The Vatican, through the Congregation for Catholic Education, recently released a 31-page document called “Male and Female He Created Them: Toward a Path of Dialogue on the Question of Gender Theory in Education.”
The document is to be used by Catholic educators, Catholic churches, institutions, and parents to teach students that gender and sex are not only one and the same, but fixed at birth according to God’s plan and should not change. The statement claims gender theory is a “confused concept of freedom in the realm of feelings and wants” and anything outside of God’s creation are just thoughts and practices that “annihilate the concept of ‘nature.’”
Simply put, this puts transgender, intersex, and nonbinary folks in serious danger.
It’s a real fucking bummer when religion denies science. It’s a bigger bummer when it takes away people’s belief in science using the fear of God. It’s the biggest of bummers when religion dehumanizes me and other transgender and LGBTQIA+ folks in the name of “educational” learning guides and faux dialogue. I, and other people who this statement essentially call wrong or mutations at best, and freaks or nonexistent at worst, are not interested in having a conversation that forces us to prove our identity. My lived experience, my fear, my mental health, and my sense of self should be as much proof of the existence of transgender people as one should need. I am not interested in talking to anyone who tells me I am simply confused by my “wants.”
I never wanted to be transgender. As a nonbinary person, I want to be affirmed. I want to be safe. I want to be at home in my body. No amount of telling me or any transgender person that my gender is based on sexual anatomy will make me feel less like I was given the wrong label at birth. Gender is not the same as biological sex. In fact, gender, at its core is not scientific. You can’t quantify it. You can’t list the things that make you male, female, a mix of both, or neither. Or if you can, they will likely be different from someone else’s definition of self and gender.
I know who I am, and my body parts don’t determine that. And no amount of words written in an unscientific letter will tell me that society hasn’t created gender, gender roles, and gender stereotypes. We are put into a gender box at birth based on our genitals and are forced to follow the constructs of gender that faith-based organizations tell me God created. By that argument, God created animals too and I don’t see them having gender reveal parties with pink and blue explosions causing forest fires and family brawls.
But I do see male seahorses carrying babies. I see bearded dragons switching genders and female snakes fertilizing their own eggs. Maybe the animal kingdom should read the Vatican’s statement too.
The statement from the Vatican is an extension of conversion therapy, which, thankfully, is now illegal in several states, but is being reinforced on a worldwide scale by one of the most believed religions in the world. There has not been any scientific proof that conversion therapy successfully convinces someone they are straight and/or cisgender. There have been plenty of studies, though, that show that LGBTQIA+ folks are at high risk for abuse, depression, joblessness, discrimination, and self-harm. One in five queer people age 13-24 attempted suicide last year, including one in three transgender and nonbinary people.
The big business which calls itself the Catholic Church is very much a reason for these horrific statistics. According to Pew Research Center, about 22% of the United States’ population claims Catholicism as their religion. This equates to about 72 million people. While support for same-sex marriage has gone up in the Catholic Church among its members, there are still too many people who don’t understand transgender issues. They make laws based on “religious freedom” that make my life unsafe and insecure. They don’t think nonbinary people exist. They think intersex people are simply people with abnormalities to their sexual anatomy which can be “fixed” through surgery.
“Male and Female He Created Them” also urges parents to allow doctors to “intervene” on their intersex children, even if parents disagree. By intervene, the Vatican is publically telling people to allow their doctors to mutilate their child so they can fit into an assigned gender box. This is a human rights violation. This is gross ignorance, because, one more time: sex and gender are not the same thing. Intersex folk prove this.
Being intersex is not just about having ambiguous genitalia. Sex organs may be ambiguous too, meaning both male and female internal sex organs are present. Or an intersex person may have mosaic genetics; some cells can have XX chromosomes and some can have XY. Or a person’s chromosomes may have an XXY combination. There is also the chance that an intersex person is born with what looks like specifically male or female genitalia, but they have different internal organs or puberty hormones that don’t match the assigned sex. And depending on the identity of the person, the puberty hormones may or may not match their gender and desired gender expression.
According to Planned Parenthood, “Being intersex is a naturally occurring variation in humans, and isn’t a medical problem. It’s also more common than most people realize. It’s hard to know exactly how many people are intersex, but estimates suggest that about 1 in 100 people born in the U.S. is intersex.”
An intersex baby will be given an assigned sex, but with education, support and open-ended conversations, their exact gender will be determined when they are old enough to express themselves. However, the Catholic Church insists that doctors “normalize” intersex babies at birth with surgery.
“Normalizing” a perfectly healthy child to fit the standards set by a bunch of bigots who buy into organized religions that determine who is normal or not (when “normal” consists of covering up child sex abuse) is a good way to make a child feel shame, anxiety, depression, and hopelessness. There are a number of cases where surgical intervention has ruined a child’s life before it even got started.
A joint statement and petition was written and addressed to the Congregation for Catholic Education by intersex led and allied networks, organizations and activists via Intersex Human Rights Australia. Part of the statement reads: “Medical science does not exist outside of society, and does not hold the foremost expertise regarding intersex experiences: intersex people do. The suffering of people who, according to the document ‘have to live situations of sexual indeterminacy’ (para 24) is primarily created by social stigma, by forced and coercive medical interventions, and also by approaches to pastoral care that separate us from our own affirmative language, and so from our peers and community.”
Kristina Turner, ally to Ori Turner, told Scary Mommy she added these thoughts to the petition: “I am raising a bright and beautiful non-binary intersex transgender child who was created perfect just the way they are in the eyes of your god; and all the gods of all religions of all the people of this world. Your words against my child’s very existence make my job as a mother exponentially harder, as it further miseducates your followers that live in communities like mine.”
This statement by the Catholic Church, and any organization that spreads these harmful ideas, can eff off. And if you still support, put your money into, or follow the rules of a faith that takes away my right to live an autonomous and joyful life, then you can take a seat too.