I’d like to tell you a little about my friend Rachel. Rachel is a beautiful Asian woman. Unfortunately, all her life, Rachel has hated being Asian. She told me once that every single morning, she wakes up and looks in the mirror, and thinks hateful thoughts. She hates her hair; she hates her skin. In fact, all she can think about is how much she wishes she was a white woman.
Rachel loves white women. She loves their hair: especially blond hair with its silky texture and its ability to capture and reflect light. She envies the ability to go from a porcelain white complexion, to a pink, sun-kissed spring skin, to the golden bronze that some white women are able to achieve after a summer in the sun. All she can think about is being friends with, and being like, a white woman. In fact, she is obsessed with being a white woman.
She’s had dreams about tearing her hair out, and she’s heard of a surgery that painfully removes the top layer of skin, but miraculously is able to replace that skin with white skin, peachy-pigmented and soft. She knows it would be a terrifying process, but she’s convinced if she could just convert to being a white woman, she would somehow feel complete.
When I talk with Rachel, my heart breaks. I love Rachel, and I want her to feel confident in the beauty that is innately her. I ache that she longs to change from the incredible woman she is. I tell her, “Rachel, you are lovely! Your skin is gorgeous, and I envy you that rich complexion! Your eyes are stunning, and your hair amazes me. Who would want my blond-turned-grey-dyed-copper hair, when they could have that incredible swath of shiny black wonder!” Together, we talk about what it is to be an Asian woman. There’s a rich cultural history, interspersed, like in all people groups, with hardship and darkness, victory and light, as perpetrator as victim, and as victor, throughout history.
Rachel’s status in our American “melting pot” has often felt less-than, dishonored, and curious to those around her.
In vulnerable moments, we talk about what it might be that caused Rachel to hate her given heritage, her original design. Maybe she was treated ill as an Asian little girl. Maybe she saw horrible examples of Asian men and it tainted her view of her race. Possibly, she was just born with this longing, and it’s something she’s battled because of a genetic tendency to crave white-ness, or of anything other than what she’s beautifully created to be. We don’t know its root cause, but I want to journey with her to find out, if it can help, because although I can’t relate specifically, I know what it is to long for something that is not. I know that her battle is painful, and it is real. In gentle tones, I encourage her that I, as a white woman, am honored that she wants to be my friend, and to be like me, but who she is, is precious. I would never want her to change it, because it is a gift to her.
Besides, I know that although Rachel could surgically change her outsides, no matter what temporary happiness she might experience, real or imagined, she will be far more likely to have brokenness in other areas of her life.
Even if Rachel can change her anatomy and thus temporarily her “identity,” there will always be a most precious part of her heart that knows she was meant for her original beauty.
I know that no matter how hard the journey is, if Rachel can accept who she was created to be, if she can put away her dissatisfaction with her status and learn to embrace it, she will have won a hard-earned battle that will result in great joy. I know that her world tells her it’s better to give way to her impulses, that to do what’s uncomfortable is impossible, and that it’s only at best a fairy-tale or at worst, a type of abuse, to think she can deny those impulses. It won’t be easy, by any stretch of imagining. I know my own tendency to crave cheese and chocolate and red wine and road trips and new shoes and couch-sitting to a level that would deplete my health and my bank account, and this battle is so much more far-reaching than those petty desires. I’m aware enough of my own brokenness to realize Rachel would have a hard road, denying her desires for self-gratification, in favor of a possibility of lasting peace, at the cost of denial of desire.
The thing is, I also know that Rachel, in and of herself, is unable to make and keep to this decision.
She needs someone to tell her she’s amazing just as she is, and that she can find peace in it.
If she listens and decides to embrace her breathtaking created identity, she’s going to need help. She’s going to need encouragement, and someone to challenge her when the going gets hard. She will need someone to hug her, and weep with her at her own weakness, and to put a foot down when she’s over it all and tempted to harm herself.
Most of all, she’s going to need time with the One who made her, who longs to do nothing more than wrap His arms around her stunning self and embrace her.
Because He made her, and although He would absolutely love her in any state, He longs for her to find fulfillment in her intricate, unique, and purposeful design. He knows that when she embraces who she is, she will know true peace, true joy, true fulfillment. Because He’s her Father, and He loves her. And because His love is so very much more than we can comprehend, He will allow whatever human hardship might let her eternally understand His Love, in all its Glory. Whether she knows it or not in this present state of mind, she’s His little girl, and she is fearfully and wonderfully made.
Interestingly, when we talk about the gender issues of today, we get it backwards. We forget that each person on earth is wonderfully made, and made for specific purposes, with unique intrinsic beauty. Whether each person “feels it” or not, his or her gender is part of that created design. With rare exceptions, body parts and character traits are in part defined by that male-ness or female-ness: parts designed to fit together perfectly and create short-term pleasure and create life.
No matter the agony of the process or the lure of man-made change, going against that preciousness will cause a shattered state. Incredibly, our society has bought into a sort of Alice-in-Wonderland upside-down view of gender status and sexual behavior, in which we accept the decision to go against our natural state, as the “norm.” Just as I might dive into a vat of chocolate and consume it until I’m gorged and suffering, we say “feed your temporal desires, because they are everything,” like we don’t know that sometimes saying “no” to ourselves is the strongest, bravest thing we can do. We say “don’t discriminate against transgender/gay/etc… people,” forgetting what discrimination really means (and it doesn’t mean disagreeing in a loving and honest way), and meaning something more like “affirm their choice to live by temporary desire and short-term fulfillment even if it’s self-destructive,” forgetting that they are no different than an Asian woman who wants to be white. She’s forsaken her natural beauty for something artificial, that can never fulfill who she was created to be.
I am learning every day to love with intention. In my natural state, I admit, it’s easy for me to look at someone who is different and feel discomfort, frustration, and sometimes even fear. When I know their choices are causing harm to themselves or worse, others, it is easy for me to get angry, and to worry about who else they may unwittingly harm.
But when I am listening to my Father’s heart, I look at those who have walked what I can only imagine is a horrifying journey for both body and mind, and feel heartbreak.
My sharing here is not in criticism for those people, but a challenge for those of us who have accepted the lie that leaving who we are, to become something we are not, is normal, or is good. It is a dare to accept the opportunities we may be given to love, but to speak the truth in loving. It is out of love that I have to speak: we are, from conception, beautifully and wonderfully made.
A friend asked me recently what I would do if one of my children decided to live a gay lifestyle. I will be gut-level honest and say it would hurt. But it wouldn’t hurt because I hate my child or any gay person. It would hurt, because I know without a shadow of doubt that it would hurt that child. It would hurt, because I know each of my children was created amazingly, with unique gifts and abilities, with character traits and physical traits that will be used mightily in this world, and their gender and sexuality are part of that amazingness. I know with all of me that choosing to forsake that identity would ultimately cause them harm, no matter what their short-term desires might tell them in the moment.
I pray for my children, that God will enable them to cling faithfully to His desire for their hearts, their minds, and their bodies, yielding their identity and their sexuality to Him.
If my child came to me and told me she no longer wanted to be a girl, but had always identified herself as a cat, I would know something had gone awry with her thought process. I would know that surgically implanting claws and whiskers would not help her become a whole person, but that together, we needed to identify what had caused her fractured state of mind. I would cry with her when she longed for a cat-life, but I would fight with everything I had to help her learn how much she is Loved, and how much the One who made her longs to help her embrace her identity as a wonderfully-made woman.
Of course this is hyperbole, but it makes a valid point: what is the line we use to say too far is too far? Or has our society decided there are no lines, and it is a free-for-all of impulse of desire? And further,
it is my desperate hope to make the point: love sometimes means saying, “the way you are choosing will cause you harm.”
Love sometimes means drawing lines, and being willing to get in the trenches and help someone enforce those lines, even when they don’t see the necessity. And sometimes, love means saying “no, I won’t join with you in self-harm, even if you don’t realize that’s what it is.” The enemy of our very souls will lead some to read these words and slap the label “hate” on them. But that enemy desires one thing only: death.
I will be the first to say there is much I do not understand, for I have not walked in the shoes of someone who is driven by sexual or gender identity desires that are contrary to their original design. But I have seen those I love walk the walk. And I know that I know, the answer, the hope, does not exist in helping someone I love self-destruct. The answer is to be found by going back to the beginning, and learning to embrace the artistry, the originality, and the preciousness of human life.