Anyone who’s ever been verbally bullied can tell you that the old saying “sticks and stones can break my bones, but words can never hurt me” is nonsense. Words are powerful things. They can harm people. In fact, words can create whole categories that confuse men and women into a twisted understanding of their bodies and souls, and can even wreck their lives.
To be clear, I’m not talking about just insults. I’m talking about labels—the words we use to think about ourselves and the power they have to shape our lives, especially our sexual identities.
Just ask Jamie Shupe, who recently told his story in the Heritage Foundation’s Daily Signal. Shupe was America’s first legally-recognized “non-binary” person. In fact, his case opened up the non-binary status for people in eleven states and counting. His journey didn’t begin with reworking gender labels. Before he won the right to be known as non-binary, he claimed to be a transgender woman, writing about his experience in The New York Times and receiving rock-star treatment from the LGBT movement.
There was just one problem: Shupe wasn’t, in fact, a woman trapped in a man’s body or a genderless being. He was a victim of childhood sexual abuse and a veteran with PTSD. Now, after changing his mind and going back to living as a man, he admits that assuming new gender identities and fighting for their legal recognition was his way of trying to make a fresh start. The scary part is how, at every step, the medical community, state governments, and the news media legitimized his confusion.
As Shupe writes: “When a licensed medical doctor writes you a letter essentially stating that you were born in the wrong body and a government agency or court of law validates that delusion, you become damaged and confused…The truth is that my sex change to non-binary was a medical and scientific fraud.”
I hope you’ll read Jamie Shupe’s sad but revealing story. It’s heartbreaking. And the saddest part of his story is that it exposes the new gender identities embraced by so many as artificial, harmful, and dehumanizing.
Of course, there have always been those who have experienced gender confusion, and who have dealt with their sexual attraction in ways that are at odds with our God-given purpose. What’s new today is the set of scripts that’s currently imposing these confusions on individuals: If you’re a little girl who plays with trucks, one script goes, you must really, deep down, be a boy. If you’re a young man who has trouble relating to others of your sex, you must really, on the inside, be a woman. And if you have a mix of both traits or just can’t decide, well then, there’s a new script for you, too. You’re “non-binary.”
In all of these cases, it is the words—the categories that our culture has made up and imposed on real people—that carry all the power. In the long run, the mismatch between these categories and the people on whom they’re imposed becomes painfully obvious.
Last year on BreakPoint, we highlighted a study that called transgender identification a “social contagion” among teenagers—in other words, it’s something many adopt because it’s what all the cool kids are doing. We also know that between 63 and 94 percent of minors who identify as transgender will later change their minds, or “desist” as it’s medically termed.
This research, and stories like Shupe’s, show how easily the new gender labels can consume a person’s identity while burying real trauma that needs treatment. Young people especially need to know that turning words such as “transgender” and “non-binary,” and even “gay” and “lesbian” into categories of identity is a practice younger than I am. Seriously, this just started yesterday. But now, they’re so often assigned as identity labels to anyone who fits an arbitrary set of stereotypes. As a result, they dominate lives and cause immeasurable damage.
That’s why refusing to accept these labels isn’t an act of hate, as we are told, but rather it’s an act of love. As Christians called to this confused cultural moment, we should be sensitive to people’s experiences, recognizing that trauma often plays a major role in gender confusion. At the same time we should be clear that trendy labels and identities aren’t the answer, and the best way to honor others’ humanity is to refuse to perpetrate this medical and scientific fraud against them.