Dr. James Emery White Christian Blog and Commentary

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What's Wrong With a Boy Who Wears a Dress?

  • Dr. James Emery White

    The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of CrosswalkHeadlines.

    James Emery Whiteis the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and…

  • Updated Jun 24, 2013

The latest edition of The New York Times Magazine features a cover photo of a young girl with long hair in a long, flowing pink dress decorated with flowers.

Only it isn’t a girl.

It’s a boy.

The headline on the cover says it all: “What’s Wrong With A Boy Who Wears A Dress?”

Inside, a new approach to parenting “gender-fluid” children is detailed in an article titled “Boygirl.” The thrust of the piece is how challenging it can be, even for progressively-minded parents, to raise a boy who prefers to look and act like a girl.

I wrote about this a little over a year ago, and much in that earlier blog bears repeating with the growing attempt by media elites to push gender identity, specifically related to children, on to the mainstream map.

What is driving the conversation is the pending overhaul of the diagnostic manual for the nation’s psychiatric establishment. The American Psychiatric Association has been lobbied for years to rewrite, or even remove, the categories typically used to diagnose transgender people, arguing that terms like “gender identity disorder” and “transvestic fetishism” are pejorative and discriminative.

The goal is to prevent adults, adolescents and children with “a strong and persistent cross-gender identification” from being labeled with a “disorder.”

The New York Times article revealed how parents are conflicted – do I let my boy wear a dress to school? If he seems inconsolable without it, do I give in? Is this simply who he is, and I just need to help him find security in being “gender-fluid”? Is “corrective therapy” called for? Is my child mature enough to make decisions related to gender?

As an earlier report on National Public Radio raised, the key here really is the idea of gender, as opposed to the nature of sexuality. Gender is defined as the “behavioral, cultural, or psychological traits typically associated with one sex.” In other words, the attitudes, actions, dress and sensibilities that go with being a boy or being a girl. Or as NPR put it, gender is the “cultural expectations” that come with a particular sex.

It’s an important distinction in the current cultural dialogue. While the differences inherent between the sexes are beyond question, the growing movement seems to be toward the removal of gender from the cultural equation.

So we have a high school prom court in Michigan that goes “gender-free,” without prom “kings” or “queens,” after denying a transgender student the homecoming “king” crown the year before.

There is East Tennessee State University exploring gender-neutral housing for its students (following the lead of Stanford, University of Michigan, Rutgers and others).

Even the State Department now issues passports in gender-neutral terms, referring to “Parent One” or “Parent Two” instead of “father” or “mother.”

Yet in Genesis 1:27, it says: “… God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (NIV). We were made, by God, male and female. When God created human beings, He intentionally created diversity. He purposefully made us a race of men and a race of women.

To airbrush this out of our culture is to attempt to eradicate something inherent within the created order. And yes, this includes not simply sexuality, but gender.

As a father of four – two boys, two girls – I can tell you that the gender differences are as real as the sexual differences and are inextricably intertwined. This has been amply demonstrated in the research behind same-sex education, which to NPR’s credit, they cite in their online version of the report.

But let me stay with my own anecdotal evidence.

For example, my own two boys.

There’s an old saying: Girls are made of sugar and spice and everything nice; boys are made of snakes and snails and puppy-dog tails.

It’s true. And then throw in BB guns, firecrackers, the squashing of bugs, mud, mini-bikes, football, wrestling, pillow fights, dinosaurs, Go-Karts, cowboys and Indians, pocket knives and snowballs.

That’s a boy. And without putting too fine a point on things, it comes with the penis.

In his book Taking Sex Differences Seriously, University of Virginia professor Dr. Steven Rhoads writes about an incident that took place in 1966. A botched circumcision left one of two male identical twins without a full male organ.

A leading sex psychologist at Johns Hopkins University persuaded the parents to raise that toddler as a female. They completed the castration, constructed what appeared from the outside to be female genitalia, and called him Brenda. They raised him as a girl, and even gave him female steroids to mimic female pubertal growth and feminization.

All seemed to be well.

Time magazine called the case “strong support” for the view that masculine and feminine behavior can be altered. A 1979 textbook used the case to discuss how human gender identity was flexible and plastic, and how being male or female was the product of social learning and conditioning. Numerous psychology and sociology texts cited the case as proof that sex roles are basically learned.

But people didn’t follow the case through. Even with the injection of female hormones, the absence of male hormones coming from testicles, and being raised as a female, Brenda did not turn out as, well, Brenda.

In the early 1990s, a team of researchers caught up with the boy who had been turned into a girl to see how she was doing.

They found that she was no longer Brenda.

She was now David – working in a slaughterhouse, married to a woman, and the adoptive father of three children.

What happened was that at the age of 14, Brenda decided to start living as a male, and at 15, she was told that that was indeed what she had been born as. She then announced that she had always felt like a male and wanted to become one again. She was given a mastectomy, male hormones and constructed genitalia.

When researchers dug further, they found that the first time Brenda had been put in a dress, she pulled it off.

When given a jump rope, she wanted to tie people up with it or whip them with it.

At 9, she bought a toy machine gun when she was supposed to buy an umbrella.

Her toy sewing machine went untouched because she preferred to build forts and play with dump trucks.

She was never interested in make-up, but instead wanted to shave with her father.

On a trip to New York, she found herself attracted to the Rockettes.

She even felt the urge to urinate standing up.

From this, researchers at Johns Hopkins felt they should go back and study other children who had undergone similar operations; boys who, for whatever reason, were born without full male organs, had then been fully castrated and raised as girls.

Of the 25 they were able to locate, ranging in age from 5 to 16, every single one exhibited the rough-and-tumble play more characteristic of boys than girls.

Every single one.

And even at an early age, 14 of them had already declared themselves to be, in fact, boys – going against everything in how they had been raised.

From this, and scores of other studies, Rhoads concludes that instead of thinking that the difference between the sexes is something learned, or imposed by society, it is rather something larger, something deeply rooted, in our very nature. It’s part of who we are.

It’s not a role that we take on; it’s the very nature of our being.

Which means that what has been known in psychiatry as Gender Identity Disorder is just that -- a disorder. It is something to be treated.

But it means something more. It means maintaining that gender and sex, in a healthy psychology, is not something simply between our ears, but between our legs. Sexuality is not like a favorite color – something to be chosen, a preference – it is hardwired into our being.

All to say, “So what’s wrong with a boy who wears a dress?”


James Emery White



“Boygirl” by Ruth Padawer, The New York Times Magazine, August 12, 2012; read online version of article under the title "What’s So Bad About a Boy Who Wants to wear a Dress," August 8, 2012.

“Transgender advocates seek new diagnostic terms,” Lisa Leff, Associated Press, July 21, 2012; read online.

“The End of Gender,” Linton Weeks, National Public Radio, June 23, 2011; read online.

Steven Rhoads, Taking Sex Differences Seriously.

For more, see the series “ManLaws” by James Emery White, given at Mecklenburg Community Church, specifically the installment titled “Raising  Boys;” MP3 and .pdf files available on the Message Downloads page.

Editor’s Note

James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, N.C., and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, which he also served as their fourth president. His newly released book is A Traveler's Guide to the Kingdom: Journeying through the Christian Life (InterVarsity Press). To enjoy a free subscription to the Church and Culture blog, log on to www.churchandculture.org, where you can post your comments on this blog, view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on Twitter @JamesEmeryWhite.