Go to these links for the Dawn and Brunch of the Gender-Havers, respectively.
If you’re just entering in on this series, it’s about problems with how Catholics—especially Catholic clergy—talk about trans people. (I realize the series title is not exactly transparent, but I am nothing if not committed to bits.) I’m discussing five such problems in this series, and covered the first two in my previous post. Both they and this third problem are expressions of a kind of intellectual laziness that leads to dishonesty. I think this dishonesty is often unintentional, and usually unconscious; but it’s also unacceptable, coming from men who have both the sacred calling and the day job of teaching faith and morals. Getting the facts straight is not optional in a vocation like that.
3. They reliably ignore the current medical
consensus on trans people and mental health.
I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve seen Catholic journalists, apologists, and priests run their mouths about how trans people need to accept reality or the body God gave them, or whatever, when the speaker has obviously made no serious effort to understand what trans experience even is. Besides thus displaying the emotional intelligence and social skills of young children, this behavior is also deeply unspiritual—and, in the case of priests, specifically disobedient to holy Scripture: Fathers, provoke not your children to anger, lest they be discouraged (Colossians 3.21).
One of the first and most important facts to grasp about trans people is this: transition is currently the only recognized medical treatment for gender dysphoria. People misunderstand this sometimes, so let’s unpack it a bit.
Gender dysphoria, you’ll remember, is a deep-seated distress over a mismatch between the person’s “inner,” intuited sense of their gender, and the perceptible “external” gender of their body, along with the social structures and expectations that go along with that gender. (By the way, make a note of the fact that gender dysphoria is the distress over the psychological mismatch, not the mismatch itself—this will be important later.) A common shorthand for this used to be phrases like “I’m a man trapped in a woman’s body” or vice versa, though phrases like this are less common nowadays. Most trans people describe their trans identity as being rooted in, or involving, gender dysphoria—wanting to inhabit a differently-sexed body.
Gender transition, often shortened just to transition, means starting to live as the gender you identify as, instead of the gender you’ve appeared to be up to now.1 Transition can take place in a lot of different contexts—domestic, professional, social, etc.—and touches on a lot of different aspects of ourselves, from appearance and mannerisms to legal info.
Please Insert Gender to Continue
Now, gender dysphoria is a condition with some variety. We’ve all had headaches, and we know from experience that not every headache has the same intensity, occurs in the same spot, or consists in quite the same sort of pain. Dysphoria works the same way. It can feature different primary focuses of distress, and different levels of intensity and consistency. There are people who feel their dysphoria most intensely when they hear themselves talk; for some, it’s worst in the mirror or the shower; others might have their strongest dysphoria over gender-coded clothes. Some people’s dysphoria is unpleasant but only rarely at the forefront of their minds, while others may struggle with an impulse to self-harm because of the relentless pain they’re in.
As a result, people who experience gender dysphoria handle it in different ways. Some don’t pursue transition,2 others do; those who do, don’t all transition to the same extent. The popular imagination kind of fixates on “THE SURGERY” as the thing trans people want; this is the case for a few reasons. One reason, or so I suspect, is that while plenty of people have tried on the clothing of the opposite sex, to have one’s body permanently altered does have a way of gripping the mind. Another reason is that people who want to scaremonger about trans issues probably won’t get very far with a nuanced discussion of the complex interrelation of biological, psychological, and social realities that, you see what I mean? Boring, but not scary. Whereas, if you can describe it in lurid “mad science” terms that would make losing a baby tooth sound like necrotizing fasciitis, that’s going to be much more politically useful.
But that isn’t how it works. Depending on the person, other changes might be equally or more important in relieving their dysphoria—getting a new haircut, introducing oneself with a new name, buying new clothes, wearing or ceasing to wear makeup, going to a vocal coach. These are all things that can be, and typically are, done before going on HRT3; indeed, it’s not uncommon for clinics to require such changes before they’ll even prescribe HRT.
So, in saying that transition is the only recognized treatment for gender dysphoria, I am not saying that anyone who’s diagnosed with gender dysphoria has no choice but to “get THE SURGERY” or be kicked out of the trans club. Transition is a broad word that covers a range of decisions. And treatment is a narrow word that covers only one of the two responses to gender dysphoria; the other response is “choose not to treat it and look for coping mechanisms.” Which of those two responses a person pursues is, and ought to be, up to them. But if a person is dealing with gender dysphoria, the only treatment that is in fact available is gender transition.4
Metaphysician, Heal Thy Self-Concept
Back in my first post in this series, I mentioned that one priest tried to argue that actually transition doesn’t treat gender dysphoria because it essentially “gives in” to it. This is a good example of why you shouldn’t run your mouth about things you know nothing about, no matter what prefix or suffix is attached to your name.
Remember: gender dysphoria is the distress caused by a mismatch the sufferer feels between their sense of identity and their “exterior” gender. The mismatch itself might not even be an issue, if it didn’t bother the person who felt it (hard though that hypothetical scenario is to picture). Transition aims to relieve distress; it is not an attempt to metaphysically alter a person’s spiritual properties. Now, you can say that a procedure meant to relieve pain is wrong because it goes about its good aim in some bad way. But whether the treatment is even a treatment, that’s just a question about whether it does what it’s trying to do. Saying transition doesn’t treat gender dysphoria because it doesn’t reconcile a person with their birth sex is like saying grief counseling doesn’t work because it doesn’t bring the patient’s loved ones back from the dead.
Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven or your money back!
There is no medicine or procedure that makes a person comfortable with their birth sex. As for therapy—well, there is a kind that claims to treat what it still tends to call “gender identity disorder” (i.e., it claims to be able to align a patient’s sense of self with their birth sex5). That would be conversion therapy. If you’ve been following any LGBTQ-related news for the last few years, you already know where that road ends. If you haven’t, try googling a few people and organizations like Love in Action, JONAH, Michael Bussee, John Paulk, or Alana Chen; be warned that while a lot of it will be ridiculous to the point of comedy, some of it will make for pretty grim reading.
Might new treatments for gender dysphoria be discovered or invented? Sure. But they haven’t yet. We can burn that bridge when we come to it; until then, we have to deal in what’s possible.
“If Virtue Were Profitable”
Many Christians will, and do, continue to cling to the idea that something else must work, because the Woke Left just has to be wrong about this. At the risk of sounding like a TOB guy, there is a parallel here with contraception. Catholics are perfectly free to object to transition on purely religious, moral, or philosophical grounds, without reference to whether it is medically effective; the same is true of contraception.
But there is a type of Catholic—often one who is deeply invested in the culture war—who also wants to argue that contraception (or transition) fails on its own terms, and even tends to assume this first and look for evidence later. I think this originates with a warped form of the impulse to look for the good aspects of nature, and use them as something to build on, as in the classic example of the Church “baptizing” pagan philosophy. Unfortunately, a lot of people are prone to thinking that this works the other way too, such that if the Church objects to something on moral grounds, it must also just be a bad idea pragmatically. Admittedly, this would result in a much simpler universe; or, as A Man For All Seasons has it, “If virtue were profitable, common sense would make us saintly …”
Worse, the culture warrior may begin to falsify the facts. Some popular Catholic rhetoric implies condoms don’t prevent pregnancy or disease in any significant degree. The trouble here is, that is a bald-faced lie, being told in the ostensible service of Truth himself. If confronted with the truth, these creative individuals tend to resort either to vague claims about “differences of opinion” or, more courageously and much more stupidly, simply to maintain that it’s those facts which do not fit their foregone conclusions that are politically-motivated lies.
I’ll say it again: the only known treatment for gender dysphoria that’s actually effective is transition. You can still argue that that that procedure is wrong, though you’d better produce some damn good reasons to lay a burden this heavy on someone else’s back. Or you can advise people to avoid transition if possible, while still allowing it in principle. But what you can’t do is lie about whether it alleviates the anguish in question. That’s off the table, because it’s lying.
But What About Detransitioners? And RODG? And drag queen story hour? And
Yeah, let’s have a word about those. But before we do that, I’m having a drink.
1To readers who may be moved to leave me instructive comments, stating that the very way I’m phrasing things concedes everything to GENDER IDEOLOGY up front, at the expense of Catholicism: please understand that I’m using terms like “appear” as neutrally and literally as possible. For most of Some Like It Hot, Marilyn Monroe and Tony Curtis both “appear to be” women; saying so is not smuggling in a suggestion that Marilyn Monroe wasn’t a woman, but simply discussing their appearance, and temporarily ignoring the quite separate question of whether the appearance conveys a reality or conceals it.
2Religion can be a motivator not to transition. Many belief systems, such as Christianity, Confucianism, and Sikhism, contain moral precepts that complicate the idea of transition—whether they forbid transition or not.. However, there are other reasons some people choose to live with the condition rather than alleviate it. Many people experience constant or mounting dysphoria, but for some, it fluctuates, making any kind of permanent treatment difficult. Others live in social, cultural, or familial settings where even the challenges of dysphoria are easier and less dangerous to navigate than the likely fallout of public transition.
3Hormone replacement therapy. Roughly speaking, this means testosterone blockers and estrogen for trans women, and estrogen blockers and testosterone for trans men. HRT is normally a major step in the process of medically and legally transitioning.
4As I suggested, how “deep” into transition a person chooses to go is another strictly personal choice. One individual might aim for complete social, legal, sartorial, and surgical reconstruction of their personality; another may be satisfied by as little as a change of social name and pronouns.
5Assigned sex at birth would be a more accurate phrase than birth sex, but I gather the latter is more accessible. People sometimes assume that such-and-such phrase being “more accurate” is just code that the phrase is more politically correct,” but because some intersex conditions are undetectable or easy to miss without tests that newborns really don’t need.