Every time I come home one of the conferences I give with Catholic Answers, I’m greeted at the door by my five-year-old son, Liam. He always wants to wrestle; he even says things that sound good in comic books, but nowhere else. The other day, I came home and he said “Oi, I’ve got a score to settle with you.” Score to settle with me? So we went to the bed and had a wrestle and, well, I’m still undefeated.
A couple of months ago we were wrestling on the bed, and as we were wrestling my daughter Avila came up—she was three at the time— and said, “Daddy, can I wrestle?” I thought, well, okay, but I know that in two minutes someone’s going to hurt your feelings and you’re going to start crying and leave.
We began wrestling, and I had this thought: What would happen if I pretended to get Avila in a headlock? What would Liam do? So I said, “Avila, come here, love,” put her in a gentle headlock, and yelled, “Liam, come help your sister!” And as I’m looking down at her, he came up and punched me in the temple. And it hurt, but I thought, “That is awesome.”
Then I thought: What would happen if I got Liam in a headlock; what would Avila do? This time it was a real headlock, and I said, “Avila, come help your brother!” I’m not making this up: She crawled across the bed, and she started stroking his arm. What’s really unfair is, she didn’t know I was playing; I guess she was thinking, “Oh, Daddy’s got him in a headlock.” So she came up to him, and started rubbing his arm, saying, “It’s okay, it’s okay.”
Viva la différence
But I had an epiphany that day. My son and daughter, Liam and Avila, were rehearsing their roles for a much greater play. That is to say, they’re growing up in a world which, I think you’ll agree, is in desperate need of strong men who can protect and women who can nurture.
Now, does that mean women can’t be strong, that they can’t protect? Does that mean men can’t nurture? No, it doesn’t. The way in which a woman is strong differs from the way a man is strong. The way in which a man nurtures is clearly different from a way in which a women nurtures.
We shouldn’t be afraid of differences, because difference doesn’t imply inequality. I could sum it up in two lines (or a tweet, depending upon your age): “Men are men and women are not men. Women are women and men are not women.”
The degree to which this sounds discriminatory or sexist or even hateful to you and me is a good indicator to the degree in which we have been influenced by a small but incredibly influential movement in our country today that wants to say that sex—by which I mean maleness and femaleness—is not something objective but rather a mere social construct that has no basis in reality. Sort of like what side of the road you drive on, or what objects you use for currency.
These people want to say that sexual orientation is a continuum, and maleness and femaleness are arbitrary bookends. So a man can self-identify as a woman, and should be allowed to, that’s fine; and woman can self-identify as a man, and that’s fine.
I’d like to give three examples of this crisis we’ve seen in America, and then I want to suggest three approaches to answering this crisis in our personal lives and with our friends. So let’s look at some of these things that are going on.
Three examples of the crisis
Genderless bathrooms. In August 2013, California enshrined certain rights for transgendered students in kindergarten through twelfth grade, so that if you’re in a public school, and you’d like to use the bathroom, and you’re a male who thinks he’s a female, that’s okay; no one can stop you. Now, I don’t know about other guys, but when I was fifteen years old, I would have loved that rule. Whose silly idea was this?
Boy in a prom dress. Tony Zamazal was a senior in 2013 at Spring High School in Texas. He approached his school and said because he self-identified as a female, he would like to go to the prom in a dress, please. And the school said, well, no, you have to wear the standard tux like all the other men. Tony went home and, as he said, began ranting about it on Facebook. It was picked up by the American Civil Liberties Union, which contacted the high school and said its stance was unconstitutional. The school backed down, and Tony went as a lady. Or so he thought. Now, I don’t say that mockingly—I’m not denying that he feels that way. What troubles me more is that when ABC News covered this story, it lied. It said things like, ‘She’s so happy that she can go in what makes her comfortable.”
Lesbian moms and the boy who’s a girl. Third example, you may heard of a couple of years ago. Pauline Moreno and Debra Lobel, a lesbian couple who lives near San Francisco, adopted a boy, and at the age of three, they say, he started to self-identify as a girl. So now he’s thirteen and he’s been on hormone blockers for years so he doesn’t go through puberty and develop into a man, then he can get a sex-change when the time is right.
How did we get here? One, we rejected God. And as the Vatican II document Gaudium et Spes states, “For without the creator, the creature would disappear, when God is forgotten, the creature itself grows unintelligible” (GS 36). Second is the breakdown of the family. I like the way Jay Budziszewski puts it in his book The Meaning of Sex. He says wrongheaded sexual ideologies undermine families, and ruined families generate a readiness to accept wrongheaded ideologies.
So how can we respond to this crisis? I want to give three responses: the scientific, the philosophical, and the pastoral. Now obviously this is a gigantic topic, and we’re just skimming the surface, but I hope as you encounter people who self-identify as a different sex—though you should know they’ll use the word gender to make sex seem more fluid, more changeable—or if you’re dealing with people who sympathize with this, I hope this will be a help to you.
The scientific response
It’s important to understand that in promoting the truth about the human person, the Church is on the side of science when it says that it’s impossible for a person to change his sex. The brains of the sexes are intrinsically different: Male brains are different from female brains. This affects many aspects of our behavior. How we handle stress, how we dress, how we navigate; it even affects our sight. Men and women not only see the world differently metaphorically, we actually see differently due to the differences in our retinas.
In a Cambridge University study, researchers noted that women were much better at picking up on facial cues than men. They studied 102 day-old babies to see if there was a difference in the length of time they looked at a face, at a social object, and at a mobile, physical-mechanical object. The male infants showed a stronger interest in the physical-mechanical mobile, while the female infants showed a stronger interest in the face. The results clearly demonstrate that sex differences are in biological origin.
These differences also affect how we hear: Women hear better than men. In 2005, neuroscientist Larry Cahill published an article called “His Brain, Her Brain” in Scientific American. He writes, “Over the past decade, investigations have documented an astonishing array of structural, chemical, and functional variations in the brains of males and females.” He goes so far as to say this raises the possibility of developing sex-specific treatment for conditions like post-traumatic stress disorder, schizophrenia, and depression.
The philosophical response
A couple of months I was standing in line at the San Diego airport and I overheard a man and a woman having a chat. They clearly had just met, and he said, “Oh, my wife’s pregnant, too.” She said, “Oh, wonderful, what’s the sex?” He said, “Well, we’re not going to raise it as a blue baby or a pink baby, we’re going to raise it a yellow baby.” I thought maybe he meant the kid had jaundice. One of my babies was a yellow baby, too—he had to be under lights at the hospital. But what this man meant was that he wasn’t going to impose the social construct of sex upon his child. Whether his child self-identified as a male or a female was up to him/her.
What would happen if I began to explain these neurological differences to this man? Perhaps he would say what a lot of people have said: “Fine, there are differences in the bodies and brains, but I’m not defined by my body.” The idea that we are not our bodies, we are merely mimes somehow, souls in a machine, is wrongheaded. As Church teaches, we are body-soul composites: one being made of two types of stuff, both equal personal and equally a part of whom we are.
Think of the absurdities that result if you say, “I’m not my body.” That would mean that when you kiss your child goodnight, you’re not actually kissing your child, you’re manipulating the husk that is not you to kiss the husk that’s not your daughter.
In logic there’s a tactic called argumentum ad absurdum, where you assume your opponent’s false position is true, and then you follow it to its logical conclusion, which hopefully shows him that it is absurd.
And so we could say, “Why stop at sex? If we’re not defined by our bodies, why should we impose the social construction of ‘species’ upon our children?” If we can say, “Well, he looks male, but he’s apparently female,” we can say with equal logic, “Well, he looks human, but he says he’s a panther” or “a parrot.” You might think I’m being ridiculous, but do a Google search on species dysphoria or species identity disorder, and you’ll see that’s this isn’t as ridiculous to some as you’d imagine.
Someone might say, “Haven’t you heard of aphroditism, or Klinefelter syndrome, or Turner Syndrome, where the sex of someone is ambiguous?” Yes, but surely the tiny number of anomalous cases doesn’t do away with the huge majority of cases where a person’s sex is normal and easy to determine. That would be like saying that because there is a rare genetic disease called Progeria that produces rapid aging in children, people can self-identify whatever age they want.
The pastoral response
How should we respond to people who believe that one’s sex is what one makes it? With great love, compassion, and sympathy. I hope you don’t misunderstand me: I’m not criticizing these people, I’m criticizing the logic behind the mindset. But I don’t doubt for a moment that there are people who feel that they’ve been placed in the wrong body.
Let me quote to you from an eleven-year old boy who self-identifies as a girl. He calls himself Sadie. He wrote a letter to his school: “The world would be a better place if everyone had the right to be themselves. Including people who have a creative gender identity and expression. Transgendered kids like me are not allowed to go most schools because the teachers think we are different than everyone else. The schools get afraid of how they will talk with the other kids’ parents, and transgendered kids are kept secret or told not to come there anymore. Kids are told not to be friends with transgendered kids, which makes us very lonely and sad. When they grow up, transgendered adults have a hard time getting a job because the boss thinks the customers will be scared away and so forth.”
So, obviously, we need to love these people. But loving does not entail lying to the person. We need to say it’s because I love you that I need to speak truth to you—and it might hurt, and you might call me a hater, but you have to know that I have your best interests in mind.
I would suggest that if you come across a man who self-identifies as a woman, you should ask him a question: “When you say you’re a woman, what do you mean?” He might say, “Well, I’m attracted to other men.” Okay, so you’re attracted to other men—but that doesn’t make you a woman. He might say he likes what girls like. Okay, full disclosure, I like some things girls like too. I don’t like sports. He might say he identifies with the female form, that he likes it and wants it as his own. Well, okay, you need to understand that men’s and women’s bodies are different, but that doesn’t mean unequal, and they’re both good, and you need to rediscover the goodness of your own sexuality.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church puts it this way:
In creating men “male and female,” God gives man and woman an equal personal dignity. “Man is a person, man and woman equally so, since both were created in the image and likeness of the personal God” (Mulieris dignitatem, 6).Each of the two sexes is an image of the power and tenderness of God, with equal dignity though in a different way (CCC 2334-35).
Men and women are different, and thank God for that.