Sephora’s Transgender Ad: “We belong to something beautiful”

If we could sit down for coffee I'd ask some questions...

Walking down the mall last week I saw this large poster in the Sephora makeup retailer window. It was the end of June, gay pride month, and of all the messages I’d seen celebrating LGBT I found it the most riveting–a made-up face with the gender neutral pronouns down the side and the ad campaign slogan across the bottom: “We belong to something beautiful.”

I continued on to my car, but the poster haunted me. I live in Columbia, South Carolina, not exactly a hotbed of LGBT activism. But here was this poster in our neighborhood mall going beyond asking for acceptance for transgendered people. It went beyond celebration of diversity. It made a strong moral statement: Transgender is beautiful.

When it is July hot and 150% humidity, I walk for exercise in the mall. So a few days later I was back, approaching the store and considering whether to talk with the manager. I reached the store and searched the windows. No poster. I entered and who should greet me but…the manager. She welcomed me with a friendly smile.

“Can I help you?” she asked.
“Hello,” I said. “Yes, last time I passed by you had a poster in your front window that said, ‘We belong to something beautiful.’ I noticed that today it’s gone…”

“Yes,” the manager responded, “we passed the end of the month and we always change them after a month.”
“I’ve wanted to tell you that I’ve really been thinking about your poster and its message.”
“Oh?” she looked at me with genuine interest.
“We certainly agree that all LGBTQ people should be treated with love and acceptance. I believe that we are all created in the image of God. That each one of us is worthy of great respect and kindness.
She smiled and said, “Yes, that is our message.”
I nodded and slowly continued, “But do you see that Sephora is going beyond appealing to us to be kind and inclusive in the way we treat people? You’ve made a moral statement that transgender is beautiful.”

I liked the manager. She listened with empathy and good will and didn’t become defensive. I wished I’d had the opportunity to take her to coffee and discuss transgender. Encourage her to ask me questions too.

I went home and looked up Sephora’s website. I understand that they are trying to reach out to a group that is often troubled and needs encouragement: 41% attempt suicide. Even those who have had transition surgery are 19 times more likely to die by suicide. Transition surgery helps many feel better for a while, but within 10 years or so many again struggle with depression, anxiety and suicide.

Is it because our culture has disapproved? The evidence says no. Even in countries that have been LGBT-affirming for decades (Netherlands, Sweden, France etc.) we see similarly high statistics among LGBTs for suicide and contemplating suicide as well as depression and anxiety. How, we gently ask, is this beautiful?

On their website I watched the Sephora campaign film celebrating “diverse gender expression.” It included images of two children, one in drag. I would sincerely have liked to talk with the store manager about her response. What she might think about kids who have a history of depression and anxiety being shepherded with Affirmative Care—the new approach in counseling that simply affirms any child’s desire to change their gender. Even though research shows that after puberty 80-95% will settle into their biological sex if they are allowed to develop normally.

What might she think about these kids spending 45 minutes discussing their feelings with a counselor who then refers them to a sex change clinic for hormone therapy? I think of all the stories of parents I’ve read who desire to get their kids into longer-term therapy to deal with root causes of gender dysphoria who are being shut down by the courts and legislation outlawing gender conversion therapy.

I think of the painful surgeries that many will choose to suppress the male or female DNA in every cell in their bodies: bilateral mastectomies, penile construction, hysterectomy, chin, cheek and jaw reshaping, thyroid cartilage enhancement to construct an Adams apple, or Adams apple reduction…the list is long. As anyone may remember who read the best-selling Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, Lady Chablis, the real-life drag queen featured in the book, rode the raging hormone injection roller coaster at great personal cost. Is fighting your body like this a beautiful way to live?

What does she make of the social contagion factor where friends come out to their school counselor together and ask for help changing their names and genders and seeking referrals to sex change clinics together?

I’ve heard and read many stories of moms weeping over the daughter they birthed and named and loved and who must now come to grips with the new reality: they have lost their daughters. They now have a son, sending shock waves through their family story and identity and their mothers’ hearts. I’ve read stories of children whose parents transitioned who felt abandoned or abused as a result.

Is it beautiful to celebrate a movement with such negative health outcomes? That creates gender confusion in our children? That is disrupting so many families?

I didn’t have the opportunity to sit down with the manager and give her a glimpse of my reasons as I’ve done here, but I did tell her that, respectfully, I could not agree with “We belong to something beautiful.”

I was careful to use the word “agree.” When we say the word “approve” it automatically invokes judgment. And I am not the judge.

I also shared with her the main reason I could not agree with Sephora’s campaign: I believe God has the final word on what is good, true and beautiful. He created us male and female for the joy of completing one another. For face-to-face intimacy. For the joy of family. And he called it, “very good.”

We live in a fallen world where, sadly, many of us do not experience the joy of intimacy in marriage or the joy of living in loving families. Yet that is God’s good intention. And he designed us to fulfill his purpose for us. As with any departure from his will or purpose, when we follow our own feelings or wisdom we are breaking agreement with God and putting distance between us. And sooner or later the consequences will be painful.

If God, the Creator of all things beautiful, has given us bodies that he designed for our joy and his glory, how can we not receive them with gratitude and humility?

If we ignore his good gift and pursue a sexuality which he says is “contrary to nature” and “dishonorable,” why would we celebrate it? Especially if it weighs a soul down with heavy burdens?

Most importantly, how can it be beautiful to encourage people to pursue a lifetime of disagreement and tension with God?

Jesus loves each transgender person. “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden,” he says, “and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

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13 thoughts on “Sephora’s Transgender Ad: “We belong to something beautiful”

  1. Lael, as always, you have addressed an explosive issue with respect, calm, and grace. Thanks.

    As one who lived the first third of my life confused about my own gender, my heart aches for these searchers who want desperately to be the “other.” I prayed almost every night to be the “other.” Fortunately, societal norms and medical ethics/ capabilities were very different from what young people face today. I don’t know that I would have gone down that road, but it would have been tempting, I’m sure.

    But, at age 21, Jesus Christ allured me in that wilderness, spoke tenderly to me (Hosea 2:14), and thus began the long process of being called fully into manhood and out of illusion. I was spared the attempted euthanasia of my God-given and God-willed gender–a cruel effort to play God by a medical and psychological community as Satanically-misguided as Nazi doctors’ medical (?) “experimentation.”

    Promising airbrushed, photo-shopped beauty, meticulously lighted and made up (Sephora comes to mind), they deliver mutilation of body, soul, and spirit. Ultimate disappointment. They bask in worldly approval and feel they have demonstrated “compassion” while enjoying huge financial rewards for their acts of “service.” Their “products” however–still constitutionally the gender they were born with–have to face their renovated “beauty” in less-enhanced, real-life conditions which wouldn’t sell Sephora’s products if put on a poster.

    My journey was, and even now can be, difficult. But I have NO regrets. The illusion of being the “other” is so remote from my life now that I am amazed. God is a good, good Father, and knows how–and is able–to call us into what He has created us to be. And that frequently starts in a wilderness.

    God called me to be His son, a husband,, a father and a grandfather. I’m so glad that what seemed impossible at times, is now my reality in Christ. My sufficiency to be who I am, is in Him. He chooses the weak things of the world to shame the wise (1 Cor. 1:30). Sola Gloria Deo!

    Michael Webb

    • Michael, I hope many, many people read your comment. Much more powerful than mine because it shows the power and *true beauty* of authenticity–a life lived in the struggle and by God’s grace overcoming. I’m so glad you clung to Christ. You are a blessing to many, both in your beautiful family, through your practice and church and way beyond. I hope you will, in God’s timing, write that book!

  2. Thank you Lael for your awesome posts. I am going to share your website with the Journey SS class at my church. You provoke so many questions and insights that we all want to discuss but I think, unfortunately are sometimes afraid to discuss. I am ready to talk to other people about these pertinent issues that plague us every day in our world. We must support one another in love but always remember what God says about specific issues in His Word. Thanks for your graciousness, as well as, your boldness to share the gospel and let people walk away wondering what and how they really believe. If they even believe. You approach current issues in parable form as our Lord did. That is respectable for sure!!

    • Thank you, Denise, for such kind words. Yes, these issues are growing and we must be ready to give a hopeful, respectful response for what we believe and why we believe it. Be glad to visit your class sometime to join in the discussion!

  3. This is a beautiful, sensitive post about a divisive subject. You are right, God loves LGBT people as much as He loves all people and desires each one to be saved.

    It is up to each believer to honor God by obeying Him. But, it is not our place to judge them. I know many who treat this as an unforgivable sin. No sin is beyond the reach of God’s powerful grace.

    I, in no way, agree with their choice but I am commanded to love them.

    • Thank you, Sherry. You are so right. It is not the unforgivable sin. I think because it is so unnatural and shameful (again, God’s word) we tend to think it is. All sexual sins carry unique consequences. Romans 1 speaks of the consequence of unnatural sexual relations as receiving “the due penalty for their error in their bodies.” So much fracturing in core identity and other hard consequences…perhaps the depression, anxiety and suicide reported in this post is what God meant. But NONE of it is unforgivable. As Michael Webb’s comment shows, repentance leads to healing and restoration. Thanks for taking the time to comment.

  4. Lael, you address this issue with such tenderness and compassion, and I applaud you, as I do those who already commented. I was told by my dentist that his wife, a pediatric dentist, within the first six months of the year had five 12-year olds transgender. The ones she had treated for years as one sex now were another. Parents had given their permission. You are a great spokesperson for being able to love these people (as we should) but realizing this is not an answer all will be seeking. Nice work.

    • Five 12-year olds. I think of all the health concerns I referred to in this post and wonder if their parents know. Even if the children know, I don’t think a child can fully understand what it will take to fight their DNA the rest of their lives. So glad you are writing about this too. We must be filled with the kind of mercy and compassion that will motivate us even more to gently speak truth when culture is moving so strongly in the other direction.