There is another story making the rounds on the internet. Baptist minister Sean Harris offered a “special dispensation” to parents of gender nonconforming children. Here is a portion of the transcript from Good As You:
So your little son starts to act a little girlish when he is four years old and instead of squashing that like a cockroach and saying, “Man up, son, get that dress off you and get outside and dig a ditch, because that is what boys do,” you get out the camera and you start taking pictures of Johnny acting like a female and then you upload it to YouTube and everybody laughs about it and the next thing you know, this dude, this kid is acting out childhood fantasies that should have been squashed. Can I make it any clearer? Dads, the second you see your son dropping the limp wrist, you walk over there and crack that wrist. Man up. Give him a good punch. Ok? You are not going to act like that. You were made by God to be a male and you are going to be a male.
Harris raises a controversial topic that is actually difficult for many parents: How should Christian parents respond when their child demonstrates gender nonconforming (or what is sometimes referred to as gender “atypical”) behaviors?
This is an area that I was asked to cover when I wrote Homosexuality and the Christian: A Guide for Parents, Pastors and Friends. I won’t be able to do the topic justice here, but you can take a look at Chapter 5 of that resource. As I mention there, gender nonconformity in childhood is often reported by adults who identify as transgender and by adults who identify as gay or lesbian. It is not uncommon for Christian parents to express concern about homosexuality (parents are not typically aware of Gender Identity Disorder) if their child is demonstrating gender atypical behaviors.
As you can imagine, this is very controversial in the field of psychology. I am not aware of any research suggesting that a parent can intervene to prevent homosexuality. It might be argued that since we do not know the causes of homosexuality (we tend to discuss Nature vs. Nurture but it is likely some combination that is weighted differently for different people), the environment could be addressed in some way, but it is unclear the extent to which that would be preventative as such.
There is some data that supports the view that parents can intervene to help reduce symptoms of Gender Identity Disorder (GID) in childhood (see the work of Dr. Ken Zucker on this). At the same time, the field has been trending toward a different strategy altogether when there has been a diagnosis of GID (i.e., use of hormone blockers to delay puberty until the child – then a teen – around 16 or so can make a decision about gender identity). This approach is also controversial. There are still those who intervene through therapy and coaching parents in how to redirect their child away from gender atypical behaviors (again, Dr. Ken Zucker being perhaps the most well-known example). But that approach looks nothing like what Harris was suggesting in his sermon.
If any good can come out of the statements by Harris, perhaps it is that parents will reject his suggestion (as they should) and look for helpful resources on whether or how they might respond to gender typical behaviors in childhood. There is still much that we do not know about gender atypical behavior, sexual identity, and gender identity, so there is a need for humility as we consider what is best for a child in these circumstances.