Gender Identity: “One more way to be human”

One more way to be human is the title of a feature article in The Tablet (6 April 2019), written by Professor David Albert Jones, the director of the Anscombe Bioethics Centre in Oxford. Professor Jones is developing a project at St Mary’s University, Twickenham with Dr Claire Jenkins to engage with trans people who are Catholic to develop a Catholic understanding of gender identity. The views expressed in the article are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Centre, the University, or any other organisation to which he is affiliated.

Professor Jones begins the article by outlining the history of gender dysphoria, that is, the mismatch between a person’s biological sex and gender identity, which, he says, has existed “throughout history, though expressed differently” according to time, place and culture. In the 1950s, the use of hormones and surgery to address this area of human experience began in Europe. As is so often the case, developments in the fields of medicine, science, societal changes, etc advance well ahead of legal safeguards and provisions. The British Government only provided legal status for people in the “acquired gender” in 2004, after a judgment of the European Court of Human Rights. The Church, unsurprisingly, has taken longer to even discuss the sensitive human realities that gender identity present. There is increasing acrimony surrounding the area of gender identity evidenced in social media, strands of feminism, and the use of the term “gender theory”, which, it is said, “denies the reciprocity between men and women and ‘radically separates’ gender from biological sex”, thereby having a negative impact on the Christian understanding of the family. This “ideology of gender”, from the perspective of the Church, is to present gender as a matter of individual choice “rather than something to be accepted from God as a given”.

“The combination of these practical concerns, some real, some imagined, the effect of social media and the rise of populism, together with the condemnation of ‘gender ideology’, has created a perfect storm”, according to Professor Jones. He continues, “What I can say is that, for those who wish to transition, this desire is, in a curious way, an affirmation that the duality of male and female is profoundly important for the individual and his or her place in society. The very distress of gender dysphoria bears witness that one’s identity as a man or as a woman is something very deep.”

Professor Jones has come to the conclusion that the issue of gender “raises profound questions about human nature” that stands in need of further investigation. Separating practical issues, using medical and legal reasoning, and pastoral reasoning may prove helpful. Citing 1 John 4:18, he concludes the article, “Perfect love casts out fear and when irrational fear is cast aside what remains are challenges common to other human situations. Perhaps then we will discover that being trans is one more way to be human and one more way to be Catholic.”