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Against The Gender Ideologues

Good news from Rome today:

The Vatican on Monday flatly rejected what it cast as the notion that individuals can choose their gender, releasing its first extensive document on the issue as Western countries are increasingly wrestling with the social and legal implications of more fluid definitions of identity.

The document, issued by the Vatican department overseeing Catholic education, echoed past statements by Pope Francis. It argued that acceptance of flexible ideas of gender posed a threat to traditional families and ignored the natural differences between men and women.

It lamented “calls for public recognition of the right to choose one’s gender, and of a plurality of new types of unions, in direct contradiction of the model of marriage as being between one man and one woman, which is portrayed as a vestige of patriarchal societies.”

The idea of gender moving along a spectrum was “nothing more than a confused concept of freedom in the realm of feelings and wants.”

I can’t find a link to the original document, but here is an official Vatican News report on it, which is full of details not in most of the mainstream media reports. It really sounds like an excellent piece of work.

Catholic News Service reports:

“The effect of this move is chiefly to create a cultural and ideological revolution driven by relativism, and secondarily a juridical revolution, since such beliefs claim specific rights for the individual and across society.”

The document says it aims to set out an intellectual framework “towards a path of dialogue on the question of gender theory in education.”

Published at the beginning of “Pride Month,” during which many cities and corporations mark the campaign of LGBT advocacy, the document says that the Church teaches an essential difference between men and woman, ordered in the natural law and essential to the family and human flourishing.

“There is a need to reaffirm the metaphysical roots of sexual difference, as an anthropological refutation of attempts to negate the male-female duality of human nature, from which the family is generated,” the document explains.

“The denial of this duality not only erases the vision of human beings as the fruit of an act of creation but creates the idea of the human person as a sort of abstraction who ‘chooses for himself what his nature is to be.’”

This is exactly what needs saying, and exactly the time to say it. Good for the Vatican. Note well that this document is not about homosexuality or bisexuality, but about transgenderism.

I don’t know how well this will play in the pews in the US. I received a lengthy e-mail today from a doctrinally orthodox parish priest who explained why he is boxed in on all sides by his bishop on matters like this. I can’t use the letter because the details would out him, but trust me, he is in a completely no-win situation. Catholic laity frustrated over the failure of their priests to teach and uphold Catholic orthodoxy ought to spend some time talking to this man. He wants to do it, but — well, I can’t tell you more, but know this: if the local bishop is either heterodox, or orthodox but afraid to take heat, then parish priests are completely exposed.

I’m not going to approve comments about this anonymous priest’s situation, because I can’t give you more details, and defending him beyond what I’ve said here would require more details. I just wanted to make a strong point here: that just because Rome says something good doesn’t mean it’s going to make it down the chain into the parishes. And if it doesn’t make it down to the parishes, that’s not necessarily because the priest doesn’t want to teach it. This just goes to show that the teaching is there, and it is the responsibility of the laity to inform itself. That’s the nature of the times we live in. You cannot necessarily trust the local institutional church to have your back.

On this topic, Jesse Singal is one of the best journalists. He is no conservative, but he writes deeply reported and analyzed pieces about science, social science, and culture. In the latest issue of his newsletter, Singal explores the recent NYTimes piece about gender nonbinary people — a piece that I called a “propaganda blast” the other day. The NYT absolutely cannot be trusted on these topics. More than a decade ago, when the paper had an ombudsman, at least two of those ombudsmen flagged the paper for cheerleading in its coverage of gay issues. Now it’s doing the same thing for transgenderism.

Anyway, Singal analyzes the piece, which was written by Daniel Bergner. “Salem” is a nonbinary male teenager who is clearly in mental distress, and who went on female hormones, but then couldn’t figure out if he liked the breasts that were developing on his chest. Salem uses the plural pronoun “they,” which Singal uses too. Leading up to this excerpt, Singal says that in his own reporting, he has found clinicians who work closely and carefully with gender dysphoric teenagers to understand the nature of their dysphoria, and to come up with the best treatment option — which is not always hormone therapy. That did not seem to happen in Salem’s case; he sort of wandered into this position, in which he is not obviously happy. Excerpt:

Bergner makes it clear that this sort of vagueness often suffuses cases like Salem’s, which differ from more clear-cut ones in which someone born male simply wants to present in the world as female, or vice-versa. Bergner notes that “the goal of treatment [for nonbinary people] is often unclear to the patient themself; the prevailing binary paradigm doesn’t apply. The need is to get beyond [gender], but how?” Doctors and psychiatrists who express skepticism are part of the problem: “To make the doubt and dismissal faced by nonbinary people worse, some physicians and surgeons who are committed to treating binary trans patients with hormones and surgery are wary of doing the same for the nonbinary, questioning whether the interventions are psychiatrically, and therefore medically, necessary.”

I guess it depends a lot on the nature of this questioning, no? In Salem’s case, how could a competent medical caregiver not question whether they should go on hormones? Salem isn’t even sure that they want breasts! Why would you possibly take a substance that will cause you to grow breasts if you aren’t sure you want them? I could practically hear the voices of the clinicians I have interviewed over the years screaming in my ear as I read this article. It seems like in the case of Salem (and others mentioned in the article), there was just no real exploration, no real attempt to unpack the complicated dynamics of gender, and none of the real work that, in the best cases, goes into helping someone figure out if hormones and surgery will make them feel better in the long run.

The one exception, naturally, was someone who didn’t even want her name to be used:

A New Jersey-based therapist in her 50s, who describes herself as a butch lesbian and who has worked with nearly two dozen nonbinary high school and college students, is more circumspect. She guessed that many of her assigned-female nonbinary clients would once have lived as butch or — a subcategory — stone butch lesbians. “Are we just being faddish in the wish for more and more individualized identities?” she asked. And what percentage of the nonbinary kids now coming to her will be calling themselves nonbinary 10 or 15 years in the future? “To tell you the truth, I can’t be sure.” But despite her skepticism, her sense is that something urgent is going on, that new and necessary territory is being delineated. She’s not, at base, at odds with [a nonbinary clinician mentioned elsewhere in the piece], who wonders if we will all gradually question whether “the gender binary is inherent to human experience.”

Something urgent sure as hell is going on. There are large upticks in the numbers of people, particularly young ones (nonbinary folks are mostly under 30, Bergner reports), who are experiencing such distress at being seen as male or female that they desperately want out the whole thing. As this anonymous therapist points out, though, there’s just no way to know exactly what’s at play here. And most of the people who are suffering don’t have access to a good, thoughtful, careful clinician to help them figure this stuff out — they might not even know what to look for in one. There are a million screaming sirens urging caution, and the only response, in terms of how progressives are publicly discussing this issue, is to call anyone with questions about this a bigot. (I want to reiterate that I think Bergner is an excellent reporter, but I really do question the framing of qualms on the part of medical professionals as “doubt and dismissal,” at least in cases where, as Bergner describes, the patients seeking the treatment don’t even know what they want, exactly — “the goal of treatment is often unclear to the patient themself” — but rather just have a general sense they need to do something to change their body. The Hippocratic Oath is a real thing!)

Singal goes on to talk about how the fact that some really damaged and struggling kids are being rushed onto hormones by clinicians is the result of a culture that says this must happen:

The idea that I’m supposed to read this as a positive story (other than the part about Salem finding a queer community, which will undoubtedly improve their quality of life immensely) doesn’t make sense. The idea that, as a progressive and a science writer, I’m supposed to nod along and say that Salem is part of some sort of revolution we should be applauding and helping to spread — a revolution in which we put troubled kids with serious mental-health problems on hormones that will cause effects they aren’t sure they want — doesn’t make sense. The idea that it’s unaffirming or backward or bigoted or transphobic to say “I think the best outcome for Salem would have been a bit more exploration before embarking on a permanent medical journey they already seem to be partially regretting” doesn’t make sense.

Read all of Singal’s piece. 

I should make it very clear that Jesse Singal is not a conservative. From his past writing, it’s clear that he would not in any way support what the Vatican said today. I have to emphasize that because even though he’s openly a progressive, and has stated many times that he generally favors all forms of treatment for transgenders (including surgery), he is still frequently attacked by trans activist berserkers. He ends his newsletter piece calling for “compassionate common sense” in dealing with the medical aspect of transgenderism — the same as we would use with any other medical matter.

That said, the position articulated in Rome’s paper is profound and philosophical, having to do with the meaning of human nature. You don’t have to agree with the reasoning, but the idea that it’s based on nothing more than arbitrary theological impositions is absurd. We hear this all the time from the pro-choice side in the abortion debate: that the argument against abortion rights is based on nothing more than theology. That’s not true, and neither is what the Catholic Church said today. (Again, I haven’t read the entire document, but I know from what’s in the reports that I’ve read what the argument is). By the way, it’s based in part on the same general concept that the Catholic Church uses when it talks about the sacred importance of respecting the natural world and the limits within it. Today’s document says that gender theory is an attempt to “destroy nature.” This is true.

Jesse Singal would certainly reject the Vatican’s position, but he’s absolutely right that the cultural politics of this issue shuts down any real discussion of transgenderism. It’s being forced on families, communities, schools and others, in the name of individual rights. We have become so fanatically conditioned to think narrowly in terms of rights that many of us can’t even bring ourselves to think in any other way. A progressive Catholic ministry fell back on the usual brain-freezing, dialogue-stopping claim that to oppose in any way what transgender activists want is to be a HATER, and even to have blood on your hands:


Big Business has been strongarming every state government that has failed to accept transgenderism without any restrictions. Big Media propagandizes for it constantly. Even though, as Singal writes, the medical profession’s hysterical embrace of transgenderism is hugely irresponsible, it’s still happening — and soon, doctors who have genuine objections to giving trans or gender-nonconforming patients what they want will be in the same position at that anonymous Catholic priest: unable to speak and act on the truth for fear that they will have their vocation taken away.

UPDATE: Reader Jonah R., alas, probably correct:

These Vatican pronouncements won’t be useful. In fact, they’ll be the opposite. I already see them being mocked by people on Facebook—the straightest, whitest, most suburban people who are so desperate to look progressive that they’re framing their photos not just in rainbows but the transgender flag (which is apparently, suddenly a thing now).

Sad to say, what the Vatican says on the matter of transgenderism is culturally irrelevant. People who think this is madness need to make it easier for dissenters and those victimized by schools and medical profession to speak freely. You need to nurture dissent and change minds. Seriously, people are literally flying transgender flags online, on their houses, and occasionally at progressive churches. Show them the lives being ruined. They’re only laughing at whatever the pope has to say.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. A veteran of three decades of magazine and newspaper journalism, he has also written three New York Times bestsellers—Live Not By Lies, The Benedict Option, and The Little Way of Ruthie Lemingas well as Crunchy Cons and How Dante Can Save Your Life. Dreher lives in Baton Rouge, La.

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