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Washington D.C., Dec 31, 2020 / 12:10 pm (CNA).- This article is the second part of Mary Farrow’s two-part series on the Church, gender-critical feminists, and transgender ideology. Part one can be found here.
In their efforts to teach the truth in the face of the transgender ideology, Catholics are finding an unlikely ally: trans-exclusionary, or “gender critical,” feminists, who say the transgender movement hurts women.
But while there are some points of common ground between Catholics and gender critical feminists, there are also important points of disagreement, even on the issue of what gender is.
One point of unity between the Church and trans-exclusionary radical feminists is agreement that the growing transgender movement is especially dangerous to children, who will often outgrow feelings of gender dysphoria naturally, or are led to believe their gender differs from their biological sex simply because they have atypical toy preferences for their biological sex.
“We agree that children should not be subjected to medical experimentation by doctors who profit from ‘affirming’ children, especially girls, in transgender or non-binary identities” in ever-increasing numbers, Mary Rice Hasson, the Kate O’Beirne Fellow in Catholic Studies at the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C. and director of the Catholic Women’s Forum, told CNA.
Kara Dansky, a board member of the Women’s Liberation Front, agreed, telling CNA that children going through the typically-turbulent time of puberty deserve care and guidance, but not medical treatments that could cause them permanent harm.
“A child who is confused about her or his sex definitely deserves compassion and care and guidance to understanding that they’re not born in the wrong body. Their body is fine just the way that it is (barring physical, medical ailments that should be treated appropriately), but we’re all born in the bodies that we’re born in,” she said.
“And we need to learn how to love ourselves physically and emotionally,” Dansky added. “So any child who is struggling to figure out what sex they are really needs caring, compassion and concern and guidance, but not sterilization and mutilation.”
Hasson said she hopes parents are aware of how the growing transgender movement is “radically reshaping how our children understand themselves and others, in ways that are incompatible with Christian beliefs. We need to be compassionate and kind to those who embrace transgender ideology, but we must be wise, and educate and guard ourselves – and our children- against the lies it proposes.”
On Causes, churches, and homophobia
On the causes of transgenderism, feminists and Catholics have both points of agreement and of disagreement.
Feminist Mary Kate Fain, who grew up in a conservative Evangelical church and community, said she thinks that in some cases, an overly rigid take on gender roles has contributed to the rise in the transgender phenomenon. For example, she said that feminists have long fought the gender norm that the only way to be a woman is to desire to stay home, cook in the kitchen, and raise children.
Feminists have argued that women can partake in any role in society that she wishes, Fain said.
But today, she said, a pervasive social message has become: “If you want to stay at home, work in the kitchen, and be feminine, have children, then you must be a woman. And therefore, if you don’t want to do any combination of these things, you must not be a woman.”
Fain also said that from her perspective, some communities with rigid gender roles also speak about homosexuality in particularly negative or disparaging ways. That can lead children in these communities who experience same-sex attractions to believe they were born in the wrong body, Fain believes.
She added that she has friends from such communities who, upon experiencing same-sex attractions, choose to identify as transgender or non-binary (neither male nor female), rather than face the stigma of identifying as gay or lesbian.
“We’re seeing this new ‘trans-the-gay-away’ movement happening, and people think that it’s progressive, when in reality this is happening in some of the most conservative areas across the globe,” Fain said.
“It’s happening in Iran where the government outlaws homosexuality on pain of death, but they’re paying for homosexual people to transition in order to no longer be gay. Then we see it in the United States, where the most red states are where you have the highest rates of transgenderism, and it’s no wonder that this is deeply linked to homophobia,” Fain said.
But Hasson cautioned against the assertion that homophobia in Christian and conservative churches is a significant contributor to the rise in transgenderism in youth. She said the assumption that most Christian churches with a biblical view of homosexuality are homophobic is unfair.
“I can’t speak to the views of ‘conservative’ or ‘evangelical’ churches as such. But I can say that those who adhere to biblical morality, like Catholics who adhere to Catholic teaching, are frequently charged with being ‘homophobic’ because they believe that homosexual sexual activity is wrong, or that the homosexual inclination is not what God intended, because sexual desire should be ‘ordered’ rightly towards the opposite sex,” Hasson said.
“So there’s an unfortunate tendency for those who identify as gay or lesbian to cry ‘homophobia’ when a Church teaches against same-sex sexual relationships or behavior,” she noted.
Hasson said most churches today that teach a biblical view of sexuality do so with the distinction of the action and the person. – the Church’s rejection of homosexual acts is not a rejection of the person, but of the act of sexual relations outside of marriage, which the Church holds is only possible between a man and a woman.
“But there are a significant number, including Catholic churches, that rightly reject the expression of sexuality towards a same-sex partner (which is always outside of marriage, as understood by the Church). We need to push back on the left’s talking point that Catholic teaching is by definition ‘homophobic.’”
Furthermore, Hasson said, she doubts the assertion because Christian parents by and large would not prefer that their children be transgender instead of homosexual, as both transgenderism and homosexuality go against God’s plan for human sexuality.
“…conservative churches and evangelicals who are against homosexual behavior are generally not going to accept assertions of a trans-identity,” Hasson said.
“They both involve deviations from God’s explicit design, plus no parent would prefer a trans-identity over a same-sex attraction issue with a child, given the chemical castration and surgical interventions that are becoming commonplace ‘treatments’ for identity confusion.”
Hasson acknowledged that there are some fringe Christian communities that could be perpetuating truly homophobic attitudes. She also added that she is aware of a small subculture of Catholics who hold overly-rigid gender roles, such as that women shouldn’t wear pants and are not capable or fit to hold jobs outside the home.
“I think it’s not healthy when someone does that and that strain of Catholicism is nothing new,” Hasson said, though she added that the sliver of truth there is that there is a different between men and women, and there are certain social cues used to distinguish between men and women that vary from culture to culture.
“Within that narrow slice, my sense is that someone who’s growing up and feels constrained, if they feel some sort of weight of conscience like – ‘Oh, my gosh. I’m being a terrible woman,’ – they’re also going to be getting a message that there are men or women,” Hasson said.
She said she didn’t necessarily see how someone who failed to fit into rigid gender stereotypes would then assume that they were actually a different biological sex.
“The most fundamental thing is whether you are a female, and that just doesn’t change,” she said.
“And the fact that someone has put you in a box as to how to express that, it would take quite a leap of logic or something to talk that around and say, ‘Oh, that means I must be the opposite sex,’ when everything else that you would be taught in that same environment would say, ‘No, you are one sex or another.’ And your body tells you that. And science tells you that.”
A growing number of people who were given medical treatments to transition their gender, and then regretted it, are now speaking out against the push to medically treat minors with gender dysphoria.
Keira Bell, a 23 year-old woman in the UK, has recently joined a lawsuit against the gender clinic that began her gender transition when she was 16 and wanted to be a male.
At 16, Bell was given hormone blockers to stunt her development as a female, and then was given male hormones. Bell said the treatments gave her symptoms of menopause, depleted her sex drive and weakened her bones, and may have rendered her infertile. At the age of 20, the National Health Service paid for a surgery that removed her breasts, the Daily Mail reported.
It was not long after the surgery that Bell started to question her gender transition. She told the Daily Mail that she felt “stuck” between male and female, and that she didn’t feel she fit with either gender. At the age of 22, she decided to detransition back to female, and to fight giving such treatments to other young people. She said she felt like a “guinea pig” that was experimented on by the gender clinic, without much thought given as to how the treatments would affect her life in the long-term.
Bell is now considered a key witness in a high-profile case against Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust, which runs the gender clinic where she had gone for treatments. The lawsuit was brought against the clinic by a psychiatric nurse formerly employed at the clinic, who is arguing in the suit that children are not capable of consenting to the powerful and experimental puberty blockers and hormones being prescribed to them.
Bell is just one of many people – many of them women – who are speaking out after having gone through experimental gender transitioning treatments as minors and who are now in the process of detransitioning.
Charlie Evans, a 28 year-old woman living in the UK, is in the process of detransitioning after identifying as trans since her teenage years. After sharing her story, Evans was contacted by so many men and women who regretted their gender transitions that she was inspired to found The Detransition Advocacy Network, a non-profit that seeks to support men and women who regret their gender transitions.
Evans told The Telegraph that she attributes her own desire to transition as a young person to abuse that she suffered outside of her family, that made her hate her own body so much that she wanted to cut parts of it off. That experience seems to be common among the people who contact her Detransition network, she added.
“…you can’t be born in the wrong body – it’s our minds that need treatment, not our sex,” Evans said.
This article was originally published on CNA Feb. 13, 2020.
Mary Kate Fain doesn’t agree with the Catholic Church about anything. Or, nearly anything, at least. But she does agree with the Catholic take on gender and identity. And that’s cost her. A lot.
In July 2019, Fain wrote a piece critiquing non-binary gender identities. She questioned why so many of her female friends felt the need to shed their identities as women and to instead identify as “non-binary” – neither male nor female.
Fain published the piece on Medium, an online social publishing platform.
Not long after the article published, Fain was fired from her job as a software engineer. She claims her viewpoints are the reason she was let go.
“I guess one of my coworkers complained about the article and I was fired. And since then it just started the slew of cancellation,” Fain told CNA.
“I was canceled from conferences, and canceled for multiple groups that I was a volunteer in, et cetera. And it just really highlighted to me that they all wanted to shut me up, but what it proved was that there really is a need for a place for women to be able to say this.”
Since her firing, Fain, a millennial and freelance writer living just outside of Houston, founded 4W, an online publication that publishes articles analyzing radical feminist issues such as gender, male violence, sex positivity, and the portrayal of women in media. She is also co-founder of the feminist social media platform Spinster.xyz, and a volunteer with the Women’s Human Rights Campaign.
And she is just one of many “canceled” women.
Why women are being “canceled”
Fain, along with several other women writers, intellectuals, and activists, have been “canceled” for their conviction that women are adult human females, whose sex-based rights, such as the right to female-only spaces like bathrooms or sports teams or therapy groups, deserve protection.
This view is no longer seen as politically correct by some tastemakers and gatekeepers, because it is “trans-exclusionary” – to hold this view means to hold that a man cannot “become” a woman because he identifies as one, and vice versa.
“…this is not something that you’re supposed to say,” Fain said. “We’re supposed to just blindly accept what anyone says about their own identity, without any critical analysis, without any feminist analysis even. We’re supposed to ignore that sex-based oppression exists and just admit, ‘Oh yes, we are what we say we are and that defines our reality.’”
“But I think for any feminist, any real feminist, we know that that just simply isn’t true,” she added.
“Our sex does define certain aspects of our reality, and people are not allowed to say that in today’s day and age.”
Many women who hold this view refer to themselves as radical feminists, trans-exclusionary radical feminists or gender critical feminists, or even “canceled women.”
“Cancel culture” is a relatively new term, used to describe the phenomenon that happens when someone, usually a famous person or one with some kind of platform, experiences a kind of shunning, harassment, or social banishment for doing or saying something with which a lot of people disagree.
Being “canceled” can take many forms: being trolled or doxxed on social media, being banned from Twitter or other platforms, or finding that events featuring the canceled person are quickly, well, canceled.
In January, an event entitled “Evening with Canceled Women” was canceled by the New York Public Library, where the event was to be hosted.
The canceled event was organized by Women’s Liberation Front (WoLF), a group that advocates for the “rights, privacy and safety of women and girls, by which we mean human females,” Kara Dansky, a board member with WoLF, told CNA.
“We were being told over the course of a week that the contract was being processed (for the event), and then the day before the deposit was due, we were told that we could not proceed with the event and we were not given a reason,” Dansky said.
The event would have included the voices of women “who have, in one way or another, been silenced or canceled as a result of their outspoken views on behalf of women and girls,” she added.
For example, the event would have featured Canadian feminist Megan Murphy, an advocate against pornography and prostitution whose insistence that women are female got her banned from Twitter, Dansky said.
It would also have included Posie Parker, a UK feminist known “for her insistence that the word woman means adult human female, which is simply the dictionary definition of the word,” Dansky said. Parker has also been banned from Twitter for her views.
The event also would have featured Linda Bellows, a Briton “who speaks on behalf of lesbian rights. And she has been told that it is transphobic to insist that lesbians are women who are attracted to women,” Dansky said.
These canceled women join a slew of others, with particularly high numbers in the UK, where the 2004 Gender Recognition Act lets adults register their gender as something other than the biological sex with which they were born.
Common ground with the Catholic Church
While trans-exclusionary radical feminist women typically hold many views with which the Catholic Church disagrees, such as approval of abortion and gay marriage, they share common ground in the belief that women are female and men are male – and they are born that way.
“It has been a tremendous plus to have radical feminists speaking out so strongly about the reality of sexual difference and against the new tyranny of gender,” Mary Rice Hasson, the Kate O’Beirne Fellow in Catholic Studies at the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C. and director of the Catholic Women’s Forum, told CNA.
“Although we disagree about many things – most significantly about abortion-– we agree on some important truths about women,” she said, such as opposing violence and exploitation against women, as well as “the importance of acknowledging the reality of sexual difference and the dangers of the transgender agenda.”
“Specifically, we agree that sexual difference is real, that males and females are different in significant ways, and that a person’s sex cannot change,” Hasson said.
“The Church’s vision of the human person differs radically from gender ideology,” Hasson noted. “Christian anthropology teaches that the person is a unity of body and soul, that we are created male or female, forever.”
“Gender ideology, in contrast, imagines the person as a bundle of assorted dimensions,” she said, such as gender identity, gender expression, sexual orientation, and biological sex, none of which “needs to align – the person is self-determining. God is really not in the driver’s seat.”
Fain said she agrees that gender identity, “this idea that we have an internal sense of being male, female or neither, and that this has any effect on our material reality, is nonsense.”
Dansky, whose group’s primary goals are to fight violence against and exploitation of women in rape, sexual and domestic assault, and pornography and prostitution, said that her work is made nearly impossible in the context of broad social disagreement about what makes someone a woman in the first place.
“It’s very difficult to solve all of those problems when we’re not permitted to name the category of women,” she said.
“It’s very interesting to me that when our society talks about domestic violence and rape and sexual assault, and we talk about the rampant rates of these crimes being perpetrated against women and girls, everybody knows what the words ‘women’ and ‘girls’ mean.”
In light of increasing acceptance of transgender ideology, the Vatican’s Congregation for Catholic Education’s issued a document entitled “Male and Female He Created Them” in June 2019, explaining the Church’s teaching on transgender issues and encouraging dialogue with those experiencing gender dysphoria.
The document cited the need to reaffirm “the metaphysical roots of sexual difference” to help refute “attempts to negate the male-female duality of human nature, from which the family is generated.”
Such a negation “erases the vision of human beings as the fruit of an act of creation” and “creates the idea of the human person as a sort of abstraction who ‘chooses for himself what his nature is to be.’”
Theories of gender, whether moderate or radical, agree that “one’s gender ends up being viewed as more important than being of male or female sex,” according to the document, which also reflects on the role of gender theory in education and speaks of a “crisis” in any alliance between the school and the family.
“Although ideologically-driven approaches to the delicate questions around gender proclaim their respect for diversity, they actually run the risk of viewing such differences as static realities and end up leaving them isolated and disconnected from each other,” it said.
The document called for dialogue, and the protection of human and family rights. It also decried unjust discrimination and noted points of unity among people with different perspectives on gender ideology.
Looking for concrete examples of common ground, Fain told CNA that she thinks that protecting the freedom of speech of those who oppose transgenderism will be one of the most important things that radical feminists and Christians can work together for.
“(W)e need to deal with this freedom of speech issue that’s happening and cancel culture, which is making most people terrified to speak out on the issue,” she said.
Fain noted that when she wrote the controversial article that got her fired, she had anticipated the backlash and had been saving for months to protect herself from the blow. She recognized that most people cannot afford to lose their jobs for speaking up on this issue.
“Most people can’t, and especially women who are already at a financial disadvantage are more likely to be caring for kids,” she said.
“And people are terrified to speak out on this issue because of the serious economic consequences that are happening.”
“And although I have many issues with the right in general, I will say that I think religious freedom and freedom of speech do go hand in hand,” Faid added.
“And so the Church’s work on that is probably relevant here.”
Hasson identified women like Fain as “key allies” in the fight against transgenderism going forward, and said she looks forward to working with them despite differences on other issues.
“Radical feminists have been fearless in speaking the truth about sexual difference – over social media, at universities, and in public hearings. They have refused to be silenced – even after being ridiculed, ‘de-platformed’ at public universities, or having their Twitter accounts shut down,” Hasson said.
“We differ greatly about abortion and our views of men, but I am hopeful that our work together and personal regard for each other will open up some opportunities in the future for discussions about those areas where we disagree. But for now, I’m grateful for their commitment to speak the truth, even at great personal cost.”
This article was originally published on CNA Feb. 10, 2020.
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