How to Explain Catholic Teaching on Gender to Your Friends and Family
Jason Evert’s book is a beacon of clarity and charity amid a culture being bombarded with transgender propaganda.
As the end of the school year approached, I overheard a student talking in a private conversation about something he had read about gender. He told a couple of his classmates about a study which found that the number of people born with intersex conditions (conditions where people have both male and female characteristics and the person’s gender is not clear, according to the student) is one in every 50 — as many people as there are with red hair — and this implies that gender is clearly not binary. Instead, there is a spectrum of genders.
I had never heard about this study before, and I was surprised. First of all, I realized that the conclusion did not follow: no amount of intersex people can imply that gender has a spectrum. Secondly, all of the language is still in terms of the male/female duality. Beyond that, though, the statistic seemed strange. Something about it didn’t seem right.
I didn’t say anything at the time because the comments were not addressed to me, but within two weeks of hearing about that study, I learned more about it from a book that came highly recommended: Male, Female, Other?: A Catholic Guide to Understanding Gender, by Jason Evert. In an interview on the podcast of Father Paul Houlis, A Holy Mess with His HoliMess, Evert says that he spent years diving into the research, reading tens of thousands of pages, and summarizing it all between two covers to give as a gift to the Church, putting the ammunition in the hands of the people on the ground. Houlis calls it a must-read and one of the most important books today.
It was certainly helpful to me in evaluating what my student was talking about. It turns out that the “study,” by Anne Fausto-Sterling, includes a wide array of conditions, the most common of which are not considered intersex conditions by other medical professionals. Intersex often means that a person is born with ambiguous genitalia, but of the 2% that Fausto-Sterling cited, 99% are born with unambiguous genitalia and suffer from different conditions that render them infertile, and they have no idea they have the syndrome until they try to have children. Fausto-Sterling produces her statistic by expanding the definition of intersex. In reality, genitalia are clearly identifiable 99.98% of the time. (This is all covered in greater detail in Chapter 5 of Evert’s book, if you want more information.)
Most of us find ourselves struggling to find perspective in the midst of a culture being bombarded with transgender propaganda:
- Does each person have his own gender identity?
- Is gender a social construct?
- Are some people trans?
- Do some people have the brain of one sex and the body of another?
- Is the increase of people coming out as trans only a result of a more accepting society?
- Are cross-sex hormones beneficial for people experiencing gender dysphoria?
- Is gender identity innate?
- Are our ideas of gender an outdated result of Western colonialism?
- Should you use whatever pronoun a person prefers?
- Ought parents and educators to affirm any child who identifies as trans?
- If you struggle with gender dysphoria, should you just accept that God made you trans?
- If you refuse to acknowledge people’s gender identity, will you cause them to commit suicide?
All of these questions were taken from the table of contents in Evert’s book. Each chapter is structured a bit like the Summa Theologiae of St. Thomas Aquinas with a clear statement of opposite viewpoint, and the rest of the chapter is the response. The endnotes section, containing many scholarly references, is 24 pages alone. He has done the homework for all of us.
This issue, though, is not just about scholarship. Being armed with the facts is not enough. Dumping information and logic on people will not convince them, as I have learned from experience in other areas. “Dialogue is needed. Ideologies must be challenged, but first, individuals need to be heard,” writes Evert. Charity and clarity are both needed. It will do no good to belittle people who promote gender theory or people questioning their gender. Compassion is necessary.
This book is written for everyone in the Church: parents, educators, priests, bishops, youth ministers, youth, and those who are wrestling with gender dysphoria. Evert’s book is written with both clarity and charity. We need to hold on to the individual with one hand and hold on to the truth with the other, to use Evert’s own analogy, and then we can be the bridge to show God’s love and care for every person.