Summary of the Law (said at every Sunday Mass)

Hear what our Lord Jesus Christ saith: Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, with all thy soul, with all thy mind, and with all thy strength. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like unto it: Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Scattered Thoughts on Trans Issues

The sad suicide of Leelah Alcorn, a seventeen-year-old trans girl,* is one of a number of events that have brought transgender issues more to the fore in recent years. An author writing for the Witherspoon Institute has recently argued that Christians should categorically reject trans identities, and in particular that "Leelah's Law," a proposal to ban Gender Identity Disorder Therapy (at least for minors, though I'm not clear on the details), should not be passed.

Trans issues are a category unto themselves in the broader spectrum of queer issues; most people seem to find a gay identity easier to grapple with than a transgender identity, and homosexuality is also commoner and thus more familiar. Further complicating matters are the facts that some people at first perceive themselves to be gay or lesbian before discovering a trans identity, some people identify with both homosexual and transgender experience, and some people feel ungendered, double-gendered, gender-fluid, et cetera.

I am decidedly out of my depth with these things. Being gay gives me a very limited window into the experiences of a person who identifies with the opposite of their biological sex, or with none; and while I do know a very few trans people, I can't pretend to know them intimately, or to speak on their behalf. Nonetheless, I'd like to put down a few scattered thoughts that appear, to me, to be important to the conversation on gender identity as held by Catholics, and by traditional Christians more generally. (In reading, be aware that sex refers to a person's physical or exterior sex, and gender refers to the psychological or interior reality that corresponds, or fails to correspond, with sex.)

1. To the best of my knowledge, the Church has made no dogmatic pronouncement on what determines a person's gender. I could of course be mistaken about this, and if she has in fact made such a pronouncement, then I accept it; however, the limited research I've done has indicated that she hasn't. This is important, because cries of heresy (and, for that matter, of insanity) are not wanting in the discussion of gender identity, and I don't think they're either justified or productive.

Her reasons for not having done so are not, I suspect, as simple as not having been confronted with trans issues hitherto; trans people are by no means unknown in history, though they are admittedly rare, and people who, if not trans necessarily, have at any rate been genderqueer, have been accepted and indeed celebrated by the Church: St Marina the Monk, St Joan of Arc, and St Theodora of Alexandria all come to mind. But the nineteenth and still more the twentieth centuries seem to have been a time when the Church was increasingly called upon to articulate her theology of the body, expressed pre-eminently in the definitions (after nearly two thousand years) of the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption of the Virgin, which -- especially the latter -- highlight the holiness of the body. That the Sexual Revolution, which occasioned the important encyclical Humanae Vitae and the writing of St John Paul II's Theology of the Body, should have occurred in the twentieth century, and so soon after Munificentissimus Deus, is perhaps no coincidence. It may well be that the Church will articulate her teaching about gender with a greater clarity and fullness in the near future; we shall, of course, have to wait and see.

NOTE (6/5/2015): On receiving some feedback and rereading, I realized that what I've written here could be taken as my claiming that the Church has not historically maltreated genderqueer people. That, sadly, she has certainly done. The only point I wished to make was that the Church has not always viewed unusual expressions or experiences of gender as incompatible with the Catholic religion, or indeed with profound holiness, and I think that that suggests that the range of possible approaches to gender -- and, by extension, trans issues -- is wider that the traditionalist Christian of early twenty-first century North America might be inclined to think.

Window depicting Our Lady of Lourdes, who revealed herself under the title the 
Immaculate Conception, in the Cathedral of the Assumption in County Galway, Ireland.

2. When a trans person talks about his or her gender, they aren't suffering from a delusion about the shape of their genitalia. The contention of trans persons is that their body is the wrong shape, i.e. wrong for them: that, internally (that is, psychologically and perhaps spiritually), they are one gender and their body is another. And it must be admitted that, while it may not be susceptible of proof, this contention may not be susceptible of disproof, either. Whether trans people are wrong or right about their gender, the observable facts line up with both possibilities; so that going back and back to the observable facts about their sex organs is irrelevant in itself. The constitution of the sex organs is significant if physical sex is determinative of gender, which is a thesis that needs to be proven, not just assumed -- especially for Christians, who have traditionally believed (it seems) that the soul gives meaning to the body rather than the other way around.

3. Physiologically, sex is not always a clear-cut fact. I'm not simply talking about the bearded lady here. A vast majority of people are one sex or the other, speaking from a purely physical standpoint; but there are individuals, known as intersex people (formerly as hermaphrodites), who exhibit a mixture of both primary and secondary sexual characteristics, up to and including ambiguous genitalia. Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome is in a similar position, leading in some cases to people whose chromosomes are XY but whose sex is to all appearances female, yet with testes in the position normally occupied by ovaries. The ambiguities here are expressed in physiological form, DNA, or both.

The number who have these conditions is of course small, but statistics aren't really the important thing here in my opinion. What matters is that, if we're going to have a rubric about what determines (or, at the least, invariably reveals) a person's gender, it has to be a rule which can explain intersex or otherwise sex-ambiguous people as well, or it isn't a rubric that actually works on the human race as such -- it is only a rule of thumb, not an apprehension of the essence of being human. And questions of trans identity are precisely questions about the essence of being human. Whatever the answer may be, it must be one that is adequate to that kind of question, not just one that works in practice a majority of the time.

4. Theology of the Body treats our own incarnate natures as primarily a way of being a body. Now, St John Paul II wasn't necessarily right, and naturally his teaching will be proportionately less important to non-Catholic Christians; but as a Catholic I don't think it wise to begin by assuming that a Pope, and a saint what is more, was wrong; and in any case, one can hardly study gender as a Catholic and not at least deal with his thoughts on the subject.

His teaching, which is deeply Scriptural and Semitic in its derivation, is difficult to follow, but what I have gleaned from it (guided in part by my spiritual director and by Christopher West) is chiefly that we do not have bodies, but are bodies, in the sense that a horse is a four-legged creature: you could cut the legs off and it would still be a horse, if a rather unhappy and confused horse, but it is by nature a four-legged thing. This dovetails very naturally with the Christian doctrine of final resurrection, discussed at length by St Paul in I Corinthians 15. Gender and sex, then, would seem probably to be not independent realities, but aspects of what it means to be a body, a rational animal as Aristotle has it.

This seems to me to be disconsonant with the idea of transgender identities. The feel of it suggests that the body determines, or (when it is unambiguously sexed) infallibly reveals, the gender of the soul, because it would seem to suggest that gender is simply a word for how the soul animates the body with respect to its sex. However, this is at most a feeling on my part, and I'm not at all sure that it's accurate. There may well be room within Theology of the Body for trans identities; my thoughts on both TOB and trans issues are in their infancy.

Also, this exists. This doesn't have anything to do with Catholic theology
or trans issues, I just couldn't stand being the only person who knew is all.

5. For a Catholic, these matters come to a point primarily in the sacraments of Marriage and Holy Orders. These are the only sacraments in which the sex/gender of the participant(s) is relevant to their operation; in most of the rest of life, including sacramental life, it doesn't have a determinant role to play. As is well known, Catholic theology recognizes marriage only between one man and one woman, and only men as possible candidates for the priesthood.

Now, if one or both parties are physically unable to consummate the marriage, it cannot in our view take place,** but if transgender identities are valid, then presumably so is SRS, and if a trans person got it then I assume on the same premises that they would be eligible to contract a sacramental marriage. As for Holy Orders, given that a vast majority of Catholic priests are celibates, I imagine the lack of, uh, equipment wouldn't really be relevant; so that, if trans identities are valid, a trans man seeking ordination would presumably be eligible in principle. But if trans identities aren't valid, then we get invalid marriages, invalid ordinations, and (via the latter) invalid sacraments out of the deal, which is a huge no-no for the Catholic Church.

6. None of this decides what it is and isn't okay to call people. For the record, yes, tranny is rude, but that's not what I'm thinking of. What I have in mind is, for example, the point that Mr Flores makes in the article linked at the top, where he specifically refuses to speak of Leelah Alcorn as Leelah or she, instead using Joshua and he throughout, and explaining that his reason for doing so is a refusal to concede that transgender identification is right. He has the privilege of doing so, and, as I have stressed, my own mind is not made up on the subject; I don't feel I have anything like the expertise required to have a right to an opinion. (Incidentally, is there any maxim sillier than "Everyone has a right to an opinion"?)

But I do have an opinion of how to speak to and about people, and that opinion is that disregarding their stated preferences is rude. There is a time for rudeness, when it is the only way to get a truth across, though even then it is permissible only when leavened by love; but when it doesn't stand much chance of getting a truth across, I think being disrespectful is unchristlike.

Even if traditionalists are correct in thinking that transgender identities are simply a disorder, challenging them on their pronouns is not in my opinion a useful response. "Whom you would change you must first love, and they must know that you love them," said Martin Luther King, and ironically, things that have to be explained with "I'm doing this because I love you" generally don't communicate love well. Even if you want to challenge a person, you have to earn the right to do so by showing them love first, and it has to be comprehensible love -- love that puts them first, not your own need to be right. And it's hard to set that need to be right aside, never more so than when you are right, but there are times when it must be done. In any event, as my mother told me once, "You are not the Holy Spirit." He can look after His own.

As I've tried to emphasize throughout, none of these points are decisive, or show anybody whose "side" to take in the dialogue about transgender issues. They are simply, I believe, important points to bear in mind, regardless of our convictions or lack thereof, in having that dialogue.

*For simplicity's sake, I am using trans girl and trans woman to mean someone biologically male at birth who comes to identify as female, and trans boy or man to mean someone biologically female who identifies as male. I'm aware that the vocabulary of trans persons gets a lot more complicated than this, and that preferences vary from one person to another, but I am largely ignorant of the niceties of this conversation, so I've been bold to aim for simple clarity over rigorous exactitude. I sincerely apologize if I therefore step on anyone's toes.

**The word cannot must be given its full strength here. It isn't that it can't be allowed; it is that, according to Catholic theology, you could perform the whole ritual and mean it, but nothing happens. This is in contrast to a valid sacramental marriage, of which our belief is that an invisible event does really happen, and is no less objective for being invisible -- rather in the way that a person's father is always their father even though that fact is invisible.


  1. The Church has been pretty clear that the body is determinative of sex, and that sex is what is related to sacramental validity.

    Intersex is assumed to be a malformation of sex. There is no third sex, always a mixing or underdevelopment of male and female traits. These people may have a determinate sex that God knows, that will be restored at the resurrection, but either way we can't risk sex-specific sacraments on the truly ambiguous (and they're usually impotent in the canonical sense anyway).

    "Gender" is a different question. People can "gender identify" however they like, but the church would say that the desire to actually mutilate ones body in order to pass is disordered.

    Still, it may be allowed in extreme cases, analogous to an amputation, to relieve psychological tension or suffering, but the church would likely say that in a truly healthy society the need to physically change would not exist. It seems sort of like the product of a society with very *strict* gender scripts where people feel compelled to make their body "match" their personality, even though personalities probably shouldn't be "gendered" like that at all.

    but this does NOT mean the Church believed it actually "changes your sex." A male with a flayed-and-turned-inside-out penis and silicone bags sewn into his chest does not become a female for, say, sacramental purposes. A "penis" constructed of leg skin and a pump installed is not valid matter for marital consumation. A priest who undergoes SRS does not cease to be a priest.

    1. You may well be right in saying that the Church has already made herself clear, but I personally have not come across her statements on the subject thus far. If you could furnish me with some links, I'd be grateful. The very little evidence I've come across suggests that the Church, when confronted with intersex people in the past, has required them to choose which gender they belong to, which is consistent with a strictly binary view of sex and gender, but my point in raising the matter of intersex people was that the shape of the body cannot be used by itself to determine gender. Intersexuality may well be a malformation of sex, but, if such a lack of correspondence between gender and sex is possible in the first place, that appears to me to make room for the possibility that gender and sex may (in a fallen world) be diametrically opposed, a possibility that AIS seems to me to support.

      I'd add that I dislike the language of "mutilation," something I've seen fairly frequently in discussions of SRS. There is a case for such language if it is indeed true that trans identities are disordered, but I have not seen this proven or dogmatically defined; and if it isn't true, then SRS may properly be a form of reconstructive surgery, and referring to it as mutilation is in that case prejudicial.


    Is it "dogma"? Few things are. But it's the CDF's decision and it makes perfect sense.

    There is a very dangerous slippery slope in your tone whereby you seem open to some radically subjectivist notion. Yet ironically, the idea that "gender" is some fixed spiritual trait that can oppose the body but which is also conceived of as an "essentialist" feature of the soul.

    You yourself know that if you follow this route it leads to total deconstruction. If a female says she is a that enough to make her a priest? Or is surgery required? So surgery now has a sacramental power and human identity is malleable by a few nips and tucks??

    The general need to transition surgically is a late construct obviously. In reality, it seems to come from scripts of gender which are much too "seamless" with the physicality of sex.

    The bootstrapping of "male body" to "masculine" may seem "natural," but demanding that sort of totalizing unity or expecting that sort of "matching" correspondence across different spheres can actually be crushing as the trans phenomenon shows.

    That people feel a need to surgically change is like cutting off your toes to fit into a pair of shoes. The problem isn't really with your foot, it's that society should have a wider variety of shoes, or open-toed shoes. We have "literalized" the masculine and feminine as male and female too much and SRS is the sad consequence of this literalism in the sphere of gender, where gender and sex become collapsed instead of gender being the social construction OF sex that admits of penumbras and abstract cases that escape their originary rooting in the concrete sign. Nope, nowadays if the spiritual doesn't fit the sign...we'll change the sign, dammit! There is no room for paradox or symbolic tension or contradiction in such a world. "If the shoe doesn't fit, we'll cut off the toes."

    I think it will probably naturally exhaust itself. I had a gay friend whose theory was that gay and trans stuff will eventually lead to its own deconstruction because as they are used as wedge issues to deconstruct gender typing in general...once gender IS deconstructed they won't make much sense anymore. What would it mean to "feel female" psychologically if no personality or emotional or psychological character trait was any longer considered "feminine" at all? There will be no "unresolvable remainders" in a world where we don't force the division in the first place.

    1. Thank you for the link; do you happen to have a link to the Vatican's own words on the subject? I'd like to be able to read them in context. I don't dismiss the words of the CDF, believe me, but I am also extremely reluctant to make anything a standard of orthodoxy that the Church has not (or not yet) invoked her full authority to teach -- I'd feel I was overstepping my rights and duties as a Catholic. (For a bishop, that might be a different matter, but of course I'm not one.)

      As to subjectivism, I wouldn't go that far. If transgender identities are genuine, I assume they'd require at least as much discernment as a vocation would; and yes, totally factual objectivity might not be obtainable, for much the same reasons that a totally factual objectivity about one's vocation isn't obtainable; but moral certainty is and, I assume, would be of trans identities, mutatis mutandis. Personally I don't think this leads to deconstruction at all -- if the soul as well as the body is gendered, as trans identities seem to me to imply (though I realize this isn't a universal interpretation), then that would make gender *more* ontologically solid, not less. That bodies and souls could be "mismatched" would not in itself deconstruct the fact of gender any more than intersexuality does.

      I certainly agree with you that our notions of gender are a good deal too circumscribed. I can even allow the possibility that some people who identify as trans would not feel the urge to do so if we had a healthier approach to gender in this culture. However, I'm resistant to categorically stating that that is *the* explanation of transgender identities: I'm not trans and don't know what it's like, and I don't feel that I have the right to say what does and doesn't explain, or constitute, their experiences.

      I'm reluctant to be drawn into a detailed discussion of SRS, for the simple reason that I know little about it. But of course, it isn't necessary for a trans identity -- one trans friend of mine has given a lot of thought to it, another trans friend of mine doesn't feel the need at all.

  3. Well, I think canon law does bar impotent men from both ordination and marriage, and a trans man would necessarily be impotent. So that, at least, seems clear enough.

    For the rest, though, I'm not sure. Since the soul is the form of the body, it doesn't make sense to me that one could have, for instance, a male body and a female soul ... souls aren't male or female, they just happen to belong to male or female bodies. However, the body includes the brain, and if there really is a brain difference in transgender people (as some argue there is), it is very well possible that they have a body which is ambiguously gendered. The genitals have one sex and the brain is the other. Of the two, it's quite arguable that the brain is more important!

    It's hard for me to understand how all this works. I'm female but I don't know what "feeling female" would feel like. It seems to me if you stuck me in a male body, I wouldn't be upset with it, it would just be the body I had. But I'd prefer to trust what people tell me about themselves, that they do know what gender they are and that it does very much bother them to be told to identify as the other.

    Honestly I am not sure where the Church would come down. The general view on amputations is that they should be only to preserve the health of the rest of the body when it cannot be saved any other way. But isn't being transgender a suicide risk? So in that case it would be sacrificing one part of the body to preserve the rest.

    Of course not all transgender people even want surgery. For some, it's enough to be recognized as the gender they identify as.

    And since the Church hasn't told us what to do in such a case, I think it's best if we call these people what they would prefer to be called.

    1. Two corrections: the Church doesn't allow marriage ceremonies for impotent people, because they can't complete the marriage, not because of any confusion over gender/sex. PS, under the Church's definition, women can also be impotent, i.e. unable to complete sexual intercourse, say due to gynecological injury.

      Second, there is no, uh, test for impotence before ordination. Canon Law does prohibit ordaining men who have been castrated, or otherwise have ambiguous genitalia-- but that's a question of practice, not doctrine. The main concern being to avoid any possible confusion over the validity of the sacraments, as our host has noted. Ordination is not necessary for the salvation of the individual being ordained, thus the safest course is to not ordain anyone, except when it is completely certain that he is qualified.

  4. "If transgender identities are valid, then presumably so is SRS, and if a trans person got it then I assume on the same premises that they would be eligible to contract a sacramental marriage."

    Hmm. I'm thinking of two examples from the part of my old ministry work where I did marriage prep (for others, not for myself). The first is that the forms always require listing one's "name at birth," mostly to keep track of women who change their names after their wedding(s). I suppose that, if trans identities are valid, the "gender at birth" would be required and perhaps reflected in a gender-specific birth name.

    The second is that a priest mentioned once ceasing marriage preparation for a couple upon learning that one would-be spouse had received SRS years ago. (I assumed the other spouse knew about the surgery. If not, that's its own impediment.) I mention this to say that it does come up in real life, and that's at least one example of current practice.

  5. Funny that just today this should come out:

    I don't see why the bishop's said anything controversial. All Catholics are welcome to communion unless they are doing something explicitly sinful ... and the Church hasn't made this explicit at all.

  6. Let me say up front that I'm trying to square a circle: I don't want to use words that have a lot of emotional "baggage," nor do I want to be sloppy in my speech. People who experience a disconnect between their physical sex and perceived gender are carrying a heavy load, and I don't want to make it heavier with clumsy speech. But I also think it's important to present the whole Gospel, as we have it, to everyone. So, please understand that I'm trying to say everything in love and respect.

    First, I have extreme doubts about the competence and objectivity of the psychological experts our society throws up. The last time psychiatrists were touting surgery to solve psychological problems, it was lobotomy. They even gave the Nobel prize to the man who invented it. Why on Earth should we trust psychiatrists with sharp objects again, ever? Not to mention the dreary drip of retracted papers, discarded theories, debunked treatments, dangerous drugs, etc. every day.

    Second, while the Church has not definitively addressed transsexualism per se, at least as far as I know, we can gather at least some data from her definitive teachings on more common situations. Specifically, I'm thinking of the use of hormones, and the removal of (non-diseased) tissue. For a male-to-female conversion, the hormone therapy is basically a testosterone blocker, plus birth control pills; for female-to-male, it's anabolic steroids. Once you say that, you can see that there are a lot of people doing it, just for different reasons; and the Church teaching is, the reasons don't matter, since the actions are intrinsically wrong. (The reason it's wrong is that you're shutting down a functioning part of your body, whereas you have a positive duty to protect and nurture your body.) Likewise, removal of tissue is only legitimate if the tissue is diseased and the damage from surgery is less than the risk of leaving well enough alone. (The only exception is donating tissue, which is legitimate if done freely for charitable reasons, and the risk to the donor is outweighed by the benefit to the recipient-- that is, you can donate a kidney to save a life, but not sell a kidney.) I take the first commenter's point about it being equivalent to amputation, done to save the person's life, and I think that's a viewpoint which needs to be taken very seriously. But also, as I said, I have no trust in the psychiatric community's track record on these matters.

    Lastly, I'd say that I've heard many trans people say that they felt like men trapped in a woman's body (or vice versa). I think it's important to say clearly that it's only Gnostics who are trapped in their bodies. Christians are not trapped in their bodies, despite their many failings and sufferings; and ultimately, even our bodies will be redeemed and glorified. We will live out our Heaven in our bodies. Our God Himself took up a body, and lived through the slow agony of that body failing and falling apart under torture. No suffering can separate us from Him, even the deep and real suffering that trans people feel.

    1. I have a guarded attitude toward the psychological and psychiatric professions myself -- I haven't forgotten the Behaviorist aversion therapies and testicular transplant attempts they used to pull on gay men, and as little as half a century ago (coincidentally, around the same time that lobotomies were chic, if memory serves). That said, I think it's preferable to make a provisional judgment based on the best science available at the time when any medical (or putatively medical) question is being addressed; acknowledging its provisional nature, yet seeking a practical solution, if we find that we can do so without manifestly disrupting the good of the people in question.

      As to SRS, I'm not sure it's commensurate with the cases you bring up. It may be. I say I'm not sure because I am, really, not sure. But it seems to me (I may easily be wrong) that, *if* trans identities are valid, *then* SRS is something more like having a sixth finger amputated than getting a weird body modification, like the insane practice of having a toe de-boned so that fashionable high heels will fit better. For, if the psyche is the determinant of gender, then bringing the body's sex into fuller accord with the psyche's gender is in fact therapeutic -- as far as I can tell. I'm out of my depth here, theologically and scientifically, and my own thoughts on this subject are as provisional as they come.

      Third, it is of course quite true that the Gnostic notion of being souls trapped or entombed in bodies is heretical. But I think it's equivocal to treat this language on the lips of trans people as a form of Gnosticism. What a transgender person means (if I have understood correctly) is that the peculiar sexual form of their body feels wrong, not embodied-ness as such, and it is the latter that the Gnostic rejects. Indeed, as far as I can tell -- again, shooting from the hip -- a trans identity has to presume the importance of the body and specifically of sex in order to exist and matter to the person in question, whereas the Gnostic treats the body in general and sex in particular as corrupt and/or trivial.

      Of course, if trans identities aren't valid -- or if, for some reason, they are valid but SRS is not -- then it is indeed a cross to bear; as it is in this period before the Church delivers her considered judgment on the subject (if I'm right in understanding that she hasn't thus far), and as it certainly is in any society that, like our own, derides and distrusts transgender individuals. And you're quite right: no suffering can separate us from Him.

    2. I think the Church's teaching on mutilation could stand to be more clearly enumerated. Is circumcision mutilation? (I general argue yes, God did not make a mistake in making men have foreskins.) What about piercings or tattoos? When a child is born to Catholic parents and has ambiguous genitalia, are the parents told to preserve their child's genitals as they are, or do they go along with the usual medical recommendation to "correct" them into one sex or the other?

      No one thinks something they want to do to their bodies is mutilation, but the word ought to have some definition distinct from our own judgment.

      All that said. Can we agree that, whether or not SRS is allowed, that transgender people may present as the gender they feel they are, and that we should use the pronouns they prefer? I keep hearing that we are not supposed to do this, but I don't see why not.

  7. Gabriel:

    [Sorry if this ground has already been covered, I drafted this before seeing any of the other comments except for the first two.]

    You write, "(In reading, be aware that sex refers to a person's physical or exterior sex, and gender refers to the psychological or interior reality that corresponds, or fails to correspond, with sex.)"

    What puzzles me about this whole idea, is that if physical make-up is not a reliable indicator of whether someone is objectively male or female, then what could possibly constitute "inner" maleness or femaleness? What do those things refer to? Are they asserting that males are objectively tougher and gruffer and dominant, and females are objectively soft and weak and compliant, and therefore if you feel soft and weak inside then you're objectively female and therefore have a right to disregard your physical makeup and declare yourself to be objectively female, and expect others to agree with you?

    If that is essentially what it is, then I'm hard-pressed to understand why I should go along with it, other than to be nice; but on the other hand, niceness is not always the highest consideration.

    Also if that is what it is, then you should be getting an argument from the feminists, who have been telling us for decades that the supposed differences between the sexes (other than physical size and strength, apparently) have no objective reality but are mere cultural constructs. In which case, referring to physical men as women because of their subjective interior self-assessment is another mere cultural construct in the making. And if feminists have the right to fight against the cultural constructs of male- and femaleness, then why don't I have the right to resist the new cultural construct of physical males claiming female identity?

    In terms of whether sex-change surgery is morally acceptable, I agree that the Church hasn't ruled definitively on the matter. As you know, the Church tends to define a teaching when a controversy arises in its regard. Until very recently, proportionally very few people in the Church have taken seriously the idea that one's physical sex does not determine his objective sex/gender. Still, I think the Church has made clear on many occasions in its official teachings that we are not free to do as we please with our bodies, since they don't belong to us but were given us by God. For example if sterilization surgery is forbidden (Catechism 2399), I can't imagine on what grounds a sex-change operation could be permissible.

    [Citations from Church teaching to follow.]

    1. Thanks very much for the quotations from Humanae Vitae. As I've frequently said, my understanding of the subject is limited, and it's good to be able to sink one's teeth into an authoritative document.

      Now, concerning the points you bring up. What exactly a sense of femininity, a feminine soul or psyche, in a male body, is like -- I don't know, I'm not trans. I struggled a great deal to identify with my own masculinity for a long time (partly because of being gay, but for other reasons as well), but I was more inclined to feel genderless, or just generally inadequate, than feminine. Because I don't know what it's like, I am also very reluctant to pronounce on what gender means to a trans person -- it's certainly not as simple as sexual attraction (I read an article by a trans man, i.e. female-to-male, who also happens to be gay); and I don't *think* it's a matter of gender stereotypes like toughness versus gentleness, partly because that seems far too silly to explain transgenderism as a phenomenon, and partly because I've never heard it referred to by the handful of trans people that I know or have read. The fact that tomboys and effeminate men exist (irrespective of sexual orientation), and that trans people don't merely place themselves in these much more accessible categories, suggests to me that when they say they have an interior sense of being one gender versus the other, they are being strictly accurate. Given that some studies have shown some trans people to have a brain structure that resembles the opposite of their biological sex, that makes sense to me. More than that, I can't say; not knowing what it is to be trans from the inside, I'm hesitant to explain it.

      I shy away from the radical feminist assertion that gender is entirely a social construct. We can all admit, I expect, that the cultural expression of gender is in many ways relative, but the conclusion that the thing it expresses therefore doesn't exist seems dubious to me. That aside, I don't know what response, if any, feminism has made to trans identities, or they to it. I haven't read any of them on the subject, and my trans friends haven't brought it up. And yes, naturally, you do have a right to argue against the validity of trans identities, provided it's done with honesty and charity -- I am rather concerned to say that, *in my opinion* and *as far as I can tell,* we as Catholics don't really have enough data to work with to come to a dogmatic conclusion on the matter. Time may change that. Indeed, largely for the sake of trans people not being kept in suspense, I hope it does, in whatever direction.

      Lastly, it's absolutely true that we don't have the right to do anything we please with our bodies, and above all we have no right to deliberately damage them or keep them from working properly -- cutting and sterilization being two prominent examples of the different forms this can take. But, if trans identities are valid, I *think* SRS may be in a different position. For in that case the body, affected as it is by the Fall, has for some reason failed to properly accord with the soul. SRS would propose to correct this lack of accord. If trans identities are valid, I don't see a prima facie reason why such a correction would be illicit; that it would result in infertility would, I presume, fall under the principle of double effect. But of course, there may be factors at work here that I'm quite unaware of, and I've often urged my reticence about judging the matter at all.

  8. Humanae Vitae says, "[T]o make use of the gift of conjugal love while respecting the laws of the generative process means to acknowledge oneself not to be the arbiter of the sources of human life, but rather the minister of the design established by the Creator. In fact, just as man does not have unlimited dominion over his body in general, so also, with particular reason, he has no such dominion over his generative faculties as such [a sex-change operation clearly involves the generative faculties], because of their intrinsic ordination towards raising up life, of which God is the principle." HV 13.

    "In relation to the biological processes, responsible parenthood means the knowledge and respect of their functions; human intellect discovers in the power of giving life biological laws which are part of the human person. ... In the task of transmitting life, therefore, they are not free to proceed completely at will, as if they could determine in a wholly autonomous way the honest path to follow; but they must conform their activity to the creative intention of God, expressed in the very nature of marriage and of its acts, and manifested by the constant teaching of the Church."
    HV 10

    "Equally to be excluded, as the teaching authority of the Church has frequently declared, is direct sterilization, whether perpetual or temporary, whether of the man or of the woman." HV 14

    "The Church is coherent with herself when she considers recourse to the infecund periods to be licit, while at the same time condemning, as being always illicit, the use of means directly contrary to fecundation, even if such use is inspired by reasons which may appear honest and serious. In reality, there are essential differences between the two cases; in the former, the married couple make legitimate use of a natural disposition; in the latter, they **impede the development of natural processes**." HV 16

    "Consequently, if the mission of generating life is not to be exposed to the arbitrary will of men, one must necessarily recognize **insurmountable limits** to the possibility of man's domination over his own body and its functions; limits which no man, whether a private individual or one invested with authority, may licitly surpass. And such limits cannot be determined otherwise than by the respect due to the **integrity** of the human organism and its functions, according to the principles recalled earlier, and also according to the correct understanding of the "principle of totality" illustrated by our predecessor Pope Pius XII." HV 17

    "71. Furthermore, Christian doctrine establishes, and the light of human reason makes it most clear, that private individuals have no other power over the members of their bodies than that which pertains to their natural ends; and they are not free to destroy or mutilate their members, or in any other way render themselves unfit for their natural functions, except when no other provision can be made for the good of the whole body." Pius XIII, Casti connubii at 71.

    [a couple more citations to follow]

  9. "From the beginning of the world, indeed, it was divinely ordained that things instituted by God and by nature should be proved by us to be the more profitable and salutary the more they remain **unchanged in their full integrity**. For God, the Maker of all things, well knowing what was good for the institution and preservation of each of His creatures, so ordered them by His will and mind that each might adequately attain the end for which it was made. If the rashness or the wickedness of human agency venture to change or disturb that order of things which has been constituted with fullest foresight, then the designs of infinite wisdom and usefulness begin either to be hurtful or cease to be profitable, partly because through the change undergone they have lost their power of benefiting, and partly because God chooses to inflict punishment on the pride and audacity of man." Leo XIII, Arcanum divinae sapientiae at 25.

    "The regulation of births represents one of the aspects of responsible fatherhood and motherhood. Legitimate intentions on the part of the spouses do not justify recourse to morally unacceptable means (for example, direct sterilization or contraception)." CCC 2399


  10. Cis, white, christian, male, living along the west coast if that matters, which i don't think it should.

    First I would like to ask you about (middle-aged, middle-income, non-disabled, white)male privilege. It is a concept I am familiar with only by testimony and perhaps some observation, but not one which I have any recollection of being guilty of enforcing, or enjoying.

    I know what you are thinking. "Of course you don't observe it; your mind has no benefit to observing it," or perhaps just "This person is a sociopath," but I have taken the time to read (and learn from) your blog, so I hope you have time to hear me out.

    When I introspect all the major points in my lifetime. School, job interviews, or even common points, like straightening out billing errors (which seems to be becoming a rite of passage for any adult in the first world), I found that while my appearance and title may have had some effect on the outcome, far more potent results came from stance, body language, and words.

    While I empathize with cracking voices (having been a preteen trying to sound manly once) is there some physical or mental inhibition for a female or intersex person from assuming an assertive stance, posture, and tone?

    I can tell you from experience, that a slouch, stammer, and an infirm stance ("maybe I don't deserve this job, i don't know....") is too heavy a disadvantage to be carried by this "male privilege" force, so would it not also stand to reason that having assertiveness and confidence on your side is not only stronger than privilege, but also has the potential to make that privilege inconsequential?

    I'm not so sheltered to suggest racism or sexism or cissexism is non-existent. But, tagging and swearing by a concept like "male privilege" instead of taking action to dissipate it's power is like a climate-change researcher who doesn't recycle.

    Second, (if you're still reading) I'd like to suggest that your rejection by your students is less based on their religion, upbringing, and identity, and more based on a notion that their youth of mind grants them pride in opinions that they feel don't need testing.

    A person of respectable academic prowess (as you yourself appear to be) knows that even if an opinion is convenient, adopting it without its being tested, ESPECIALLY if it's a strong opinion, is irresponsible.

    But let's be a 19 yo student here for a moment. Testing opinions takes WORK. And screw that.

    So, while I've come to reject the notion that "boys will be boys" I think short of an evolutionary leap, "kids will be kids." And, if you've managed to maintain eye-rolling vigilance, I encourage you to keep it up.

    I wish you luck in your newly aligned body, and specifically solidity of your career. While I may not wholly believe that what you have to teach is the naked truth, I think it is a closer truth than many adults enjoy today, and I hope the adults of tomorrow are smarter than me.

    GE 3S

    1. Thank you for contributing (and, for the record, I certainly don't think you're a sociopath). I was wondering, though, whether perhaps you meant to leave this comment on another blog you were reading? It seems to be somewhat at cross-purposes with the post and comment threads.