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What Is a Woman? It Begins with Biology.

“Am I a woman?” “Do I feel like a woman?” “What is a woman?” You probably know someone who is asking these types of questions and who may even feel uncomfortable in her own body.

In the U.S., according to the William’s Institute, 1.6 million people over the age of 13 identify as transgender. In a study done a few years ago, 42% of Americans claimed they knew someone who was transgender. According to another study, half of young adults believe that gender can be different than sex assigned at birth. Society is asking questions about gender like never before.

How can churches and loved ones offer compassion to those who are suffering in this tension? In a tumultuous sea of cultural confusion about gender, Katie J. McCoy sets an anchor by defining female identity through a biblical lens. Her book, To Be a Woman: The Confusion over Female Identity and How Christians Can Respond, encourages the church to view those drowning under the weight of gender dysphoria with compassion and to offer a lifeline of truth through the gospel.

Biology Links to Identity

At the heart of the gender confusion is the division of the biological self and inner self. McCoy, director of women’s ministry for the Texas Baptists, explains: “At its core, gender ideology rests on the belief that one’s biological category (i.e. the sexed body) is divisible from one’s personal identity (i.e. the gendered self), that the physical you and the real you are mutually exclusive” (10). The inner self is given priority.

This priority can be seen in “affirmative” care, which is centered on the patient’s feelings about her gender. Patients may be offered puberty blockers, cross-sex hormones, and sex reassignment surgeries. The goal is to align the patient’s physical configuration with her feelings. But as McCoy points out, “It does little, if anything, to resolve the underlying psychological problems that plague young, gender dysphoric girls” (35). Issues like depression, abuse, trauma, exposure to pornography, and autism may need to be addressed before considering gender dysphoria.

Christians can bring clarity to the issue by recognizing the unity of the body and mind. McCoy points out, “Our physical selves reflect God. They are part of the imago Dei. They are essential and very good (Gen. 1:26–29). The human body has theological significance, revealing God’s nature and design” (99). She goes on: “To sever gender identity from biological sex robs the body of its theological meaning and its inherent worth” (101). Care that truly heals must address issues of the mind without diminishing the value of the body.

Define Female Identity

Care that truly heals must address issues of the mind without diminishing the value of the body.

McCoy describes female identity as “socially guided, philosophically formed, relationally confirmed, biologically grounded, and theologically bestowed” (8). This multifaceted definition is helpful as she breaks down the main influences in young women’s lives that contribute to rapid-onset gender dysphoria, a recent phenomenon largely occurring among young girls who experience a sudden shift in gender identity. Exposure to social media influencers and friends who express gender dysphoria often leads to this coping mechanism for individuals with other psychological issues.

According to McCoy, these self-reinforcing mechanisms often echo the online advice: “If you’re asking whether you are trans, you probably are” (18). Since some aspects of gender are socially defined, many assume the entire concept is only a cultural construct.

But gender is more than a social construct. McCoy argues gender is “derived from biology” (75). Moreover, she warns, “Apart from female biology, female identity is reduced to an impression of the imagination” (75). Women aren’t make-believe; women are creations of the one true God who created the material world with a particular design.

Since female identity is biologically grounded, we must learn to value our natural bodies. They point to a Creator who purposefully designed complementary sexes. McCoy writes, “Our bodies are like physical signposts for the reality of our Creator God. He not only created them to be good; He created them to be a guide. They reveal order, purpose, and design” (96).

Past the obvious reproductive differences, McCoy documents differences between men and women regarding their development and function, such as genes and the brain’s inner workings. These differences represent not opposites but interdependence, reinforcing the general need men and women have for each other.

Our female identity is given to us by the God who created us. McCoy states, “Apart from a reconciled relationship with our Creator, we will never comprehend, much less fulfill, the significance of our sexed bodies or our gendered selves” (111). For us to know our truest selves, we must know God in whose image we’re made.

Hope amid Suffering

McCoy frames her response to gender dysphoria in light of redemption. She argues such disordered feelings are a form of suffering (107). The Lord can use suffering for our good and his glory. Healing is possible, but it may be a long journey. This is a challenge to believers to persevere, to carry one another’s burdens, and to be unrelenting truth-tellers.

Women aren’t simply creations of make-believe; women are creations of the one true God who created the material world with a particular design.

Young women immersed in the turbulent waters of culture are looking for something to anchor their identity. Many are under the false assumption that embracing a new gender identity will stop them from drowning in pain. This is a moment for the church to offer a solution to suffering through the gospel. As McCoy reminds us, “[Jesus] gave His own body to recover and restore those who feel alienated from their own bodies” (14).

McCoy’s book offers a well-researched, organized approach to understanding the modern issues surrounding gender and specifically female identity. It brings valuable insight into how we arrived at this cultural crisis. This resource can help pastors, parents, and youth leaders present compassionate arguments that being a woman is good, true, and beautiful.


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