Bishop Arthur J. Serratelli
On April 19, 2016 the retail store Target announced that it would provide gender neutral bathrooms and also allow men and women to use the same fitting rooms. The following day, nearly one million people protested the decision, pledging to boycott the store. The store’s new policy is part of a trend spreading across the country to accommodate 1 percent of the population. Starbucks and Barnes and Noble have also announced that their customers may use the bathrooms according to the gender of their choice.
On June 3, 2013, a woman in Nashville, Tenn., complained to the manager of the restaurant that she encountered a burly man dressed like a woman in the ladies’ room. The manager blithely told her that she could use the men’s room. On June 23, 2013, the Colorado Civil Rights Division decided that a 6-year-old boy who identifies himself as a girl should be allowed to use the girls’ bathroom. The division held that not to allow him to use the girls’ bathroom would create a hostile environment for him. On April 19, 2016, a teenager in Virginia, who was born a girl but now identifies herself as a boy, won the right in the 4th Circuit Court to use the boys’ bathroom.
In several states, activists are advancing their agenda that people should have the right to use public lockers, fitting rooms and restrooms on the basis of the gender that they say they are. Lawmakers are divided. On March 23, 2016, North Carolina passed House Bill 2 into law. The new law requires transgender people to use bathrooms according to their sex marker at birth and not according to their own choice of gender identity. Immediately, there was a backlash. Entertainers such as Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, Jimmy Buffet, and Beatle Ringo Starr canceled their shows. The protesters insist that the rights of transgender individuals are being cast aside.
Even President Obama has entered the battle over gender identity. On Friday, May 13, 2016, his administration issued a sweeping directive from the Departments of Education and Justice. It mandated that every public school district in the country allow transgender students to use the bathrooms that correspond to the gender that they themselves choose.
These are just a few examples of the most recent efforts in our country to redefine what makes a man a man and a woman a woman. Biologically, a person’s sex is determined by chromosomes (female, XX; male, XY), reproductive organs and hormones. In the past, society had clear ideas of the meaning of masculine and feminine identity. Today, this is not so. It is ironic that advances in psychology have been accompanied by a tendency among some to assert that basic human biology has no meaning for self-understanding. Healthy human integration must surely include acceptance of our biological constitution. Today, this is not so.
A secularized society is rapidly accepting “gender identity.” This means people choose to designate themselves man or woman not on the basis of their biological markers but on how they experience themselves as either male or female. Those who espouse gender identity no longer see gender as a line dividing male and female, but a continuum on which to measure the masculine or feminine qualities of a person.
The legal ruling radically altering society’s view of human sexuality has been the Supreme Court landmark decision in Obergefell v. Hodges. Once five judges ruled from the bench of our highest court that two individuals of the same sex can legally marry, they made one’s sexuality, whether given by nature or changed by medicine, no longer relevant to marriage. In a word, they cast aside the natural law along with reason itself.
There are individuals who simply do not fit into any rigid, binary category of male and female. While it is laudable to be tolerant and not judge individuals, nonetheless, it is lamentable to say that gender is utterly meaningless. To what end should society embrace the notion that the gender and sexuality are merely social constructs and need to be deconstructed?
Pope Francis has been addressing this issue of sexuality and gender head-on. No surprise that his statements are not headlined by a media that espouses a view opposed to his. Pope Francis has been clearly teaching that we cannot merely interpret our bodies according to our will. Rather, we need to pay attention to God’s design for his creation.
In his internationally acclaimed encyclical on the environment, Pope Francis quotes St. John Paul II on this point. He writes, “Not only has God given the earth to man, who must use it with respect for the original good purpose for which it was given, but, man too is God’s gift to man. He must, therefore, respect the natural and moral structure with which he has been endowed” (Laudato Si, 115).
Pope Francis also says that “it is not a healthy attitude which would seek to cancel out sexual difference because it no longer knows how to confront it” (Laudato Si 155). When … sexual differences are eliminated, we lose the anthropological basis of the family. Thus, the Holy Father speaks strongly against any gender ideology that makes one’s identity as male or female merely a personal choice that can be changed over time (cf. Amoris Laetitia, 56).
As Pope Benedict XVI said in his address to the German Parliament on Sept. 22, 2011, “Man does not create himself.” Here is the heart of the matter. We are not the Creator. In a 2015 interview with Italian journalists Andrea Tornielli and Giacomo Galeazzi, Pope Francis re-emphasized this. He called the radical ideology that denies sexual differences and espouses gender identity a sin against the Creator.
Christian anthropology has always held that “God created mankind in his image; in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them” (Gen 1:27). But today, many propose that men and women create themselves as they see themselves and as they want to be. For these individuals, there is no design in creation because there is no one who put it there. Heirs to Nietzsche, they announce that God is dead. The throne of heaven has been left vacant and man now places himself on it.
In a word, the denial of the beauty of the creation of human sexuality is, in fact, a denial of the Creator of all beauty. In the end, when God’s design is ignored or denied, we sow the wind of our own ideas and reap the whirlwind of confusion. Crossing the new frontier of gender identity, we court chaos.