Call me Caitlyn

Caitlyn Jenner’s “coming out” in the pages of Vanity Fair this week caused a stir, well, pretty much everywhere. Much of the commentary I saw was positive. There were some on the left, particularly feminists, who raised questions about Jenner’s decision to embrace a highly sexualized image of femininity.

Some religious conservatives expressed sympathy to Jenner personally but joined most of their colleagues in criticizing her decision to live as a woman and undergo gender reassignment surgery.

I’m increasingly of the belief that the state of Catholic teaching on these issues is more unsettled than at first it might appear. It’s true that a few bishops — including Pope Francis — have offered negative appraisals of “gender theory,” which is popular in transgender circles.

But this is a very new issue and I’m not sure one can appear to a clear and consistent teaching on the matter that has been universally held for a long period of time. The Catechism is pretty much silent on the matter.

The question as I see it is whether a person with a gender identity that is at variance with their chromosomal/physical gender necessarily violates the moral law if they choose to live according to their gender identity and (although this is a separate question) ultimately undergo gender reassignment surgery.

The argument that is usually offered against the idea that these actions could be morally licit is some version of the “divine will” argument.

In this case, the argument is that a person’s chromosomal/physical gender represents an expression of divine will and that living contrary to that chromosomal/physical inheritance is contrary to God’s will.

I think this argument quickly runs into some problems. There are many aspects of our lives as human beings that are expressions of our genetic inheritance.

Not all of these are positive and some (e.g. a genetic predisposition to juvenile diabetes) are potentially lethal. I’m not aware of the Church ever holding that it would be illegitimate to treat such a condition simply because we were born with it. Continue reading

  • J. Peter Nixon is an award-winning Catholic writer whose work has appeared in America, Commonweal, U.S. Catholic, and elsewhere.

News category: Analysis and Comment.

Tags: , , ,