For many years now, I have pondered the use of the word “gender.” Before I began my work on same-sex attraction and wrote the book One Man, One Woman, I spent 9 years studying “gender” and wrote a book on the subject (The Gender Agenda: Redefining Equality).
Originally, “sex” was an inclusive term, which referred not only to the biological reality of male and female, but to everything it meant to be a man and a woman. “Gender” was used to refer to words. It is interesting to note that Hebrew, the language chosen by God to first reveal himself, is a highly gendered language, every noun, pronoun, adjective, article, and even verbs in the 2nd and 3rd persons singular and plural are either masculine or feminine (there is no neuter). In Greek, nouns and adjectives are masculine, feminine, or neuter.
Controversial sexologist John Money introduced the idea that sex was composed of a number of factors, including genitals, hormones, orientation, and identity. He used the tragedy of birth defects which make it difficult to determine sex (disorders of sexual development—DSD) as an example of how sex could be differ from “gender.” He promoted the idea that a child who was genetically male, but had genital deformities could be surgically altered to appear female and be successfully raised as a girl. His great case—the twin David Reimer—was later proved a fraud. David never adjusted to a female gender identity. The practice of taking children with DSD (previously called Intersex or Hermaphrodite) and surgically treating the deformity without regard to their actual sex has been widely criticized—particularly by the victims—and has now been largely abandoned.
Radical feminists took the idea of gender and combined it with their social constructionist (post modernist deconstruction) ideology. According to this theory, biological sex might be a given, but “gender”—one’s perception of self—is a social construct and therefore can be changed. Radical feminism applied the Marxist theory of class struggle to the relationship between men and women. According to this theory, women were the first oppressed class and men used the biological sex differences to invent motherhood as the task of women and marriage as a way to secure their power over women. Freedom from this oppression could supposedly be achieved by identifying the ways in which language and culture oppress women and deconstructing the cultural supports for recognition of the differences between men and women. This deconstructing of “gender” is behind the radical feminist war on marriage and motherhood, and their fanatical support for lesbianism and abortion on demand.
Most people, however, knew nothing about this new definition of “gender.” The public thought that “gender” was a polite synonym for sex (which can also mean sexual intercourse). This has lead to confusion, as those who believe (correctly) that there are only two sexes are surprised when people talk about the fluidity of “gender” or changing “gender.” How can there be more than two “genders”? How can a person change their “gender”? Well if “gender” is a synonym for “sex” they can’t, but if “gender” is just a social construct, then they could.
So the question is: Should we use the word “gender”? I feel that we should not. Although most Americans are comfortable with “gender” as a synonym for sex, this opens the door to the idea of “gender” as something “fluid.”
If the radical feminists, post-modern deconstructionists, gender ideologues, sexual utilitarians, and neo-Gnostics were trying to strip away truly oppressive cultural impositions, which kept men and women from being who they truly are (and these certainly do exist), then Christians should join them in this quest. But those pushing “gender” aren’t looking for the truth about the human person because they don’t believe there is a truth to find. They reject the idea of human nature. Their search is like peeling an onion. They want to remove every layer until there is nothing left.
God designed a two-sexed world: “Male and female he created them.” This is why Pope Benedict in one of his Christmas messages spoke about the ecology of man. He wanted to focus attention on the natural law concerning human beings. The promoters of the Gender Ideology strenuously objected because they rightly understood that anything that supported human ecology would not favor their view of “gender” as a social construct and sex differences as oppressive. For example, while most people would support eliminating unjust discrimination against women, the radical feminists believe that the fact that women are primarily responsible for mothering children is oppressive. They want the task divided 50/50 or taken over by the state. The radical feminists see marriage as a patriarchal structure by which men oppress women.
Some radical feminist/lesbians don’t support the push to call same-sex relationships marriages because they are ideologically anti-marriage. Gay activists may covertly agree, but see legal recognition of same-sex relationships as part of their campaign against “hegemonic heterosexism”—the belief that heterosexuality is normal and should be “privileged.”
We have to defend patriarchy—which if you think about the word is men imitating the “Father from whom every fatherhood takes its name.” God was a Father before he made any fathers. We have to defend the natural division of humanity into male and female. A world where gender is detached from biological sex undermines Christian theology, for we believe in a God who is father, a church who is bride. Christian theology tells us that what we see in the world is an image of heavenly realities.
We have to increase our understanding of complementarity without being tied down by narrow or limiting stereotypes. We have to defend the unity of the human person—our bodies are not shells we inhabit. We have to defend the integrity of the human body, which is an image of the body of Christ. Thus, the mutilation of the body in a futile attempt to “change” a person’s sex should be condemned. This is not a proper way to treat psychological disorders. Does using their word “gender” help us in our defense of the truth about the human person? I don’t think it does. It introduces confusion and separation where there should be none.
Therefore, I suggest that the pro-life, pro-family community should adopt a strategy for rethinking the language we use—a comprehensive strategy for promoting the ecology of man. The push by “trans” activists to secure “gender identity” rights at the UN and through the Congress makes this a priority. Given the power of the internet, this could initially be conducted on line, although at some point a conference might be useful.
As a first step we could encourage people to refrain from using the word “gender” when they mean “sex.” And when they do use it to put it in quotes. An excellent example of how language can be changed and remain easily understandable it the essay “Surgical Sex” by Dr. Paul McHugh.
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Gender – While many people believe that gender is a synonym for sex, it is not. Sex refers to the reality of identity as either male or female. Gender is a social construction referring to how we think about our sexual identity. While it is possible for a person to construct an identity, which does not correspond to biological reality, such a construction is intrinsically disordered and inauthentic.
“What is often expressed and understood by the term ‘gender,’ is definitively resolved in the self-emancipation of the human being from creation and the Creator.” “Man wants to create himself, and to decide always and exclusively on his own about what concerns him.” —Pope Benedict XVI
Don’t say gender when you mean sex.
Don’t say opposite sex, it leads to fractional sexual complementarity—stereotyping. Say other sex.
Don’t say role when you mean vocation. – Role, come from the roll of paper on which the script for a play was written. A role is imposed from out side and inauthentic. Vocation is the call to be who we are were made to be from Him who made us. When we discover our vocation and accept it, we find our authentic self.
Responsibility – The theology of the body points to a difference in responsibility between men and women. Men and women have different responsibilities. Women are entrusted with the human person by the fact of pregnancy and nursing and human need for early attachment. Women have a responsibility to be there. Men are responsible to protect and provide for women and children.
In particular, don’t use “gender role” or “gender identity” rather use sexual identity.
Speak of male and female, man and woman. – We should be leaders in the search to understand the true differences between men and women and to avoid narrow, restrictive stereotypes.
People are not assigned a gender as is often stated by transgender activists. Their sexual identity is observed at birth.
Authentic – That which corresponds to the truth about the human person.
Socially Constructed – That which is imposed by society. Transgender activists and radical feminists believe that all the obvious differences between men and men are social constructions imposed on individuals, including such things as a woman’s desire to mother her own children.
Stereotype – A stereotype is created when the left side of the brain tries to describe what the right side of the brain knows. When we know that two classes are different, but we don’t know why, we come up with stereotypes. What is the difference between a dog and cat? A two year old can tell a dog from a cat, in life, in a picture, even in a cartoon. The baby sees a dog and we say dog. The next day the baby sees a cat and says dog and we say “No, cat.” And after that the average baby doesn’t make the same mistake. But ask an adult what is the difference between a dog and cat, and you will get stereotypes, dogs are bigger, cats have long tails and pointy ears,—a some negative stereotypes—dogs are friendly, cats are cold. The real difference—cats have retractable claws. We should not promote narrow stereotypes, but seek to understand the authentic truth about the human person.
The term intersex (Persons whose biological sex is not obvious or misidentified at birth) should be replaced with disorders of sexual development (DSD). The goal is to correctly identify the true sex of the child. There are only two sexes.
Don’t say homosexual, gay, or lesbian when referring to persons. Rather refer to persons with same-sex attraction (SSA). This makes it clear that this is a person with a problem, not a different class of human beings.
We can speak of homosexual acts or “gay” and “lesbian” activists or GLBTQ (Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Trans, Queer).
People are not transsexual or transgendered. – Transsexual implies that a person have moved from one sex to another, which is impossible. Rather say Persons Presenting as the Other Sex. (PPOS). They may be pre, partial, post, or non-surgical PPOS.
Transsexual is used to refer to those who have bottom surgery (PPOS-post). Transgendered is anyone who presents as the other sex whether they are pre-, partial, post, or non surgical.
Most sexual identity disorders and same-sex attraction begins with an attachment disorder in the first year of life. Persons with SSA and PPOS say “I always felt different.” This is true. Most experienced an insecure attachment to their mothers. This insecure attachment affected their ability to (for boys) identify with the father and male peers or (for girls) to feel safe, loved, and valued as a girl by their father. There is no evidence that SSA or PPOS has a genetic or hormonal cause, although many of those experiencing these conditions desperately want to believe that they are biologically different. This does not mean that biology plays no part. Temperament, health, talents, interests, and appearance can be genetically influenced and do affect the way people treat a child and the way that child responds to that treatment. For example, an anxious, risk avoidant, sensitive, artistic boy is more likely to be protected and favored by his mother and feel different from his athletic risk taking father and brothers.
Editor’s note: This column first appeared on the Pontifical Council for the Laity website and is reprinted with permission of the author. Pictured above is “The Jewish Bride” painted by Rembrandt in 1666.