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Identity vs. personhood

Leaning into the factors God bestows on us


If “down the rabbit hole” is an apt comparison for anything, it’s the Gender Wiki website—a way station for young adults and teens trying to locate themselves on the gender spectrum, with 249 (and counting?) varieties to choose from. Most come with pronoun preferences and multicolored pride flags. Many of these identities are niche at best, accompanied with the disclaimer that the description “is about a gender identity that is not widely used among gender-variant people. This does not mean that the identity is not valid, but that very few people are known to use this term.”

What kind of terms? Byx describes someone who expresses male gender and agender (defined elsewhere) simultaneously. Antigender is the opposite of a specific gender while not necessarily being that opposite gender. Gardenian is a gender identity that blooms and dies in cycles. Tarantula is one who feels genderless with a strong female energy.

Skepticism sometimes elbows its way into the comment section. “It’s hard to take anyone seriously if they non-ironically are calling themselves a tarantula. You feel?” Another skeptic suspects people are just making stuff up, to which a true believer replies, “People don’t make up genders, they make up gender labels. Female and male are made up labels [expletive deleted].” Pronouns can be made up, too. Tetrisgender people, who develop their identity incrementally over time (as in the Tetris video game), may choose the pronoun block, blockim, and blockself. I can’t imagine anyone actually doing that, but apparently it’s a thing.

We seek not a handcrafted identity but God’s promise fulfilled—when we see Him as He is.

I discovered Gender Wiki through a post on another website where a writer claims that too many teens are obsessed with finding the exact term that encompasses every possible combination of gendered feelings they experience. The classifications all seem to be based on masculine and feminine stereotypes. I thought we had moved beyond stereotypes. A woman can lead Marines into combat and still be “all woman,” can’t she? Not if she identifies as a gender that slides into masculinity when infuriated (label and pride flag to follow).

Anyone over 40 could have a lot of fun with 249 genders, but it’s no laughing matter for young people trying to figure out who they are in a confused and confusing world. The tragedy is, some may be so intent on crafting identities that they’ve let go of personhood.

Identity, as we now understand it, is manufactured. It’s the feature, whether skin color or sexuality or any other marker, chosen as a primary definition. And it’s inherently limiting. I could “identify” as a woman, an American, and a septuagenarian, but none of those would express who I truly am.

Personhood is bestowed. The factors that shape us most are the things we did not choose—beginning with being itself. I had nothing to do with my birth, or my parents or grandparents, or my race or country. I had nothing to do with my family’s income level or the myocarditis that nearly ended my life at an early age. I couldn’t control what the grown-ups in my life thought it necessary for me to learn, but they, in turn, couldn’t control what I actually learned. The person I became is very different from my siblings, as they are from me: a bottomless being no one but God could fully plumb.

“My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth” (Psalm 139:15).

Identity fixes on one feature to the detriment of others. Skin color describes a person, but it’s not the person. Transgender feelings may be real, but not definitional. Personhood escapes easy classification: What we are remains essentially mysterious, known fully to God alone.

Identity turns inward, but personhood expands outward. The saints described in Hebrews 11 and the saints of today share one trait in common: Our eyes are fixed on things unseen. We seek not a handcrafted identity, but God’s promise fulfilled—fully and finally in us, when we see Him as He is.


Janie B. Cheaney Janie is a senior writer who contributes commentary to WORLD and oversees WORLD's annual Children's Book of the Year awards. She also writes novels for young adults and authored the Wordsmith creative writing curriculum. Janie resides in rural Missouri.

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tbarnhart

Thank you for this wonderful assessment of identity and personhood; God, please help our young people look to you for answers and fulfillment, not some website.

NBrooks

Filled with emotion and romance, every thirteen-year-old girl is unsure of her "identity". The federal Dept. of Education's hyper-sexual determination is grooming these young children toward an anti-biblical sex life and all the heartbreak, death and confusion that brings. Janey B. Cheaney, of course, says it much better, and much more lovingly, than I.

SJS

Lots of good thoughts and insights here. Thanks.

SAWGUNNER

I have me an old mule that self-identifies as a quarter horse. If I embrace the mule's delusion I do it no favors especially when neither of us are allowed on the track at Belmont or Preakness.

Guy

Good distinctions where it comes to manufactured categories, however the Lord bestowed male and female biological sex as a fundamental aspect of who we are. In fact, our roles as husband and wife and even leadership in the Church are firmly established by biological sex. It is a subcategory of our personhood. In the same way, the Lord established diversity in ethnicity and tribe and has ordained that those from each of them would be with Him in eternity. It is not arbitrary nor lacking in significance that His explicit plan outlines that subcategory of personhood. So much that it would not be fulfilled is representation from any tribe or nation were missing in Heaven.

The sinful use of these subcategories is not license for banishing or minimizing their significance or the Lord’s intentionality on this God ordained diversity . It is like throwing out a good because there is scandal or conflict over that good rather than calling to account those engaged in the scandalous use.