Gender Paranoia – and Gender Facts

In Washington D.C. for a National Prayer Breakfast, Cardinal Robert Sarah has described gay marriage as “poison” and attacked transgender rights as a form of ideological colonialism.

“[T]hrough a demonic ‘gender ideology,’ a deadly impulse that is being experienced in a world increasingly cut off from God through ideological colonialism.”

Cardinal Sarah, is an African, as am I by origin. I leave aside here his lamentable disregard for the Catechism’s plain instruction that homosexuals (and, by extension, transgender people) should be treated with “respect, compassion and sensitivity”. Instead, I simply draw attention to the cardinal’s woeful ignorance of our continent’s history, of the the nature of colonial ideology – and of basic biology.


Let’s start with biology.

In insisting that people should keep to their biological sex at birth, he and the supporters of the bathroom bill, fail to understand that “biological sex” is not always as simple as they blithely assume. Catholic teaching tells us to respect the findings of science – from which we know that biological sex is much more than a simple matter of external genitals (which for some people, are in any case indeterminate at birth). There’s also the matter of internal genitals, chromosomal patters, hormones, and brain physiology. These do not always coincide – and nor do any of them divide neatly into exclusively “male” and “female” forms.  In the popular mind, for example  men have XY chromosomes, and women XX.  What this does not acknowledge, is that there are many other chromosomal patterns, giving rise to a significant number of people who are most accurately described as intersex. Which bathroom should they use?

External genitals can be deceptive. Based on these, Selwyn Gross was identified at birth as “male”. As an adult, he became a Dominican priest, and taught theology. However, it turned out on investigation that the rest of Gross’ biology was primarily female, leading her to formally transition, to bring her gender into greater conformity with her real biological sex – which was no that to which she had been assigned at birth. The tragic result was that she was then expelled from the priesthood.

Even when the purely physical elements of biological sex are fully consonant with each other, they are not always in conformity with the brain patterns. This is the condition that medical science describes as “gender dysphoria” – a condition in which purely physical and mental gender identity are at odds. Gender reassignment surgery is not, as its opponents assume, a frivolous wish to replace one’s physical biology with a “choice” of gender, but an attempt to harmonize both parts of the biology one has been given at birth – the mental, and the purely physiological.

It’s simplistic and cruel to insist that only the external genitalia should determine gender identity and expression.

As for history, it’s now widely recognised that the Western colonial administrators and missionaries imported homophobia into their colonies – not homosexuality itself, which has been part of every society in every region throughout history. In many of the great polytheistic religious systems, there were gods and goddesses who took same-sex lovers, human or divine. In South Asia, the vast Hindu pantheon also included examples of gods who changed gender.

In some societies, such as classical Greece or Japan, these relationships were typically between partners of different age, with a dominant older man protecting and educating a submissive younger man. Elsewhere, as with many Native American cultures, these relationships typically involved one partner taking on the gender identity and expression opposite to their biological sex. This was also the pattern across much of Africa, where biological females with enough wealth could take on male roles and become “female husbands”, and where “male wives” were also a feature in some places. Independently of relationship patterns, on all pre-colonial continents, there was frequently social recognition and even special status given to people of a “third” gender, who were believed to possess special spiritual gifts. Well-known examples were the Native American “two spirit” people, the South Asian hijras, and in South Africa, the sangomas, who have their counterparts right across Africa.

In importing their European ideas of a rigid gender and sexual binary to Africa to Asia and the Americas. In some places, this was enforced with the most horrendous penalties, comparable to the burning of alleged sodomites by the Inquisition back in Europe.

(Quest conference 2016, “Feathers on the Breath of God”, takes place July 22nd – Sunday July 24th, taking as its theme, gender, sexuality and identity. The keynote addresses by Tina Beardsley and Chris Dowd will be respectively:

  • “My Body was Made for the Love of God” (Ernesto Cardenal): transgender Christians and the Body of Christ.
  • The new Normal- how sexual minorities are going mainstream.

Conference will also feature a Sibyls workshop on  “‘Gender, Sexuality and Spirituality: exploring the interplay.’

Book your place here.)


Crompton, Louis: Homosexuality and Civilization

Greenberg, David F: The Construction of Homosexuality

Herrada,  Gilles:  The Missing Myth: A New Vision of Same-Sex Love

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