With the legalization of same-sex “marriage” throughout our country, the forces of the ongoing sexual revolution have now made transgender acceptance the new goal. In the last year I have encountered more phrases like “gender fluid,” “cisgender,” “gender-confused,” “transphobic,” and the the like than I ever have before. For some, there is a passionate desire to show compassion and equality to those who identify as a different gender. For others, there is a great deal of confusion as to how something as basic as being male and female could be confusing. And there is even greater confusion regarding the Church’s teachings here.
This article will attempt to shed a little bit of light on this topic. What is written here will not be the end-all-be-all of the topic, especially considering that there is very little official teaching on this specific subject of transgenderism. Some may see this as tacit approval for the lifestyle: “If there’s no official teaching against it, it must be okay, right?” So the need to extrapolate the Church’s teaching is even more pressing so as to avoid this confusion. That isn’t to say that the conclusions that we draw are mere guesses. The underlying principles have been taught by Popes Benedict XVI and Francis (more on this later). But the specific issue of transgenderism per se has not been addressed head-on. We will examine what the Church teaches about our gender and apply these to this specific topic.
Before anything, we must explain the distinction between sex and gender. I know a number of people who use them interchangeably, but they are not exactly the same. “Sex” refers to the biological difference between men and women. Boys and girls are different, because all boys have something that no girl has: the Y-chromosome. If you were thinking of another part of male anatomy that makes us distinct, then the thinking is a bit backwards. The presence of male organs depends upon the presence of male chromosomes. And our chromosomes can be found in every cell of our bodies, not just the sex organs. The case of people born with a hermaphroditic disorder are a slightly different, and for brevity will not be addressed in this article. For the purposes of our discussion, we shall limit it to those who do not have chromosomal disorders.
“Gender” refers to all the differences between men and women that are not caused by biology. Women wearing dresses and men wearing neckties could be categorized under gender. These two examples are social difference between men and women that are not necessary results of our sex. Men can wear dresses. Women can play with action figures. There is nothing in our biology that would stop a woman from being the quarterback of a football team.
The great confusion has come because modern popular culture and popular social science has limited gender to ONLY these social differences. If that is the case, then gender is whatever society says it is. It is something completely changeable and moldable. And once you divorce sex from gender, your biological sex can be looked as an impediment to how you want to express your gender. Thus some parents give hormone injections to their boys so that they grow to be more like girls. (If you do not believe that last statement, then I suggest you spend a few minutes searching on youtube). Also, by dissociating sex from gender, it has become increasingly popular to recognize more than just two genders.
It is foolish to reduce all difference between men and women to the merely biological. Human beings are not beasts. But it seems equally foolish to reduce those differences to social fads. We are more than what society says we are. There is more to our nature than biology and society.
There is also the soul.
In Pope St. John Paul II’s Theology of the Body, he expressed that the body is the sacrament of the person. This means that the body is the not the primary fact upon which we build an artificial gender. Instead, the body is the outward sign of the the invisible soul inside of us. Our gender is more than skin-deep. It is soul-deep. As stated above, this does not mean that we cannot engage in social actions that traditional belong to the other gender. And this isn’t to say that the characteristics of masculinity and femininity, while distinct, are completely alien to each other. I have known some men to be great nurturers. I have known women with tremendous assertive courage. Men and women share a common, yet distinct, humanity. So there obviously should be some overlap in any virtuous traits. But the wholesale rejection of your God-given manliness or womanliness is wrong.
Pope Francis wrote in Amoris Laetitia “It needs to be emphasized that ‘biological sex and the socio-cultural role of sex (gender) can be distinguished but not separated.’”
God made us male and female. “God created mankind in His image; in the image of God He created them; male and female He created them. (Genesis 1:27) In a Christmas greeting to the Curia in 2012, Pope Benedict XVI said “According to the biblical creation account, being created by God as male and female pertains to the essence of the human creature. This duality is an essential aspect of what being human is all about, as ordained by God.” Our God-given sex is not a mistake, but part of His plan. It is not a disorder to be fixed. To actively work against this plan is to work against our nature and should be avoided.
Now, I will go out on a theological limb here (and I will be more than happy to take correction if I am wrong). But this belief held by the Church does not necessarily mean that all expressions outside of traditional gender norms are not allowed. For example, there is nothing wrong per se about dressing in the opposite gender’s clothes. Milton Berle and Dame Edna did it for laughs. In the movie “Ed Wood,” the main character would wear women’s clothes because it calmed his anxieties. This, though out of the ordinary, is not necessarily sinful. But if it is done as an expression of your rejection of your given sex, then it becomes problematic. If the act of dressing the opposite gender’s clothes is a way of saying that I reject the manhood or womanhood God gave me, then this could be sinful. Intent here is very important. An analogy to this is the Church’s teaching on cremation. They used to condemn cremation because it was done by people as a symbol of their disbelief in the resurrection of the body. However, the Church’s teaching is that there is nothing morally wrong with cremation per se, as long as it is not done as sign that you reject the belief that we will rise again. And to make things even more complicated, we would need to consider the element of confusion and scandal if it at all applies. For example, even chaste unmarried couples are told in general not to cohabitate before marriage because of the scandal caused by the implied fornication. We would have to evaluate the potential scandal transgender actions could cause, if any.
Again, the above paragraph is much more speculative than I would normally be. But our society is navigating in some uncharted waters and I believe the above is in keeping with our our moral bearings.
The bottom line is that you cannot change from being man to woman or vice versa. Your sex and your gender are not disorders to be fixed. They are part of your designed nature. So as the Church must live and teach in truth, it is opposed to anything that would imply that sex is a fluid and changeable state.
However this does not mean that charity should be withheld. Those struggling with transgenderism are usually under severe emotional stress. Most people who struggle with trangenderism feel very deeply that they are not the gender they should be. All around many of them feel judgment for who they believe they are at their core. I have spoken to some who have worked with the transgendered and they have expressed to me that there is a deep brokenness that needs to be healed, but confrontation or contradiction often adds to this brokenness instead of healing it. Patience and mercy are essential here, while never compromising the truth.
And above all, we must always give Christ’s unconditional love, especially to those who are marginalized. Christ’s love is transcendent and transformative and must be brought to the issue of transgenderism.
Copyright 2016, W. L. Grayson