The question of schools encouraging children to make a gender transition is increasingly reported in the media
The New York Times recently reported on a family in Southern California who found out accidentally that their15-year-old daughter had asked school authorities to accept her transition to being a boy. The school had not reported this to the parents, who were then very upset not to have been included in this important decision. The child is also on the autism spectrum, has ADHD and other behavioral disorders.
Should this decision be made lightly when mental health issues are involved?
My first question on reading this was: why was this the solution to what appears to have been a multi-faceted problem. The child did not feel a part of the community of her peers, felt this as gender disphoria, and the school encouraged her to move ahead with changing her gender identity. Why? In hopes of giving the child a better way to fit in?
There are all kinds of issues at play here. There is the matter of parental rights. There is the question of how a child’s dissatisfaction with his or her gender identity should be addressed. And finally, there is the question for Christians of how does this fit with our beliefs about sexuality and gender.
All of these issues intertwine, leading to more questions. How important a decision is it to change gender identity? Is this a healthy decision? Are there other ways of achieving the goal that might seem to be gotten from gender change? Is this a natural process, and is the way of nature to be preferred over artificial means? If this is symptomatic of a condition like ASD, is this really the best way to address it?
What would Jesus say?
For a Catholic, the root question—What would Jesus say?—is answered to a certain degree in the Church’s own pronouncements. We have the document from the Congregation for Catholic Education, Male and Female He Created Them: Towards a path of dialogue on the question of gender theory in education.
In Catholic teaching gender is essential to the human person, as opposed to proponents of gender theory, on the other hand, who see gender as fluid, not truly defining of who we are. In Catholic teaching, I am I as a woman; I am not a fluid non-binary creature. Nature rarely produces a non-binary individual, and even those cases correct to one side or the other.
Does this mean that men and women have to exhibit certain agreed-upon traits in order to qualify? In another Times article, Mars Wrigley, maker of M & M’s, has had to withdraw their signature “spokescandies” due to concerns from Tucker Carlson of Fox News, because the female candies’ footwear had gone from stiletto heels to lower, more comfortable shoes, and the color purple was included, prompting the suggestion that they were also lesbian. Was this a covert effort to take us to gender-neutrality? Carlson worried.
I hope high heels are not the measure of being a woman. Surely in Jesus’ time, women’s feet never went beyond sandals. I do not consider myself less a woman for having preferred lower, albeit still fashionable, heels. (I do in these later times wish I could manage a pair of Versace’s, but I’d rather not break a hip.) The women I see at church, at the grocery store, in the doctor’s office, all wear comfortable shoes—very often, athletic designs. The more chic wear heavy-soled boots in this cold weather. Do they not make the grade as women?
What does it mean to be a man or a woman?
When I was in college gender issues had only just begun to be discussed and acted on, I pondered what it really means to be a man or a woman. Is the extremely feminine or male individual the most to be emulated? To my thinking then, and now, the ideal is rather the person who can be the most fully human within his or her gender, not determined by gender roles, but rather aided by those gender qualities that most enable them to serve God and neighbor.
Gender brings us together
The Church emphasizes the reciprocity of gender in creation: that we are not complete in and of ourselves. Not only do we depend on God, but we also depend on other people—on a partner, on parents, on community members. Gender is nature’s way of ensuring community in the form of the family. Yes, we can find family in same-sex communities; monasteries have exemplified this over the centuries in various cultures. Yes, we can have same-sex couples heading families. But these communities are not progenerative. The Cathars, a heretical sect in southern France during the 12th Century, emphasized abstention from sex for one who would be perfect. Certainly no offspring for this group!
Basically, Christianity, as well as Judaism, hold the ideal of God’s creation of man and woman: that they are “bone of my bone, and flesh of my flesh.” We are not complete in ourselves, but form a body with another, with others. It is in this spirit that we can see our own view of sexuality, as a sign of our unity in community, and not of our unique singularity.
WE are ONE.