In this article I will address the growing issue of transgenderism, give three examples of this crisis, and then conclude by suggesting three approaches to take when addressing proponents of this view.
Let me begin by summing it up in a nutshell (or a tweet—the 21st century equivalent):
“Men are men and women are not. Women are women and men are not” (Tweet, if you dare).
Now, the degree to which this sounds discriminatory or sexist (or even hateful to you and me) is a good indicator to the degree in which we have been influenced by a small but incredibly influential movement in our country today that wants to say that sex—by which I mean maleness and femaleness—is not something objective but rather a mere social construct that has no basis in reality. Sort of like what side of the road you drive on, or what objects you use for currency.
These people want to say that sexual orientation is a continuum, and maleness and femaleness are arbitrary bookends. So a man, like Caitlyn Jenner, can self-identify as a woman, and should be allowed to, that’s fine; and a woman can self-identify as a man, and that’s fine.
So let’s look at some more examples, similar to the one mentioned above.
Three Examples of the Crisis
1. Genderless bathrooms. In August 2013, California enshrined certain rights for transgendered students in kindergarten through twelfth grade, so that if you’re in a public school, and you’d like to use the bathroom, and you’re a male who thinks he’s a female, that’s okay; no one can stop you. Now, I don’t know about other guys, but when I was fifteen years old, I would have loved that rule. Whose silly idea was this?
2. Boy in a prom dress. Tony Zamazal was a senior in 2013 at Spring High School in Texas. He approached his school and said because he self-identified as a female, he would like to go to the prom in a dress, please. And the school said, well, no, you have to wear the standard tux like all the other men. Tony went home and, as he said, began ranting about it on Facebook. It was picked up by the American Civil Liberties Union, which contacted the high school and said its stance was unconstitutional. The school backed down, and Tony went as a lady. Or so he thought. Now, I don’t say that mockingly—I’m not denying that he feels that way. What troubles me more is that when ABC News covered this story, it lied. It said things like, ‘She’s so happy that she can go in what makes her comfortable.”
3. Lesbian moms and the boy who’s a girl. Third example, you may’ve heard of a couple of years ago. Pauline Moreno and Debra Lobel, a lesbian couple who lives near San Francisco, adopted a boy, and at the age of three, they say, he started to self-identify as a girl. So now he’s thirteen and he’s been on hormone blockers for years so he doesn’t go through puberty and develop into a man, then he can get a sex-change when the time is right.
How Did We Get Here?
How did we get here? One, we rejected God. And as the Vatican II document Gaudium et Spes states, “For without the creator, the creature would disappear, when God is forgotten, the creature itself grows unintelligible” (36).
Second is the breakdown of the family. I like the way Jay Budziszewski puts it in his book The Meaning of Sex. He says wrongheaded sexual ideologies undermine families, and ruined families generate a readiness to accept wrongheaded ideologies.
How Should We Respond?
So how can we respond to this crisis? Let me suggest three ways: 1. the scientific, 2. the philosophical, and 3. the pastoral.
Now obviously this is a gigantic topic, and we’re just skimming the surface, but I hope as you encounter people who self-identify as a different sex—though you should know they’ll use the word gender to make sex seem more fluid, more changeable—or if you’re dealing with people who sympathize with this, this will be a help to you.
1. The Scientific Response
It’s important to understand that in promoting the truth about the human person, the Church is on the side of science when it says that it’s impossible for a person to change his sex.
The brains of the sexes are intrinsically different: Male brains are different from female brains. This affects many aspects of our behavior. How we handle stress, how we dress, how we navigate; it even affects our sight. Men and women not only see the world differently metaphorically, we actually see the world differently—due to the differences in our retinas.
In a Cambridge University study, researchers noted that women were much better at picking up on facial cues than men. They studied 102 day-old babies to see if there was a difference in the length of time they looked at a face, at a social object, and at a mobile, physical-mechanical object. The male infants showed a stronger interest in the physical-mechanical mobile, while the female infants showed a stronger interest in the face. The results clearly demonstrate that sex differences are in biological origin.
These differences also affect how we hear: Women hear better than men (they probably listen better also). In 2005, neuroscientist Larry Cahill published an article called “His Brain, Her Brain” in Scientific American. He writes, “Over the past decade, investigations have documented an astonishing array of structural, chemical, and functional variations in the brains of males and females.” He even goes so far as to say this raises the possibility of developing sex-specific treatment for conditions like post-traumatic stress disorder, schizophrenia, and depression.
2. The Philosophical Response
I remember a few years back standing in the San Diego airport and overhearing a man and a woman having a chat. They’d just met, and he said, “Oh, my wife’s pregnant, too.” She said, “Oh, wonderful, what’s the sex?” He said, “Well, we’re not going to raise it as a blue baby or a pink baby, we’re going to raise it a yellow baby” (and no, he wasn’t speaking of jaundice). What he meant was that he wasn’t going to impose the social construct of sex upon his child. Whether his child self-identified as a male or a female was up to him/her.
What would happen if I began to explain these neurological differences to this man? Perhaps he would say what a lot of people have said: “Fine, there are differences in the bodies and brains, but I’m not defined by my body.” The idea that we are not our bodies, that we are souls in a machine, is wrongheaded. As the Church teaches, we are body-soul composites: one being made of two types of stuff, both equally personal and equally a part of who we are.
Think of the absurdities that result if you say, “I’m not my body.” That would mean that when you kiss your child goodnight, you’re not actually kissing your child, you’re manipulating the husk that is not you to kiss the husk that’s not your daughter.
In logic there’s a tactic called argumentum ad absurdum, where you assume your opponent’s false position is true, and then you follow it to its logical conclusion, which hopefully shows him that it is absurd.
And so we could say, “Why stop at sex? If we’re not defined by our bodies, why should we impose the social construction of ‘species’ upon our children?” If we can say, “Well, he looks male, but he’s apparently female,” we can say with equal logic, “Well, he looks human, but he says he’s a panther” or “a parrot.” You might think I’m being ridiculous, but do a Google search on species dysphoria or species identity disorder, and you’ll see that’s this isn’t as ridiculous to some as you’d imagine.
This video illustrates what I’m talking about:
What About Aphroditism?
Someone might say, “Haven’t you heard of aphroditism, or Klinefelter syndrome, or Turner Syndrome, where the sex of someone is ambiguous?” Yes I have, but surely the tiny number of anomalous cases doesn’t do away with the huge majority of cases where a person’s sex is normal and easy to determine.
That would be like saying that because there is a rare genetic disease called progeria that produces rapid aging in children, people can self-identify whatever age they want.
3. The Pastoral Response
I hope you don’t misunderstand me: I’m not criticizing these people, I’m criticizing the logic behind the mindset. But I don’t doubt for a moment that there are people who feel that they’ve been placed in the wrong body.
Let me quote to you from an eleven-year old boy who self-identifies as a girl. He calls himself Sadie. He wrote a letter to his school:
The world would be a better place if everyone had the right to be themselves. Including people who have a creative gender identity and expression. Transgendered kids like me are not allowed to go most schools because the teachers think we are different than everyone else. The schools get afraid of how they will talk with the other kids’ parents, and transgendered kids are kept secret or told not to come there anymore. Kids are told not to be friends with transgendered kids, which makes us very lonely and sad. When they grow up, transgendered adults have a hard time getting a job because the boss thinks the customers will be scared away and so forth.
So, obviously, we need to love these people. But loving does not entail lying to the person. We need to say it’s because I love you that I need to speak truth to you—and it might hurt, and you might call me a hater, but you have to know that I have your best interests in mind.
I would suggest that if you come across a man who self-identifies as a woman, you should ask him a question: “When you say you’re a woman, what do you mean?” He might say, “Well, I’m attracted to other men.” Okay, so you’re attracted to other men—but that doesn’t make you a woman. He might say he likes what girls like. Okay, full disclosure, I don’t like what a lot of men like and I do enjoy things that many girls like: I don’t like sports. I do love poetry. I don’t like fixing stuff. I do like “sharing my heart” with people. He might say he identifies with the female form, that he likes it and wants it as his own. Well, okay, you need to understand that men’s and women’s bodies are different, but that doesn’t mean unequal, and they’re both good, and you need to rediscover the goodness of your own sexuality.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church puts it this way:
In creating men “male and female,” God gives man and woman an equal personal dignity. “Man is a person, man and woman equally so, since both were created in the image and likeness of the personal God” (Mulieris dignitatem, 6). Each of the two sexes is an image of the power and tenderness of God, with equal dignity though in a different way (CCC 2334-35).
Men and women are different, and thank God for that.
Looking for further reading/listening? Here are some good resources and articles to get you started:
The Meaning of Sex by Jay Budziszewski
Why Gender Matters by Leonard Sax (Doubleday: New York, NY, 2005)
Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraphs 2331-36
“His Brain, Her Brain” by Larry Cahill, Scientific American, May 2005
“Gender-Specific Gene Expression in Post-Mortem Human Brain: Localization to Sex Chromosomes,” the National Institutes of Health
“Empowering Parents of Gender Discordant and Same-Sex Attracted Children,” Michelle Cretella, principal author, American College of Pediatricians (April 2008).