Religion & Culture | Transgender: denying reality - Gender is a sociological and psychological concept not an objective biological one
The highly publicised sexual transformation of United States Olympian Bruce Jenner (now Caitlyn Jenner) has ignited a bruising political and cultural debate on gender dysphoria and 'transgenderism'.
Academicians, scientists, theologians and laypersons have weighed in on a phenomenon that is as old as civilisation.
With a shift in the cultural paradigm, transgender rights are slowly being accommodated. Federal laws prohibit discrimination against transgender individuals, and bathrooms at most public places in the United StatesS are required to accommodate new 'gender realities'.
Not surprisingly, political, academic, and judicial activism has advanced a new confrontational liberal zeitgeist that has made it difficult to have a dissenting opinion for fear of being maliciously labelled. The same held true when conservatism was universally dominant.
There are key questions surrounding this debate. For example, is surgery appropriate in dealing with somatic dysphoria? Also, is being transgender a psychopathology? What is needed is a sober discussion based on measurable arguments and not malleable evidence fashioned by individual and social leanings.
Transgender should not be confused with transvestite (a man having pleasure in dressing like a woman), homosexuality (having sexual feelings for the same sex), bisexuality (having sexual feelings for both sexes), or hermaphrodites (a person having male and female genitalia).
Transgender is invariably referred to as intersex (a person that has non-standard genitalia), or transsexual (a person who expresses a gender identity that is different to his or her gender at birth).
In many of these cases, gender transition is made possible through surgery.
Orthodox religions have long expressed paradoxical views regarding abnormal sexual identity, not unlike its position on homosexuality. The actions of the so-called sinner are vehemently condemned, although love is professed for the perpetrator.
Russell D. Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the southern Baptist Convention, said: "The transgender question means that conservative Christian congregation must teach what's being handed down to us, that our maleness and femaleness points us to an even deeper reality, to the unity ... of Christ and the Church.
"A rejection of the goodness of those creational realities, then, is a revolt against God's lordship, and against the picture of the gospel that God is embedded in His creation."
In marginal cases, pastors have been accused of fomenting a climate of hatred and violence towards transgender people who are deemed morally bankrupt and evil.
James Dobson, president of Focus on the Family, declared: "If you are a dad, I pray that you will protect your little girls from men who walk in unannounced, unzip their pants and urinate in front of them ... . If this happened 100 years ago, someone might have been shot."
WORSHIPPING IN CHURCHES
Sensing and experiencing slight from mainstream Christianity, many in the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) community have begun worshipping in churches and temples where sexual orientation is inconsequential.
Secular society, though, has pushed back forcibly against what they call intolerance and bigotry. Prominent businesses are boycotting states, such as Georgia, Indiana, and North Carolina that uphold the Religious Freedom Restoration Act that is arguably discriminatory and unconstitutional.
While battlelines are drawn, some are critically measured, preferring to understand the sexual dynamics and overall psychological profile of the transgender community.
Among those is priest and neuroscientist Tad Pacholczyk, a Yale and Harvard graduate and education director at the National Catholic Bioethics Center in Philadelphia. His scientific and theological background offered a unique insight into this highly charged subject.
In the article, 'Seeing through the intersex confusion,' he acknowledged that confounding physiological (hormonal) triggers and cultural forces lead to psychological discordance.
Comparing somatic disorders to other developmental disorders that should never "be subjected to bias or mistreatment", he argued that "while a newborn's 'intrinsic maleness' or 'intrinsic femaleness' may be difficult to access in certain more complicated intersex cases, the point remains that there is an 'underlying' sexual constitution that we must do our best to recognise and respect and act in accord with".
Equally important is his far-reaching assertion that "wilfully (denying this reality) is a prescription for disillusionment and dishonesty".
Pacholczyk has oftentimes referred to the work of the eminent Dr Paul McHugh, the former psychiatrist-in-chief at Johns Hopkins Hospital, who has been in the cross hairs of liberal professionals.
His detailed study of transgenderism and sex-reassignment surgery has produced some explosive assertions.
McHugh observed that after transitioning, individuals are still plagued by psycho-emotional and identity problems; that there is an absence of maternal characteristics and desires in transgendered individuals; and that despite haute couture over compensation there remains definitive, irreversible indicators of their maleness or femaleness.
Writing for the Wall Street Journal, McHugh likened the transgendered to "anorexia nervosa patients who believe that a drastic physical change will banish their psychosocial problems".
"At the heart of the problem," he argued, "is confusion over the nature of the transgendered."
McHugh continued: "Sex change is biologically impossible (and) people who undergo sex-reassignment surgery do not change from men to women or vice versa. Rather, they become feminised men or masculinised women."
He concluded that the transgender issue "is not a civil rights matter and encouraging surgical intervention is in reality to collaborate with and promote a mental disorder".
VERY REAL PROBLEM
McHugh has always emphasised that a diagnosis of mental illness should be met with the most appropriate means to address a very real problem.
Lending support to McHugh is the conservative American Association of Paediatricians.
Featured on its website is the article, 'Gender Ideology Harms Children', in which we read that "gender (an awareness and sense of oneself as male or female) is a sociological and psychological concept (and) not an objective biological one".
It also highlighted the disproportionately high rates of suicides among those who use cross-sex hormones and undergo sex realignment surgery, "even in Sweden which is among the most LGBT- affirming countries".
As both sides of the debate harden their position, the words of Pacholczyk invite reflection: " ... allowing people to 'define their identity' ignores the crucially important truth that numerous aspects of our identity, especially those related to our bodily and sexual identity, are predetermined, objective goods that we are called upon to recognise and respect in the choices we make".
- Dr Glenville Ashby is the author of the audiobook 'Anam Cara: Your Soul Friend and Bridge to Enlightenment and Creativity'. Send feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @glenvilleashby.