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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