Let me begin this post by saying that I am not looking to condemn anyone by writing this blog post, but I am simply reflecting on the implications of the societal acceptance of transgenderism and modernity’s view of the human person. I understand that this is a complicated topic, and I am by no means looking to hurt anyone’s feelings when I write about it. I realize that men and women who struggle with their sexuality do not have an easy life, and that their lives are often filled with pain and suffering. That being said, I do not want to soften what I believe to be the truth, and while it is not my intention to hurt people’s feelings, with sensitive topics such as this, it seems inevitable.
This past week, as part of my education at the John Paul II Institute, I was required to attend a session with the internationally known professor and human rights advocate, Carter Snead. While most of the evening passed in a blur (probably the result of lack of sleep), one statement stuck out to me. It was one of those “I need to blog about this later” moments, though I also had some reservations about the topic. The statement concerned a very sensitive issue, and while I have been known to make some mildly provocative claims in my posts, I have never intended for my website to be a place of much dialogue and debate about theological or philosophical topics. It has always been a safe place for me to express my thoughts and reflect on the everyday experiences of my life, and I have always known that more controversial topics were bound to compromise my efforts to maintain a “safe place” for my thoughts. For one, when you’re publicly posting your thoughts on the Internet, nothing is safe, and additionally, when you’re considering topics like gay marriage and transgenderism, you are not safe.
And it’s true- it’s not safe. It’s not safe to make the claim that gay “marriage” isn’t really marriage at all, or that transgendered people might be suffering more from a illness of the mind than the body (or more likely, a combination of the two). When you make claims like that, you are placing yourself on the opposite side of the spectrum of acceptable public opinion. Modernity claims that we are all entitled to our own opinions, but what is really meant is that only those who agree with the general view presupposed by our society are entitled to their opinions. Everyone else needs to keep their mouths shut, since they’re obviously racist, sexist, misogynist monsters. It has gotten to the point in society that when I say that I’m pro-life, people just smile and nod, regardless of what they might personally believe. If they agree with me, that’s wonderful, but if they don’t, it’s not the end of the world. But when I say that I’m pro-marriage (which translates to anti-“gay marriage”), this generally means that I become the enemy. There is no room in society for the likes of me anymore, not unless we are ready and willing to endure varying degrees of persecution. And don’t think I’m over-exaggerating- while I might never be anything more than just mildly provocative in my reflections, I know more than enough bloggers who have been verbally harassed because of their beliefs by the so-called “tolerant” types. Apparently, they are only really tolerant of those who think the same way that they do, which seems like a rather incomplete vision of tolerance, if you ask me. But no one would.
But back to this past week’s lecture. Professor Snead, and some other commentators, made the very provocative suggestion that transgendered people, in the complete disregard for the human body encouraged by modernity, are destroying the very meaning of being human. By making the claim that their bodies are incorrectly manifesting the gender that they feel “on the inside,” they are in essence claiming that what is “on the outside” doesn’t mean anything. Transgendered people blame their condition on the fact that their bodies do not correctly manifest what is felt within. Their bodies do not accurately reflect their souls. The manifestation of their bodies is somehow wrong. Transgendered people really do live by the dictate, “It’s what’s on the inside that counts.” The outside was just a mistake. Somehow, the X chromosome got mixed with a Y, and a woman was born as a man. Apparently, our genes don’t mean anything. Our chromosomes don’t mean anything. Our bodies don’t mean anything.
The transgender issue is certainly a unique one, and unprecedented in many ways. The topic of gay marriage does question what it means to be human, but more than anything, it redefines the meaning of love (and indirectly, what it means to love as human beings). The transgender issue is more foundational than that- it seeks to redefine what it means to be human.
In ages past, humans were perceived as embodied spirits, a union of body and soul. Naturally, this union could be distorted- we were still fallen after all, but the union’s intrinsic goodness was never doubted. Today, the goodness of the body-soul unity has not only been doubted, but has been completely demolished. There is no body-soul unity. There is just the body and the soul. Or just the body. Or just the soul. We speak of neurotransmitters and synapses, and this language has replaced the soul. Or else we speak of pliable flesh that can be fashioned to meet our deepest desires, and this has become how we view our bodies. Feeling a little low? Let’s ignore the blatantly obvious fact that your grandmother just died, and instead prescribe you some anti-depressants to restore balance to the neurotransmitters in your brain. We have completely eradicated the need to mourn. Feeling too masculine to be a girl? Let’s ignore your XX chromosomes and the cues of your body, and instead prescribe you some testosterone to make you look like the boy that you already believe that you are. And we can talk about a sex-change operation as soon as you hit puberty. We have also attempted to eradicate the need to suffer.
Without any understanding of the body-soul unity that comprises every human being, we have turned ourselves into purely material beings governed by genes and neurotransmitters, or else we are souls encased in flesh that should be altered if it doesn’t completely satisfy us. Either way, we have lost touch with what it means to be human.
We have questioned the value of the body-soul unity before, but we have never sought to outright demolish it. Until now. The transgender issue has revolutionized the way we view the human person, as well as the human body. When a little boy feels more like a girl, we tell him that there’s something wrong with his body. His body must have been made wrong, and that he’s actually a “she.” Apparently God made a mistake. Granted, modernity doesn’t have much room for God. So, more often than not, we don’t look to blame God. We just tell that poor little boy that his body is a mistake, but then we reassure him that this mistake can be “fixed.” As if there was really something that needed to be fixed. Maybe if we stopped telling our sons and daughters that their bodies are mistakes that can be fixed, we wouldn’t have all the problems that we do.
A few months ago I stumbled on a blog post by a young woman who could have been a transgendered man if her parents had permitted it. As a child, she identified herself with more boyish pastimes, opting for boys clothing and games and even cutting her hair short to look more like a boy. She had all the makings of a transgender case. Friends and family even suggested that hormone therapy and an eventual sex-change operation would make her life easier. But her parents were not so easily swayed. They let her act like a boy. They let her wear boy clothing. They even did the honors of cutting her hair short every month. But they never told her that she was a boy. She didn’t have to be a boy just because she felt like a boy on the inside. She could act like a boy, even look like a boy, but that didn’t mean that she needed to be a boy. She could do all those things as a girl. That was about 10 years ago. Where is she now, you ask? Does she hate her parents for preventing her from becoming the boy that she felt on the inside? No- she’s actually grateful to them for letting her be a boy- as a girl. Where is she now? She’s married (to a man) and wears her hair in a more feminine fashion now. She wears pink (on occasion), and wears make-up to work. But she still likes to do more “masculine” things, like shooting. Her closet contains lots of women’s clothing, but also some men’s. She defies expectations. She is comfortable in her own skin, her female skin. And this is all thanks to her parents, who understood that their incredibly tom-boyish daughter was still a girl, even if she felt like a boy. They understood that her body meant something.
The transgender issue raises the question of the human body. Can it really be a mistake at times? Did God make a mistake? Or was it a random distortion of the “typical” state of human existence? Is there really something “wrong” with these little boys that feel like girls, or these women who feel “too masculine?” Ultimately, most people will say ‘yes,’ including supporters of transgendered men and women and proponents of sex-change operations. These people might support transgendered men and women, but they only do so because they accept the fundamental assumption that there is something wrong with them. There is something that is wrong with their bodies, because what they feel on the inside is not what they are on the outside. They speak in the name of tolerance, but they do not tolerate these people as they are. They offer them many different ways to become something other than what they are. They offer them a solution to their flawed bodies. They offer them a solution to their mistake.
Professor Snead also suggested that there is something wrong, but he didn’t go so far as to suggest that these confused men and women need to fix their mistakes with hormone therapy and operations. Not all mistakes can be fixed, and sometimes we must suffer. We all have something wrong with us- some of us are impatient, while others are rude. Some are sexually attracted to the wrong sorts of people, and others don’t feel anything at all. We all have something “wrong” with us because we are all sinful creatures. We live in a fallen world, and our lives will not be devoid of pain and suffering. Whether we want to accept it or not, it’s the nature of the beast. There will always be something wrong with the world, but this just means that we are called to overcome it. We are called to endure it. We are called to embrace it, and to transform it. We are not called to run away from it.
Transgendered men and women are no different. By definition of what they consider themselves to be, there is something wrong with them. They are either men in women’s bodies, or else women in men’s bodies. This isn’t just me spouting intolerant notions. These are words that I have heard come out of people’s mouths. There is obviously something wrong. Modernity denies that there is any body-soul unity, while Catholics (and some Christians) claim that this body-soul unity has simply been wounded by sin. The body seems to say one thing, while the mind says another. Transgendered people might receive intolerance from the world, but there is also turmoil within themselves. The union of their body and soul has been disturbed. It is not the body that is a mistake, but rather it is this body-soul union that has been damaged. The problem is in the mind just as much as it is in the body. The problem lies in the fact that the body and soul aren’t united as they are supposed to be. Transgenderism is not a defect of the body; it is a defect of the body-soul unity. There is cacophony where there should be harmony.
Of course, none of this makes sense to the modern liberal mind. To modernity, there is no body-soul unity in anyone, and if it doesn’t exist, it can’t be flawed. Modernity has reduced our bodies to material that can be molded and transformed to suit our needs and desires, and so it is logical that our society should suggest that there is something wrong with our bodies. Our bodies can be fixed. Your body can be fashioned to “match” your soul. Your body can be fashioned into anything that you want. Because in essence, your body is meaningless. It has no value. You can change it as much as you want because it will never mean anything except what you want it to mean, which ultimately doesn’t amount to anything. This is what the world tells us, but it’s not the truth.
Our bodies do have meaning. They are beautiful, albeit fallen. They were lovingly created by God, even if they have been wounded by the effects of sin. They might not be perfect, but it was given to you to cherish. Not to reshape or fashion according to your slightest whim, but to nourish, respect, and love, to be given away to another person. The problem with the transgender issue is that it denies this truth about the human body and attempts to drain it of all meaning. Not everything is supposed to be cured with some medication and surgery. Some things are meant to be endured, offered up to God. We have all been placed on this earth “to work out [our] salvation in fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12), and sometimes that means enduring some difficulty throughout our lives- some illness, impairment, or perhaps, as I would suggest, the fact that our bodies don’t “match” our souls. It might sound like an intolerant, unsympathetic thing to say, but if this is the cross you are meant to bear in this life, would you toss it aside even if it means compromising your eternal salvation? I hope not.
Mary Help of Christians, pray for us!
Excellent post, in which truth and charity are balanced very well indeed. Also, it reminded me of the following article (which highlights a similar point, albeit in tackling very different subject matter):