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Meeting the challenge of gender dysphoria at school

Regardless of the pastoral accommodations we might make for children with gender dysphoria, they must be implemented within the context of non-negotiable Catholic teaching on the nature of the human person.

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When most current teachers and administrators were training for their careers, they could not have imagined that one of the most vexing problems at school would be how to deal with children who claim to identify as a “gender” opposite their biological sex. For most of us, as few as ten years ago, the very idea that gender is anything other than biological sex was hardly thinkable. Yet when students return to the classroom this fall, many educators will be faced with precisely this issue.

This short essay cannot resolve the many thorny questions that surround this new experience. But I hope it can help us to take a closer look of some general principles that may provide a framework for how we approach the problem of gender dysphoria in school.

For some purposes, there is simply no room for negotiation or accommodation if we are to live truthful Christian lives and bear witness to the reality of what it means to be a human person. But for others, we can and should accommodate children with gender dysphoria, within the context of searching for a resolution to the confusion.

Physiological beings he created them

Regardless of the pastoral accommodations we might make for children with gender dysphoria, they must be implemented within the context of non-negotiable Catholic  teaching on the nature of the human person. This teaching can be illustrated through two paraphrases of Genesis 1:27: “Male and female he created them.” Both paraphrases help us to see that sexual physiology is essential to the meaning of human being.

The first paraphrase: “Physiological beings he created them.” The purpose of this paraphrase is to emphasize that our physical bodies are not accidental to our beings. Body and soul are an inseparable unit in the human persons. Physiology—corporality—is essential to human being. It is neither accidental, nor incidental. Nor is this corporality separable from the human person.

The “body” is not divisible from the “self,” but rather essential to it.

This is to take a stand against the new “gnosticism,” the contemporary restatement of an ancient anti-Christian heresy, which holds that the body is separate from, and incidental to, the essence of the person. For the modern gnostic, this means that the body is accidental to the self; it is a mere instrument be used solely at the will of the non-corporeal “essence” of the person.

The new gnosticism is at the root of contemporary gender and sexual identity confusion. This is the philosophical aspect of gender theory, the position of activists and ideologues who want to impose this view of reality on every institution in American public life, from education, to employment, to athletics, to commerce and every other public accommodation. Even apart from individual cases of authentic gender confusion, the new gnostics want us to believe that physiology has nothing to do with gender identity and, indeed, that it is bigoted to believe otherwise.

Gendered beings he created them

This brings us to the second paraphrase of Genesis 1:27: “Gendered beings He created them.” We can think of this as the specific aspect of the general understanding above. Not only is physiology essential to the human person, two specific, complementary aspects of this physiology are also necessary elements of what it means to be human. Sexual physiology is an essential aspect of ourselves, no more separable than physiology itself.

Put another way, our sexual physiology is necessary to our gender, not an accidental quality of it. Being male or female is inextricably related to who we are as individual human beings. As created by God and determined by our genes, sexual physiology can no more be changed than can the nature of any other created thing. A person might artificially “identify” as a “gender” other than his sexual physiology. But that no more makes him a woman than to identify as Superman gives him the ability to fly.

The two exclusive chromosomal and genital forms of human being are not separate from the essence of the sexual “identity”—the gender—of the human person.

Gender Dysphoria v. Gender Ideology

We must resist all ideological attempts to deny this essential truth about human sexual physiology, and thus human beings.

But what about those children who are not ideologues, but simply confused? These are kids who don’t know anything about gender theory, but do know that they don’t seem to identify with their sexual physiology the way most kids do.

Without compromising the truth of human sexual physiology, these children must be treated with the same compassion, sympathy, and love that we would treat any other person with any other kind of adjustment disorder. This might include, for purposes of working toward a solution, calling the child by his preferred name and allowing her to use a single-use restroom. Neither of these accommodations cause us to retreat from the essential truth of human sexuality. Of course, these accommodations must be implemented within the context of counseling, to help the child work through the confusion, addressing its causes as well as the symptoms.

But, and here is where it starts to get difficult, we cannot compromise on pronouns. In English, singular pronouns are gender-specific. They refer not merely to the person, but the truth about that person’s sexual physiology—his gender. To refer to “him” as “her” is to participate in the falsehood that gender can change or that it is fluid or malleable. It is to bow to an ideology that is opposed to Christian truth, and thus it is to contribute to and advance in that ideology. This we cannot do.

Catholic educators must be sensitive to the pastoral needs of confused children and youth. But we cannot sacrifice the truth of human sexual physiology. To do so is to deny the very first thing we know about human being: Male and female he created them.


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About Kenneth Craycraft 3 Articles
Kenneth Craycraft is a licensed attorney and the James J. Gardner Family Chair of Moral Theology at Mount St. Mary’s Seminary and School of Theology, the seminary for the Archdiocese of Cincinnati. He holds the Ph.D. in theology from Boston College, and the J.D. from Duke University School of Law.

7 Comments

  1. How about refusing to play along. Use the word sex, which is a simple biological fact, as opposed to gender which is a grammatical matter, or else an exact synonym for sex.

    “Okay, child A. You are a girl and you think you are a boy because you don’t feel the way a girl feels. On the contrary: Since you are a girl, and that’s the way you feel, that’s the way a girl feels. Not every girl feels the same way, and not every boy feels the same way. That’s reality, and we are not going to ignore reality or pretend that it doesn’t exist.”

  2. I agree with the concept of not playing along. To play along is a slippery slope which will not end well as the govt comes to request more accommodations in this area, and others. Once a school says yes to such things, backtracking becomes almost impossible. Witness “safe and rare” abortions now morphing into the discussion (!!!!) of murder of a child born of a botched abortion.Surreal. I suggest that every diocese with a school consult a good lawyer. Have them write up a document which every student, parent and teacher must sign. It should lay out the fact that this is a CATHOLIC school and all teaching and social realities will be conducted according to the views of the Catholic Church. If necessary,have the document state that attendees and employees of the school are expected to adhere to ALL Catholic theology on all topics, and the sexual theology of the Catholic church is the only point of view on the topic which will be recognized or accommodated,including but not limited to same sex marriage,adultery, homosexuality, pre-marital sex or transgender “identification”. Period. Those who do not want to accommodate this should seek schooling or employment elsewhere.

  3. Leslie and LJ are right on the mark. We must stand up for our right to have and conduct Catholic Christian education consistent with the unchanging teachings of God, natural law and as lived by Jesus. Instruction with compassion leading to the truth should not be confused with condoning and allowing our children to follow a mistaken identity along a wayward path. We have the responsibility to hold to these truths which are self-evident: biological sex is gender. Let our voices be heard in the public forums and the public schools as well, as faith in action, so that they will know us by our works and deeds as well as by are words.

  4. With all due respect to Dr. Craycraft, I disagree with only one suggestion in the article. We should not, under any circumstances, use the child’s “preferred” name. It is my belief that this would only cause greater confusion for the child. It’s entirely possible that I missed the point of that suggestion, but on its surface, the child could use that as a cudgel with which to assert his or her feelings, thereby undermining the whole idea of the rest of the process. We should, instead use the child’s given name, & explain why, within the context of treatment. If I misread this statement, please clarify. Thank you.

    • Robert: Excellent point. I also, respectfully, disagree with this one concession made by the author, because it only reinforces the confusion caused by the abnormal gender dysphoria (unless I, too, misunderstand any intended nuance in his suggestion).

  5. Timely article, better to simply say Catholic teaching than to preface with non-negotiable, also best to quote Scripture not paraphrase…and use quotation marks.

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