What follows is an article about a very sensitive topic in our culture today. With this, I invite you into my own thoughts and questions about this topic. I hope this article can offer something new, thought provoking, and helpful in a much needed debate. In this, I do not intend to offend or upset anyone. I simply feel called to open a discussion that is too often not allowed to go beyond quiet whispers or outright name-calling. And, I hope that your considerations of the subjects and questions brought forth would not end when your reading of this article concludes. These days call us to enter into the fray. And, this article will certainly send us into an unravelling fray in our culture’s fabric.
THE COURT CASE
In a recent decision, Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia (henceforth, Bostock v. Clayton), the Supreme Court of the United States refashioned Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. By a 6-3 decision, the Supreme Court included two new categories that Title VII covers, and one of those relates to persons who identify with a sex other than their biological, bodily sex (persons suffering gender dysphoria). Because this aspect of the decision will uniquely impact each tier of our society, I believe it necessary to pan out and view wider issues that are a part of the Bostock v. Clayton legal redefinition of sex. I do not believe Bostock v. Clayton brought the debate about sex, sexual identity, and questions about the ideological transgender movement to a close. The following will open up questions for a much needed dialogue and reasoned debate.
COMPASSION VS. HATE
The climate around issues touching on sexuality, especially debates concerning persons who identify with a sex other than their biological makeup, remain tense, to say the least. Instead of seeking a healthy debate or resolution about the issue, the mainstream arena reduces the argument to only two sides: (1) the compassionate side (allied with the hyper-politicized transgender movement) versus (2) those characterized as rigid, traditionalist bigots. Do you think that these designations actually capture the heart of the debate and help further it? Doesn’t such an angle shift the debate from an effort to get at the truth about sexuality to a posturing for moral superiority? Instead of arguing with the philosophical, scientific and religious underpinnings of the so-called “traditional” side, the politicized transgender movement seems to weaponize compassion. Making decent people feel guilty for believing men and women are different, and that such a difference is wedded to the body, amounts to a manipulation of people’s kindness. Can’t truth hold up to a more nuanced position? It wasn’t long ago that both the Church and open-minded people held a now radical position on civil discourse: That we can both care about people and disagree with them at the same time. Some will try and use a revised version of Jesus to further the guilt, “Jesus would accept and love everyone” it is said; and, this is meant to imply that people who disagree with the ideology of the transgender movement are not true disciples of Jesus Christ. Yet, even on the issue of sin we see in Jesus’ ministry his ability to at once call sinners to repentance and love them unto holiness. In John 8:1-11, Jesus meets someone caught in the very act of adultery. In that moment, he loves her, but he ends by saying, “Go, and from now on do not sin any more” (v. 11). The Church maintains this Christ-like posture throughout history by both judging evil actions as sinful, based on reason and faith, and loving the sinner through forgiveness and calling them to the holiness for which they were made. In this we find a sure wisdom when working through difficult subjects, whether about ideas or judgments of good and evil. The truth about sexuality, however unpopular, is a call not to a suppression of the gift of sexuality, but to a redemption through Christ of that God-given gift. Weaponized compassion does not serve the debate, it detracts from it. And, in my estimation, those interested in actually talking through such a tough issue must endeavor to avoid such manipulative fabrications of opposing sides.
THE PERSON & THE POLITICAL IDEOLOGY
Continuing with our more nuanced approach to this debate, I want to make a distinction between (1) the person experiencing a psychological disharmony with their embodied sexuality and (2) the hyper-politicization of the transgender movement.
Before 2013, professional psychologists named the clinical struggle with one’s sexuality in relation to their body: “gender identity disorder.” The current clinical practice is to call this “gender dysphoria.” Those experiencing the deeply troubling, discordant relationship between their body and self-identity deserve our love and care. Until recently, many in the psychological field believed persons who experience this struggle might be helped through counseling. And, some believed that an eventual acceptance of the body with sexual identity would be a healthy gain for the person seeking help. In most places though, at this time, psychologists are no longer allowed to counsel people toward that end. In fact, in many places, such an attempt to reconcile the person with their bodily existence is deemed transphobic, harmful, and is sometimes even illegal. Is this a truly compassionate way to help those struggling with this issue? Is there no more room for a healthy debate between differing viewpoints on how to best help person’s experiencing gender dysphoria? Those experiencing this psychological distress do need protection and compassion. Does asking for a freer discussion of these practices in the field of psychological really mean someone doesn’t care about persons with gender dysphoria? And it is here that I want to draw the distinction between (1) the person experiencing a psychological disjunction between their “self” and their “body,” and (2) the all-encompassing and intentionally disruptive political ideological doctrine behind the transgender movement. These two are distinct. When critiquing the transgender movement’s mainstream view of how best to care for such persons suffering with gender dysphoria, it is not helpful to conflate the person and the movement. Disagreeing with the philosophy of the politicized transgender ideology (transgenderism) does not make someone an enemy to persons suffering with gender dysphoria. And, disagreeing with the transgender movement’s identity politics does not mean someone denies that people experience such psychological disturbances, nor does it mean someone wishes to ignore the injustices that some of those troubled persons have faced. We can both love the person struggling with the association between their body and identity, and also not assent to the philosophical belief that sexuality is untethered from biology. When the mainstream arena eliminates the possibility of such a nuance, they give evidence of an attempt to further silence debate through evasion and ad hominem attacks. Again, I ask, does this actually help you and me sort through this topic in a meaningful way? How can we speak honestly about what we believe, feel and think when our words are so readily misconstrued? Why does it seem that the thoughtful arguments of those who oppose transgenderism are always given the worst and basest possible interpretation? Does this allow for people to think freely about such an important issue? Does the transgender movement desire to remedy this adversarial quality of the debate, in order to show compassion for those looking for healthy and helpful ways to care for those with gender dysphoria?
The political ideology of the transgender movement needs to be seriously questioned, honestly critiqued, and open to debate in order to maintain its claim to moral superiority. Many of the seeds of the transgender ideology came from a Marxist critique of culture that gained inroads in our universities beginning in the 1960’s and 1970’s. This ideological outlook summons every cultural question to the battle line between an oppressor and the oppressed. In this framework, the question of truth takes a backseat to the question of what they view as systemic, structural imbalances of political power. In this cultural Marxist outlook, sexuality becomes politically malleable and ever shifting, relative to historical experiences, and amounts to a question of power. Isn’t there more to being a human person than politics or the state or power? Such a reduction of all of life to the political seems to truncate the fuller horizon of human experience which seems to include pre-political aspects, like simply being a human being, living in a family, seeking wisdom and spiritual transformation, etc. This cultural Marxism refashions every point of society into a political fight that becomes very dangerous. With it, transgenderism becomes a movement armed by sharpened language that seeks to upend what it considers oppressive norms. When discussing problems with the Bostock v. Clayton decision, and in taking issue with transgenderism, it is this politically charged ideological movement towards which I direct my criticism, not at those suffering gender dysphoria. By morphing the debate from a question about the truth of sexuality into a question of political power, this ideology devolves into a precarious game of intimidation, silencing opposition, and manipulation. Before claiming that I am hyperbolizing or exaggerating the outlook and influence of the transgender movement, think about how close to the problem of sexuality we are? There is nothing so close to you and me as our own bodies and the experience of our sexuality. If a political ideology can inhibit a free debate about something so intimate, and legally codify their ideology while silencing all detractors, then what does that say about such an ideology and its motivations? The issues behind Bostock v. Clayton are, indeed, much deeper than a question of compassion.
RELIGIOUS LIBERTY VS. COMMON SENSE
Like the debates around the legal redefinition of marriage, and the government mandate on employers to offer contraceptives and abortifacients, Bostock v. Clayton will, no doubt, lead to a debate about religious freedom. As recently as 2008, the notion that marriage was between one woman and one man for life was considered acceptable, even while many in the mainstream arena debated that long established understanding of sex and marriage. However, the identity politics machine, from which the transgender movement bases its campaign, has successfully managed to shift the culture with great rapidity. These politically influential forces have made the mainstream consider the above claims about marriage and sexuality not only “traditionalist,” but “bigoted” and “ignorant.” Due to Bostock v. Clayton, business owners, private schools, churches, and religious organizations will be forced to claim that conforming their actions to the beliefs that men and women are different, that there are only two sexes, that being a woman or man is rooted in biology, and that being a woman or man cannot truly change because of a psychological, inner experience is a matter of religious freedom and the First Amendment. Although these many hot-button issues do, in fact, affect the rights outlined in the First Amendment, it is my hope that these debates will not be relegated to the “religious liberty corner” of the cultural debate. After decades of consigning religious liberty to the ever narrowed confines of private activity – by disallowing any permissible impact on society by religious minded people in the name of “freedom of [sic. from] religion” – making the transgender debate one of religion will depreciate its cultural value in the exchange of civil discourse. Doesn’t this Supreme Court decision include far more than a question about religious liberty?
In a single court decision, the highest judicial body in these United States sweepingly redefined the meaning of sex, and then made that philosophical position the legally established law of the land. This debate, however, must go deeper and, for the first time, be allowed in a free and thoughtful manner in the mainstream arena. This debate about sex and sexuality goes after the truth of what it means to be a human being. Think about that: The US Supreme Court essentially decided what one of the most important aspects of humanity will mean for every person in the United States in terms of legal rights and responsibilities. Shouldn’t this debate include a scientific community who can research freely, without interference from powerful forces that offer grants on the condition that those findings never disagree with this new constitutional edict? Shouldn’t this debate include a broader and freer discussion among the professional psychological community, and draw us into a search for truth about the relationship between the person, the body, and society? Shouldn’t economists and legislators and entrepreneurs be allowed to debate the affects this will have on the free market, on business owners, on employers and employees, and local politics? Why can’t adults enter this debate freely, without fear of being called a bigot, when this decision will affect their rights as parents responsible for their children’s upbringing, education, and medical care? Keep in mind, some courts have already attempted to order parents to assist in reassignment surgeries or hormone injections for their children, against one of the parent’s will, even to their prepubescent children. How will this affect the education of our children who will often not be taught both sides of the debate, but will be given an abbreviated and oversimplified rendition of a debate that never was? This court decision also brings into question the nature of government and the balance of power. How can only six electorally unaccountable people, with life-time appointments, unilaterally and radically affect the legal meaning of sexuality, in an alleged representative democracy that includes at least three-hundred million people? If we allow the debate about sexuality and sexual identity to be pressed into the constricted mold of an individual’s private religious thoughts, but do not allow them to impact society, then haven’t we lost our ability to shape the culture according to the love of Jesus Christ? In a sense, drawing a line around Bostock v. Clayton and only allowing questions of religious liberty will eliminate serious debate about the issues underlying this topic. This debate touches on the very fabric of society and, as such, seems to necessitate that everyone, and not simply those of a religious cast of mind, be involved.
GENDER VS. SEX
The Catholic Church’s rich history and tradition of philosophy and theology, upholding the value of both faith and reason, contends that human beings are essentially composed of two sexes, female and male. The Church also upholds the integrally wedded union between the body and sexuality along with the body’s union with the spirit-soul of the human person. The body reveals the person, from the genetic level to the behavioral and societal. This insight about the human person remained a steadfast claim, and an intuitive one, until very recently. The transgender movement, with its identity politics outlook, slowly severed the tie between the body and sexuality through a successful and deliberate verbal slight of hand. This linguistic critique of sexuality began by distinguishing two notions, “sex” and “gender.” Over time, “sex” became identified with the biological and anatomical characteristics of male and female sexuality. And, “gender” became those behaviors and expectations most associated with a person’s “sex.” The transgender ideology shifted this distinction into an outright separation between “sex” and “gender,” by making “gender” a summary of oppressive societal constructs imposed upon “sex” characteristics that became viewed as merely interchangeable parts of a machine. This ideology divorced the link between sexuality and the body. And, in a daring move, this ideology now lambasts detractors as anti-scientific, fearful bigots. The transgender ideology claims that “gender” does not depend on their reworked mechanistic version of “sex,” while at the same time attempting to use studies of the body to prove their divorce between “gender” and “sex.”
In one such example that attempts to shore up their ideology with scientific research, the transgender movement uses brain scans to show a congruence between a gender dysphoric person’s neurology and the neurology of the sex with which that gender dysphoric person identifies. The transgender movement’s claim, in this case, is that “gender” only resides in the brain, while the “sex” of the person – e.g. their procreative anatomy – is somehow divorced from their neurological function and the broader integrity of the body. At times, these brain scans include gender dysphoric persons who have already received hormonal interventions that would, no doubt, effect the neurological structure of their brains. That being said, they highlight areas of the brains of men who identify as men, and highlight overlapping areas with women who believe they are men, and conclude that those women actually are men due to those highlighted overlaps. And, they do this while ignoring other foundational aspects of the biology of sex, like chromosomes that stamp our sex into every cell of our body (XY for males and XX for females), they skew their conclusion by the philosophical presumption that the brain can be separated from the rest of the body. But, isn’t the brain very much a part of the body? And, doesn’t the genetic makeup of the human person lead to a maturing development that inextricably links a person’s neurology with the functions of the rest of their body, such as reproduction? This is where the transgender movement’s weaponization of science needs critiquing, because it seems that they begin with a philosophical presumption (not a scientific hypothesis) and work towards confirming that bias, only to then call that study a victory for their ideology. But, no one seriously interested in debating the transgender movement denies that neurological markers will exist in gender dysphoric persons. Rather, every mental state exhibits various neurological markers, especially when potent chemicals are introduced into someone’s body that primarily effect neurology. The debate is not about whether gender dysphoric people have brains, the debate is about the unity of the person’s body. Can we seriously claim that the brain is completely divorced from the reproductive organs of a person, given that the function of those sex organs include the brain? Far from clarifying the proposition of the transgender movement, doesn’t the appeal to neurology reveal, all the more, a link between sexuality and the body? Furthermore, if “gender” and “sex” need divorcing, in order to claim that sexuality is merely a social construct of oppressive norms, then why promote the extremely intrusive interventions of sex reassignment surgery and hormone injections? Confusion continues, even after these studies – and even if we accept studies skewed by those who receive hormonal interventions – because the transgender movement also argues that “gender” is not significantly impacted by one’s “sex,” i.e. the body (a body which includes the brain).
In this particular case, the transgender ideology wants us to believe that sex works from the society down, through the establishment of “gender norms” that exist untethered from the body. But, is it the case that the biological makeup of men and women plays no part in the acceptance of behavioral norms? Think about the genetically based, biological experience of puberty in males. During puberty, males receive a surge of testosterone levels in their bodies and brains. This dramatic rise of testosterone correlates with a statistical heightening of competitive-aggressive behavior among teenage males, and this gives us the stereotype of the thrill-seeking, danger-drawn young man. Many in the transgender movement would characterize these behavioral norms as a traditional-indoctrination of patriarchally-oppressive socialized gender, and not biologically informed and scientifically understandable dynamics of sexual maturation. Does such a flattening of our experience make sense in light of our common experience, and the wealth of scientific knowledge, regarding the known biology at work in sexual development? Are we to believe that teenage males behave in risky ways simply because they are taught or conditioned by society to act in that manner? Is it really the case that if a female acts in risky ways similar to her male peers, that her behaviors immediately make suspect her sexual identity? Would she be better off, would it help her, to tell her to believe that she is actually a teenage male? This is what the transgender ideology and lobby continue to promote. If a young girl shows an interest in stereotypically boyish toys and activities, the transgender ideological claim is not simply that she is a girl behaving like we would assume boys do. Rather, we are told to believe that she is in fact a boy, if she says that she is one, while also being told that these stereotypes are oppressive and constricting. Which is it? Is there no room in this ideology for what can be a passing phase or budding personality traits, and ones that do not necessitate such a drastic reevaluation of a child’s sex identity? It is important to remember that opposition to the identity politics of transgenderism does not mean a denial of a small percentage of people struggling with gender dysphoria. But, does the existence of such a struggle mean that we have to radically rework our understanding of sexuality, and then legislate from it, based on a redefinition sprung from the psychological experience of those with gender dysphoria?
Those opposing the transgender movement’s ideology are not anti-science, they simply disagree with the many assumptions and philosophical conclusions of those proposing that identity driven political agenda. Those opposed to the transgender movement’s often times misleading use of scientific studies do not oppose science, they oppose manufacturing a study to force results that will only conform to a preconceived, philosophical bias about sexuality. Questioning the transgender movement’s arguments is neither bigotry nor transphobia, it is a part of the scientific method; and, these questions concern the truth about sexuality and how to actually care for those most vulnerable in our society. As I said above, this debate is about so much more than one of “science versus religion” or a carving out of religious liberty for “traditional” beliefs about sex. Sincere and free thinking about sex and sexual identity has essentially ceased, due to the intimidation by the transgender movement which slings epithets of bigotry, anti-science, hatred, phobia, and meanness at any detractor. But, this debate needs to take place, because it is about one of the most essential experiences in our life: What does it mean to be a human being? What does it mean to be a woman or a man? Have we really given six people the right to decide those questions in such a way that will alter the laws, outlook, and practices of every state government, every government agency, every business, every school, and every hospital in the entire country? We need to go deeper into this debate if we actually want to help those in need. We cannot simply “go with the flow” on this issue. We need to be sure that we are attentive to all of the implications of this ideology. And, we need to be willing to question the transgender movement’s oversimplification of the issue, and challenge the pretense of “case closed” due to Bostock v. Clayton.
CONTINUED LEARNING & PRAYING
I want to encourage Catholics, and all those open-minded on this topic, to delve into Pope John Paul II’s teaching on sexuality that has been given the name Theology of the Body. A solid resource to learn more about this very serious issue can be found at tobinstitute.org and on their YouTube channel titled “Theology of the Body Institute.” This issue does go deeper than politics, but it seriously impacts both politics and policy. Because the debate is so heated, each of us needs to spend adequate time learning more about the Church’s rich philosophy and theology, regarding the meaning of the human body and sexuality. The Church’s teachings include far more than the stereotype of a Christian yelling, “God made Adam and Eve!” And, as a Church we need to keep those that disagree with the Church’s teaching, and those struggling personally with issues around their sexuality, in our prayers. There is so much more at stake than simply being “right” about this issue. We need to make sure that our hearts are pure, that we strive for wisdom, and that when we do disagree and debate this issue, that we do so from a place of a sincere charity that honors the other person, while at the same time holding to the truth. This is always a delicate balance. And, for this reason, we must continue to be shaped and formed by Jesus Christ, in our relationship with him through the Holy Spirit, by prayer, the Sacraments, and a meditative reading of Sacred Scripture.