Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. All who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.
(I John 3:1a-3)(NIV)
We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.
Howard, Jeanette. (2001). Out of Egypt: One woman’s journey out of lesbianism. Grand Rapids, MI: Monarch Books.