Trans Persons Want to Find Their True Authentic Self: Here’s How to Help
The trans movement is supposed to be about finding the “authentic self.” It’s a fine goal. God wants us to be authentic, too: It’s another way of saying we should live the truth, avoid hypocrisy, and be the person God meant us to be in every way. I wish everyone, myself included, could live a fully authentic life.
That’s one reason the trans movement concerns me. If authenticity is what people seek, they won’t find it anywhere near the road they’re taking in search of it. So if you want to help a trans person, you might want to help him see the way to true authenticity.
The more you know about how something went gone wrong, the better you’ll be able to help it go right. There’s a lot to this question, but here’s a piece of it that doesn’t get discussed enough. It flows out of the most universal non-Christian doctrine of our day, taught in virtually every public school, and assumed by every article or entertainment media that touches on it. Called “physicalism,” (or “naturalism”), it’s the idea that we live in a purely physical reality, ruled by purely physical law.
Why This Matters
What I have to say here may seem somewhat technical. I hope not, because it matters. This doctrine is dogma for much of the Western world, in the worst sense of “dogma.” Question it and you will face consequences. You can question anything else openly and publicly, especially what it means to be human in this world. You can doubt the dogma in private. Try to question it in public, though, and the best that may happen is you’ll find yourself being told to “Keep your private opinions to yourself, please.”
The crazy thing is, this dogma tells us to become our “authentic self,” while denying us what it takes to do that.
The Impossible Doctrine
Evolutionary theory is essential to the dogma, because it’s the only physicalist way to account for life in all its diversity. But evolution is dogma not because it succeeds in that accounting. Neo-Darwinian evolution is dogma because physicalism is dogma, and you may not doubt either of them. As you’ll see, this is part of the reason transgenderism fails in its quest for authenticity.
The dogma insists we are purely physical beings. Try as you might, though, it is impossible to live as though that’s true. Duke University professor Alex Rosenberg wrote a book explaining why physicalism means humans can’t think about anything. Serious: He thinks thinking is impossible. I’ll guarantee he thought about it before he wrote it.
In other words, the reigning dogma is false doctrine that encourages false living. A philosopher who writes on how there’s no such thing as thinking is writing a lie. Logically, the lie follows from physicalist assumptions — the book’s logic is masterful, actually. What that really shows is that physicalism can’t be true, yet the author is committed to it regardless.
Other thinkers have used similar logic to “prove” there’s no such thing as consciousness, free will, human identity, human purpose, or right and wrong. Again, the proofs are good: If physicalism is true, then all those things that make us human are false. I cannot understand why they don’t take the sensible next step and conclude physicalism can’t be true. Instead they live falsely, insisting this inhuman dogma is true while continuing to live as humans.
How to Live the Dogma?
Not everyone thinks through the logic this far, but everyone knows the main points: We’re animals. We have no purpose beyond ourselves, and no ruling ethic but what we create. It’s up to us, meaning entirely up to us. No boundaries, no limits, except those that we set for ourselves. So why not jump to the other gender, if you think it will give you meaning and satisfaction?
It’s a sensible conclusion, as long as you start from the nonsensical physicalist dogma. But I think it’s also a reaction against the dogma. We teach people they’re nothing but their bodies. They know that’s not true, so they rise up in reaction: “No! It’s not true. I am not just my body!” They could say, “I am body, mind, spirit, soul — all of that is true of me.” But in a world that knows little of spirit and soul, it only takes a little over-reaction to swing past that, to saying instead, “My body isn’t me, not the real me.” And that puts them in the same neighborhood as, “My body is wrong for me.”
Being told their body is all there is to them, and knowing it’s not true, they jump all the way to saying their body is irrelevant to who they are. It’s a way of grabbing at their humanity under a dogma that denies it.
It can’t work, though, because being human still includes living in our bodies, which really are part of who we are, too. There is no wholeness in splitting part of yourself off from yourself. There is no “real self” to be found there.
God’s Plan for Authenticity
This isn’t such a new problem, by the way. Thinkers going as far back as Plato, Aristotle, and Epicurus have puzzled over how the world of the mind connects with the physical world, and for many, the answer has been to split the two apart, denying either mind or body, or pitting “spirit” and matter against each other as enemies. The bad news is, that’s not reality. The good news is, reality has an explanation in God’s word.
Genesis 1 and 2 come into a lot of controversy these days, but I wish people could see how brilliant it is! It answers this hard question, and answers it beautifully. God created a very physical world — very unlike His own spirit nature, which shows His amazing creativity — and called it good at every step of the way.
He finished by making the first humans in His image (Genesis 1:26-27). This means that we, like the animals, are very physical beings, yet we share with God a mental and a spiritual nature, moral freedom, true meaning and purpose, and everything else uniquely human about us.
Then when God came to walk among us on the earth, He came in a very physical body: born from a mother’s womb, able to suffer and die. Philosophers may not know how to connect the mental and physical (not to mention spiritual) worlds, but Jesus proved the problem wasn’t too hard for God to solve.
Practical Words for Helping Trans Persons
Some people need it explained that bodies aren’t the only thing that’s real about us. Trans people need the opposite: To understand their thoughts aren’t the only thing real about them. God designed us to live in the bodies we live in, and He meant it for good. Our bodies are just as much “who we are” as our minds are “who we are.” So the only way to live a truly authentic, truly human life is to bring the two together, just as God intended.
We may suffer in our bodies, and we may rejoice in them. The same goes for our mental life. If it’s hard to pull all that together, the shortest answer is to follow the One who did it perfectly: Follow Jesus.
So there’s a very practical, pastoral point in all this discussion of dogmatic physicalism. First, there is a God who actually wants us to be our authentic selves: It’s another version of His wanting truth and rejecting hypocrisy. Sin puts up walls us between us and God, between us and others, and even between us and ourselves as God meant us to be. Jesus died on the cross to reconcile us in every way.
So the trans person seeking his “real self” is pursuing a fine thing, but in a very bad way: by denying half of who and what he is. The attempt is doomed: It can only fail.
And the failure has got to be painful. Imagine investing all that energy re-defining yourself, and then chemically or physically re-making your body to suit, while knowing it can never succeed. Imagine pouring so much into finding your “authentic self,” only to discover you’ve pushed yourself even further away?
To Find Their True Authentic Self
We don’t need to criticize people’s desire to be their authentic selves. God wants that, too, in ways, they can’t imagine. We can agree it’s important. It’s so important, and we love them so much, we can’t support them taking destructive steps to split themselves in two.
This is when we can tell the story of the one Person who has ever succeeded in being completely who He was in every way. They need to understand how the original split happened, in human sin, and how Christ died and rose again for our forgiveness and reconciliation.
So let them see God’s love in you — love that shows them the way to be the person our loving God intended them to be: Their true authentic self, created in God’s image, reconciled to Him, and being reconciled to others, and even to self.
Tom Gilson (@TomGilsonAuthor) is a senior editor with The Stream and the author or editor of six books, including the highly acclaimed Too Good To Be False: How Jesus’ Incomparable Character Reveals His Reality.