Gender Identity


Robert Stewart | December 2023 | Updated January 2024


While this may seem like yet another controversial 21st-century topic, there are very real, hurting, individuals struggling to find meaning in their lives through the lens of their gender. Therefore, following with how much controversy is associated with gender identity some vocabulary will be laid out to help with brevity.


What is gender identity?


Preliminary gender studies saw gender identification as something fluid, or "ambivalent". Dr. John Money, a pioneer researcher on human sexual behavior, defined this term as


"The sameness, unity, and persistence of one’s individuality as male or female (or ambivalent), in greater or lesser degree, especially as experienced in self-awareness and behavior. Gender identity is the private experience of gender role, and gender role is the public expression of gender identity." (Money, 1973)


That same definition holds today as it's similarly defined by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), an agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services:


"Our internal sense of being male, female, or another identity. Because gender identity is internal, it is not necessarily visible to others." (SAMSHA, 2021)


Gender identity stems from this innate relationship with the Self. Research has also shown that this term causes much confusion for most people who prescribe to their gender-assigned roles at birth and have seldom given this sense of choice a second thought (Ehrensaft, 2012)


Gender Expression


Where gender identity is internalized, expression is a public manifestation of it. SAMSHA provides further clarity about this term on its website stating that it's


"How youth represent their gender to others. For example, individuals may express their gender through mannerisms, clothes, and personal interests. Our understanding of gender and what it means to be “masculine” and “feminine” is influenced by how we are socialized." (


Thus, gender identity and gender expression are not interchangeable words. There are many different expressions of gender. This transition from holding a private view of one's self to an open expression of it incites contestation, discrimination, and violence (Holmaat & Post, 2022; James et al., 2016). Dr. Lisa Diamond, an American psychologist who specializes in gender studies and developmental psychology, states that gender-fluid youth and adults face external challenges from social and family acceptance (Diamond, 2020). Newcomb et al. further reason these experiences among gender-fluid youth account for higher rates of anxiety, depression, and self-harm (Newcomb et al., 2020).


Nature, Nurture, or Culture?


There are varying degrees of evidence in support of and against hereditary and social mechanisms for the assignment of gender identity (Antoniucci et al., 2023; Clarke, 2021; Diamond, 2020; Gilleri, 2022; Polderman et al., 2015). Thus, it is quite difficult to have any real discussion of what causes one to transition between different genders throughout life, which is defined as being gender-fluid. For instance, Polderman et al. concluded through a review of heritability studies that family genetics plays a significant role in innate genetic factors in cisgender and transgender identities (Polderman et al., 2015). However, Antoniucci et al. conducted research that showed parents play a major role in their children's perception of gender identity and subsequent behaviors. Whereas, Gilleri, a gender and international law professor at the University of Milano-Bicocca, plainly states


"Indeed, both sex and gender are constructs, and neither is innate or pre-given. Gender is not the social side to the strictly biological side of sex: the designation of sex is also subject to cultural conditionalities"


The list can go on. Could all of them be right? Probably. But just as it is with rightly defining what gender identity is compared to its expression, there is much confusion to work through. Parents' genetics and their parenting are of paramount importance in the development and socialization of their children according to their assigned gender. But it doesn't just fall on the parents, society has its role as well. In Clarke's (2021) case, traditionally assigned gender roles were prescribed to the women who became "female-husbands" when she visited her extended family for a funeral in Zambia, Africa, since culture dictated such norms that were socially enforced. Clarke's experience of witnessing gender role reversals that were typically required of husbands to be given to their wives during funeral activities is such an example of societal influences on gender identity.


Identity In Christ


With so many varying opinions from different agencies of thought, it may seem difficult for a person to determine what their gender identity truly is or how it develops. However, it is at this time I should like to point the reader's attention to another identity that may be of some use in their struggle with understanding themselves. That identity is more in a person than its definition of such. This person is Jesus Christ. While He may not have wrestled with his gender identity, He struggled, too, with His identity as Messiah before being crucified. Matthew 26:39 says,


"And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.”


So recognizing that when we struggle with any part of our identity, Christ did too and He remained steadfast in His heavenly Father's love. Whatever gender we prescribe to, it should be rooted in understanding our need to identify in Christ's love for us. We can get so caught up in trying to figure out what gender we are and neglect so great a salvation that is in Christ. Hebrews 2:1-4 makes it plain when the NT author says


"Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it. For since the message declared by angels proved to be reliable, and every transgression or disobedience received a just retribution, how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? It was declared at first by the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard,  while God also bore witness by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will."


We try to reconcile our identities in Christ through our gender when it's Christ who should become our true, authentic identity. Doing so any other way glorifies Self over Christ. Thus our relationship with Christ becomes tarnished because of our focus on ourselves. Unfortunately, many Christian circles provide harsh responses to people struggling with their gender.


Is there a right way to handle this question? Absolutely. As believers, we are to recognize that erring on the side of God's grace will do more to loosen the hardened, broken hearts of individuals struggling with their identity than tossing rules at them. Offering standardized solutions to deeply personal issues is not the Gospel message that Christ and His disciples preached. The Gospel has always been and will be about having a personal relationship with God through Christ. Thus, telling a person they need to get right with God and stick to their assigned gender because of verses quoted in Genesis, while true, needs to be seasoned with grace (Proverbs 3:3-5). A person needs to see that their needs are addressed first before they ever understand what having faith in Christ even means, let alone trusting Him.


For instance, take any one case in the synoptic gospels or the Old Testament where healing took place by Christ or a prophet.  Not one of them was done in the same way for individuals. That is, in literally every single case, a person encounters a supernatural and unique approach to being healed. This realization should serve two primary thoughts:


  1. The consistency of the Old Testament and the New Testament in seeing how God operates with people, thus adding significant credibility to the Bible's authenticity.
  2.  God understands, loves, works with, and heals every single individual uniquely.


Therefore, when someone says that they don't prescribe to whatever gender they have been assigned, our response should be centered on the gospel of Christ. If they think themselves to be a certain gender--even to the point of expression--that is between them and God. All the logic and reasoning won't help them nearly as much as having a relationship with God. It's ultimately their choice to focus on their identity. But healing cannot take place unless they ask for it, as evidenced in many of the people who were healed in Scripture (Genesis 20:17; 2 Kings 5:1-17; Mark 5:24-24, 9:24-34; Luke 7:1-10; John 5:6).


"Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God." -Colossians 3:2-3


"There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus." -Galatians 3:28


And also John 1:12-13


"But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God."


Additionally, even though Christ was born into His earthly family, He made bold statements that His heavenly, or spiritual identity, was far more important when asked about family.


"While he was still speaking to the people, behold, his mother and his brothers stood outside, asking to speak to him. But he replied to the man who told him, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”





Rikki Holtmaat & Paul Post, Enhancing LGBTI Rights by Changing the Interpretation of the Convention on the             Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women?, 33 Nord. J. Hum. Rts. 319, 320, n. 5             (2015).


SAMHSA. (2021, May 19). Learning about sexual orientation, gender identity, and expression. Learning About             Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity, and Expression.