Father Roger J. Landry, a priest of the Diocese of Fall River, is national chaplain for Catholic Voices USA.
Because of the times we are living in, Pope Francis has spoken out repeatedly about the dangers of “gender ideology,” a modern form of Gnosticism that not only undermines our basic understanding of anthropology but also of reality.
He has made a distinction between the welcome, support, accompaniment and loving pastoral care that we must offer to those who say they’re “transgender” — whose sexual self-understanding does not align with their biological sex — and pretending and teaching others that there really are men trapped in women’s bodies and women in men’s.
While we must affirm their dignity of those who believe themselves to be “transgender” and defend their fundamental human rights to be free of violence and unjust discrimination, he says, we must also be clear about the danger that the ideology of gender poses to individuals and to society.
“We are called to protect our humanity,” Pope Francis stated in his exhortation on the family, “and this means, in the first place, accepting it and respecting it as it was created.” It is “one thing to be understanding of human weakness and the complexities of life and another to accept ideologies that attempt to sunder what are inseparable aspects of reality” (Amoris Laetitia 56).
Our sex is a basic part of human nature, just like our genes, race, age and species. It’s an objective fact, not a subjective choice, mental state or feeling. To deny that is to deny our humanity. Gender ideology, he said in a 2015 General Audience, is therefore a “step backward. The removal of [sexual] difference in fact creates a problem, not a solution,” a problem not just for those with gender dysphoria but for everyone.
And yet our culture is recklessly sprinting backward.
Earlier this week, the Judiciary Committee of the House of Representatives gave first hearing to the Equality Act of 2019, which aims to amend the Civil Rights Act of 1964 — which banned discrimination based on “race, color, religion, sex or national origin” — by changing its definition of “sex” to include “sexual orientation” and “gender identity,” the latter defined as “gender-related identity, appearance, mannerisms or characteristics, regardless of the individual's designated sex at birth.”
Similarly, during the United Nations’ Commission on the Status of Women last month in New York, there was a push by the U.N. LGBTI Core Group — representing 28 countries, the U.N. high commissioner for human rights and the NGOs Human Rights Watch and Outright Action International — to change the meaning of “woman” to include those who claim to be women, “no matter their sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression and sex characteristics.”
Whereas everyone once knew what “woman” meant based on her bodily nature — her two X chromosomes, capacity for motherhood, female hormones, internal reproductive organs, external genitalia, secondary sex characteristics — proponents of gender ideology are asserting that bodily nature has nothing intrinsically to do with womanhood beyond how sex is “assigned” at birth.
Womanhood, rather, is the way one thinks about oneself or expresses oneself, based on sexual stereotypes like the clothes and shoes one wears, the hobbies or sports one enjoys, the makeup one dons, etc. Manhood is similarly a state of mind rather than a biological and bodily reality. The person is reduced to spirit and will and the human being almost becomes a disincarnate abstraction until one discerns what nature and gender one is or wants to be.
Gender ideology, however, doesn’t stop at profound anthropological confusion. As we are witnessing in Washington, the U.N. and various state and national capitals, those promoting it are trying to reorder society according to that confusion, with profound consequences not just in terms of law, education, economy, health, safety, sports, language and culture, but also in terms of human rights, marriage and family, motherhood and fatherhood, and the cause of women, men and especially children.
Let’s focus on the harm to four groups.
First, to women. Changing the definition of woman to include biological men who identify as women means, de facto that what women have fought so hard to achieve over recent decades in terms of jobs, education and sports — and what is necessary for their safety in terms of shelter, bathrooms and locker rooms — will no longer be protected. Any biological man saying he is a woman would now be entitled to whatever a biological woman is.
Employers who want to save on parental leave but still claim gender balance can employ biological men who believe they’re women instead of biological women.
Boys claiming to be girls — with their physical advantages in terms of muscle mass and type, bone density, heart, lungs and natural performance enhancing hormones — can compete against girls and take their championships (and no doubt soon scholarships), and in violent contact sports also put them at greater risk for serious injury.
Women who have suffered violence from men will have to endure biological men entering battered women’s shelters, bathrooms and locker rooms, no matter the trauma to their sense of safety.
And the opportunity for those who want to exploit such facile, subjective redefinitions of personal identity are already sadly in evidence: rapists who self-identify as women to enter women’s prisons to rape again; voyeurs or exhibitionists who identify as women or girls to enter women’s bathrooms and locker rooms at their will and pleasure; careerists who want to improve their chances for jobs identifying as women to take advantage of gender parity policies.
Second, to children. Pope Francis is particularly concerned about gender ideology being taught to kids, so that boys and girls are encouraged to question, at their earliest ages, whether they are a boy or a girl and are taught, at a time when gender nonconformity is higher, that they can choose their gender.
Rather than solid anthropology, gender ideologues indoctrinate them in arbitrary categories (like those found in the “gender unicorn”), which is a form of intellectual child abuse.
Worse, however, is what is happening medically with children who experience gender dysphoria. Rather than treating the underlying issues of gender nonconformity, children are being encouraged to transition socially at a very young age and adopt opposite-sex name, habits and expressions.
As pre-pubescents, they are then being given puberty blockers — which are not even Food and Drug Administration-approved for this purpose — despite the fact that they arrest bone growth, decrease bone density, stop the formation of sex cells, and leave them physically behind their maturing peers.
When they reach the general age of puberty, they’re being given cross sex hormones in very high doses, despite foreseeable side effects in terms of bone mineral density, lipid profile, cardiovascular problems and cancer. And finally, as early as 13 in some places, they’re being helped to have sex reassignment surgery, surgically removing their external sex organs and replacing them with a simulation of opposite sex organs.
All of this is happening despite the fact that longitudinal studies have shown that 85% of children with gender identity disorder do not persist in dysphoria in adolescence.
Once, however, children begin the four-step pathway of social transition, puberty blockers, cross sex hormones and reassignment surgery, it’s rare that they revert. Parents who seek to prevent this pattern are treated as facilitators of their children’s future suicide or uncaring bigots, and in some countries have even begun to lose their children.
Third, to those with gender dysphoria. Studies in Sweden have shown, for example, that despite a culture strongly supportive of those who identify as “transgender,” the suicide rate 10-15 years after sex reassignment surgery is 19 times that of comparable peers, including groups who also experience some form of social stigma. How come? Because you can’t fool nature.
All non-ideological, commonsensical thinkers recognize that there is something awry when someone thinks he is a man trapped in a woman’s body, or vice versa, in a similar way to those who think they’re trans-species or transracial. Such dysphoria is not remedied by everyone else’s feigning the emperor is an empress. But there’s a vast cultural conspiracy pretending that those with gender dysphoria are psychologically healthy and normal, and that their only issues concern integration within the larger culture. It’s medical, psychological, cultural and ethical malpractice of the highest measure.
The last group is everyone in society, as gender ideology seeks to compel us to suppress our common sense and knowledge of elementary biology and play along with the fiction. All of us will have to change our pronouns, or pay fines or lose jobs.
Individuals and institutions that fail to abide by the zeitgeist will suffer severe consequences for civil rights violations. Medical professionals, despite their oath first to do no harm, will have to prescribe puberty blockers and opposite sex hormones and to perform surgeries. Women and girls will have to live with the new situation that treats trans-women and biological women as legally identical. Families that try to give their children adequate psychological care to treat underlying issues may be found guilty of civil rights abuses and lose their children.
All of this will likely continue until children who have suffered all of the consequences of puberty blockers, cross sex hormones and amputations as minors grow up and begin to sue the medical establishment for the irreversible damage done to them.
These radical changes, however, are not inevitable. But if they’re going to be halted, those who see clearly, truthfully and charitably need to act now to protect our humanity and defend and help those who are vulnerable.