Listen to the L.G.B.T. person: a response to the Vatican’s gender theory document

Revelers carry a rainbow flag along Fifth Avenue during the L.G.B.T. Pride Parade in New York on June 24, 2018. (AP Photo/Andres Kudacki, File)Revelers carry a rainbow flag along Fifth Avenue during the L.G.B.T. Pride Parade in New York on June 24, 2018. (AP Photo/Andres Kudacki, File)

In recent years the Vatican (including popes, congregations and dicasteries) have expressed concern over “gender theory” and “gender ideology.” The latest document from the Congregation for Catholic Education, titled “Male and Female He Created Them,” is the most comprehensive treatment of the topic yet. As America’s Vatican correspondent, Gerard O’Connell, reports, the document comes from a Vatican Congregation and was not signed by Pope Francis, so it is not intended as the “final answer” on the topic.

Gender theory is a notoriously slippery term. Broadly, it refers to the study of gender and sexuality and how those two realities are determined naturally (that is, biologically) and/or socially (that is, culturally). Usually it includes the study of the experiences of gays and lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people, and all those who identify as “queer,” another often-ambiguous term that can mean (but does not always mean) a decision to identify oneself outside of categories like male or female, or gay or straight.

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The congregation’s new document is an explicit call for dialogue, which all should welcome.

For some critics, gender theory also represents an “ideology” that seeks to impose itself on others, “encouraging” or “forcing” some people, especially youth, to question and restate their own sexuality and gender. In some church circles, especially in the developing world, it is often linked to a form of “ideological colonialism” that seeks to impose Western ideas of sexuality and gender on developing nations. Pope Francis has several times adverted to this belief.

The congregation’s new document should be praised for its call for “listening” and “dialogue.” The subtitle is important: “Towards a Path of Dialogue on the Question of Gender Theory in Education.” It is an explicit call for dialogue, which all should welcome. It speaks of a “path,” which indicates that the church has not yet reached the destination. It focuses on the “question” of gender theory in education, which leaves some degree of openness, and is thus addressed mainly to educators and “formators,” including those responsible for the training of priests and members of religious orders.

Another positive aspect of this document is its clear call to “respect every person in their particularity and difference” and its opposition to “bullying, violence, insults or unjust discrimination.” It also praises “the ability to welcome all legitimate expressions of human personhood with respect.”

The document’s conclusion speaks of the path of dialogue, which includes “listening, reasoning and proposing.” As such, it leaves open room for further developments and also avoids some of the harsh language of other Vatican pronouncements on sexuality and, especially, on homosexuality.

This traditional view, however, is contradicted by what most biologists and psychologists now understand about both sexuality and gender.

Let me, then, engage in the respectful dialogue called for, as someone who ministers to L.G.B.T. people.

What does the congregation propose? Essentially, and unsurprisingly, its document restates the traditional Catholic view of sexuality: Men and women are created (as heterosexuals) with fixed sexual and gender roles. This traditional view, however, is contradicted by what most biologists and psychologists now understand about both sexuality and gender. These contemporary advances in understanding human sexuality and gender have been set aside by the congregation in favor of a binary understanding of sexuality. Even the term “sexual orientation” is put into quotes in the document, as if to call that very notion into question.

[What do you think about the Catholic Church and transgender issues? Let us know in our short reader survey]

The crux of the congregation’s argument is in this understanding of gender: “This separation [of sex from gender] is at the root of the distinctions proposed by different ‘sexual orientations’ which are no longer defined by the sexual difference between male and female, and can then assume other forms determined solely by the individual, who is seen as radically autonomous.”

One objection to that proposition is that it ignores the real-life experience of L.G.B.T. people. In fact, the document’s primary partners for conversation seem to be philosophers, theologians and older church documents and papal statements—not biologists or scientists, not psychiatrists or psychologists, and not L.G.B.T. people and their families. If more people had been included in the dialogue, the congregation would probably find room for the now commonly held understanding that sexuality is not chosen by a person but is rather part of the way that they are created.

If more people had been included in the dialogue, the congregation would probably find room for the now commonly held understanding that sexuality is not chosen by a person but is rather part of the way that they are created.

In fact, for a document that relies so heavily (albeit implicity) on natural law, it ignores what we increasingly understand about the natural world, where we see men and women attracted to the same sex, men and women feeling a variety of sexual feelings throughout their lifetimes, and men and women finding themselves more on a spectrum than on any fixed place when it comes to sexuality and, occasionally, even gender.

The congregation also suggests that discussions about gender identity involve an intentional choice of gender by an individual. But people who are transgender report that they do not choose their identity but discover it through their experiences as human beings in a social world. 

Again, the document largely neglects to engage in discussions about new scientific understandings and discoveries about gender. It relies mainly on the belief that gender is determined solely by one’s visible genitalia, which contemporary science has shown is an incorrect (and sometimes even harmful) way to categorize people. Gender is also biologically determined by genetics, hormones and brain chemistry—things that are not visible at birth. The congregation’s document relies heavily on categories of “male” and “female” that were shaped centuries ago, and not always with the most accurate scientific methods.

The document relies mainly on the belief that gender is determined solely by one’s visible genitalia, which contemporary science has shown is an incorrect (and sometimes even harmful) way to categorize people.

The document is also undergirded by the notion of “complementarity,” which means that based on their gender (male and female), men and women have separate roles. In a sentence sure to raise eyebrows the congregation writes, “Women have a unique understanding of reality. They possess a capacity to endure adversity…” Not men? Such ideas reinforce stereotyping and prevent both men and women from rising above precisely those cultural constructs that the Vatican often rightly decries.

The most unfortunate aspect of this document is the way the congregation understands transgender people. (Oddly, in a document about gender and sexuality, the words “homosexual” or “homosexuality” are absent.) Consider this passage: “This oscillation between male and female becomes, at the end of the day, only a ‘provocative’ display against so-called ‘traditional frameworks’, and one which, in fact, ignores the suffering of those who have to live situations of sexual indeterminacy. Similar theories aim to annihilate the concept of ‘nature’ (that is, everything we have been given as a pre-existing foundation of our being and action in the world), while at the same time implicitly reaffirming its existence.”

In this formulation, transgender people are being “provocative” and are either consciously or unconsciously trying to “annihilate the concept of ‘nature.’” Friends and family members who have accompanied a transgender person through their attempts at suicide, their despair over fitting into the larger society, or their acceptance that God loves them will find that sentence baffling and even offensive.

Perhaps the most thoughtful response to this approach comes from a Catholic deacon, Ray Dever, who has a transgender child and wrote about his family’s experience in U.S. Catholic. As he writes, “Anyone with any significant first-hand experience with transgender individuals would be baffled by the suggestion that trans people are somehow the result of an ideology. It is a historical fact that long before there were gender studies programs in any university or the phrase gender ideology was ever spoken, transgender people were present, recognized, and even valued in some cultures around the world.”

The most likely short-term result of “Male and Female He Created Them” will be to provide ammunition for Catholics who would deny the reality of the transgender experience, who would label transgender people as simple ideologues, and who would deny their real-life experiences. It will most likely contribute to a greater feeling of isolation, a greater feeling of shame and a greater marginalization of those who are already marginalized in their own church: transgender people.

Let us return to the more positive aspect of this document, which could be the long-term result: the call for listening and dialogue. The congregation seems sincere in its invitation. The church, like the rest of society, is still learning about the complexities of human sexuality and gender. The next step, then, could be for the church to listen to responses from those that this document most directly affects: L.G.B.T. people themselves.

Let the dialogue begin.

[What do you think about the Catholic Church and transgender issues? Let us know in our short reader survey]

Read David Cloutier's response to the document on gender theory from the Vatican's Congregation for Catholic Education.

Rhett Segall
1 week ago

I'm not talking about the book of Revelation (the Apocalypse), Michael, but that God has spoken to us (Revealed Himself to us) in the Scriptures and in His Son, Jesus. In the book of Genesis, which Jesus affirmed, we are told that as male and female we are in God's image. (Gen. 1:27)

J Jones
1 week ago

Michael, don't bother. Rhett stated that abortion kills what "men hold most glorious" in women and kills "what most makes her her".

Michael Bindner
1 week ago

Q can be questioning or queer. Queer is deliberately outrageous. It is a self-affirmation in reaction to reactionary oppression, especially from the Catholic Church and White Evangelicals.

J Jones
1 week ago

Michael, I really appreciate your understanding of the word "queer". Again, keep speaking.

Michael Bindner
1 week ago

I know and am related to at least 3 LGBTQIA pew people. None are queer, although my grad school roommate was. I used to help him answer questions about after hours parties at Trax (a gay nightclub in DC), not because I am gay or queer but because I answers the phone first and was mostly a good roommate.

Michael Bindner
1 week ago

It is amazing how normal the vast majority of gay people are. And how nice. Those that object to them, not so much.

J Jones
1 week ago

I agree. I am straight and I have chosen to spend my life around kind, wise Catholics which has resulted in my having a lot of gay friends. One of the most painful and joyful experiences I had while working in a Catholic-run homeless shelter was when a homeless woman told me she had been afraid to accept our offer of emergency housing because her Catholic family had told her she was sinful and an abomination, trash in God's eyes. I only learned this a year later when she accompanied us to a Holy Thursday Mass where we washed each other's feet. She was suicidal when she moved in with us. By Holy Thursday, that woundedness had healed and she knew we loved her exactly as she was; she knew we hoped she would find love and have a family; she and I together had found her a welcoming and affirming church in her own tradition and I participated fully in those services with her until she had a community there and no longer needed my accompaniment there. The last time I went to services with her at her church was that Triduum, after she had moved into permanent housing. We left together to do our regular volunteer gig at a soup kitchen together. While we put away tables, she told me how afraid she had been we would not welcome and love and serve her because of how hateful other Catholics had been. I already knew I had done the right and honest thing by choosing Christian discipleship over a life of vowed obedience to the RCC but she taught me I had also done the truly loving and Catholic Christian thing by making that decision because -- having refused obedience to an institution that taught her family to speak and behave in hateful ways --- I was able to include her with open arms in our lives as she made her way on the path to her own healthy, Christ-filled life.

Richard Markiewicz
6 days 16 hours ago

Thank you for be Christs hands in the world. We need more people like you and less judgemental Pharisees.

John Orsulan Jr
6 days 12 hours ago

Hello Michael, Is it TRUE that the Gay Man who started the AIDS Epidemic in the Late 70s or Early 80s had Hundreds of Homosexual Sexual Partners? I just thought You would be the Person to Ask? Thanks, Servant of Jesus Christ, John

J Jones
5 days 18 hours ago

No, it is not true. https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.nytimes.com/2016/10/27/health/hiv-patient-zero-genetic-analysis.amp.html

Promiscuity by some gay men is a fact about some gay men. Promiscuity by some gay men is not a fact about all gay men.

Promiscuity is a behavior of some human beings. Some straight people are promiscuous. Some gay people are promiscuous. Most promiscuous people are straight people. Promiscuity is not an intrinsic trait of human beings, straight or gay.

Basic logic: It is true that all roses are flowers. It is true that some flowers are roses. It is NOT true that all flowers are roses.

Maria Alderson
1 week ago

I think you're being too hard on the document, Father.

Michael Bindner
1 week ago

I think you are being too easy on the closeted gay and even more abnormal Asexuals who are closeted to themselves.

Colin Jory
1 week ago

A male, by definition, is someone with male dna, manifested in male genitalia.. A male who has a deep conviction that he's a woman in a male body is simply wrong, and suffering a delusional disorder. Ditto for a woman who thinks she's a male in a female body. That's objective science, not lately-discovered discriminatory prejudice, hate-crime, etc.

Mary Gail Frawley-O'Dea
1 week ago

Actually no, it is science. https://bigthink.com/mike-colagrossi/transgender-brains-more-closely-resemble-brains-of-the-sex-they-align-with-rather-than-what-they-were-born-with

Jessica Pegis
1 week ago

Actually, it couldn't be objective science because the question of whether transgenderism is a delusion or a mental illness has been deeply considered by researchers, medical associations, hospitals, gender clinics, and individual physicians for more than two decades at this point. And the conclusion is that people who experience gender dysphoria are not mentally ill. Perhaps if you met a couple of people who had transitioned and were comfortable in their bodies and had a chance to speak with them you wouldn't dismiss them as delusional. It's kind of moot anyway because all future physicians take psychology in premed (now classified as a life science as opposed to a social one) and every legitimate university teaches that anatomy is given, gender is constructed, and transgenderism is not a delusion.

J Jones
1 week ago

Well stated, Jessica.

Mary Gail Frawley-O'Dea
1 week ago

Excellent points!

Colin Jory
1 week ago

Jessica, what you say simply makes no sense. Men who think they're women, and women who think they're men, necessarily think there's something wrong with themselves. They think that they don't have the body they should have. What's more, they don't think their felt-sex has been "constructed": they think it is of their essence, a defining feature of what they are, always have been and always will be. Often they attempt to part-rectify the self-supposed disorder with which they think they have been afflicted by dressing up the way the opposite sex does; or by having surgery or taking drugs to make their bodies look more like those of the opposite sex. To say that someone is biologically male but is female by gender (a noun misappropriated from the lexicon of grammar) is simply dishonest word-play intended to obscure the reality that what is meant is simply that the person feels female but isn't.

Jessica Pegis
6 days 22 hours ago

I'm not sure transgender people "think" as you say they do; if I were you, I would listen more and speculate less. What I was pointing out in my comment is that gender dysphoria is not classified as a mental illness by mental professionals because it doesn't meet the criteria for mental illness or delusion. Nonetheless, transgender people usually undergo a psych evaluation in the course of their treatment. Hope that helps.

J Jones
6 days 19 hours ago

Jessica, good clarification

Mary Gail Frawley-O'Dea
6 days 13 hours ago

Collin Jory -- nice -- just ignore the science.

Stock Market Guru
1 week ago

Let's compromise....they're freaks and weirdos, OK?

Pancho Mulongeni
1 week ago

Don't you then wish you girlfriend was a freak like me?

KENT WEBER
1 week ago

Unfortunately, no process is perfect. Thus, child-bearding does not always present the perfect, exclusively man/female results. That's just a fact. Not really debatable unless you don't care about reality. We need to first recognize there are people of mixed gender, then treat them a formed by God and to be loved by all.

arthur mccaffrey
1 week ago

"...the now commonly held understanding that sexuality is not chosen by a person but is rather part of the way that they are created." Really? would you care to amplify "commonly held"? I had the impression that this is not a black/white issue but that there are still a lot of gray areas not fully determined yet by science. Of course, for you and your LBGT buddies the issue is already settled and all the rest of us "homophobics" should get on board this cultural train that has already left the station. What does Mr Martin think of the proselytizing and recruitment that goes on among young children who are still coming to grips with their developing sexuality? And from a philosophical or religious standpoint, does the RCC position have no merit whatsoever? There are still millions of us Catholics
who accept the Church's reasoning----are we all to be treated as cultural retards and berated? If a person does not chose their sexuality, is it still permissible for them to mutilate their god-given body via surgery and hormones to freely re-create their bodies in their own image and likeness? Once again, advocates like you see this as an already settled, black and white issue with clear cut parameters that every savvy sophisticate should already know about. Well, pardon me if I do not join you in your transgender-o-centric view of the world-- too much is being made already of such a small percentage of the population, that your overblown concern seems just a wee bit exaggerated. Many of us have not yet accepted your push to declare all kinds of sexual diversity as "normal".

Michael Bindner
1 week ago

Epigenesis explains gender diversity beyond genital presentation. Natural law without recourse to biology and psychology is essentially superstition and individual denial by Asexuals in the clergy who believe their own abnormality is somehow sacred rather than part of what they call the natural complementary order.

Eddy LeRoque
1 week ago

10 percent of Slavic Females have a broken piece of the male chromosome.
Not every one is born xx or xy.
Klinefelter syndrome (KS) also known as 47,XXY or XXY, is the set of symptoms that result from two or more X chromosomes in males. The primary features are infertility and small testicles.

Then there is XXYY.

Turner syndrome is a chromosomal condition that affects development in females. Turner syndrome (TS), also known as 45,X or 45,X0, is a condition in which a female is partly or completely missing an X chromosome

Androgen insensitivity syndrome (AIS) is an intersex condition that results in the partial or complete inability of the cell to respond to androgens.

Canon Law
Intersex people have been treated in different ways by different cultures.

In the late twelfth century, the canon lawyer Huguccio stated that, "If someone has a beard, and always wishes to act like a man (excercere virilia) and not like a female, and always wishes to keep company with men and not with women, it is a sign that the male sex prevails in him and then he is able to be a witness, where a woman is not allowed".[42] Concerning the ordination of 'hermaphrodites', Huguccio concluded: "If therefore the person is drawn to the feminine more than the male, the person does not receive the order. If the reverse, the person is able to receive but ought not to be ordained on account of deformity and monstrosity.

Canon Law sources provide evidence of alternative perspectives, based upon prevailing visual indications and the performance of gendered roles

Michael Bindner
1 week ago

For pathogenesis to occur with a male child, the mother must be KS. Miracles occur inside the biological order.

Michael Bindner
1 week ago

KS and hermaphroditism are both subsets of Intersexuality. The I in LGBTQIA. The sad thing is that to decry I is to oppress the Mother of God. Accepting her reality is to live her as she likely is. Insulting them is to insult her.

Gabe Reeder-Ferreira
1 week ago

Being LGBTQ isn't a kind of suffering some of us must go thru that needs correcting and to be hidden in the closet in order to have faith. We aren't rebelling against the life God gave us, we are having a spiritual experience in a world that is scared of love that transcends Catholic doctrine. Not in spite of faith, but because of it we are reminded of our beautiful queer selves.

Christopher Lochner
1 week ago

Of course, there is a big difference between love and sex but this is never discussed. Sex without love is hedonistic. And apparently LGBTQ community is a monolithic block capable of only one thought, there appears to be nary an individual involved. I imagine the only people who'll be listened to are the loudest and most outrageous which is so much the pity. I note in the comments the dripping hatred. Too bad. Very modern , actually. If it's not ALL about ME then nothing makes sense. This is about neither pride nor respect but winning a battle.

Gabe Reeder-Ferreira
1 week ago

You underestimate us. The LGBT community is an intelligent body, extremely organized, and probably the most powerful lobby in America. After all, we won Marriage Equality. I know you’re probably still a bit sore about that but you’ll be ok.

Stock Market Guru
1 week ago

Your lobby is to society what AIDs is to the human body.

Pancho Mulongeni
1 week ago

Honey, we don't talk about AIDS (with an capital S by the way), we have ARVs and we talk of HIV infection. Why am I even wasting my time educating your ass?

Martin Cosentino
1 week ago

Please confine your 'stock market' pearls to the grunters who normally do not read the comments in the America column.

You know nothing about the LGBTQ lobby, and don't forget that the quantum records everything you think, say, and do.

Crystal Watson
1 week ago

Fr. Martin, thanks for at least trying to bring some factual information to the subject. The church's overriding fear is re-examining its teachings in the face of new information and lived experience .... then they'd have to admit they are fallible and have made mistakes. Meanwhile the church leaves a lot of damaged people in its wake.

Sonia K
1 week ago

Even though it's important to show compassion to LGBTQ people, it is true that God created us male and female. There is human nature and there of course is the 'nurture' aspect which includes the socio-cultural aspects. Our experiences in broken families could be one thing but humanity has played a part in destroying God's order. That we're overturning that order doesn't mean that it is God's intention. If a child becomes disabled, or a person becomes sick, we do not declare that disability or ill health is God's order. We seek to repair the un-optimum condition. We could blame endocrine disruptors, genetic mutations or epigenetic expression (we are the sum of our habits), but that was never God's intention. The war is on human nature and while we should show compassion to those who find themselves in a less than optimum condition, our greater duty is to preserve human nature. We could use climate change as another example which is due to human activity, our core duty shouldn't be to assert that climate change should be accepted as is but to reverse the damage and restore it to its ideal. Finally, God is a healer, and can restore us to wholeness , we only need to have faith. If we depend on ourselves, we can only go so far.

Michael Bindner
1 week ago

God's will is known through biology, not Scholasticism.

Arnoldo Miranda
1 week ago

And biology states clearly that the transgender phenomenon belongs to .6% of all humanity. 99.4% of humanity doesn't undergo this reality. This should tell you clearly what nature and God willed. The claim that biology establishes this as what God wanted is highly distorted by the fact that its only very few humans who experience this. Anybody can see clearly to be true.

Matthew Janicak
1 week ago

Arnold Miranda: 0.06% of humanity is is 420 million people - greater than the population of the USA (327.2 million). Does God not care about percentages less than one? Have you considered that your intelligence is not God-like in any sense of the imagination?

Arnoldo Miranda
1 week ago

0.6% versus 99.4% is SIGNIFICANTLY small and should lead you to see this is not normative. It's not 6 percent of humanity. It is .6 of a percent, which is 42 million people. You're off by a scale of 10. Talking about intelligence, if you used this simple mathematical fact, you'd realize the propagation of this species is not reliant upon this reality, something for you to think about and not for you to tell the 99.4% that they must see the reality of humanity through this lens that is highly skewed and not reflective for the majority of humans. You obviously don't understand scale. If anything, it tells you, although they are not insignificant in their numbers, they do not represent the human experience of most people. These are anomalies and that is a fact.

Matthew Janicak
1 week ago

Hi Arnoldo, FYI, 0.06 * 7 billion = 420,000,000. In any case, one number being smaller than another has nothing to do with God's will or opinion. David was smaller than Goliath, but what of it? The opinion is in fact yours, and your opinion is non-factual.

Arnoldo Miranda
1 week ago

We're talking about gender dysphoria. That is .6 of 1 percent, which is 42,000,000 million folks around the world. This is what this document was about. Again you don't understand scale much less the complete human reality which this number should signal to you that it comprises a very small portion of this reality, certainly nothing to base the majority of the human experience. Where do you get the 0.06 number? It is no where in the literature.

Martin Cosentino
1 week ago

Mr. Miranda, with all due respect for your diligent research, these 'anomalies' are NO DIFFERENT than those with cerebral palsy, or spina bifida, or Down's Syndrome, or Tourette's Syndrome, or cleft palates, or missing or malformed limbs, or the deaf, or the blind, or the dumb, or any of the countless other abnormalities that "DO NOT REPRESENT THE HUMAN EXPERIENCE OF MOST PEOPLE."

You are not the center of the universe, to be making these kinds of offensive statements, and your 'FACTS' have been carefully selected to express a rather ruthless and clinical attitude about people who are not LIKE YOU.

Since when have you become the judge 'for the majority of humans' and what spiritual authority do you invoke to make such biased and prejudicial statements concerning 'the propagation of this species is not reliant upon this reality'??????

I might suggest here that you pick up the New Testament and see what JESUS had to say about this issue - NOTHING!!!!!

Arnoldo Miranda
1 week ago

Martin, arguments from silence do not signal approval much less explain this reality. Of course, all those things you list are anomalies that don't affect the majority of the human species. I am not saying anything about being the center of the universe but clearly noting these occur rarely something that negates the illogical conclusion about these statements being offensive. This is the reality whether you like it or not. That you don't seem to want to accept this as rare as it being indicative that God did not intend this to be the norm, well that is your issue. The fact is the human species does not reflect most of these conditions. It does not make these people any less human but only that they're dealing with these issues. This couldn't be clearer.

Nobody is judging anybody here. You taking offense to the reality of these numbers just shows your inability to reason with these facts. The propagation of the human species has been a result of the union between a man and woman. This is another fact that seems to bother you. The fact is that you don't like facts that challenge your notion of the human experience. These facts are incontrovertible no matter how much you wish to justify what the majority of humans do not experience. This is why your argument regarding Jesus not saying much about these issues is silly. He didn't have to since His concern was saving humanity from the fallen condition it exists in. All these issues are a result of this fallen condition. It is the Church's anthropology which I would suggest you study. Then maybe you wouldn't take offense to what Jesus preached.

Matthew Janicak
1 week ago

Arnoldo, you seem to be confusing ratios greater than one with "God's will." Further, "incontrovertible" facts only make sense in the context of desperation - why label as such is the defense is unassailable?

Arnoldo Miranda
1 week ago

No I'm not. Facts are not opinions. They are factual, something you apparently have trouble accepting. I've given you straight up numbers that you seem to have trouble with. God's will is known through His Church and its Teachings. The only desperation here I note is yours since reality doesn't line up with what you want.

Matthew Janicak
1 week ago

Hi Arnoldo. God isn't real, and Jesus was never born. You only have intelligence to rely on. Sorry for the revelation, but I think you've been told before.

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