Monday, October 27, 2014

Keeping watch over their souls

I have been thinking a lot about the contrversy over Houston's equal rights ordinance and its prohibition against discrimination on the basis of gender identity.

This is important stuff. What we do about this as a city will powerfully affect many people, and how we talk about it as Christians will affect all of us, because it brings up all sorts of questions about what it means to be human, and about the very nature of the gospel.

You can read my general thoughts here and here.

As I argued in my third post on the topic, I don't think that our children's physical safety is affected by which bathroom gender nonconformists use.

Now I want to talk about emotional and spiritual safety.

Let me start out by saying that privacy matters. Locker rooms and urinals present real logistical challenges, particularly in schools, and if institutions cannot meet those challenges in a way that provides sufficient privacy for everyone, that's a problem. A really big problem.

But I'm confident that those challenges are surmountable, precisely because of all the horror stories I've read about the emotional harm these policies inflict on children.

You see, almost every one of those anecdotes tells a story about an institution creatively and successfully making the changes necessary to give everyone privacy.

But that wasn't good enough. The authors of those anecdotes didn't just want to protect kids from indecent exposure, but also from the very idea that some people have complicated gender identities.

The problem is, we can't actually do that.

If your child is aware enough ask you why there's a man in the ladies room, you can bet that she's also aware enough to be perplexed by gender ambiguity in any context. Bathrooms have nothing to do with it.

As parents, we have just two choices: talk about it, or don't talk about it.

Talking about it can be scary, but not talking about it is what's dangerous.

If we let our fear keep us from talking with our kids about these things, we will lose the opportunity to guide them through whatever ethical decisions they may face. Statistically speaking, any one of our kids is unlikely to face tough decisions about his or her own gender, but each of them will almost certainly face decisions about how to respond to peers who don't fit into tidy gender categories. And almost all of our kids will face decisions about bullying.

As I look back on my own childhood,  I'm haunted by my cowardice; cowardice rooted in confusion. I didn't know what to do, so I stood by and didn't do anything at all.

I want to spare my kids that kind of guilt. I want to make sure that I'm alert and present to teach them how to love people they don't understand. Even people that they suspect of bad choices.

And if any of my kids do struggle with gender, I definitely want them to talk with me about it.

We cannot protect our children from finding out that they live in a complicated world, but by the grace of God, perhaps we can equip them to live wisely and well, and above all to love. At any rate, we have to try. We must not fail to keep watch over their souls.

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