Over the last half century or so, our culture has been wrestling with the notion of gender and identity.
What once was a solid understanding shared by nearly everyone – that our anatomy determines our gender – has become much more fluid. Today, there’s a growing acceptance of the idea that a person can determine their gender irrespective of their anatomy. And we now have the medical knowledge and technological ability to alter one’s physical traits to mimic those of the gender with which a person feels more comfortable.
But we must stop and ask ourselves, just because we can change our physical traits in this way, should we?
As gender ideology has become a stronger force in our society, we find people younger and younger choosing gender changing medical procedures. We are told that young teens, still trying to navigate puberty, should have the authority, with the consent of the parents, to decide their gender. In Tennessee, the General Assembly has declared that is a bridge too far and has passed a bill prohibiting the performance of gender identity medical procedures on minors.
The Tennessee Catholic Conference, which represents the three bishops of the state before the state Legislature, provided information to several legislators about Church teaching on the human person and the importance of the human body and made the case that the permanent effects of the treatments and scarcity of objective study of their long-term outcomes make limits to the treatment of minors appropriate.
As Catholics, we believe that we are created in God’s image, and in breathing life into us God has imbued each of us, man or woman, with an inherent dignity that cannot be denied or ignored. God created us as male or female so that we can participate in His gift of life.
“Everyone, man and woman, should acknowledge and accept his sexual identity,” according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church. “Physical, moral, and spiritual differences and complementarity are oriented toward the goods of marriage and the flourishing of family life. The harmony of the couple and of society depends in part on the way in which the complementarity, needs, and mutual support between the sexes are lived out.”
Our sex is part of God’s plan. But in the viewpoint of gender ideology, we can ignore God’s plan. In fact, gender ideology teaches that there is no God who creates us, we create ourselves. We are gods. What an intoxicating proposition. Of course, it’s as old as the story of the fall of man in the Book of Genesis. To tempt Eve to eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and bad, the serpent tells her, “God knows well that the moment you eat of it your eyes will be opened and you will be like gods who know what is good and what is bad.”
To reject gender ideology is not to ignore the people struggling with their identity or the pain they feel. We understand that pain is real. The Church teaches us that we must accompany our brothers and sisters as they struggle, while proposing to them God’s truth. But there are ways to help ease people’s pain without irreversibly altering their healthy body.
We can take our cues from Pope Francis. The pope has time and time again reached out to people who identify as transgender with compassion and mercy without abandoning Church teaching.
In his apostolic exhortation “Amoris Laetitia,” Pope Francis wrote: “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. Let us not fall into the sin of trying to replace the Creator. We are creatures, and not omnipotent. Creation is prior to us and must be received as a gift. At the same time, we are called to protect our humanity, and this means, in the first place, accepting it and respecting it as it was created.”