Claire Hailwood believes we must keep ‘love’ in mind as we encounter gender differences

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Over the last 15 years, as a parent to four children, I’ve had my hair, make-up and nails ‘done’ more times that I care to remember. Most recently I gave a delivery guy a shock as I opened my door midway through a hair appointment with my sons (age four and nine ). His look suggsted he really wasnt sure what to make of me!  

The older sisters experimented on their brothers’ hair, with different make up looks and more. As their sisters were painting their nails, the boys would sometimes want theirs done too.

Aged about three, a boy we cared for, loved going to Sunday school. Every week, for about six months, as he’d go in, he’d select the same princess dress from the box and put it on, enjoying a great morning at church dressed as Ana from Frozen. I was aware of the occasional raised eyebrow and the odd question of whether I was ‘OK with it’ and an occasional reference to a ‘slippery slope’.

How do I feel about that? How am I meant to feel about these things?

What’s causing me to even ask these questions?

Should I even be asking them? Is there a right answer and if so, what is it?

We have regular conversations with teenagers in our home whose peers identify as non-binary (1) and who’ve changed their names accordingly, or occasionally someone who’s transgender (2). I welcome these conversations but they’re ones that I couldn’t imagine having with my parents, nor when I started out in youth work 20 years ago.

There will be lots of different beliefs, experiences, theological perspectives, and opinions represented amongst those reading this. Whatever these are for each of us, I think there are some helpful principles that might help us as we start to think about our approach.

1. Love

1 Corinthians tells us simply, that in a list of qualities, gifts and skills, the greatest of all things, is love. A verse in 1 John reminds us that we love because God first loved us (1 John 4:19). We’re called to love others as he loves us – without condition or exception. As a parent, carer, friend, colleague, neighbour, fellow Mum in the playground and more, I want anyone whose life crosses mine, to know that they’re valuable and loved. In any conversation about anything, let’s start from that place and model it and speak of it to our children.

2. The danger of ‘othering’

Othering is categorizing a group of people according to perceived differences such as ethnicity, religion or gender. And in doing so, identifying that they are ‘not like me’ and therefore inferior.

What creeps in is an ‘us’ and ‘them’ mentality. This may not be deliberate or conscious, but it’s common and dangerous because it increases distance and emphasizes difference, and is therefore a barrier to greater understanding of and learning from one another.

Let’s be people who commit to journeying together, including learning from our children (who often have more knowledge than we do) as we explore difficult, complex questions together which may (or may not) be at odds with those around us.

3. Openness

We must commit to and practise openness with our children, even when things are awkward, when we’re not sure how to answer or know what’s right, or when we’re worried we’ll say something wrong, disagree or when we need to stand our ground.

4. Pray

It should be the first thing we do, but it often isn’t. The Bible tells us that God gives us wisdom generously if we ask – so let’s do that. I know I need buckets full!

Pray when you’re not sure what you believe, when you’re trying to wrestle with what the Bible says, when you don’t know the right words, when you need to lead in your home, when you’re responding to situations that involve precious humans.

I appreciate that it’s not an exhaustive list. It leaves many questions unanswered, but with these principles as the foundation, I think we’re better equipped to navigate, albeit imperfectly, how to hold different opinions as well as shared ones, well, with a heart determined to do it well.

Wouldn’t it be great to be known as people who love first and above all things? 

(1) There are variations, but non-binary often means the person prefers not to be known as male or female and so they prefer the pronoun ‘they’ rather than ‘he’ or ‘she’.

(2) Trangender typically means that the person’s personal identity and gender does not correspond with their birth sex. They may have been diagnosed with ’gender dysphoria’ and be seeking medical help so that their body can become closer to their preferred gender.