Gender Jamboree, Part One

Gender Jamboree, Part One July 19, 2019

Due to Reasons™, the most scalding hot-button issue of the kulturkampf seems to have moved from gay issues to trans issues. Most Catholics understand transgender issues even more poorly than gay ones—an unenviable accomplishment—so I feel it’s worthwhile to try and do a little mansplaining.

Before I begin, I should make a couple of disclaimers. One is that I submit everything I write to the final judgment of the Catholic Church. I contend, pretty strongly, that the Church has not defined her final judgment about trans identities yet (theological and pastoral statements even by exalted clergy are not the same thing as a dogmatic definition); but if and when she does so, I will accept that.

The other is, I’m writing about this at all because I know some Catholics will listen to a cis person (1) before they’ll listen to a trans person. I am not an expert. I’m an amateur at this stuff, and I urge anybody who’s willing to go to actual trans sources like Natalie Wynn, Daniel Ortberg, Thomas Page McBee, Akwaeke Emezi, or Kim Petras.

Right, so what’s up with this crazy trans stuff anyway? We can start by completely wrecking high school biology.

There are three basic aspects of biological sex: chromosomes, X or Y; gonads, i.e. ovaries or testes; and phenotype, i.e. visible traits, like external genitals and secondary sex characteristics. An egg in the womb always carries an X chromosome, and a sperm cell will carry in either an X or a Y when it fertilizes the egg. Every fetus is female by default, which is why dudes have nipples, but a protein attached to the Y chromosome causes male development. Ordinarily, the chromosomes prompt the gonads to develop into either ovaries or testes, the sex organs which produce hormones like estrogen and testosterone. These hormones in turn form the phenotype.

But things don’t always shake out that way. Chromosomes, gonads, and phenotype can all diverge from each other, for a variety of reasons. Sometimes a sperm cell will carry two chromosomes instead of one, or won’t carry a complete chromosome. Sometimes the sex-determining protein that’s normally attached to a Y chromosome will be traded onto an X, resulting in a person whose chromosomes are XX but who has testes and a male phenotype. Some people are insensitive to androgens (masculinizing hormones), and have XY chromosomes and testes but an entirely female phenotype, including fully developed breasts and a vagina. (2)

The umbrella term for mixtures of female and male sex characteristics, visible or not, is intersex. It’s not clear exactly how common intersexuality is, but it’s thought to be only a little rarer than red hair.

Now, the point here is not ‘Biology is hard, therefore trans identities are valid and/or gender is not even a thing.’ We’ll get to that discussion. The point, rather, is that while a black-and-white dichotomy of male and female does work 99% of the time, there is a 1% of the time that it doesn’t adequately describe a person, even on a strictly physical level. Night and day are real things, but that doesn’t mean that in-between states of dusk and dawn are made up, nor are those periods a philosophical threat to night and day’s existence.

This is all a good reason to be patient and cautious and ready to learn, and not make snap judgments about other people. These questions call for extended theological reflection—and they don’t call for weaponizing Genesis 2 and calling trans people Satanic.

But while we’re on Genesis 2, both that passage and some of the New Testament commentary on it seem to hint at the coinherence of the sexes. Adam is caused by God to give birth to Eve; he is male, yet maternal, as is proper to a being fashioned out of the earth (which is always Mother Earth in myth). Likewise Christ, the Second Adam, gives birth to the Church from his side in John 19, again in ‘sleep.’ The Virgin Birth itself, re-rooting mankind in a sinless Mother of the Second Adam, mirrors the creation narrative, assigning the role given to Adam in Genesis 2 to the woman. And the Scriptural maxims that In the kingdom of heaven they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like the angels of heaven, and that In Christ there is neither male nor female, may be intimations that sex itself may be in some way transcended in the new creation.

Part Two; Part Three; Part Four; Part Five; Part Six

(1) Some people are under the mistaken impression that cis is an insult, but it’s not. Cis is just the opposite of trans. A cisgender person is someone whose biological sex at birth and gender identity are aligned.

(2) There’s a problematic and offensive episode of House that revolves around this, if problematic and offensive episodes of House are your thing.

Images via Pixabay

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  • naturgesetz

    The intersex phenomena are, IMO, irrelevant. Transgender people aren’t intersex, but biologically of one sex and convinced that they should be the other.

  • I am so glad to see you on here! You’re one of my favorite bloggers, and I liked the take of yours on transgender issues that I read before.

  • Tom O.

    When you talk about Adam “giving birth” to Eve. God is the one who creates Eve from the rib taken from Adam. This is a little different than a woman giving birth to a baby since the baby is already alive in the mother’s womb. Eve was not alive in the form of Adams’ rib and was not alive inside of him.

    Secondly, the Church has made several statements which flatly deny the myth of Gender Identity. God created us man or woman, and it is not to be changed or viewed as a mistake.

  • There’s fairly strong evidence that brain chemistry may be involved in transgender people’s belief that their outward biological sex is incorrect. If the brain is part of the body, then intersex phenomena are likely relevant in at least some cases.

  • Ame

    One other way theologians have discussed this redemption symbology is that “Man (Adam) encompasses the woman (Eve) and the New Woman (Mary) encompasses the New Man (Jesus)”

    Male and female He did make them and the Church’s teaching is no mistake. But because of Original Sin, disease, disorder, and deformity are going to be forever with us in this life. For legal and health purposes I do think it’s only fair and reasonable to allow legal recognition of a third neutral gender to accommodate the intersexed who don’t neatly fit into one or the other sex.

  • Tom O.

    God Created us male and female. He didn’t create us male, female and a third option.

  • Ame

    I agree but you are not reading carefully. Intersex isn’t a third option, it’s a disorder. I think it’s legally appropriate to recognize a neutral gender because some intersex persons just can’t neatly fit in to one sex or another. How are we to accept the genetic male who’s genetic expression failed to allow him to develop a male body? How are we to accept person born with Turner syndrome?

  • Lark62

    You know this how?

  • naturgesetz

    From what transgender people say and what their supporters have said and written, as well as from generally accepted science of genetics.

  • Lark62

    The plural of anecdote is not data.

  • naturgesetz

    Irrelevant. You’re trolling. Bye.

  • Lark62

    I have never heard a trans person say they are “convinced” about their gender.

    Are you “convinced” you are right (or left) handed, or are you simply right (or left) handed.

  • naturgesetz

    You’re playing with words, troll. In the first place, I am convinced that I’m left-handed. More to the point, it doesn’t matter what word they use: it wouldn’t make sense for people to take hormones and have gender reassignment surgery if they weren’t convinced that their true gender wasn’t the one assigned at birth.

  • Joslyn Renfrey

    Hi there: I am what you may consider to be a ‘gender critical’ trans person; I don’t think a precise theory of gender is necessary to transition: biological aspects like breast size and hair length are part off ones gender expression, and I think it is valid to change them hormonally if one wishes.

    Additionally, not all trans women seek, or can afford vaginoplasty, and not all trans men seek, or can afford phalloplasty.