Gender identity and expression are being confused in society today. The world outside of Christ’s Church accept the ideology that gender is fluid, nonbinary (meaning no longer including only male and female as “choices”), and really up to the individuals themselves. Surgery and hormones can repress or instigate secondary sex characteristics such as voice pitch, hair growth, and breast development. Society then tells the lie that an outward change in secondary sex characteristics is, in fact, a change in gender itself. Yet, secondary sex characteristics are in fact secondary because their expression does not of itself make a person male or female. In reality, gender fact biologically stamped upon every cell of the human body, an imprint which no amount of surgery, hormones, or perception can alter.
If we cannot accept the idea that a man undergoing sex reassignment surgery does become a woman afterward, or that a young girl who identifies with boys and wishes to be one is a boy inside a girl’s body, it is crucial to study the biology of gender. Genitals do not equal gender. Personal choice cannot alter gender. It is an intimate and essential fact of creation that is biologically imprinted upon each person, whether or not society chooses to accept it.
The sex chromosomes of each person are usually XX in females and XY in males, named after their shape. However, there are anomalies of gender. Some women have only one X chromosome, a condition called Turner Syndrome. Some men have two Xs and a Y, a condition known as Klinefelter Syndrome. If two X chromosomes make a female, are people with Turner Syndrome not female? And are people with Klinefelter Syndrome not male? Research led by Peter Goodfellow at the Cancer Research UK London Research Institute, in conjunction with Robin Lovell-Badge at the National Institute for Medical Research in London, discovered that it is the presence of a gene most often carried on the Y chromosome that makes a person male. This gene is known as Sex-determining Region Y, or SRY. SRY stimulates the production of the testes, and, along with many other genes, results in the development of a male child. This happens in the womb, and cannot be turned off at will. Hormone supplements taken by a child or an adult can only suppress temporarily the expression of hormones. The ability to produce these hormones is still retained by the body even after a sex reassignment surgery. Nature continues to assert itself even when genitalia and facial features are surgically altered.
It follows, then, that even with a missing X chromosome, a person with Turner Syndrome is biologically female, and despite an extra X chromosome, a person with Klinefelter Syndrome is biologically male due to the presence of the SRY gene on the Y chromosome. However, there are cases in which gender is truly ambiguous. The development of a human is so complex that it is truly miraculous that it ever produces “normal” children and that aberrations are so rare. However, they do exist, and Catholics need to be mindful and merciful of those people living with ambiguous gender, often known as “intersex.”
Due to mutations and errors in development, it may occur that a person can be born with internal female organs and external male organs, or vice versa. Sometimes external genitalia are ambiguous, and doctors will make decisions to operate to choose one sex over another, usually depending on which gender seems most predominate. Sometimes the cells of an individual will vary in their chromosomes, with some cells being XX, some XY, or other combinations. This is rare, and a heavy cross to bear for those born without a clear gender. Father Vincent Serpa O.P. responds in Catholic Answers to one such individual, “Yours is an unusual cross. You very definitely have a place in the Church…As long as any of us remain chaste and faithful to the Lord, this is what matters most.” If people cannot marry due to ambiguous gender, there is great comfort in the bosom of the Church. Pope Francis states in his Apostolic Exhortation, Amoris Laetitia, that
“Many people who are unmarried are not only devoted to their own family but often renders great service in their group of friends, in the Church community and in their professional lives…Their dedication greatly enriches the family, the Church and society. Virginity is a form of love…It is also a reflection of the fullness of heaven, where ‘they neither marry nor are given in marriage’” (Mt 22:30).
Catholics should treat such persons with the vast dignity with which they were created by God, and with the utmost compassion. It would be well for intersex individuals to find a spiritual director within the Catholic Church for guidance in practical matters of daily living pertinent to their own unique needs.
For people with a distinct gender, largely determined by a proper functioning of the SRY gene in males, and lack of this gene in females, gender identity can be confused. The world will say that gender is a spectrum and can be altered, but this is not true. There can only be a pretense of genetic alteration. However, people struggling with a confused gender identity, who do not feel that they belong to their physical gender, also have a heavy cross to bear. Their suffering is real and psychological, and they need compassion from Catholics as well, without denying the fundamental reality of who they are. It is a false charity to pretend that people can change their gender to feel “more at home in their own skin.” People who have undergone gender reassignment surgeries continue to suffer greatly, with increased levels of suicide and mental illness compared to the general population. Humans can not live out a lie in their bodies and be happy. Again, in Amoris Laetitia, Pope Francis encourages us to help each other to accept ourselves the way we were created and born. This could be as simple as living with a nose we don’t like, and as complex as being deeply confused about our gender identity. In the end, we must put all of our trust in God, who made us as we are for a perfect reason, and we must pray for understanding.
The teachings of the Church are in direct contradiction to those of the world, who would encourage humans to mutilate their bodies in the quest to “find themselves.” Jesus told us that we would be in the world but not of it. May He give us the courage to defend truth while being compassionate to our brothers and sisters in Him.