One of the very celebrated rages to hit college campuses in recent years (including lots of Catholic Colleges) was a play entitled "The Vagina Monologues". The play is a series of monologues by women about, well figure it out. Recently one college, Mt. Holyoke College, an all women's college in Massachusetts has now cancelled any further performances of the play since it is not in conformity with its values. The reason the once Christian college gave for cancelling the play on its campus is that it is exclusionary. The play excludes 'women' without vaginas (wwov's) and is not in conformity with its new admissions policy of admitting any "qualified student who is female or identifies as female" (i.e. wwov's).
While acceptance of transgendered persons (people who dress and try to act as the opposite gender) is all the rage in our society and our government and even our military are going into overdrive to push the cause not everyone is on board. A group identifying as radical feminists "insist on regarding transgender women as men, who should not be allowed to use women's facilities, such as public rest rooms, or to participate in events organized exclusively for women" according to an article in the August edition of the New Yorker. The article quotes Robin Morgan: "I will not call a male "she"; thirty-two years of suffering in this androcentric society, and of surviving, have earned me the title "woman"; one walk down the street by a male transvestite, five minutes of his being hassled (which he may enjoy), and then he dares, he dares to think he understands our pain? No, in our mothers' names and in our own, we must not call him sister." So now we have women with and 'women' without at odds.
A few months ago a former psychiatrist from John Hopkins University Hospital wrote an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal explaining why the hospital, one of the early pioneers of sex reassignment or transsexual surgery halted the procedures some years ago. What they found was that surgically turning a man into a woman or a woman into a man did not solve the problem and that the rates of depression and suicide among those who had the surgery was much higher than those who did not. Dr. McHugh wrote: "At the heart of the problem is confusion over the nature of the transgendered. "Sex change" is biologically impossible. People who undergo sex-reassignment surgery do not change from men to women or vice versa. Rather, they become feminized men or masculinized women. Claiming that this is civil-rights matter and encouraging surgical intervention is in reality to collaborate with and promote a mental disorder". Needless to say he was harshly criticized for being intolerant and stuck in the past.
The issue of "trans people" is now rising to the top in our society as the issue of same-sex marriage fades from the foreground. Gender Identity Disorder or as it is now called Non-Gender Conforming Person affects a very tiny segment of the general population but you would never know it from all the press the issue receives. (Even the incident of same-sex attraction is much smaller than most people realize. A Gallup Poll asked what percentage of the population do you think is gay and the average response was 25%. The CDC rates as those who identify as same sex attracted at less than 3% of the population.)
Much like Anorexia, Gender Identity Disorder is when the mind disagrees with the reality of the body. So in the case of wwov's, the mind is telling the person he is female and the biology and chromosomes of the person says male. When the mind and the reality outside it do not match that is normally considered a delusion. Delusional thinking has been the traditional domain of psychiatry, and its therapeutic interventions try to help a person not live out of their delusion. Today the push is for the exact opposition: to help the person live out what is in their mind rather than the reality of their body. One of the typical characteristics of delusional thinking is that it attempts to get others to accept the delusion: the problem is not the delusional behavior but every one else's lack of acceptance of the delusional behavior. Ironically the goal of a lot of therapies and political interventions today is to get the rest of us to accept the delusion.
This may seem like an issue that is "out there" but I know it has affected many of you either in your family, your neighborhood or your place of employment. I realize it puts you in a awkward position as you are asked not only to accept a transgendered man as a woman or vice versa but you are being required to treat them better than you treat anyone else. And if you dare in anyway indicate that you are unwilling to go along with the delusion then expect to be branded as a bigot, sued for discrimination or brought up on hate charges and reviled on social media. Such is the nature of things when you refuse to participate in someone else's delusional behavior.
What's the Christian response? People who struggle with gender identity require and deserve our love and support not our judgment or criticism. But part of authentic love is not becoming a partner in crime with someone but rather helping them to see why their thinking and behavior is harmful and letting them know you will support them in their struggle. One of the most unloving things we can do is to affirm someone's harmful or self-destructive behavior and sadly that is what we are being asked to do often with the coercive force of government. Loving someone does not mean accepting wrong behavior.
Most problems we face today are rooted in a struggle over the nature of God (terrorism) or a poor understanding of who the human person is and what constitutes human nature (a causality of the sexual revolution). No matter how hard our culture tries to sideline theology it keeps popping up front and center. As G.K. Chesterton once quipped: "Man has always lost his way but know we have lost our address".
Fr. John B.