Responding to the USCCB’s Letter on Transgender Guidance

Photo by Chad Greiter on Unsplash

On December 15, The United State’s Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) released an open letter titled Created Male and Female. This most recent open letter by the USCCB comes after another year of rape and assault accusations in the Roman Catholic Church but the USCCB decided to comment on their support of male-female marriage, and against affirming children’s transgender identities. In the letter they write the following:

Children especially are harmed when they are told that they can “change” their sex or, further, given hormones that will affect their development and possibly render them infertile as adults. Parents deserve better guidance on these important decisions, and we urge our medical institutions to honor the basic medical principle of “first, do no harm.” Gender ideology harms individuals and societies by sowing confusion and self-doubt. The state itself has a compelling interest, therefore, in maintaining policies that uphold the scientific fact of human biology and supporting the social institutions and norms that surround it.
The movement today to enforce the false idea — that a man can be or become a woman or vice versa — is deeply troubling. It compels people to either go against reason — that is, to agree with something that is not true — or face ridicule, marginalization, and other forms of retaliation.

Now this letter is clearly nothing more than fear mongering polemics. This letter that is shared within all Catholic churches in the United States is written with an air of intellectual superiority when it is devoid of truth. From the very first line quoted above they are hiding the facts of what transgender practice and treatment is like when it comes to minors. WPATH states in the Standards of Care

Health professionals can assist gender dysphoric individuals with affirming their gender identity, exploring different options for expression of that identity, and making decisions about medical treatment options for alleviating gender dysphoria.

From the beginning the goal of a health professional is affirming care, and to explore different options. Doctors do not immediately prescribe HRT nor do they do this immediately for minors that have expressed incongruence with their natal gender. Additionally, for pre-pubescent minors hormone treatment is not even needed at the time the child may express their trans, or non-binary identity. The University of California, San Francisco list as a standard of procedure the following:

Over the past five years, it has become increasingly common for families with young children to request advice about the best way to approach their gender non-conforming child. Children as young as 18 months old have articulated information about their gender identity and gender expression preferences. Most parents are at a loss as to how to best help their child, and may seek the advice of a professional; commonly a psychiatrist or pediatrician. At this stage of development, no medical intervention is warranted or necessary. For young children, decisions must be made to create safe environments that promote healthy growth and development. For some children this may include a social transition — changing of external appearance (clothing, hairstyle) and possibly name and pronouns to match one’s internal gender.

So when the USCCB starts off their statement arguing that transgender affirmation will lead to an infertile adult life, and regret they are boldly lying about the nature of modern medicine, and the standards of procedures many doctors adhere too. They are correct, parents do deserve better guidance, and that guidance is to confront and correct the lies posted by the USCCB to Catholic parents. Telling parents that if they seek medical aid for their children they will face a lifetime of regret is horrid. Asking parents to reject modern medicine for the theology of a community that can not even issue a bold statement against child molestation is criminal. Doctors always affirm “first, do no harm.” Yet, here the USCCB is clamoring for harm to gender variant children because they have not confronted common standards of care for transgender patients and minors.

More damning is the idea that they ask the state to enforce these views, and victimize themselves as those who are adhering to science. Has the USCCB read recent science? It seems to me they are the one’s rejecting science. Recent research has shown the theology of the gender binary is not just outdated, it is incorrect. Science has made a pretty staunch case against the gender binary. Dr. Fausto-Sterling writes in a New York Times piece,

“It has long been known that there is no single biological measure that unassailably places each and every human into one of two categories — male or female.”

There are a myriad of determining factors when it comes to how one identifies their gender. This research as Dr. Fausto-Sterling points out is not new, it has been around for quite a while. To demonstrate, Magnus Hirschfeld in the 1890s proposed through his own research that there were more than “forty-three million different combinations of characteristics” that would determine gender. New research in the last few decades has continued to show that gender is not a strict binary like Hirschfeld believed. Returning back to the recent article by Fausto-Sterling we see that in the scientific and medical field gender is multi-faceted and layered. She highlights the work of John Money in the 1950s which gave evidence to how chromosomes are not easily defined as XX or XY, that many children are born with XXY, XYY, or even XO. Additionally, she teaches readers this is just on the chromosomal level. There is also what is called fetal gonadal sex, fetal hormonal sex, internal sex, and finally external sex. Within these five layers of sexing a fetus there is no guarantee all will be the same. These can each conflict. Fausto-Sterling writes

“An XX baby can be born with a penis, an XY person may have a vagina, and so on.”

These are all developing along with the fetus and occur before birth. Additionally, once the child is born there is the sex assigned by doctors by examining the external genitalia, and then the socialization of the baby according to what is said. But this does not mean that the brain sex, as indicated from the fetal hormones will match the social and perceived gender. All of this to say that the idea that gender has been medically and scientifically binaried. The USCCB when they declare the State should follow science, what they really mean is their theological science, not the last century of gender research. Research is continuing to show that brain structures, brain hormones, and in utero development all play a role in shaping how one identifies their gender. Since this research is pointing to gender being much more expansive that what is simply between your legs it has led to understanding the Bible in new ways giving a clearer picture of what being made in God’s image really looks like.

If the United States Conference of Catholic Bishop truly cared for transgender people, and families they would have consulted this research. Using language that continues to stoke fears and spread lies is directly harming the lives of each trans person in this world. Here in the United States alone this body of theologians should have before them the lives of the over 100 trans people murdered in the last four years. These lives that were snuffed out because someone believed there is only “male” and “female” based on a body part. Or perhaps the Catholic Church should realize their own history of abuse of children, and be reprimanded for believing they have any right to educate the wider society on the betterment of the treatment of vulnerable children.

So to speak to these bishops on behalf of the 1.4 million out transgender people in the United States I condemn your letter, and I condemn this practice of attacking the marginalized and doing it with fear and lies. Your obsession with societal gender roles, and norms is a failure to understand the purpose of faith and the biblical text. As Barth wrote, the text used like Genesis to attack people like me has been misinterpreted and misused. The text “does not seem to pay any more attention to the body of a man than it does to his soul or intellectual and spiritual nature.” It was not how the the early Church, nor the Jewish people interpreted the Bible. They did not see the image of God based on gender and body parts. Even the Jewish people had six terms for six different gender presentations. The Bible is not a tool you get to use to malign me, or others. Especially when you hide behind anonymity and refuse to protect the lives of innocent children from your own priests. My gender is theologically and scientifically valid. It is not up for debate, and it is not open for you to lie about, and terrify parents with. I am here, and I am valid. The church has always welcomed gender variant people since the time of Jesus. It is time you catch up to the truth you proclaim to have.