Is it possible for a biological male, let’s call him Sam, to be a woman on the inside? If so, how can we know? Does maleness and femaleness reduce to mere internal feelings? Is Sam his body or the “inner self” he believes he/she is, in this case, a woman? These questions seem modern but are in fact quite ancient.
The roots of the current gender identity phenomenon reside in the ancient world of Gnostic Dualism. In this entry, I will examine the ancient origins of the current gender identity phenomenon, its current rehashing of an old idea, and how St. Pope John Paul II’s Theology of the Body assists Catholics seeking to address and confront this issue head on.
Ancient Identity Crisis
Dualism is generally defined as the belief that an individual human being consists of a body/spirit (soul) or body/mind duality. For a more thorough examination of dualism, click here. Gnosticism is the ancient belief that knowledge (gnosis) provides “the key to unlocking transcendent understanding, self-realization, and/or unity with God.” Furthermore, gnostic dualism plays an important role in this “self-realization,” as matter is viewed as crude/corrupt, while the spirt/soul is viewed as the true reality or true person. The “inner person” is the true person, while the outer person (the body) matters little or not at all. Conversely, the body is secondary, an illusion or costume. Matter does not matter, only spirit (the inner person).
All this should sound familiar.
Modern Identity Crisis
According to Alex Schmider, associate director of transgender representation at GLAAD, gender identity entails acknowledging an individual’s preferred personal pronouns. To do so shows respect by “referring to them in a way that’s consistent and true to who they are.” Did you catch that? How one identifies equates to who they truly are. Conversely, to acknowledge a person by their biological sex, if they do not “identify” as such, constitutes a grave cultural faux pas. In this view, the “inner self” constitutes the true and real self. Therefore, the exterior or physical body (biological sex) is secondary, nothing more than a costume.
Definition of Gender Identity
NPR (National Public Radio) recently posted an article on their webpage title, A Guide To Gender Identity Terms, in which they provide the following definition of gender identity (along with other related definitions):
Gender identity is one’s own internal sense of self and their gender, whether that is man, woman, neither or both. Unlike gender expression, gender identity is not outwardly visible to others.
For most people, gender identity aligns with the sex assigned at birth, the American Psychological Association notes. For transgender people, gender identity differs in varying degrees from the sex assigned at birth. [emphasis added in color by me]
So, gender identity is an internal sense of self and gender not outwardly visible to others. In the definition above, the outward self (the part of a person attached to biology) gets reduced to mere societal expressions of masculine or feminine. The outward body, now rendered inconsequential, becomes a costume worn to reflect the true “internal” person.
Moreover, missing from the list of NPR definitions are words like woman and man. These terms, traditionally associated with biology, now replaced with the adjective cisgender. A cisgender individual identifies with their sex assigned at birth (biological sex is now assigned by medical professionals). Furthermore, how a man knows how it “feels” to be a woman remains an unknown. The definition of man and woman would seem foundational to the gender identity phenomenon, but such definitions remain unforthcoming and shrouded in mystery.
Theology of the Body and Gender Identity
St. Pope John Paul II’s Theology of the Body affirms that we are our bodies, that is, our biological sex matters. God created humans male and female (Genesis 1:27). God did so for men and women to be “gifts” to one another. In reference to the Manichaean (an ancient Gnostic group that held gnostic dualist views) St. Pope John Paul II perfectly summarizes the current gender identity issue.
A Manichaean attitude would lead to an “annihilation” of the body—if not real, at least intentional—to negation of the value of human sex, of the masculinity and femininity of the human person, or at least to their mere toleration in the limits of the need delimited by the necessity of procreation. [emphasis in color added by me]
Gender identity annihilates the reality of biological sex and replaces it with a nebulous concept of gender identity as the true “sense of self.”
The Gift of Male and Female
Regarding the “gift” of male and female, he writes:
They [men and women] communicate in the fullness of humanity, which is manifested in them as reciprocal complementarity precisely because they are “male” and “female.” At the same time, they communicate on the basis of that communion of persons in which, through femininity and masculinity, they become a gift for each other. In this way they reach in reciprocity a special understanding of the meaning of their own body. [emphasis in color added by me]
In the reciprocal complementarity of “male” and “female,” individuals come to understand the meaning of their bodies. If we deny this reality, we risk falling into the errors of the ancient Gnostics, like the Manichaean. God created men and women with bodies He declared as good. To deny these bodies and their reality is to declare our bodies are the opposite of good. Moreover, if we believe that the “inner” person contradicts the “outer” person, we declare God a liar. Furthermore, if we compel others to use “preferred” pronouns that likewise contradict the reality of biological sex, we compel them to lie, too.
We Are Our Bodies
God created male and female humans. God did not create males in female bodies and females in male bodies. Catholicism, via Theology of the Body, teaches there is no difference between the “inner” person and the “outer” person. We are our bodies and our bodies matter. Our bodies are gifts from God and God makes no mistakes. Gender dysphoria and intersex people exist, but this does not entail people born in the wrong bodies. It means that they, like all people, need to understand how God made them and embrace the truth of how they were made. God created us with biological sex for us to be “gifts” to one another.
Let us not fall for the ancient error of Gnostic Dualism. Our bodies are good, just as God made them.
 Gnosticism. Gnosticism – New World Encyclopedia. (n.d.). Retrieved January 21, 2022, from https://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Gnosticism#Modern_Gnosticism
 The theology of the body by John Paul II. (n.d.). Retrieved January 26, 2022, from https://d2y1pz2y630308.cloudfront.net/2232/documents/2016/9/theology_of_the_body.pdf
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