Mark Yarhouse has spent 17 years researching sexual identity development and the experiences of persons of faith who are navigating sexual identity. The issues have now moved, as Yarhouse says, “front and centre” in the culture wars about the meaning of sex and gender, and he is visiting Australia next month to help Christians explore them more fully. Eternity’s John Sandeman had a chat with Mark before his arrival.
What does science tell us about gender dysphoria – and can you help us understand what it is?
There is a lot we don’t understand about gender dysphoria. It is not a common experience, so research in this area is often conducted with small samples and other limitations. But we define gender dysphoria as the distress some people report when their gender identity does not align with their biological sex.
“I think I am at my best in relating to sexual minorities when I take the time to listen to their experiences.”
What can Christians offer people with gender dysphoria? Can we welcome them to church without sacrificing the Bible?
Christians can meet people where they are, in their distress and pain, and listen to them and come to a better understanding of their experience and the strategies they have used to alleviate their distress.
Some Christians find it difficult to use a transgendered person’s preferred pronoun. What do you do?
In most cases, I use the name and pronoun that the person uses to introduce themselves to me.
Has combining being a Christian and working in this field been difficult?
Yes, it is a challenging area for conducting research and providing clinical services. The topic – and the people represented by the topic – has moved front and centre to the cultural wars about the meaning of sex and gender.
What does relating well to sexual minorities look like?
I think I am at my best in relating to sexual minorities when I take the time to listen to their experiences. Even in cases in which we may disagree, it has been helpful to come to a better understanding of the challenges that they have faced, the conclusions they have reached, and so on.
When a child acts in ways typical of the opposite sex, what is a wise course of action for parents?
There is no easy answer to this question and no “one size fits all” answer that can be applied to every situation. A child who displays gender atypical interests and behaviours is not necessarily gender dysphoric. Many professionals would consider a “wait and see” posture. Even in cases in which the child is confirmed to be gender dysphoric, the gender dysphoria tends to resolve on its own by the time that child is a late adolescent or young adult.
Dr Mark Yarhouse directs the Institute for the Study of Sexual Identity and is Professor of Psychology at Regent University, Virginia in the United States. He has written several books including Homosexuality and the Christian, a guide for parents, pastors and friends (2010), Understanding Sexual Identity, a resource for youth ministry (2013), and Understanding Gender Dysphoria (2015). He’ll be in Australia in September as a guest of Liberty Christian Ministries at their Identity Conference, where he will be talking about sexual identity and how churches can walk alongside those struggling with same-sex attraction or transgender issues.