Gender Affirmation Surgery?

Note: This article is part of a series on terminology related to homosexuality.

"Sex reassignment" refers to a surgery (or series of surgeries) to alter a person’s visible sex characteristics to conform to his or her gender identity. More colloquially, it is also called a “sex change.” The newer and more ideologically freighted term is “gender affirmation surgery.”

Whatever it is called, the procedure rests on the idea that sex and gender are arbitrary. The point is that sex is something “assigned at birth,” rather than a naturally occurring phenomenon that is observed and acknowledged. Then there is the idea that gender is entirely a social construct, and in no way intrinsically linked to biological sex, such that it is not more normal for a biological female to identify as a woman than as a man. These ideas undergird the supposition that sex can be arbitrarily re-assigned through the application of medical technology.

Even with advanced medical technology, these surgeries are both highly invasive and limited in what they can achieve. Surgeries can alter a person’s appearance, but biological sex is a far deeper reality than mere appearance. Being male or female is inscribed on every cell, every organ, and every function in our body. A “sex reassignment” surgery does not change one’s sex. Rather, it mimics features of the opposite sex in service of visibly expressing a gender identity detached from any biological foundation. This is the point of the language of “gender affirmation surgery.”

While these surgeries are superficial in reach, they are still highly invasive and destructive. Endocrine systems are suppressed and distorted with synthetic hormones. Puberty is delayed or avoided. Healthy genital organs are mutilated, removed, or rendered sterile. Healthy breasts are removed, or fake breasts are added. Plastic surgery reshapes cheeks and noses, but it is not possible for hands to be resized, or for the breadth of a man’s shoulders to be reduced to form a typical woman’s silhouette.

For all these reasons, Christians should take care to speak plainly and truthfully about these procedures. We should not countenance the propagandistic term “gender-affirmation surgery.” Nor should we indulge the simpler term “sex change.” These surgeries are not an affirmation of gender, which is a social construct that does not exist in the first place. Nor are they in reality a change of biological sex. They are purely cosmetic surgeries, intended to mimic the physical characteristics typical of the opposite sex.

Calvin Goligher is the pastor of First OPC in Sunnyvale, California. He and his wife Joanne have four young children.

Related Links

"Courageous Christian Sexuality" by William Boekestein

The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self by Carl Trueman

"Identifying Our Identity" by Jared Nelson

Revoiced Spirituality by Jonathan Master

Biblical Personhood & Gender Confusion, with Derek Thomas, Richard Phillips, and Rosaria Butterfield.