Sunday, 1 March 2015

A religious view on gender

Heya everybody,

While doing my usual round of collecting new studies about the topics I cover on Cakeworld, I came across an article discussing gender from a Catholic viewpoint, called Image and imago: a rational defense of a theological anthropology of gender, by Prof. Dr. Christopher P. Klofft. Normally, I don’t read through studies about cultural, sociological or legal issues related to transsexualism, since I concentrate on certain medical/psychological issues only. However, for some reason I read the article – I am curious as to why religions feel they should express an opinion on conditions such as transsexualism. Okay, so here we go:

The author is right off to a bad start by citing from an interview with actress Kirsten Dunst where she makes some unnecessary and gendered generalisations from her personal preferences: And sometimes, you need your knight in shining armor. […]. You need a man to be a man and a woman to be a woman. That’s how relationships work. From this inconsequential statement, Klofft manages to construe a false dichotomy: depending on one’s perspective, this is either a thoroughly commonsensical statement or else a betrayal of the struggle of being a woman in the 21st century, and is led to proclaim that figuring out which one of those two contrasting views is correct is at the heart of issues of gender identity, gender meaning, and gender confusion today. Oy … where to begin …

After this assertion, he continues by claiming that confusions run rampant throughout discussions on subjects as practical as marriage and as theoretical as questions of human meaning and purpose because Modern and Post-Modern discourse espouses an increasingly plastic or subjective understanding on gender. His next assertion is that Catholic theology provides a response to this problem with a consistent account of gender that is also compatible with the best evidence available in support of a purely rational approach. This statement naturally got me interested, as that’s my cup of tea. An evidence-based, purely rational approach – yay! And apparently, if we understand the true meaning and purpose of gender, this will lead to a better understanding of ourselves and all of our relationships, and ultimately to the betterment of culture as a whole. That’s pretty good, isn’t it?

I mean, I know what gender is – gender encompasses the mental characteristics developed by evolution that go along with the two biological sexes which formed with sexual reproduction, and the associated cultural and social traits. So I should be well placed to understand myself and all my relationships better, which in turn improves society, right? But Christopher Klofft had a different “meaning” of gender in mind, as I soon found out.

In his next paragraph he says somehow incoherently that feminism is not necessarily the same thing as the contemporary crisis regarding gender, then continues on to define feminism as striving for the best realization of the unique gifts that women bring to culture. The patronising tone of this statement is just incredible, I find (is it just me?). There is a proper culture, male and built by males (that goes without saying), but hey, look, women have gifts, unique to them (of course!), and in our generosity we should permit them to bring their little gifts, and we should nod and smile and humour them like we would a child of less-than-average intelligence. Well, in my book feminism is about equality – equal rights, equal opportunities and equal value.

Klofft then goes on to claim that Modern and Post-Modern thought on gender has reduced it from an element of being human that is readily recognizable and acknowledged as a given to a yet another characteristic of the person subject to radical self-definition. Following on, he takes issue with differentiating the concepts of bodily sex characteristics, gender identity and sexual orientation (which he describes as one’s predilections in regard to sexual pleasure – these Catholics, always thinking about sexual pleasure first, instead of love or romantic attraction ☺). Apparently, distinguishing between the concepts of sex, gender and sexual orientation is very confusing to cisgendered men and women. Um, what? It’s clarifying, it’s enlightening, and it has explanatory power. Why should it be confusing? Our world is always complex and detailed when looking more closely at one particular issue, but the things we learn help us to understand nature better. I can’t even imagine what the alternative would be – should we simply say there are men (who are automatically and always cisgender and heterosexual) and there are women (who are automatically and always cisgender and heterosexual) and nothing else? Do we then deny that homosexuality exists in humans and animals? Disbelieve people who claim they are homosexual and transsexual? Sure, I can simply pretend things don’t exist – but the concepts of sex, gender and sexual orientation help us in understanding ourselves, our relationships and nature as whole better, and are grounded in the best evidence supporting a rational approach. Why abandon them?

Well, Klofft gives the answer. Apparently,

ignoring the binary distinctions of man and woman, male and female, creates challenges for anyone in any way responsible for helping others to understand the value and meaning of being human. This includes parents, educators, health care professionals, and law makers, to name just a few.
Read that again, slowly. He asserts that acknowledging there is more than black and white when it comes to issues relating to sex, makes it difficult to understand the value and meaning of being human. What? Every human life has the same value – what’s so difficult to comprehend here? Why does the fact that biological sex has nuances place obstacles especially for people responsible for helping others? Are parents, educators, health care professionals and law makers more stupid or more bigoted than other people? I have no idea what he’s on about? Are there other facts about nature we need to shield these special snowflakes from, lest they are mean to people entrusted to their care?

He then quotes some studies, correctly, that 95 % to 99.7 % of people identify with their biological sex, only to use this as basis for his complaint that yet a disproportionate amount of energy is placed on changing cultural perspectives. Umm okay, let’s say, just for example, if, say, 1 500 people per year commit suicide because of gender dysphoria, what is the correct amount of energy that should be placed on trying to help them, according to Prof. Klofft? In addition, he sighs, additional challenges are placed on the mental health community because it now has to figure out whether transsexuals suffer because of discrimination or because gender dysphoria is related to mental disorder. I can’t fathom his mind at all. Naturally, it is the job of the health community to find out the causes of illness, since knowing the cause often helps with the cure. Is he of the opinion we should not study the causes of depression and other mental issues? What the heck should we do instead? Stop helping people? I thought he was in favour of evidence and a rational approach? Surely this means we have to look for evidence?

Okay, continuing, he asserts that overall, we have great confusion about questions of gender in the west. He then goes on to talk about essentialist and constructionist definitions of gender. Essentialist definitions of gender are described by Klofft as based on the physiology and neurochemistry of the body, constructionist gender definitions are solely defined by one’s self, with as many genders as there persons, classifying vocabulary merely being used as a convenient shorthand for generalization. The latter is completely false, he asserts, because it is. End of story. So much for a rational approach!

Unsurprisingly, with his definitions for essentialist and constructionist definitions of gender he then continues to build up a completely false dichotomy. Why is it either or? Naturally, two genders/sexes exist, nobody disputes that. But nature likes variety, and things are often normally distributed, on a spectrum. This includes sexual characteristics, sexual dimorphisms in the brain, neurochemistry, etc. His essentialist definition doesn’t have a binary as its only or logical outcome, and his constructionist approach doesn’t have to deny that there are two main categories for gender or sex. Well, to disprove his binary approach to gender, which he equates falsely with the essentialist definition, let me point to disorders of sexual development, which affect up to 2 % of humans (that’s how a rational approach works, quoting evidence, not simply asserting something is false).

He then goes into knowing oneself and talks about the difference between understanding oneself and defining oneself. In a patronising style (I can imagine him reading this passage with a raised index finger) he then declares:

Gender, however, is a characteristic that does go to the core of what it means to be a human person. As such, can it be something that is defined by one’s own perceptions and subsequently thrust upon those with whom one is in relationship? Are one’s personal perceptions automatically to be taken as accurate for that person because they come from within? Or rather, is it possible that this aspect of one’s image, one’s gender, is something that can only be discovered rather than defined by oneself?
I mean, this made me alternate between wanting to laugh and wanting to cry. This statement, probably intended by him to be great moral warning, and a profound truth he has uncovered, is exactly the mantra of us transsexuals. It is what we have been saying all along. If he had bothered to talk to one single gender-dysphoric person, he would have heard exactly the same statement. Gender is innate, we have been saying. Long and hard self-studying has led to us to the conclusion that we are of the other gender than the one assigned at birth. We tried so hard to conform to the gender we were assigned at, but it didn’t work. Nature made us the way we are, we tried to fight against out nature, against who we are, against our very own identity… and ultimately failed. We succumbed to our true and only identity, to the core of who we are. Is this claim so hard to understand? Does he really think there is even a single transsexual child who says to her parents that she has chosen to be a girl, like one chooses to go horse riding or one chooses one’s hairstyle? Every transsexuals child tells the story how he or she is the gender he or she is, how she knows that’s her, down to the core of her identity. How can Klofft have so little knowledge about the people he likes to lecture? How dare he know so little about the subject he pontificates on? How can he be so blatantly ignorant about the claims made by the people he passes judgment on? And the claims we make are supported by evidence, as dozens and dozens of neurological and psychological studies show. What about his best evidence available in support of a purely rational approach?

To raise my ire further, he then says

[…] there is a benefit to acknowledging and accepting one’s gender based on one’s biology. It is easier and convenient. It simplifies relationships with others, especially people who we may not know as well. It promotes good physical health. It leads to psychological wholeness and easier spiritual growth.
Well, there you have it, you idiot! (Sorry!) That’s exactly what the problem is behind gender dysphoria. Transsexuals who have not been able to transition yet, live in conflict with their biology. This gender dysphoria causes poor psychological health. That’s what have been saying, what we are saying, and what the evidence says. All we want is to live, to live as ourselves, to live as who we are, to be true to ourselves and our identity. Has Klofft never heard this argument or never considered it? How can one person be so ignorant? I mean, this is a subject he writes about length, so it’s fair to assume he is interested in it. Is it wilful ignorance?

All these tortured arguments that essentialism is somehow linked to a black-and-white view of gender and that constructionism is apparently patently false, and so on, are just smokescreens. What Klofft says is that there is male and female, and nothing in between, and gender identity doesn’t exist separate from the anatomical sex of the genitals. Period. And he provides no evidence for this view. None at all.

Well, on his last few pages he talks about the concepts of male and female in the bible. Okay, maybe it’s historically interesting what concepts iron-age sheep herders had of the biological sexes and gender roles. Well, okay, I understand Klofft believes the bible is god’s word or at least inspired by god. But the bible is not a book that includes all there is in the universe and rules on everything. There are other planets, there is diabetes, there are dinosaurs. Should we conclude these things don’t exist because they are not mentioned in the bible? Should we conclude that if a topic is mentioned in the bible, however superficial, there is nothing more to learn about it? Why then study astronomy or medicine? We know the sun revolves around the earth and sickness is caused by demons, so why learn more?

In his last paragraph, Klofft says:

The work ahead of us is daunting, but the end result is sure. For the immediate future, there will continue to be curious laws, broken relationships, dangerous misunderstandings of human sexuality, depression, suicide, and one or more generations of children growing up confused about what it means to be a human person. The Catholic tradition offers an alternative to this, one which is founded in God’s revelation, but because of that, it is also accessible to human reason and common sense.
This is twisting the truth beyond recognition. It is religious bullying that leads to depression and suicide. In contrast, human reason and science are trying to learn and to understand human sexuality. The last sentence in the quotation above is incoherent to me. Why is something accessible to human reason and common sense because it’s based on revelation? I thought god worked in mysterious ways? If we can take human reason and common sense to revelation, then the only things that remain of revelation are reasonable and evidence-based, making revelation unnecessary.

Oh, and one more quote: The simple truth remains this: human persons all share happiness as their final end and nothing can ultimately satisfy that longing except for relationship with the Creator in Whose image we are made. I’d like to see some evidence on that, please. If this assertion is true, Christians or at least Catholics should surely be happier than other people?

Well, I’m not sure how reliable Klofft is in his theology, either. I thought the Catholic Church accepted evolution, but he says: The revelation of God about the meaning of the human person as taught by the Catholic Church reveals that we are creatures, lovingly fashioned by a Craftsman Who is Himself personal and relationship. Surely one can’t describe the cruel and wasteful process of evolution as lovingly fashioning creatures?

All this waffle, no evidence, no substance and not much logic in this long article by Christopher P. Klofft. What’s the point? To me, it appears like an exercise in creating an intellectual smokescreen with the aim to cover up how out-of-touch, anti-scientific and inhumane Catholic teachings on sex and gender are.