For many people transgenderism is a peripheral issue. It may be merely something they read or hear about in the news pertaining to bathrooms in the U. S. or schools in Alberta. Or, they may encounter someone on their trip to the local mall who appears unclear about their gender—either by the way they are dressed or in their assumption of physical traits (often through hormone therapy) of the opposite sex.
The technical term for this is “gender dysphoria” according to the DSM (gender confusion or dissatisfaction with one’s biological gender). For some, however, this topic is very personal, as it has touched their family. For me it became personal the day my nephew announced that he was seeking gender reassignment surgery. Mynephew’s surgery took place before most of the family was even aware of his circumstances. I wish we as a family had had
the ability to speak openly about this long before this took place as I think he may have mistook shock, to what seemed at the time like a very drastic measure coming out of ‘left field’, for rejection of him as a person. This created a deep wound in our family, but not one that is beyond the healing power of Jesus Christ.
Clearly, as Christians, love, compassion and acceptance is always to be our response to persons who might be experiencing these thoughts and feelings. We must never turn our backs on our neighbours, our children or anyone who experiences inclinations that represent a challenge to our beliefs about the human person. As Catholics we believe we are all created in God’s image, and yet all of us fall very short of mirroring His likeness. All of us, however, are called to journey towards transformation to be more like Christ (who of course lived as a man but was also fully Divine). However, we must have a proactive attitude and be well informed and formed in our faith to adequately respond when we are faced with current trends and the living reality of this phenomenon.
In March 2012, even before starting with the Eparchy of Saskatoon in the role as Director of the Family and Life Office, I attended theCatholic Organization for Life and Family (COLF) conference in Ottawa. One talk particularly stood out for me as it addressed an issue that I had a very personal interest in. While there is a lot of discussion this issue today, however in 2012 when those attending the COLF Conference were told that this issue of “Gender Ideology” would be to the 21st century, what the Sexual Revolution was to the 20thcentury” I never thought we as a society would face the rapid and widespread media attention and legislative changes we have seen, particularly in the past year.
Of particular note in Canada is new legislation entitled Bill C-16, which received first reading as of May 17, 2016, which when passed will amend both the Human Rights Code and the Criminal Code to protect transgender people from discrimination and also to extend hate speech laws to them as an identifiable group. In the media coverage of the introduction of the of the Bill a young transgender person speaking with the Minister of Justice Jody Wilson-Raybould notes, what might be a commonly held perception, that this lawtransgender people from ‘assaults’ and ‘rape’.Hopefully all Canadians stood equally protected under the law from hateful persecution and assaults, even before this legislation was brought forward. However, it is somewhat unclear as to how this extended protection against so-called ‘propaganda’ will stack up against sincerely held religious teachings. While the Church always proposes love and compassion for individuals, it remains firm in the truth of our bodies—created as male and female—and the need to work towards acceptance of the objective reality of our creation.
As Catholics, what are we to make of the ‘ideological’ aspects of this phenomenon? An ideology, we are told by dictionary.com, is “a body of doctrine, myth, etc., with reference to some political and social plan… along with the devices for putting it into operation.” This frames what we are facing as an agenda for profound social change that is based on a body of beliefs that are at least open to question, and question we should. On what basis are its claims made? Why does it demand our compliance (in terms of government policy and education) and adherence to its plans, despite the genuine problems that a relatively small minority of people face regarding their self-perception? What about biological realities? (Please note that gender dysphoria “…differs from intersex questions since there are generally no physiological abnormalities or anomalies….” present in the person experiencing the dysphoria. )
We must always respond with love, to persons we encounter. However, in responding to broader social phenomena, as well as individuals, love and truth MUST be held together. Love (or caritas otherwise known as charity) is at the heart of the gospel and therefore the social teaching of the Church, however “Truth is the light that gives meaning and value to charity” according to Benedict XVI. We are further reminded that in finding that truth the church welcomes reason—and science—to enlighten our findings. “This means that moral evaluation and scientific research must go hand in hand, and that charity must animate them in a harmonious interdisciplinary whole, marked by unity and distinction. The Church’s social doctrine, which has “an important interdisciplinary dimension” can exercise, in this perspective, a function of extraordinary effectiveness. It allows faith, theology, metaphysics and science to come together in a collaborative effort in the service of humanity.” We must know the facts, as Church teaching is backed up by sound medical and scientific research (See footnote #2).
It is also really important to understand the way in which ‘gender ideology’ frames its ideas and works its agenda, so that we do not become overwhelmed and overcome by its methods. In preparing ourselves to speak rationally and with the fullness of Church teaching I would also highly recommend the five-part series of articles prepared by academics and journalists on this topic and published in the online e-zine Mercator Net.
I know this may seem like a lot of reading but it is really important that we as Catholics are informed, especially if you have children or grandchildren who will likely be talking about this. They will be looking to you for wisdom—and even if they aren’t you should be able to speak with love and some certainty as a voice of truth amidst the buzz.
This issue, which has been completely overshadowed by the specter of Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide in our country, is not one that we should ignore. As always it is not the surface action of the politicians or the laws enacted by the government but often the more subtle messages that become woven into the fabric of our culture that we will need to be aware of. What is the vision of reality that is being communicated to our children in all of this? What does this say about the meaning of our sexuality? What does it mean to be a man? What does it mean to be a woman? Is this merely a matter of personal choice? If I happen to be a man who likes things that our culture defines as “feminine”, or a woman who displays so-called masculine tendencies, should I question my gender or those societal definitions? These are important questions that demand answers. Thankfully our faith does provide answers but we will need to look deeply as they will likely not be same answers found in our current cultural milieu. (A good place to start looking is in St. Pope John Paul II’s Theology of the Body (links) which clearly speaks to these very timely concerns.)
When it is all said and done, can anything positive be said about this phenomenon? Arguably, yes. First of all, it gives us as Catholics and as Church awareness and an opportunity to learn about this and the reasoned, loving response of Church teaching. Second, it gives us the opportunity to go beyond the two extremes of ‘wholesale buy in’ to an agenda and the opposite response of mere ‘legalism and judgment’. We can become sensitive to the fact that we are dealing with real people, real families and genuine questions on faith and life. Third, it gives us the opportunity to be authentically Catholic choosing to love people and embrace truth, in a climate where such choices often face open hostility.
We need to put our faith in action, we need to reach out to those who are wounded, those who struggle and are in pain, finding that delicate balance between love and truth that will bring true healing and Christ’s mercy to these often challenging situations. As I said earlier, this has touched my own family and one thing I can say is that unless we are able to speak about this openly, very little progress can be made. Let us pray for all those individuals and families for whom this topic is very real and personal as well as our Church leaders to whom we look for direction and guidance. May they help us navigate these difficult waters in love and truth, and offer the healing balm of mercy to all.
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me a sinner. DPL
 Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5),http://www.dsm5.org/documents/gender%20dysphoria%20fact%20sheet.pdf.
 Please see the National Post article and video clip on the passage of Bill C-16: http://news.nationalpost.com/news/canada/canadian-politics/liberals-introduce-bill-to-protect-transgender-canadians-from-hate-speech-and-discrimination.
 For a clear statement of church teaching and credible scientific research on this matter see: Moira McQueen, “Catholic Teaching on Transgender”, Bioethics Matters, March 2016, Vol. 14 No. 1,
 McQueen, “Catholic Teaching”, 1.
 Benedict XVI, Caritas in Veritate 31 , 29 June 2009,http://w2.vatican.va/content/benedict-xvi/en/encyclicals/documents/hf_ben-xvi_enc_20090629_caritas-in-veritate.pdf.
 Where did transgenderism come from? Mark Regnerus, Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Texas(Austin) Senior Fellow at eh Austin Institute for the Study of Family and Culture.http://www.mercatornet.com/conjugality/view/where-did-transgenderism-come-from/18176
Why we hanker after instant gratification? Walter Shumm, professor of family studies and human services at Kansas State University.
It didn’t happen overnight Margaret A. Somerville, Samuel Gale Professor of Law and the Founding Director of the Centre for Medicine, Ethics and Law at McGill University in Montreal.
T comes right after LGB Zac Alstin, associate editor of MercatorNet.
Transgender Triumph: A Time for a Reality Check Mary Rice Hasson, JD, Director of the Catholic Women’s Forum at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, Washington, DC.