Is Everyone Transsexual?

A recent case put before the Supreme Court (Harris Funeral Home v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) centers around the question of human sexuality, particularly as argued in the situation of those claiming to be transsexual. At issue is whether the Civil Rights Laws that protect against discrimination on the basis of sex should apply to individuals whose claims are made on the basis of a professed “gender,” regardless of their biological sex. For many, the case is simply a question of whether the protections enjoyed under current law should be extended to those who are “transsexual.” A deeper implication that underlies this is the uncoupling of sexual identity from the body itself. Are we what our bodies say we are, or are we only what we claim to be? If our sexual identity is not something dictated by biology, then, in effect, everyone is transsexual – only having a sexual identity because of choice.

I am aware of the rare condition of intersexed individuals and other such anomalies. The court case has nothing to do with that condition. It is, instead, a question of whether sexual identity is, in fact, independent of the body. If the arguments put forward were rooted in biology, then there is an obvious conversation to be had. If, on the other hand, we are speaking simply about choices, then it is a very different matter indeed. There are many tragic stories within individual lives that touch on this topic. Each life deserves compassion – including those whose struggles might give offense. This article concerns, not those individual struggles, but a larger problem regarding our relationship to our physical reality. If biology (or any sort of physical matter) is defined as nothing more than a social construct, then we will have entered a world of madness. On the other hand, the brain (and not just our genitals) is part of the biology that must be given due regard. I am “thinking out loud” in this article and hope it is of use. I ask forgiveness for any offense that some might find within it.

I was unaware of this court case until listening to an interview on Mars Hill Audio with a professor who was one of a number of authors offering amicus briefs in the case. Her contention is that the case involves far more than the question of rights and involves the deeper philosophical question about human nature itself. How related are we to our bodies? Is my identity independent of my body? Are human beings only what they think they are, or does the body have a proper, even an over-riding role?

Earlier debates about homosexuality largely revolved around questions of behavior. A male heterosexual and a male homosexual differ in their behavior. However, both grant the fact that they are male. In transsexuality, questions center on identity and being, regardless of behavior. A male who identifies as a woman might still prefer female sex partners (like any other male). These matters have engendered debate within the LGBT community itself. There are competing, even mutually exclusive arguments within that community. It is strange territory.

Years ago, Fr. Thomas Hopko observed that the great debate of our age would center around the question of male and female. He said that the matters raised within that debate would be as defining as was the debate with Arianism in the 4th century. That, of course, was long before this present discussion. I daresay, he did not imagine a scenario in which the very notion of biological identity would be reinterpreted as a mere social construct.

The entire notion of reality as a social construct might be the most radical suggestion ever put forward in human history. It is interesting that it seems to be restricted to sexual identity. We do not say, for example, that disease is a social construct. We certainly do not argue that the climate is a social construct. But if things such as disease and the climate are not social constructs, then how can it be argued that someone with XX or XY chromosomes is only “assigned” a sexual identity at birth?

In truth, none of this would be of any particular moment were it not finding its way into law and public policy – a world where the notion of “social construct” is perfectly at home. Indeed, if all the world were a social construct, then law and policy could shape every element of our lives – which is perhaps the point.

I thought to myself as I took a break from writing, “Stephen, you’re paying too much attention to social media!” It is certainly the case that this sort of nonsense provokes loud reactions in various quarters. It is serious business, nonetheless.

As I read through a transcript of the oral arguments in the Supreme Court case (yes, I actually did that), I was struck by the fact that the discussion turned on whether an individual would “experience harm.” There was a consistent framing of the discussion in terms of psychological abstractions. The world that matters, it seems, is in our heads. I have written at length about the “two-storey universe” as a hallmark of contemporary Christianity – the separation of God and “spiritual things” from the hard reality of our material life. It is a habit of thought that permeates our culture. The latest abstraction is but one of many examples.

In point of fact, we are our bodies. We have no reality apart from them. Indeed, in Christian understanding, the separation of the soul from the body at death is an entrance into a tenuous existence, something that awaits the resurrection of the flesh. Of course, in our present culture, the resurrection of the body is a doctrine that feels almost like an embarrassment. “Who needs it?” we wonder.

The further we move away from the hard reality of the material world, the more deeply we press into delusion and fantasy. Part of the brutality of our modern age is bound up with our drive to force hard material reality to conform to our imagination. We find the undeniable humanity and personhood of a child in the womb to be an inconvenient obstacle to our lifestyle. Our fantasy and delusion turn to murder.

The goodness of God, however, abides in the very materiality of the world (and of our own selves). No matter how we might distort the thoughts of our minds, material reality remains unchanged. At most, we can only urge and coerce others to agree with false configurations of what actually is. Such efforts can only be maintained through some form of violence (and coercion) for they have no reality of their own to argue their case. Left alone, reality has an eloquence of its own. Gravity speaks with a clear voice as we fall from the heights.

The “experience of harm” evoked in the court case can, of course, be real or imaginary. Real harm is a serious business, as is all suffering. Imaginary harm, on the other hand, extends itself into the very nature of reality and endangers everyone.

In the movie, Cool Hand Luke, the protagonist repeatedly refuses to agree with the darkness of the prison regime in which he’s held. He is beaten, placed in solitary confinement, and pressed to conform. The warden repeatedly asks him, “Luke, have you got your mind right?” Freedom is not the ability to be anything we imagine; freedom is the ability to know the truth and live in accordance with it. If the demand is to “get your mind right,” then oppression becomes complete. The Lie will have won.

We live in very strange times.

 

101 comments:

  1. “In point of fact, we are our bodies. We have no reality apart from them.”
    I know the following is not the point of the article–that we can choose to be what we are in reality not biologically. I think one of this generations greatest evils is to start children on hormones at very young ages because the child indicates that they think they are really the opposite sex. There will be hell to pay.
    In reference to the quote: there is discussion that the body and mind are different in that the body is material and the mind is immaterial. Obviously the mind does not work well without our bodies but some see the soul as separating from the body at death…again they argue the mind being immaterial can not be destroyed. All this is way above my pay grade, but your thoughts will be appreciated.

  2. “Freedom is not the ability to be anything we imagine; freedom is the ability to know the truth and live in accordance with it. If ” Thank you for reminding me!

  3. “Let’s get your mind right.” That’s what communists did in those jails and across the nations they’ve been running for decades… the countries of the Soviet Block, China, North Korea… the method has come to the West and the people here are turning a blind eye and a deaf ear to those who’ve experienced those horrors and who can identify such threats and can speak plainly about method and results. The West won’t listen though. Apocalyptic. Oh well. It’s extremely hard to watch destruction knowing it could be prevented. We do indeed keep Christ on the cross with our foolishness, every day, every second.

  4. Dennis,
    I noted in the article that the soul separates from the body at death. However, such an existence is “tenuous,” not natural or proper across eternity. We believe in the resurrection of the body – affirming that to be human is – ultimately, a properly – an “embodied” existence. We are not imaginary beings – regardless of how powerful the imagination might be.

  5. I think this being in one’s “right mind” has been going on for years- many years- even in subtle ways in the US. In first grade, I started out left handed, and was “switched” or trained to be right handed… there was a prevailing belief that being right handed showed that one was in their “right” (DEX) mind.

    I was unaware of this court case… it brings to mind the thing said about “what began in the soviet union will end in America”….. someone can correct me on this, but I am at a momentary loss (probably the background noise here!) for citation and exact phrasing…..

    Thank you for sharing.

  6. The point of contention however is that the “ability to know the truth and live in accordance with it” is not the same for everyone, and furthermore that failure to live up to or comply with such standards can be used marginalize (i.e. socially, economically, legally). The underlying question is as to whose standard shall be used. In an increasingly religious and culturally heterogeneous society such issues are not easily resolved.

  7. Robert,
    I do not think that is the point of contention. The ability to know the truth and live in accordance with it – does not vary because the truth varies – that would not be truth. Obviously, to know the truth and to live in accordance with it is one way of describing the most essential action of the spiritual life. Because we’re broken – all of us – there is need for and room for mercy. I’m not writing about social policy/politics in this article.

    I would suggest, however, that if there were social/political policies that were to be preferred – they would err on the side of support for traditional families and gender understandings. There is, undeniably, a role of socialization in human sexuality. That socialization, it seems to me, is best served by the support for family/procreation/nurture in the manner that most closely follows what has traditionally been seen as normative.

    I think of Alasdair MacIntyre’s work on the effects of a “heterogenous” society. Essentially, it has become possible to nurture virtue within this culture. I despair of any political solutions – because we have become a people for whom a political solution is impossible.

    However, as an Orthodox Christian, I think it is possible to nurture virtue within the context of the life of faith. In that context, all of us must be willing to bear the suffering of the Cross. Modernity wants a world without suffering (and will ultimately resort to murder in order to achieve that end). The Cross says such a world is not real. These questions are only resolved in the Cross – not the courts.

  8. Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

    One of the most insightful and clear reflections on this topic is the talk on The Abolition of Man by Fr Tom Hopko of blessed memory:

    https://youtu.be/uZcCCNku2oE

    Fr Tom expands on these ideas, comments on The Abolition of Man, and introduces the brilliant and little known Karl Stern. I highly recommend this humorous, penetrating, and deeply serious talk. Several times an infant cries out as if to underscore the seriousness.

  9. Fr. Stephen, current topic of sexuality aside, reality as a social construct is the most radical concept in human history, and may indeed be what prevents us from knowing who we humans really are.
    Perhaps it is our indoctrination, from the moment of birth, into “reality and reason” which results in the schism separating us from our total being.
    I suspect that when Jesus said, “people who are like these little children belong to the kingdom of God. I promise you that you cannot get into God’s kingdom, unless you accept it the way a child does.”, he literally meant children are aware and in touch with the total being, and the Kingdom of God, until relentless social indoctrination renders that part of us hidden.
    Your thoughts?

  10. If I may, I will share a few thoughts as both a psychologist and a deeply committed Christian.

    I completely agree that we live in confusing times. A couple of distinctions: I believe that there are people who are truly transsexual, i.e. who from a very young age, raised under normal circumstances, experience a strong dysphoric reaction to their biological gender. Research isn’t conclusive but there is some suggestion of biological factors such as genetics contributing to gender dysphoria. I believe that this is fairly rare and is something quite different from the “social construct” insanity currently in our culture.

    The “social construct” craziness, which is far more widespread and dangerous, opens the door for people to feel that they must consciously decide or at least figure out what gender and orientation category they fit into – or WANT to fit into. And the number of categories keeps growing. If I bought into such things, I would be classified as a cis-woman. This means that I was biologically determined at birth to be female and my perceived identity is also female. However, we now also have such classifications as asexual, pan-sexual, bi-sexual, gender fluid, non-binary and, I’m sure, many more. Even among people who are uncertain about their sexuality, what these categories mean is sometimes debated.

    One of my younger patients told me that she knew 20 people who were “trans”. When I asked her take on the plethora of categories she encounters on a college campus, she stated that she thought they wanted to be different – but not be alone in their different-ness; hence new categories are born. This phenomenon seems particularly prevalent among teens and young adults who, developmentally, are at a stage where identity is still being formed and consolidated. I anticipate that many of them, if they take no drastic action, will settle down into a traditional identity in a few years. I have also heard of gender-different parents raising children without a gender assignment – no gender pronouns used, etc. I can only imagine the confusion such children will have trying to assimilate into society once home-schooling is over.

    If we know or suspect that someone has an inborn difference, whether it be related to sexuality or the number of fingers they have, we must be compassionate and never discriminate. They have not asked for this trial. However, I believe we must work toward clearing up the social construct confusion that develops from post-modern thinking as it is emotionally and spiritually destructive. (Of course, we do this with compassion as well but without compromising the Truth, i.e. that it is dangerous to believe that we can be or should try to be better at creating than God.)

  11. Mary,
    I very much agree. There is the “actual thing” (real issues that people have as a possible result of biology or psychological forces) and there is the current social/cultural nonsense regarding fluidity – that is – I think – little more than a fad. It is a fad, however, that is messing around with some of the most fundamental and important matters of human identity – and the social game that is going on is having a very bad effect on the young – adolescents in particular. I have seen it first-hand.

    I think that you are right viz. that it will settle out in a matter of time for most people. But, as fads go, this one has some pernicious effects. It calls, on the one hand, for compassion. However, the social confusion that is using compassion as a way of not being called out for its madness and harm, has a way of undermining compassion itself.

  12. I agree, Fr. Stephen. It is a “fad” that can have potentially long-term ramifications for both individuals and society. It particularly concerns me that so many young people are being allowed to “transition” through hormones. Their bodies weren’t designed for the hormones they’re receiving and this can impact their emotional stability. It is one thing if an adolescent wants to experiment with hairstyles or manner of dress – that is something they can later look back on and laugh. However, changing secondary sex characteristics is not something to be played with and should be reserved (if used at all) for those with severe and long-standing gender dysphoria. I doubt very much that most of these young people have experienced that.

  13. The sexual revolution has been possible, only because of radical technological interventions – whether the hormones of birth control pills, or the hideous policy of aborting babies. It has created a false idea of what it is to be male and female, removing as many consequences as possible and replacing them with “choices” made possible only by technology. Then, we have tried to erect a philosophy and society predicated on the illusions that such technology makes possible.

    It is “anti-nature” and “anti-natural.” Our manipulation of the environment, especially the environment of our bodies, makes anthropogenic climate change seem like a mere momentary blip on the radar. What we are doing to ourselves is the greatest madness of all.

    And some would revise theology (and the doctrine of God) based on this slight, momentary technological intervention.

    There are getting to be very few humans left in our civilization. What we have been putting in its place is an ersatz humanity. This will not turn out well.

  14. Mary, I’m going to agree with you here. I have run young people’s LGBTQ support groups, where we have seen the full spectrum of those suffering with gender turbulence – some have known forever, some are new to it & will probably revert fairly fast. We always tell all of them that we know who they are – they are first & foremost human, & valuable to us, & always will be. There is a lot of very real pain though, & I wish it was not so for them.

  15. One of the deepest veins within the modern project is the elimination of suffering. It is an inherent part of “making the world a better place.” It’s a noble sentiment, but, is often deeply flawed. There is no world without suffering – some suffering is more legitimate and some is less legitimate. The pain and suffering, for example, of drug addiction is “legitimate.” If there were no consequences (pain and suffering), no one would ever get clean and sober. Some aspects of that suffering, however, can be helped. We do everything we can to ease the pain of withdrawal, for example.

    One of the modern fictions is that we should have no pain other than the pain we choose. But most pain is not chosen – it is incurred. We do not become drug addicts in order to have the pain associated with addiction – but in order to have the pleasure from the drug. Though the pain in such a case is not a “choice,” it is still engendered through choice.

    There are other (even most) versions of pain that are simply an inherent part of the universe we live in. Cancer, disease, etc. We do all we can to help most of these, though, eventually, everyone dies.

    But the complexity of our lives is such that the aleviation of pain is not, and should not be the highest good. An example: to bring children into the world is an act that will engender suffering on some level. We lay down our lives for them, over and over. Indeed, love always involves such sacrifice.

    A primary good in our world, I believe, is the nurture and care of children. We rightly prioritize their safety and well-being. That we might ask the culture as a whole to endure various kinds of suffering for that primary good is appropriate and healthy. No culture should sacrifice the well-being of its children for some lesser thing.

    That said, our lives as sexual/social creatures are properly and primarily related to the nurture and love of children. That sexual relations produce pleasure is not a primary good – at best – it is secondary or even less than that. In Christian thought the “procreative” and “unitive” functions of marriage are not equal. Procreation is paramount and is served by the union.

    By extension, in a culture, this same model was once, traditionally, the reasoning of our entire jurisprudential heritage. It is why, in the list of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” life is listed first. You can’t do anything with the other two unless you have life. Our jurisprudence has now shifted to so privilege pleasure and personal choice that we sacrifice the life of unborn children in order to promote that pleasure. Unspoken in that evil is that it also seeks to maximize the productivity of the work-force by freeing a larger number of women from the burden of pregnancy. As such, a significant proportion of our present prosperity is predicated on abortion. We are all implicated in that crime.

    That we as a culture (and certainly as Christians) can look each other straight in the face and say, “I’m sorry that you are suffering – but your suffering serves our common purpose in the safety and well-being of children.” The present sexual revolution – with all of its various guises – is the abandonment of this prime responsibility in the name of a lesser thing (and a questionable thing).

    It is why, earlier, I pointed towards the Cross as central to Christian thinking. These matters cannot be properly thought about in terms of American jurisprudence and Lockean logic. Those categories will not work, apparently.

    I recall being asked once whether I understood that the Church was asking certain people to practice celibacy for the whole of their lives – of course the question was assuming that this would be the greatest and most unbearable of sufferings. My answer then, and now, is, “Yes.” The notion that a life without sex is enormous and unbearable suffering is simply not true. Indeed – it’s a very, very modern idea and an idea itself that creates suffering.

    We must be merciful to one another – but we must also understand that it is permissable to ask each other to bear legitimate suffering for the sake of others. No society will last long that cannot do this.

  16. Father,
    Your last, astute comment, once again reminded me of the peculiar – yet quite insightful – exegesis of Revelation’s infamous 666 (χξς) by some Fathers, based on the usage of the Greek numerals (χξς) of the original text, they creatively inferred that the antichrist is a counterfeit of Christ because he will be a ‘christ’ (χ -Χριστός), without (ξ – ξένος) the cross (ς </ςταυροῦ).
    An eliminator of suffering rather than a ‘transcender’ of suffering…

  17. Mary, thank you so much for your comments. I have felt very saddened by this particular trend/fad. I will use for example a mother who was formerly in our church. She became very enthusiastically involved in the whole homosexual and transsexual rights and marching – to the point of making me question if her children were going to feel they had really disappointed her by being heterosexual boys and girls. She said she wanted them to love everyone and be inclusive of all choices. Her involvement and statements on social media truly worried me as they became more and more in favor of the non-heterosexual over the heterosexual. Within a year, she proudly announced that her pre-teen daughter was now her son and would be addressed by his new name and treated as his newly chosen sex from then on. I made a comment about feeling it was very inappropriate for parents to give strong hormones to a six year old child to stop them from experiencing the normal changes in their bodies. I was met with very virulent comments about how horrible I was and how it was not harming the children and I was obviously one of those Christians who hated everyone who was not heterosexual. I got called a lot of names, but I think this nightmare has – as you stated – some VERY serious long-range effects coming, and they are going to destroy these children mentally and emotionally. Let them develop in the bodies they were given, with the hormones that their bodies are meant to have. If they are truly experiencing a genuinely rare medical problem, then – and only then – the doctors should deal with it. This has become far more than a rare medical condition, and now it has spun into something where grown men “identify” as six year old girls or ten year old boys????? NO. I stopped shopping at Target because they decided to allow men into the ladies rooms. (Even though they have a gender neutral family bathroom for those not comfortable going into the biological sex bathroom.) Now HOW many little girls have been attacked in their bathrooms now because of the corporate decision to cater to non-biological sex identifiers? ?? Even ONE was too many, and there have been several. This big fear of offending anyone except heterosexuals and Christians has gone too far. It is on the verge of becoming a full on offensive against us. God created us in our mother’s womb, and HE decided what our bodies were made of and what we would be. I am extremely offended when Bruce Jenner, who has fathered six children; never given birth; is a biological male who has had some hormones and surgery – is awarded “Woman of the Year”. If I say it though I am considered a “hater” . No, I am just sad. Sad that there is such confusion and fear and pain in so many these days. They are so easily confused and mislead by so many false teachers and false doctrines – just as the Bible said would happen. I am told I am “Old and out-dated”, when I express concern for the long term effects of this “fad”, but I do fear what will happen to these young people. Lord have mercy upon us.

  18. Merry,
    Last week I listened to the program I referenced (on Mars Hill Audio – whose programs I heartily recommend). It led me to download and read the entire Supreme Court case. Truth be told, I have been thinking about this topic a great deal (every day). I have pastoral reasons for these thoughts, as well as deep, theological concerns. I’ve been holding off writing about the topic for a while, primarily because I did not want to encounter the anticipated blow back.

    A result of that hesistancy, I think, has been something of a growing “writer’s block.” When I’m ignoring what I’m actually thinking about, inevitably, I begin to “dry up.” So, on Friday, I sat down and wrote this piece with a fair amount of ease. Then I put it to rest. I didn’t even mention it to my wife, but let it sit all weekend. This morning, I re-read it, and prayerfully posted it (and silently braced for the blow back). On the whole, it’s been very mild – less than I expected – in fact.

    Nonetheless, I feel that it is important to share as I have on the topic – regardless of its reception. I’m sorry that your experience was as difficult as it was – I suspect it has been duplicated in many places across our nation.

  19. “There was a consistent framing of the discussion in terms of psychological abstractions. The world that matters, it seems, is in our heads.
    Father Stephen,
    Isn’t this basically the teaching of the early philosophers, where they say, for example, the mind/soul is temporarily entrapped in the body, using for the mind such language as Forms/ideas as the only things that are immortal? I ask this because it appears that these beliefs and its many offshoots has been around for a very long time. Modernity seems to be another offshoot of these pagan ‘ideas’. Do you agree?
    Another thought…I understand that these early philosophers, too, believed that sexual relations between men was the supreme form of eros.
    So, regarding truth in God’s creation of male and female, it was the birth and growth of Christianity that caused such a revolution in male/female relations among the pagans. And Christian standards are still revolutionary today.
    The times have changed but the falsehoods sound very similar. Yes?

  20. Father Stephen,

    Disease actually seems to be is a social/cultural construct to some extent as well, apart from the concrete physical happenings in the body. This is elucidated by the work of Medical Anthropologists. In Brazil, for example, Nancy S. Hughes studied the high death rate of children in the first year of life who were born to women and men who lived and worked on sugar cane plantations. The culture at large, including the parents of the children, ascribed the high infant mortality to various illnesses, but it was in reality due to hunger/starvation. But the truth was simply too painful to face or name. They also would not give a name to the children until they had successfully reached their first birthday. Hughes’ book is titled “Death Without Weeping.”

    Another example is the story of a immigrant Mung family living in north central California who brought a child to the emergency room because the child was experiencing a seizure. American doctors labeled the illness as epilepsy, but the Mung considered it to be a shamanic “spirit” taking hold of the child. From the American Medical perspective, the seizure was a bad thing; while from the Mung cultural perspective, it was a positive thing. For the Mung, it was a sign that the child had been chosen for something special. And they didn’t necessarily want to stop the seizures. The difference in the way these two cultures interpreted the same symptoms resulted in major friction and ultimately required the professional assistance of a Medical Anthropologist to help navigate the situation. The title of the book is “The Spirit Catches You and You Fall down” by Anne Fadiman.

    A third example is a study of how England, Germany, America, and France view the cause of illnesses differently and what organ in the body they see as most important. This book is titled “Medicine and Culture” by Lynn Payer.

    I’m sure there are many other books along this line, but these are one’s I was assigned to read during my undergraduate years and still remember quite well.

    I appreciate your article and you raise very good and thought-provoking questions as always.

  21. Paula,
    Interestingly, the Christian teaching viz. the body, was very controversial among the pagans. When St. Paul mentioned the resurrection of the body (of Christ) in Athens at the Areopagus, they laughed at him. Platonism, especially, disparaged the body. There was thus, always a bit of a cultural tension overhanging Christian teaching. Indeed, disparaging the body never completely disappeared and still has a way of misconstruing ascetical efforts in the Church. We fast, etc., not because the body is unimportant, but because it is so very important. The desert fathers held that “the soul follows the body.”

    But, in the West, beginning with Descartes in the early modern period, there was a strong move towards a kind of idealism that treated the body as of little importance. We became the “ghost in the machine” as some have described it. I think we are sort of schizophrenic about this these days. We make a big deal out of the body (science, etc.) and yet have a strange abstract notion of the mind. The truth is that all of this is so easy to get wrong.

    Good theology, I believe, is the essential foundation of all true understanding. The doctrines of the faith are not abstractions – they are revelations of the very nature of things – even when they are expressed in pre-modern categories.

    Modern human beings, in the throes of erotic madness, are the last people on earth to add anything to a healthy understanding of sex, gender, etc. We are not to be trusted – because we have proven ourselves to be insane.

  22. Thanks Father for expounding on my thoughts. You say it well.
    Interesting how non-Christians have always, in one way or another, glorified the mind over the body. No wonder the God-Man Jesus Christ is such a stumbling block and that the Resurrection of the body is an “embarrassment”. Yes…foolish things…

    And I love you forthrightness. Yeah, we as a culture are insane…its very crazy out there.
    Thank you for your dedication in your writings. You do take risks in speaking on these controversial subjects. But we need to hear someone speak clearly and truly “good theology” regarding all that befalls us these days.
    Appreciate it, Father.

  23. Many thanks, Father Stephen, for this post and to Mary Benton and other respondents whose perspectives are much appreciated.

  24. Before the era of the insanity of political correctness, individuals who had gender identity issues were treated with therapy for the underlying issues that were the root of their problems.
    The saddest part of the transgender issue is those who seek surgery as a solution find that it often makes the problems far worse and leads to suicide, often in communities where social support for transgender people is highest, suicide rates are also highest.

    Just as water becomes more impure as it moves away from its source, so too do we become less as we move away from God who is the source of all things. We become less and less human as we move away from God.

  25. Merry,
    I do want to add a clarification. Obviously i know nothing about the woman in your church but it is possible that her earlier behavior was motivated by having a truly transgender child and her pride in presenting her transitioned child an attempt to counter the hardship the child inevitably faced.

    To me, the most convincing cases of the truly transsexual are the ones who speak it as very young children. Healthy parents often think it’s a phase but it never goes away. 60 Minutes host Barbara Walters did a tasteful interview with a child and family that can be found on YouTube (the child’s name is Jazz, born a boy but strongly insisting on being a girl as early 18 months). This is a sort of situation where I believe hormones may be appropriate at puberty. Jazz’s parents eventually allowed her to live as a girl and the doctors felt it would be traumatic for Jazz to start growing a beard and have a deepening voice and so they prevented it with hormones.

    I would, however, be worried about grown men who identify as children. They are often child molesters. They become developmentally fixated, oftentimes because of having been abused themselves. I actually feel compassion for them as well as they didn’t ask to be so disordered. However, they usually need to be in segregated prison accommodations because of the severity of their disorder and the attacks they experience in the normal prison population.

    Decades ago I had a patient like this and it was indeed very sad. He was illiterate but copied Romans 7:15-20 from the Bible and mailed it to me from prison. It must have taken him a very long time because he had to copy the shapes of the letters, being unable to write even his own name.

  26. mary benton, I think it is one thing to have a truly transgendered child and another to link that to a obviously disordered social movent. Every “social movement” I have experienced from the 60’s on has, even with a seemingly benign core I have seen rot and end up becomingly increasingly unhuman.

    There is a miasmic load of garbage that has been dumped on us that turns every human struggle and difficulty into a “cause”.
    That “cause” has a self perpetuation that tends to replicate abnormal and sinful behavior. Them if anyone objects — they are evil, have no compassion, etc. IMO it then becomes a kind of mass hysteria that feeds the replication process.
    I also cannot shake the feeling that there is a real, unfortunate change going on due to both environmental factors and epigenetic ones that reinforce possible psychcological factors. We are a mess because we have moved far away from God, allowing satanic temptations to ulcerate and erode our humanity to such an extent that we are actually becoming less human.

  27. Jeff, thank you for that link to Fr. Tom’s talk. Very good!

    Thank you everyone for your comments. I find a great problem in abstraction gone mad. It’s as if we cannot think otherwise. I actually believe that “twitter-world” has made it a lot worse, to the point where details run away with us. I remembered Paul Evdokimiv writing that we are not abstract beings. It seems that abstraction is far away from humility and groundedness, even the ability to say, “I don’t know.”

  28. Mary, The mother I spoke of I don’t know that her child was very young. She may have been near her teens – at least 10 or more- before this was mentioned. As I was not in her home or around her child I don’t know, but she was not a small child. When I was upset over the six-now seven year old boy in Texas being subjected to life changing treatments at his age, the mother of the girl now boy was very angry with me. I don’t feel it is right to choose for a small child if they will ever be able to have, or to father, a child someday. Messing with hormones can have very serious health consequences. It seems almost like a social movement to neuter humanity and reduce populations. Perhaps that is a radical thought but why else would a truly rare condition suddenly become such a widespread and accepted one? Such that people desired to have it? Do people always want to be what they are not and this is just another aberration of that? I have never seen anything like this in my 72 years and never expected to. Yes Fr Stephen I get a lot of hate and nasty remarks when I question these new versions of society and what is supposed to be normal now because it is acceptable now. I still disagree. Mary, a disease or a rare condition is something we don’t choose. God would never condemn His creation for being as He created them. I believe that. But I also believe everyone has something that they have to bear and that life is full of pain, as well as joy and love. I,personally, have a problem with child molestors and abusers. I understand your sympathy for your patient/client, but I survived that as a young child, and saw too many raped and beaten babies and very young children in hospitals where I worked- to have such a grace for them. They destroy young lives and families with their Evil. Child trafficking too. Same outcome. Beyond belief in its cruelty. Only God can grant them mercy. Something they denied their innocent victims. God will judge all of us one day, and we each need to be grateful Jesus died for us on the cross. We all have suffering in this life, as Father said, but we have to hold on to what we know is true, in spite of all society is doing to try and confuse and undermine our beliefs and the truth. Lord have mercy upon us.

  29. Paula,
    There’s some interesting (in Greek) studies, proving the deep neo-platonic ideological roots of transgenderism (“souls-trapped-in-bodies”) as well as their relationship with the “spirituality” […] of lucifereansim . Coupled with the many neo-Malthusian tendencies in globalist policies, it takes on a more violent promotional perspective.

  30. Michael,
    I very much agree that there’s an element of this: Man, often gives special rights-to-his-life to God, or to Satan. When we give our adversary such authorities (through our living), the ‘results’ might seem ‘natural’ but they are not.

  31. Thank you for sharing Fr Stephen.

    Social media does have hooks baited with issues that seem important or relevant but are mostly madness trying to look wise. It cannot be argued on their level.

    Nevertheless we need to address some of them, and i really appreciate people like yourself that can articulate answers (or at least Truth) for us. Thank you.

    I like this, “Such efforts can only be maintained through some form of violence (and coercion) for they have no reality of their own to argue their case.” & “Real harm is a serious business, as is all suffering. Imaginary harm, on the other hand, extends itself into the very nature of reality and endangers everyone.”

    It is strange territory as you say.

    Lord have mercy.

    Bless
    JP

  32. Dino,
    Interesting comment on the roots of transgenderism. No surprise it is demonic.
    Also, had to look up “Malthusian”. Yessss….the familiar ‘population control’, taking into our own hands God’s command to ‘be fruitful and multiply’ and turning it into a cursed thing.
    It helps to frequently remind myself of St Paul’s words that ‘we do not fight against flesh and blood’ but against the powers of darkness. These evil powers have been at work for a very long time. Time is on their hands. If I remember correctly, this is well pointed out in Lewis’ Screwtape Letters. All I can say is Glory to Jesus Christ that in Him we are given deliverance from such bondage.

    Which brings me to comment on compassion. First, I readily admit that even when I do remind myself of this warfare, there are times when my anger towards those who willingly, albeit ignorantly(in light of Eph 6), abuse ‘these little ones’, completely overrides any compassion I am supposed to have. You can forget about me trying to reason out and excuse such behavior when these children’s lives are hanging on a limb. The limb being the hands of the abuser, under the influence of darkness. Knowing this does not lessen my outrage.
    Mary Benton, I can understand, as a psychologist, your line of thought. There are always reasons for our behavior. But when the innocent are taken advantage of, I am going to stand and protect them (animals are in this category as well) at all costs. I don’t care if I am called a hater, or judged (by another human being) as one without compassion. And after the dust settles, it is there where I ‘let it all out’ to Christ. Perhaps too late…I don’t know. He is very patient and there is not a time when He doesn’t answer. I do not look at this as a moral, black or white, choice… as if under constraint to make such a choice. I am quite aware of my sinfulness, yet am compelled to passionately react to injustice. Yes, passionately. I too am affected by this warfare.
    We are told that our anger should be directed toward the powers of darkness and not ‘flesh and blood’. I don’t know how to make that separation in light of knowing God holds each one of us accountable for our actions. He does not excuse and say ‘the devil made you do it’. It is a great tension. God help us all.
    Nevertheless, no, I do not have compassion for such ‘enemies’. I ask for forgiveness, because I do not know how to have such compassion and love for those who abuse. I’d be a liar and a fool to force myself to be silent in the face of this kind of abuse we’re talking about here.
    I do not understand…what are we supposed to do, I ask the Lord. What….????
    Pray…yes pray. Ask for the will to forgive. Supplicate. Have mercy on us O Lord! Vengeance is Yours…but do You not work through us, your sinful servants? We are Yours, to do Your will. Lord help us! Help us to protect those who are treated unjustly!

  33. Paula, Dino
    I think it is less than helpful to ascribe the origins of transgenderism to demonic activity. On the one hand, the same could be said of all sin. On the other hand, it tends to “demonize” a cultural situation and individuals who are themselves more victims than not. To pray for someone requires, on some level, that we unite ourselves to them. They are “us.”

    2Cor. 5:21 “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” That is the pattern of our prayer. Where is Christ in the situation? He has united Himself to those who are in sin – and that’s where we have to be as well. This is difficult, but essential.

  34. Oh boy Father….difficult is not the word! But thank you for persisting and pointing to the narrow way. I am very far from that. I’d like to find that “level” where I unite myself to those I lack compassion for. I’d like to know what prevents me from doing so. No doubt, pride is a factor.
    This is tough, Father. I can’t simply say “I unite myself” and my heart be far from it. That’s what I meant above, that I’d be a liar and a fool if I did so. I want to do as St Paul says in 2Cor. 5:21. Why do I find this so impossible? Even knowing with God all things are possible.

    Your point about demonic activity is well taken. Where you say “on the first hand, the same could be said of all sin”, that states well my understanding of Eph 6. It is a generalization. But you are right, there is much more to it than that.

    You give us a lot to think about, Father. I know you pray for us. Don’t stop!!!

  35. Hello, My name is Bee. I am transgender. I really appreciate you exploring this subject in a compassionate way.
    > “At issue is whether the Civil Rights Laws that protect against discrimination on the basis of sex should apply to individuals whose claims are made on the basis of a professed “gender,” regardless of their biological sex.” … “I am aware of the _rare_ condition of intersexed individuals and other such anomalies.”

    With regard to rate of occurrence for all variants of Intersex (not just the _visibly_ obvious ones), Brown University researcher Anne Fausto-Sterling performed extensive review of the medical literature from 1955 to 1998 aimed at producing numeric estimates for the frequency of sex variations. The Total number of people whose bodies differ from standard male or female one in 100 births (1%, or approximately 75 million people living today). Blackless, Melanie, Anthony Charuvastra, Amanda Derryck, Anne Fausto-Sterling, Karl Lauzanne, and Ellen Lee. 2000. “How sexually dimorphic are we? Review and synthesis”. __American Journal of Human Biology__ 12:151-166.

    > “How can it be argued that someone with XX or XY chromosomes is only “assigned” a sexual identity at birth?”
    … “A deeper implication that underlies this is the uncoupling of sexual identity from the body itself. Are we what our bodies say we are, or are we only what we claim to be?” … “If the arguments put forward were rooted in biology, then there is an obvious conversation to be had.”

    I would like to present forward recent arguments rooted in biology to answer your question. Due to the complexity of the biology involved, I need to touch on several topics to answer your question precisely at the end.

    Lets start with what is measured at birth. Normally, a visual inspection of the child’s genitals is performed at birth, and the sex at birth is assigned based on this visual inspection. In Australia (and I presume in most countries), a DNA test of the sex chromosomes is _not_ performed at birth. If a DNA test was performed at birth, then we could accurately record the “sex chromosomes” present at birth, without the need for a reassignment of sex chromosomes due to DNA tests done at a later time. However, sex chromosomes are only part of the story. Even if we measured and recorded the sex chromosomes at birth, this alone does not tell us if the person will have a male or female body in every case. Androgen insensitivity syndrome is a condition that affects sexual development before birth and during puberty. People with this condition are genetically male, with one X chromosome and one Y chromosome in each cell. Because their bodies are unable to respond to certain male sex hormones (called androgens), they may have mostly female external sex characteristics or signs of both male and female sexual development.

    So the visible sex of a person is both a combination of the sex chromosomes, the ever-changing proportions of testosterone and oestrogen hormones present in that person from shortly after conception to death, and the hormone receptor configuration in the cells of that person.

    At this point, we are starting to see that primary sexual characteristics present at birth are dependent on a biological pathway involving many steps. If one step in that pathway is changed or interrupted, the primary sexual characteristics of that person may change. Secondary sexual characteristics are those that emerge during the prepubescent through postpubescent phases due to changes in hormone levels. This is basis behind feminisation (Male to Female) and masculinisation (Female to Male) hormones work. Change the hormone profile before or after puberty, and the body’s secondary sexual characteristics changes.

    > “How can it be argued that someone with XX or XY chromosomes is only “assigned” a sexual identity at birth?” … “On the other hand, the brain (and not just our genitals) is part of the biology that must be given due regard.”

    So at this point, lets work on a simplified hypothesis that “Sex Chromosomes + Hormone Profile + Hormone receptors” => determine a person’s primary sex characteristics at birth.

    Generally speaking, the mind is said to originate in the brain. Speaking very imprecisely, we use our brain to observe our physical body through our eyes, feel our physical body through the skin on our body. We can see, touch, and feel our primary and secondary sex characteristics. However, our perception of gender is more introspective. For the vast majority of people, the person’s internally perception of gender matches their external appearance, and so “gender identity” and “sexual identity” are the same thing. Medically speaking this large group of people are called cis-gender.

    If you are intersex, with visibly different primary sex characteristics, it is possible to have a divergence between your perceived gender (your gender identity), and the sex identity assigned to you by _someone else_ glancing momentarily at your primary sexual characteristics at birth.

    Lets changes gears to explore evidence of gender identity being rooted in biology.


    1) Exposure to unusual hormone profiles during fetal development

    Diethylstilbestrol (DES) is a synthetic form of the female hormone estrogen. It was prescribed to pregnant women between 1940 and 1971 to prevent miscarriage, premature labor, and related complications of pregnancy. DES is now known to be an endocrine-disrupting chemical, one of a number of substances that interfere with the endocrine system to cause cancer, birth defects, and other developmental abnormalities. The effects of endocrine-disrupting chemicals are most severe when exposure occurs during _fetal_ development. Prenatal exposure to DES has been documented to cause _gender dysphoria_ (gender identity different to sex assigned at birth) and homosexual behaviour. See: Prenatal exposure to female hormones. Effect on psychosexual development in boys”. Archives of General Psychiatry

    In one study, the presence of gender identity disorders and male-to-female transsexualism was reported by more than 100 participants in the study of 500 individuals. https://diethylstilbestrol.co.uk/prenatal-diethylstilbestrol-exposure-in-males-and-gender-related-disorders/

    Speaking simply, elevated levels of Estrogen during fetal development in the womb change the gender identity of a VERY large number of children assigned male at birth. In some cases, it changed their sexual orientation.


    2) Endocrine problems resulting in unusual hormone profiles

    Congenital adrenal hyperplasia (CAH) is a group of rare inherited autosomal recessive disorders characterized by a deficiency of one of the enzymes needed to make specific hormones. CAH effects the adrenal glands located at the top of each kidney.

    The overwhelming majority of women with congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia identify as having some same sex attraction – this increases with increases in virilization. (Sexual Orientation in Women with Classical or Non-classical Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia as a Function of Degree of Prenatal Androgen Excess, Archives of sexual behavior, 2008)

    5.2% of women with congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia identify with a male gender identity (Gender dysphoria and gender change in chromosomal females with congenital adrenal hyperplasia.Arch Sex Behav. 2005)

    According to research data 1/500 to 1/30000 (depending the definition of the study) of the general population of people assigned female at birth have sufficient gender dysphoria as to seek out medical treatment. According to recent surveys, this number is as high as 1/300.

    3) Neuroimaging of transgender brains before taking hormone replacement therapy.

    Multiple neuroimaging studies have demonstrated anatomical variation in the brains of transgender people that are consistent with their preferred gender BEFORE the usage of any exogenous hormones.

    a) Regional gray matter variation in male-to-female transsexualism (Neuroimage 2009)

    b) The microstructure of white matter in male to female transsexuals before cross-sex hormonal treatment. A DTI study (Journal of Psychiatric Research Feb 2011) MTF

    c) White matter microstructure in female to male transsexuals before cross-sex hormonal treatment. A diffusion tensor imaging study (Journal of Psychiatric Research Feb 2011) FTM

    d) Structural Connectivity Networks of Transgender People (Cereb Cortex 2015)

    4) People on the autism spectrum and ADHD may have higher occurrences of Gender Dysphoria

    See: Gender Dysphoria in Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder
    https://www.liebertpub.com/doi/abs/10.1089/lgbt.2018.0252?journalCode=lgbt

    See: “Fetal testosterone and autistic traits.”
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18547459
    “Our findings are consistent with the hypothesis that prenatal androgen exposure is related to children exhibiting more autistic traits.”

    You might also check out:
    Prenatal and postnatal hormone effects on the human brain and cognition.
    https://www.neuroscience.cam.ac.uk/publications/download.php?id=20805

    So to answer your question,
    in the same way that primary sexual characteristics are impacted by prenatal hormone exposure,
    gender identity as a function of the mind, may also be impacted by prenatal hormone exposure.

    In this way, we can see that there is a strong argument to be made that perception of our gender is dictated, or at least heavily influenced, by biology. And yes, it can be measured using neuroimaging scans .


    > I was struck by the fact that the discussion turned on whether an individual would “experience harm.”

    With regard to harm:
    41% of people with gender divergence attempt suicide by age 30.
    Risk is reduced by more than half with hormone therapy
    Intervenable factors associated with suicide risk in transgender persons: a respondent driven sampling study in Ontario, Canada, BMC Public Health2015


    If you want a deeper understanding, I strongly recommend:
    Healthcare of the Transgender Patient and The Powers Method of Hormonal Transitioning
 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fefu33e8O-0&t=374s


    Wishing you the best.

    B.

  36. Merry, thanks for your comments. You have experienced (are experiencing) what many of us have known to be true for quite some time. The so called “Tolerant / Coexist” crowd are anything but tolerant.

  37. Bee,
    I noted in the article that biology itself would represent a very different conversation than the political/philosophical/theological conversation engendered by certain aspects of the court case. In particular, the reality of biology (the body) has an eloquence that speaks for itself. I cannot argue with a broken arm – it is either broken or not. By the same token, perceptions of gender that are rooted in biology cannot be argued with. They have to be acknowledged and accounted for in some manner.

    On the other hand, within certain circles, that biological basis is largely dismissed in favor of a “fluidity” that asserts that gender is only a social construct. If that’s the case, there’s not much of a conversation to be had – the world is whatever someone wants it to be or whatever they might decide differently a year later. It establishes a dominant notion that is as removed from the sort of evidentiary biology you describe as it is from traditional accounts of human sexuality.

    There is, I think, a role played by social perception, norms, culture, etc., that are likely unavoidable. The mixture, at present, of various dialogs (some biological, some theological, some political, some social theory, etc.) make conversation very difficult – mostly because there are about half-a-dozen different conversations (to say the least) taking place.

    Threading the way through this, in a compassionate manner, as well as a manner that takes the whole of everything involved into consideration, is a job for Solomon – a role that I have little confidence will be descriptive of our courts and legislature.

    God give us all grace.

  38. Father Stephen, may I ask another question? Another commenter has said words to the effect of God creating us as we are & having to accept that – but how does this mesh with those born with deformities/illnesses or conditions such as intersex ones? I’m used to thinking of God allowing these conditions to happen & using them for good if possible, but them being part of the effects of the fall of man, not being exactly what God wanted them to be ‘originally’. Do you see what I mean?

  39. Bee –
    Thank you for such a detailed summary of the scientific data. I do not personally have the biology background to understand it all but I have read bits and pieces of it before. It is good to hear from someone who has more expertise.

    Merry –
    I’m sorry if my comment stirred up something painful for you – or for others. My primary point was that adults who identify as children as very disordered and may be a serious threat. I could have compassion for my patient because he was a victim long before he was a perpetrator, although I found his behavior very disturbing. Obviously I cannot post his personal social history but it was tragic. I helped him get to prison because I believed it was the only alternative – both to protect children and to protect him from himself. His personality was so immature and disordered that I didn’t believe that he could control himself even though part of him wanted to (hence the Biblical passage he sent me).

    It is a hard thing about our faith – to accept that God loves every human being as He has loves me, even the most egregiously sinful or disordered. Our own pain may be too much to accept this Truth at a given time but our merciful Savior knows this too and holds us close.

    Michael – Social movements often begin because of a true social wrong. While sometimes they bring about needed changes, they can also polarize people so that people on both sides behave in worse ways than when they began. The Civil Rights movement corrected a lot of things that needed correcting on a societal level but it certainly hasn’t eliminated racial discrimination or hate. Social movements to protect people who are in gender minority groups similarly can correct social wrongs. No one should be assaulted because they are gay or transgender. The unfortunate side effects, however, may be the pendulum swinging too far in the opposite direction (gender as a social construct – let everyone be what they want to be without healthy boundaries) or polarization (increased discrimination and hate behavior from people who previously had never encountered this minority enough to consider hating them). As Fr. Stephen has said, such social efforts will never make the world better in a meaningful way and certainly will not bring us salvation. Each of us needs to discern what we are called to do in response to the mistreatment of others.

  40. Father,
    With the exception of the relatively few biological irregularities, any erosion of the binary pairing of male – female, has a certain relationship to the potential undermining of the binary pairing of Christ – Church.
    Of course, as Bee explains well, there’s also the purely ‘biological conversation’. That particular topic, would certainly have associations with the earlier conversation (on “elimination” or “transcendence” of suffering), or, in other words, how one ‘deals with the cards they have been dealt’.
    In practice there is no limit to the compassion we will feel to the particular persons suffering, but the generalised “ideologization” (of the social-construct verses eternal-principle) and its puffery is something very different.
    Besides, the ‘biological conversation’ is not quite what is at issue in the popular culture’s and Mass media promotion of non-binary fluidity and (even in some instances) shutting down of classical counterargumentation… It is something else entirely, (and that is where one could perhaps see some far-reaching associations with the ‘traditional’, intensely hermaphrodite depictions of Baphomet and the ‘philosophy’ behind some of his followers’ thinking).

  41. One issue concerning me with the pendulum swinging too far on the gender fluidity concept, is actually that where we live is a very progressive school district – and the kids are being suggested to – by homosexual teachers – that they may be gay or transgender (already in Elementary School) and from how I have seen this play out in my children’s friend groups is that the youths who then are – I believe – being led down this path and the end result is that they go from being happy kids who are not happy any more. It has not been good for their souls. As a society we are doing great harm… why do we need to obsess young children about sexuality – it would be better if they could just play, just be rather than have all this weight laid upon them.

    And I fear the consequences will be tragic for some of these kids.

    Also there is an unbelievably staggering amount of terms now set aside for defining sexuality. It is overly overly complicated and that in and of itself is telling.

    There terms like “ace” which mean “I’m not really into anyone” but it is listed on LBGTQ websites, right and so young girls, pre-pubescent – who are naturally “not really into anyone” now mistake that since this term is under an LBGTQ umbrella, now start wondering if they are gay.

    From what I have seen, this is insidious, complicated, harmful and again brings no healing to people involved.

    We have family friends, whose son went through sex change operation, and has tried to commit suicide four times now. And I would add his parents have very supportive, so its not like he was cut off from his family or ostracized.

    I am sure that there are members of the LBGTQ community reading these comments who themselves question this very political progressive agenda aimed at our youth. For all of us, we need to make a distinction and draw a line where our young children are concerned because this whole conversation is confusing and harmful to them.

    There is a passage from the book, The Hiding Place, by Corrie Ten Boom where she is a young teenager and she was asking her father to explain a passage in a poem about “sex” and her father says the following to her,

    He turned to look at me, as he always did when answering a question, but to my surprise he said nothing. At last, he stood up, lifeted his traveling caster from the rack over our heads, and set it on the floor.

    Will you carry it off the train, Corrie?” he said.

    I stood up and tugged at it. It was crammed with the watches and spare parts he had purchased that morning.

    “It’s too heavy” I said.

    “Yes” he said, “and it would be a pretty poor father who would ask his little girl to carry such a load. It’s the same way, Corrie, with knowledge. Some knowledge is too heavy for children, When you are older and stronger you can bear it. For now, you must trust me to carry it for you.”

    Why are we as a culture so bent on giving our children more knowledge than they can bear. As I say, the way this agenda is playing itself out in my school system (which has a lot of money pouring into it from outside and is being targeted for this very progressive agenda) is that the kids affected are really not being helped but struggling. At least in my circle of people.

  42. So the real question, just to ground the conversation somewhere (at least for myself, anyway) is “theotic” in this context. That is, what is conducive to theosis? None of us can say what union with God or true image looks like. The saints are dynamic and individual, and none is a saint via biology or mere personal effort, even wishing. And none gets there without sacrifice, suffering, endurance, and transformation. I guess we could start with the fact that regardless of where a person is, what their biology is, or their circumstances, the real question remains that there is no doubt of God’s love, and no doubt that the path of theosis is open to them. I think a problem comes with language that us absolute. “Who I am” is something that may change at any time, depending on where God leads me. Strength, self-control, forbearance, compassion, etc. are qualities that may never be assigned to gender. They are gifts of the Spirit. Too often I feel that absolute assignments become like essence and nature arguments. Whatever we begin with, in our understanding, we all have the same goal, the same tools to get there, and the same Cross with its message of both transcendence and sacrifice. When we discard any of that is where faith problems start.

  43. Janine,

    First of all, thank you for your comment. Please know that I read it and had to comment, not to argue but just to offer my own perspective. Please know that no offense is intended nor is it my intention to disagree.

    When you said, “Who I am” is something that may change at any time, depending on where God leads me,” it lead me to comment.

    I was listening to one of Fr. Thomas Hopko’s, of blessed memory, speeches on a CD and he said something that I thought was very…dynamic. It struck me because I am a college graduate and I took two basic psychology courses and almost chose psychology as a major.
    Anyway it goes back to Fr. Thomas Hopko’s statement about Christ as the “ego ami” which when I heard it, I thought of the psychological meaning of “ego” meaning the sense of self-confidence and self-esteem and part of our identity.
    My mind immediately took the meaning of what Fr. Thomas Hopko was saying and interpreted it as “we have to let Christ replace our Ego with Christ Himself, such that our sense of self-esteem and our core identity comes solely from Christ.”

    So yes, I agree that the answer to “Who Am I” changes as we go though our process of salvation, as we draw closer and closer to God, and as we allow God to melt away all that is unholy and replace it with all that is Holy and to remove our “ego” and replace it with Himself.

  44. Thank you Ananias. That makes sense to me as well.
    And, in my experience this process that you describe is one that continues through a lifetime.

  45. Anonymous mom,
    I’m sorry I missed your comment before. What you say is extremely profound. The freedom not to be burdened sounds like a theological question aimed directly at the question of innocence being exposed to evil (poneros in Greek being associated with pain, burden, toil, affliction). And why should such deeply intimate questions be rigorously public? Choice and freedom are missing where the pretext is that this is being offered.

  46. A note to all,

    Moderating a conversation on this topic has challenges for me. A number of posts have not been cleared through moderation because I thought they would carry the conversation towards the sort of debate that I simply do not have time to moderate. I do not and cannot let the blog become a free-for-all. That said, there are certainly thoughts out there with lots of passion and care that take a different direction than most of our comments.

    I cannot argue science – simply because I don’t have enough information or the kind of knowledge to judge such information. On another level, nothing in the article has suggested a moral judgment on persons who experience gender dysphoria. That matter is not, and does not need to be part of this conversation.

    What the Church has to say in these matters is fairly clear. The Church’s teaching apply to sexual relations – which are only blessed in the context of marriage between a man and a woman. That is not up for debate, nor should it ever be. That matter has to do with the purpose and context of sexual relations itself.

    Questions regarding difficulties that arise on account of “intersex” problems (biologically rooted), have always been a matter requiring pastoral guidance. I recall being asked what to do in a particular situation by a brother priest. My response was immediate, “That’s why we have bishops!” I leave that matter with them. A priest who does not refer such a matter to his bishop is, I think, asking for problems that are not necessary.

    Human beings a broken – and we’re likely born that way. We’re not born that way because God thinks it’s wonderful and the very best – but because the world we live in is itself broken. What we call “sin” is not a legal problem – it’s ontological – and it screws up biology as well. So, to a certain extent, discussions about how we are born are beside the point.

    The spiritual life, as someone noted above, consists in “how we deal with what we’ve been dealt.” I suffer from ADHD. As brain issues go – it’s a little thing – not able to be compared with many more serious matters. But it has dogged my life and will until I “lay me down to rest.” It doesn’t help to complain. It does help, however, to understand it and to know that my own struggle towards salvation must walk directly through and with that condition. I could add much more personal matters – wounds, not of my own making – but, that would be “too much information.” I got mine – you got yours.

    Everyone suffers in this life – without exception. The question for a Christian is how do I bear my suffering in union with the suffering of Christ? and How do I, as part of the Church, serve others in their suffering. God give us grace.

  47. Paula AZ, Hugs, as usual, we are much alike in our struggles it seems.
    Mary, I am a mother, a grandmother, a great grandmother, and I have lived the terror pedophiles inflict on their victims; I have seen the damages done to beautiful innocent children by the vilest of evil acts of men who are driven by nothing short of pure evil to do such horrific things. Being a victim as a child is a nightmare, yes, and, especially as a survivor, I would never discount that, but using it as a justification to damage other young children -never. Therapy and help – yes. Custody – absolutely. Yes, I know God loves all of us, and He honestly wants everyone to be saved. But I also believe that there is an element of evil in this world that must be overcome and cannot be allowed to harm others. I will pray your patient finds the strength in custody and in God to overcome and heal. But I find it hard to see grown men who knowingly harm innocent children as anything more than rabid animals – diseased with such evil they cannot be allowed to run loose. I would defend – to the death -any child – from such a monster. God forgive me in advance, but I would.
    Bee – interesting information. Thank you for sharing your perspective and information.
    Dino – ever the voice of reason and sanity among us.
    Fr. Stephan – don’t worry too much. I think everything in here has been good and has been part of what has added to our discussion and learning. You are doing a great job!! Thank you. We pray for you and your ministry daily.

  48. Fr Stephen, so with all that said in the article and in the comments, what is your take on the Supreme Court case, the Harris Funeral Home v. EEOC? Is it an example of social construction gone wild, or is it a good thing for the EEOC to prohibit discrimination against transsexuals? Since you brought up this case and studied it (kudos!), what are Christians to make of it?

  49. Robert,
    The Supremes will do what makes the most sense to them. At present, the conservative majority will probably reveal a lot about itself in how it handles this decision. We’ll see.

    As for me, I think that the case was largely being discussed under the heading of rights and discrimination without examining deeper implications (pretty typical). Rights are actually an inadequate lens for viewing the greater issues of human identity. It is a horse we have long ago ridden too far. We need a better, stronger, more integrated horse, I think. But I wouldn’t hold my breath. American jurisprudence is (as was once said of American Christianity) about 2,000 miles wide and an inch deep.

    Christians should obey the commandments of Christ. Love your enemies and do good to all.

  50. Father,
    You repeat to us to love our enemies, and those words speak loud within me.
    A blog search for “love enemies” gave 186 results.
    There is one recent post from September 12th. In it you speak about binding and loosing. Very powerful.
    I need to read those posts.
    Forgiving. Hmm. I think of our patriarch Jacob where he said to the Lord “I will not let go till you bless me”. I’m not going to let go until He blesses me to be more forgiving. However long it takes. I just may walk away with a limp, too…

    Keep persisting Father. Even us ‘older folk’ need these hard commands of Christ explained 50 different ways – no, 186 – then repeated again and again.

    Thank you.

  51. Fr Stephen,
    I sincerely appreciate your courage to write this article. I’m not going to say much on this subject, but I have appreciated Fr Thomas Hopko’s (memory eternal) words on a similar subject of homosexuality.

    My familiarity with chemistry prompts me to raise questions about the chemistry involved in behavior and cognitive function. I’m adding a note to this discussion that I haven’t heard here or elsewhere as yet.

    Bee mentions specific drugs taken during gestation which can impact the embryo or fetus, which in the research Bee cites, indicate they are (or might be) involved in the etiology of gender dysphoria. There are indeed more pathways than these that might be considered, which can impact the metabolism later in childhood, puberty, and young adulthood, that are in the environment and in the lifestyle of the families. Among these, one pathway might involve obesity and the drugs involving the metabolic treatment of the effects of obesity.

    Getting back to what I believe your point is in your essay. It’s important for us as Christians to embrace and love those who have such experiences of gender dysphoria. But I’m not sure whether the cultural shift to ‘support’ people who find themselves in these circumstances, which is apparently a growing phenomenon, revolves around the biological etiology of this condition, the topic which has come into this discussion. Generally, I don’t hear such discussions about biological etiologies the when topic of transgender is raised, in the social contexts I am in. Rather, I typically hear a discussion on politics and the propagation of a conceptualizations defined and defended by the state.

    Generally I don’t engage in these conversations, even though I have attempted here. My reason for avoiding this topic is that I do typically go into the conversation from the perspective of science (but not ‘popular science’) and if/when I do, so far I haven’t found such discussion helpful, because it is already ‘polarized’. These conversations end up with questions that come back to what is considered science or ‘good science’, and how that is culturally and/or politically defined as well.

    I’ll end by saying that I’m grateful for your work, your courage and this discussion. and for your help in shedding light on the narrow path.

  52. mary benton, the social movements of which I am aware, experientially and historically that actually had any positive impact long term are the ones that began in an attempt to address sin. Wilberforce’s anti-slavery movement and the original related civil Rights movement werethat way and Ghandi’s freedom movement another. All of the others were largely motivated by the modern spirit of revolution and progress. Whatever their original focus, people lost their lives unnecessarily for no good reason and the “change” that occurred was often ephemeral. Every modern social movement since the 60’s has quickly centered on normalizing sin and excess. That is certainly true of the gender movement. They often rely on good-hearted, empathic people like you to make their case for sin, unknowingly.
    Should same sex attracted people be free from the threat of violence, yes. Although there are saints who thought otherwise. That does not automatically mean that the entire culture should be overturned to accommodate their temptation and sin. The list goes on. Now there are a significant voices out there that same sex attraction and homoerotic activity are better than the male-female binary of creation.
    Sin should never be glorified and treated as normal. Nor should the brokenness from which we suffer. That, however, is what social movements tend to do. Animal Farm makes that point as do the Fathers of the Church. The spirit of revolution had gotten so strong, even the Church is being attacked directly.
    May God have mercy

  53. Another commenter has said words to the effect of God creating us as we are & having to accept that – but how does this mesh with those born with deformities/illnesses or conditions such as intersex ones?

    BeakerJ, it is helpful, I think, to remember that none of us are as we should be. This assists me greatly in remembering to not judge my brother. Theosis requires a lifetime of work; we are not born into it, so to speak, we are called to it. As Father pointed out in a comment above, how one is born is largely irrelevant. God give us grace.

  54. Fr. Stephen,

    I too want to thank you for courageously taking on this topic and doing so with compassion and a deep faith that neither tries to dismiss science nor glorify it. Some others else referenced Fr. Thomos Hopko. If I may, I would like to specifically recommend his book “Christian Faith and Same Sex Attraction: Eastern Orthodox Reflections”. It is one of the most humble, loving and faith-filled discussions I have read of this topic. (This is somewhat off-topic regarding the transsexual, but there is considerable overlap.)

    anonymous mom: I very much appreciate your comment and quote from The Hiding Place. It has struck me as well that the pendulum swing has created a disturbing cultural trend to educate children about a topic they are not yet ready to understand. Trying to make them ready prematurely is not healthy – latency age children are generally unconcerned about the sexual (assuming normal exposures and absence of abuse). We should not try to change this as it goes against nature.

    I think that a much better alternative is to work much harder at removing the stigma from counseling. Children who are different inside typically know they are different, just as children who have external differences know it. If our schools, churches and families could keep promoting the message that it is perfectly normal to talk to a responsible adult when feeling bad inside, this would help a great many children. And if our schools do an effective job (which they don’t always do) of teaching children to be kind and accepting of children who are blind, deaf or have motor problems, they can can also teach children to be kind and accepting of children who are different in other ways. They don’t have to judge or explain the difference in any detail – just put a stop to bullying and teach empathy and kindness.

    Michael –
    I agree with much of what you are saying – we should not be trying to rewrite the script given to us by God. This is the insanity of the social construct notion of gender. To use a less inflammatory example, we would not rewrite our ideas of what is healthy to say that it is just as healthy to be deaf as to have hearing. God gave us ears with the obvious purpose that we should hear. At the same time, we would not deprive the deaf the consolation of forming a subculture of mutual support because of their need to communicate differently. (Of course, it would be even better if we all simply learned sign language.) However, as Church, maintaining the “holiness” of hearing, we would not define the identity of the deaf as as “temptation” or “sin”. They experience temptation and commit sins too, of course, but not by virtue of their identity as deaf people. Neither should we do this with those who experience gender dysphoria. I think part of what kicks off such pendulum swings referred to above is when people feel that that they are called sinful by virtue of who they are (rather than what they do). To grow up with this is extremely damaging to personality development. Sometimes the only way people know to try to gain any self-acceptance is to assert that who they are is okay, even something good. (I have encountered many people, mostly coming from the gay/lesbian orientation, who have had to work this through. For without saying a word about their sexual orientation as children, others picked up on their difference and persecuted them mercilessly – sometimes even their own families joined in by shunning them. They had not done anything but have an appearance or mannerisms that suggested that they were gay.)

    Who we are, i.e. what we did not choose, is never sinful. What we do is what constitutes sin. And when it comes to sin, we are all in the same boat. Fortunately, Christ is in the boat with us.

  55. The movement away from biology (as a definition) has been going on for some time. But biology is still very important, as many here have pointed out. One’s sex is not assigned at birth, it is revealed. The one who sees it is simply recording what they observe; that they cannot observe everything should be fairly obvious. Yet it has become a point of contention.

    An important facet of any discussion around biology is the matter of function. Biology/sex has a purpose, but any discussion of that purpose, beyond personal gratification/satisfaction, is largely not allowed by our present society. The present culture despises anything that is not a “choice”. It is a sad thing to choose to hate oneself, but that is essentially what many people do in this current climate.

  56. In response to Janine, where she say, “So the real question, just to ground the conversation somewhere (at least for myself, anyway) is “theotic” in this context. That is, what is conducive to theosis? None of us can say what union with God or true image looks like.” I, too have wondered if Theosis can be the lens through which Christians respond to the questions about our “stance” on many of these issues. We teach that the Way is narrow that leads to Life and union with God. If we want union, that path requires sacrifice, likely suffering, asceticism, prayer, fasting (not just food), etc. If people don’t want union…that’s one thing. But, if they do, we must be faithful to teach that Way. It’s not unloving to guard that Path. So, I’ve wondered if I were to be asked about some of these issues, what could I say? Perhaps something like this: “anything that is more important than union with God–Theosis–is a hindrance to that union. I choose to follow that path. ” IOW…when we respond in terms that are given by society, we possibly get off track ourselves(rights, policies). Maybe we can use such opportunities to change the context. Someone did ask me once if ___ is a sin. I felt tongue-tied…not wanting to fall into the legalistic framework that society hears. Wanting to explain what sin is in different terms, I wish I could have said something like the above, such as, “it’s not conducive to Theosis.” Lord have mercy.

  57. Does the old nominalism vs realism debate figure into this or is that a separate issue? Maybe nominalism vs realism not an issue in Orthodoxy as it is in the west?

  58. mary benton, real gender dysphoria is a disorder condition, a brokenness as is same sex attraction. Neither is an identity, nor is deafness. As I am sure you know there is a eub-set of deaf people who actively condemn anyone who is deaf who seeks to hear. Some even go so far as to condemn hearing people because they hear.
    Societies have always shunned people who are different which Jesus deplored because we are all broken and have disfigured the image of God in us because of sin, voluntary and involuntary. Those who “identify” by proclaiming their brokenness as who they are…well they are actively settling for a broken image contra God.

    I have met only one person in my life who thought of himself as transgender and he was a mess. I worked side by side with many same sex attracted people during the 10 years I was heavily involved in theatre and dance starting in high school. I am not homophobic in any way, if such is even a real possibility for anyone.

    Personally I try hard not to fall into the trap of thinking that my own disfigured image is my identity. In fact, I try to hold on to the understanding.that my disfigurement is NOT my identity. Through the sacramental grace of the Orthodox Church, especially our unique approach to confession, I have seen enough to know that my disfigured image is not my identity as far as Jesus is concerned. Confession allows who I really am to emerge. It is a process much like peeling an onion–thin layer by thin layer with lots of years.
    Healing is never experienced though if we strongly identify with our brokenness.

    The Church has long made the distinction of a broken inner state and acting out of that state and justifying my actions. The action and the justification is sin. The brokenness unaddressed is temptation.

    If I loose my temper and am aggresive toward others or even inanimate objects it is sinful. I cannot excuse it by saying “That’s just the way I am. You have to accept it” as that just compounds my sin and inbeds it in my soul. Abstaining from anger and repenting when I fail is what is required for me to become more human.
    Sexual aceticism is also required even at times within marriage because we are broken. That is a really difficult fact for we moderns to accept and understand. We are told all of our lives in many ways that sex is who we are. Restriction on our expression of who we are is wrong, etc.
    Just the opposite is true.

    As always, I deeply appreciate your capacity for empathy and kindness. It is an inspiration to me. My dear wife has a great capacity there as well and I am often the beneficiary of her kindness.

    May God’s grace be with you always

  59. Thank you for this and for all the comments. It has helped me understand in my head what my heart and faith tell me.

  60. Boyd,

    I am going off on a tangent but, I think that “the old nominalism vs realism debate” does figure into this.
    I was thinking about it earlier. I actually thought that it even has a strong connection to the scientific/biological ‘conversation’ mentioned above, (let alone the more ‘philosophical’ aspects which are clearly closer to that debate).

    The deterioration of the mechanistic scientific stance into subjectivism (and subsequently nominalism) is quite often evident in modern science pronouncements. Modern science has even been deployed in a type of derision of universal truths. I find that science is much harder to separate from scientism than a cursory approach might initially make one suppose.

    The reality is that science is certainly not free from culture-bound assumptions, on many levels. It might speak of its verifiable propositions, but, its motivating theories and ideologies have their foundations on unverifiable assumptions. Think about it… (It makes one recall the pervasiveness of the Fall even here)
    Furthermore, in science, the indisputable repudiation in principle of any agency of a deity, means it disallows the sacred. This significant characteristic of modernity (“anti – sacralism”) is actually deeply intertwined with science.

  61. Thanks Fr Stephen & others. I’m still learning a lot about the Orthodox view of humanity (as opposed to the evangelical one) & tiptoeing carefully through the understanding that our humanity was made good, was subject to the fall (which damaged it but didn’t make it evil) & will be repaired back to full humanity. It ‘s helpful to me that those issues we were born with are not God’s ultimate plan for us- but healing is.

    I’m also thinking about what you have said about suffering Fr Stephen, I think that as a Nurse’s daughter I grew up with the value that suffering was something we should be working against, most of the time, & that colours my thinking.

  62. Beakerj,

    Father has written extensively on suffering. I advise that you do a search on the site and read more, if you have not already done so.

  63. Dino I agree with you. I would like to add a few more words to your last sentence. I think you’ll agree (and perhaps I’m saying something redundant).

    This significant characteristic of modernity (“anti – sacralism”) is actually deeply intertwined with science as it has been framed—culturally defined and practiced— within western culture.

    I desire to say this because I hope with God’s grace to be a practitioner of science without succumbing or acquiescing to the anti-sacralism that’s usually expressed within it. —And I pray that I’m not ‘kidding’ myself.

  64. Father Stephen,
    I often consider these concepts, having children growing up into adults as we speak. Their view of the world, life and acceptability is frightening at times despite having been raised in the Church in a multitude of ways, our conversations are robust and loving. In the end, we all choose to live and believe what feels right to us.

    I am also an elementary teacher and have seen a shift just in the past year of how students understand the truth of things. While doing a perspective exercise meant to bring awareness to the ways our views are biased and often uninformed prior to making judgement, I was struck by a 4th grader’s comment that it’s possible the picture of the man we were looking at was in fact, not a man. The incidents of stress, anxiety and depression happening just in my small circle is an ever clear reminder to me of the effects the path away from Christ has on humankind.

  65. Fr. Stephen,

    Your phrase “experience of harm” was a major topic in The Coddling of the American Mind. The authors began by examining this sentiment popping up on university campuses in the last few years, but eventually they look at where it’s is coming from. There is good information to be mined from this book. What I took from it is that the younger generations are growing up with 2 big differences from previous ones.

    The first is that they haven’t been given a moral framework within which to form. What society calls freedom of choice by breaking down any convention has resulted in a lonely and dangerous landscape for a child grow in and attempt to be nurtured by. “You can be anything you want, but we wouldn’t dare tell you who you are or even help define the world around you. That’s for you to decide.” This prospect, supposedly a fine gift for a young soul, is in fact a desolation devoid of hope and security. Children are growing up afraid and the real terror is that most of them never figure out why.

    The second thing is a life that is lived about 50% online, an environment which is rich in many ways but also comes with distorted and limited relationships & and a lack of the traditionally associated communication skills. It also brings with it a false sense of reality, one that can be continually conformed to or chosen by the individual. You can live in a world where everyone is transsexual. Then ten minutes later, you can live in a world where no one is. It’s totally up to you and furthermore, anything which goes against the will of you and your chosen tribe should be outlawed and banished.

    In the end all harm and pain must be obliterated. As you allude to, the important thing is that we reach a utopia where everyone feels good. Everyone actually being good is not even incidental; it’s totally the wrong question. Since everyone’s definition of good is individualized, we have settled for the lowest common denominator as a society, that everyone is happy according to their own standards.

    In the end I suspect this tearing down of all objective truth and having each person installing their own is the real goal of the modern project. Sexuality just happens to be one of the last structures to attack in its campaign for success.

  66. “…I hope with God’s grace to be a practitioner of science without succumbing or acquiescing to the anti-sacralism that’s usually expressed within it. —And I pray that I’m not ‘kidding’ myself.”
    Dee…while sometimes we have our doubts, there is nevertheless the truth that God knows, from the womb, the path of our life. He foresaw your work in science. He knew when the time would come when you’d know His Son. He knew the challenges you would meet in working in science while remaining a true Christian, knowing the true Source of life…of existence.
    A while back you mentioned that around your neck you wear your cross. It is not hidden under your clothing. Your colleagues see this. It is a statement of your faith, that you are one of His. Set apart to Him and for Him, in the world in general, and as a scientist and teacher, in particular. He has blessed you with a mind capable of this kind of thought and reasoning. Many people wear crosses as a stylish thing. But God knows the ones who bend the knee to Him in love. Who are willing to be led. Who know His salvation. The cross you wear is an indication of the cross you have been given to carry in Christ’s name. He knew that your vocation would be greatly influenced by modernity, antithetical to Him and a great challenge for you. There is no ‘kidding’ here whatsoever, Dee. You are exactly in the place where God knew you’d be, and you are being carried through in, and by, Him. In this, I have no doubt.

    Not only is this true for you, but for all of us in the place, vocation, path, circumstances we find ourselves throughout our lives. God is with us, ever guiding, directing, forming and transforming. The thing we have to remember is to say “yes” to Him, no matter how things appear. It makes the road a little less treacherous, knowing He works for the good of us who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.

    Glory to Jesus Christ. May we be blessed with grace to say yes and to stay on The Path.

  67. Dee
    I very much like what Paula wrote to you!
    I think you would enjoy Wolfgang Smith’s ‘Cosmos and Transcendence’ very much.

  68. Wow. Thank you everyone! This has been one of the best and most wonderful discussions and learning experiences! I am so grateful for each of your comments and the thought you put into them. Dee, I always get your perspective too, as science was my focus for a long time, and is still a big area of interest to me.
    I now feel I have a much better perspective on the issues we are all reading about; and being faced with having to engage in discussions on or choose a position on. I have friends who are same sex attracted; my best friend for many years was a cross dressing heterosexual male; there are so many different things that do not involve other people or doing something sinful or wrong, just different. When people ask me – usually with a bit of negative aggression in their voice – what OUR church’s position is on homosexuals and transsexuals, I usually just say “Our Church teaches us to love everyone and let God sort them out!” We don’t get to judge another human being, only God is the ultimate judge. We don’t condemn the people, but we do the behaviors – if they are what God says are wrong and sinful. That is how we try to live. Unfortunately, it is not always that easy. Forgiveness is plentiful and I admit I use it and need it – often. My husband is much more serious and theological than I am.
    Mary – before I forget – I absolutely believe your comment about making therapy and counselling something that is easily obtained by all children and adults who need it, and without any stigma. I would like to see it be recognized for the amazing healing force it is, and can be in so many damaged lives. I would not be the survivor I am without having gotten it. And not just as a child, but also as a teen in college, and later times in adulthood. My childhood trauma had many long reaching effects, and I was determined to heal and be whole.I made the choice to be a survivor, and not a victim. It is not easy, but it is worth it.
    The comments about deaf and hearing were interesting too. I took Conversational Sign as a class in the early 90’s in college – when I went back. I learned a lot about the deaf and deaf culture. I saw people mistreat people who were deaf – assuming it meant they were also stupid, and I knew a deaf college professor who thought implants to hear were horrible. It was denying who they were and their whole being. Many deaf do feel it is abuse to use implants on children so they can hear. I don’t understand that either, but if you have never heard, perhaps you don’t what a wonderful gift it is. They fear what they don’t understand? With so much that is happening these days, I think that is true of many things and many people. This discussion has helped me understand better the whole issue of gender dysphoria and I really appreciate so much that you had the courage to open this up Father Stephen. I too have ADHD so forgive the fast transitions in subjects. lol

  69. Drewster2000,
    I very much appreciate your comment and how the modern project promotes a view that there is no objective truth and therefore everyone is free to create their own truth. It sounds so happy and free of hate and guilt. But it is a terrifying view of life, especially for the young. How can they form a sense of identity if even basic guidelines for self-definition are lacking?

    Michael Bauman,
    Returning to our discussion on identity… I fully agree that our true identities do not rest in such things as gender/orientation, sensory integrity, etc. Who we are before God is so much more than these transient things. However, from a psychological perspective, such factors are crucial to developing even a rudimentary sense of self. While the sense of identity that we develop from self-observation and the world around us will inevitably be flawed because of sin, we still need it as a place to begin. As I have noted before, a person cannot surrender their self to God if they have no self. Each of us must begin where we are, with who- or whatever we perceive ourselves to be.

    Merry (& Michael), I think some born deaf cling to the deaf “identity” because they, like all of us, need a sense of who they are in a world that largely ignores or disdains them. And so it is with the gender minorities. And racial minorities, and all who find themselves marginalized by our society. A distorted identity is more secure than no identity. I was surprised to learn that some chronically depressed people are afraid to give up their depression, not because they like it but because they don’t know who they are without it – and are afraid to find out.

    There are so many walking our streets who are confused and afraid and angry. I think we must be careful about referring to their broken state as sinful lest we inadvertently wound them further. Not understanding our perspective on the universality of sin among us, such language may be experienced as just one more judgment of how worthless they are. This is why we must first welcome and love them without reservation, as Christ did the broken people He encountered in His earthly life. Once secure in our love, they will be ready to hear the rest of the story.

  70. Dear sister in Christ, Paula! I needed your words so much today. You have no idea how much you have helped me! I thank God for your loving kindness.

    And thank you too, Dino! I’ve ordered that book!

  71. Dee, I remember it’s a fantastic authoritative read, (worth proper studying) but most especially for a person with your unique understandings…

  72. I think we must be careful about referring to their broken state as sinful lest we inadvertently wound them further. Not understanding our perspective on the universality of sin among us, such language may be experienced as just one more judgment of how worthless they are.

    Mary Benton, this form of compassion has an amazing effect on many people. I have, at times, discussed such things as sin with others. At first they are very defensive, expecting perhaps the “hell and brimstone” attitude they fear and hate. However, I am always quick to state that my sins are worse than their own, which usually catches them off-guard and, somewhat surprisingly, opens up the conversation in a positive manner instead of closing it off negatively. From there, we can proceed with a discussion based in kindness, as opposed to perceived judgement.

  73. Byron,
    Yours is loving approach and promotes the awareness that we are all in this together (sinfulness) and we can all being in salvation together as well. The same notion is one of the things I liked so much about Fr. Tom Hopko’s book on same sex attraction. He doesn’t limit his discussion to the sin or brokenness of homosexuals but includes significant acknowledgment of the brokenness of heterosexuals and their behaviors. We all experience separation from God, some due to personal sin and some due to societal or ancestral sin that we have no control over. Repentance as individuals is essential to our salvation – but we are also called to repent as community. Hence, the need for patience when we see people who are lost – for we too are or have been lost and may have helped put them where they are. God forgive us.

  74. The issue of “what is my identity” and choosing a tribe seems to be one of the defining difficulties of my generation, And certainly of my personal life. After having children and leaving my identity as a “musician”, I felt completely lost and unmoored. I can only imagine how much deeper a “gender identity” (chosen, or assigned, or whatever) goes. I recently read a story of a monk who didn’t wear shoes (sorry, I don’t remember who!). His spiritual father said; “ that’s too ostentatious! Don’t wear your humility on the outside like that. Put on shoes like a normal person!” The monk cheerfully obeyed, though he was completely unused to shoes and found them very painful. Obedience was more convenient than comfort or outward identity…
    This has become my model for identity. I am not essentially a “homeschool mom”, or an “adoptive mom”, or a “hippie mom”, or a “thin and pretty wife”, or any of the other numerous things I think are ME. I am something else, something that Christ knows, that is slowly being revealed to me by humility and obedience. If any of those things are changed, they don’t change who I am, but reveal a new depth to me.

    Not exactly about gender identity, I know, but it seems that what I was offered as a child “you can choose what you will do with your life!” and the uncertainty and “trying to find a tribe that fits” that came with that is now greatly multiplied by the message that you can choose basically everything.
    In truth, we don’t choose so much as we discover. And in that the difficult but worthy path of humility and obedience awaits us all.

  75. The real point is that all “identities” are false, many are delusional and some are deeply sinful. Mama V even calls them “it” which discloses their essentially non-human quality.

    Personhood is real because it comes from God. Identity is an artificial construct that is a tool of modernity to separate us from God, each other and our very selves. They are instruments of our attempt to be in control–they become idols.

    Submitting oneself to love, especially the love of Christ reveals the truth of who we are and allows us to bare the shame that the false identities. I think it is comforting but a fundamental misconception that one has to have a solid identity in order to submit to God’s love. The lives of many saints in fact reveal just the opposite: they did not submit to God until they had their identity shattered. In a much smaller way that has been my own experience of contrition.

    My experience is that I do not easily turn to Christ until I have been shattered. We each have to die in order to live. That is the essence of the providential sacramental life in Christ. He is the fullness of everything that is human(sin is not really human). He is the offering, once and for all. We do not have to offer anything. We enter into His death that we may enter into His life. That is much more difficult for people who have strong identities.

  76. Michael, I don’t have any fundamental disagreement with what you have written. I think I simply have a different perspective on identity from being a psychologist. I am witness to how deeply and developmentally wounded some people are. Often people who see them every day have no idea or just think of them as selfish or annoying. Inside, they have no idea who they are – or they loathe what they think they are. There is a falseness to how all of us see ourselves but for some this runs very deep.

    I certainly didn’t mean to suggest that those whose identities (or should I say personalities) are so poorly formed do not have access to the love of Christ. Rather they cannot give what they don’t have. Our Good Shepherd knows their limits (often inability to trust) and doesn’t expect them to come when He calls – so He leaves the 99 and goes searching for them. After being carried home on His shoulders enough times, they eventually develop the trust they need to enter into communion with Him.

  77. I think it is comforting but a fundamental misconception that one has to have a solid identity in order to submit to God’s love. The lives of many saints in fact reveal just the opposite: they did not submit to God until they had their identity shattered.

    Michael and Mary Benton: as ever, very insightful and helpful comments.

    Your comments on identities make me think of those who choose suicide out of a (rather twisted, I think) desire to control their lives to the very “end”. Their identities are wrapped up in their autonomy. They hold so close to their own lives that they would rather kill themselves than lose control and have to give themselves over to others (or the Other). It is all too easy to not see them in ourselves but we tend to seek control, on some level, in so many (perhaps smaller) things in our lives every day…. It is hard to embrace Providence.

  78. There is a sense that any creature that is time bound and mutable is a “becoming” . Not a “being” . Only God is that Alone. In this sense, nothing changeable can have an “identity” (of such stability) either . So when He speaks: I AM That I Am, we can start to fathom all that. But it is this wholy transcendent One, Who is also utterly immanent… and sentient creatures can commune in that mode of Being of His to the degree of union with Him.

  79. Dino, is the next step to recognize that since we are made in the image and likeness of the I AM and He is incarnate that we can experience true holiness?

  80. mary benton nor do I have a real disagreement with your theraputic model. I am really addressing the ideological pressure that is being brought to bear on your profession to professionally validate anyone’s disordered identity of the moment as real. I do not think you do that but many sure seem to.

    Real mental health counseling is a good thing. I, my wife and my son have all benefited from empathic counselors. I despise it when such a genuine resource is hijacked by ideological charlatans.

  81. Michael,
    I can only think that the next step “to recognize that since we are made in the image and likeness of the I AM and He is incarnate” is predominantly a step of (more regularly) risk trusting that the Lord Himself –as he proclaimed to Moses – will stretch out his hand and strike the “Egyptians” [Exodus 3:20] (and not us), if only we trust to ‘enter’ into deeper communion with Him through that narrow gate [Mattehw 7:13] and through that “eye of the needle” [Mark 10:25] named the deep ‘heart’ or (to express this more applicably) the eternal present ‘now’, (a name for the heart if you like), it is that secret gratitude of awestruck attentiveness to the present moment through which we communicate with the Eternal One (and with everyone) that is a practical step for us I think..

  82. Michael,
    If you got Dino’s answer fully, maybe you could rewrite it (for some of us) in a few shorter, simpler sentences… 😉

  83. God knows who we truly are. Did He not knit us in our mother’s womb? I wonder how He must suffer – to see those perfect little creations battered, beaten, molded, and disfigured – by the words, attitudes, and treatment they are subjected to in this world. His little lambs are so often hurt, damaged, and broken – by the very people that He entrusted their perfect, innocent little lives to. The parents who don’t realize the harm their harsh words and hurtful criticism does to these tender little beings. Being told they are worthless, or useless, unwanted or unloved. The damage that society does to them if they are not the right size, look, or dress in the acceptable mode. It is a wonder any of us survive some of the things this world puts us thru. Some are much worse than others of course, but what a blessing, when the Shepard finds us again, and brings us into His presence and reminds us of His love for us. The little lambs that Jesus brings back to the flock from all over this damaged world. Only He can restore the wholeness that we were created to have. Our true identity I believe is only revealed when we seek to be one with Christ again and do His will – not our own. The whole issue of sexuality and what sex you are or choose to be, is about the passions, and not about who you really are. I have never understood why people choose to define who they are, and often their entire identity – by their preference for sexual partner(s). I certainly don’t introduce myself as a heterosexual woman! I absolutely refuse to use the term now in trend – “Cis-Woman”! What does that even mean? Since WHEN do our reproductive organs or our choice of sexual behaviors define us as human beings? I have a gay male cousin who is “married” to another man. I have asked this of him many times, and why they have separate terms and define themselves so completely by their sexuality and not by who they are as human beings. No answer. Many people define themselves by the jobs they do; the groups or “tribes” they belong to; but we are all humans. We all began in the womb, and were created the same way, by God. Do we let the passions define and divide us? Or do we let the love of Christ and our being one with Him unite us? I guess that is up to each of us in our journey back to God. We must have compassion for our fellow humans, forgive, and pray for them. God wants all of us back, and loves us all SO much. I believe we are being called to pray a lot harder and more for the ones we can see struggling with the confusion and pain the world – and the evil that it is trying to take over – is putting upon them. Lord have mercy.

  84. Agata,
    Sorry, I might make less convoluted:
    Increasing the frequency of ‘entering’ into the eternal-present ‘now’, (think of this eternal-present ‘now’ momentas the place of communion with “The Eternal One” – the “deeper heart”), in grateful attentiveness, is the step that takes care of everything and is within our reach.
    Quality is reserved for God’s Grace to bestow in order to keep us humble, (He will always stretch out his hand when necessary [Exodus 3:20] ), but, quantity our part of the deal.

  85. I am so grateful for this blog and the ideas that are discussed in such love and clarity both within the blog and within the comments as well – they have helped me so much to have a renewing of my mind away from American Evangelical Christianity and into the wholly different mindset (or “heartset”, if I can call it that) of Orthodoxy, though I do not generally participate in the comments. Of course, though, the experience here and in other areas where I am blessed to find food for my soul, raises more questions than I can answer in a fully, properly Orthodox mindset, on the multiple topics/ideas that Fr. Stephen so graciously brings forward to all of us. In this particular case, I feel a real burden for this entire area of our culture and have so felt it for quite some time, so here I ask, for this topic and for others: what is the practical reaction to this discussion being had as we live out our daily lives in contact with the fellow wounded (within the church) and what I call in my head the “other wounded” (outside the church)? I suggest this division because of course there is a different language and content when we are talking to fellow Orthodox or even fellow Christians vs. those around us who do not share our faith and especially not our path of theosis.

    I ask for deeply personal reasons, in that my sister, who was daily sexually abused by her stepfather (we are sisters through our father, but of different mothers) from the ages of 8-12, revealed to me on Thanksgiving through a text conversation that her son, her oldest child who is now 19 and previously had a girlfriend, now has a boyfriend and has stated that he is bisexual, and also that my niece, her second child, who is a freshman in college is majoring in transgender studies and questioning whether she is a lesbian because of body issues over a slight amount of weight she carries. I was dumbstruck, and then heartbroken at the photo she sent of my nephew, who has “lost some weight” (meaning: looks practically skeletal)and died his hair shock blond, and then, finally, filled with sorrow at the darkness of it all. We live 1500 miles apart, so I do not see them for a couple of years at a time, unfortunately. Because we were texting quickly, with multiple texts flying from both sides, I did not fully address that elephant in the (texting) room, but I know I will have to, as one text from her did reference one of our brothers having commented that this was “wrong”. First, there is my sister’s unhealed damage, which has needed major counseling for 38 years, her rejection of God (she has decided to be a Buddhist), and her unhealthy relationship with these, her older two children, whom she does love deeply, and THEN, finally, on top of those layers, there is the damage incurred in childhood by these two young adults who grew up in the chaos that was the shadow of my sister’s unhealed damage in their home, like the icing on a putrid cake, as that ongoing damage of my sister’s grew into unchecked lupus and a level of fragility that for all practical purposes left her an invalid in her 30s. A total train wreck all around.

    So we go back to my question of practicality in the midst of Satan’s Super Cesspool of Damage in my family and what loving them – REALLY actively loving them in a healing way – looks like… I’ll also state here that the rest of my family through my father is about 90% politically/philosophically liberal in their thought processes, so I am a voice crying in a wilderness in this side of my family. I need to balance the need to love them so I a) do not offend them and therefore turn them away from Jesus, their only hope for healing and for life, with the need to b) not affirm sin in front of them, my sister, or my son (who has to learn from me what the loving and Godly response is). I know I am asking for something wholly practical in a discussion that is largely…hmm…do I want to say “esoteric” here?…but if the things we learn, discuss, and internalize aren’t ever really going to be translated into the practical, material way in which we are living our lives (action), then I think we are missing the boat that God has for us, so to speak. So I do frequently, with a certain degree of discomfort and embarrassment, put myself out there to ask the “So what does this look like in our ‘real’ lives off the computer?” question. In order to not have anyone’s response clog the blog, if Father Stephen does kindly allow this comment, anyone with thoughts on this for me is welcome to email me personally: email hidden; JavaScript is required.

  86. Per the discussion of biology here and how that affects sexuality, I just wanted to chime in that just as in the current scientific discussion of genetics not being your destiny because of how the field of epigentics has become a game changer in that area of science, brain chemicals alone also do not have to write a person’s destiny, or in this case, sexuality. It seems that we have all been trained to accept an “end” (“it’s the brain chemicals…there’s nothing you can do”) if science says it is an end, rather than asking God if it is an end. Because God has made us a cohesive, tightly inter-wound whole unit, not a bunch of loosely integrated parts, when one thing is off, it can and usually does affect multiple systems (which is why you may experience jaw pain or arm pain, for example, when you are actually having a heart attack). Unfortunately, modern medicine tends to treat a body part, not a body, and never an actual whole person. One of the gifts of Orthodox Christianity is that it “treats” and transforms the whole person, and for that I am so personally grateful. And modern brain science, which has advanced around the area of brain plasticity more in the past twenty years than in all past decades combined, indicates to me that there is a positive way to work with brain plasticity and therefore brain chemicals to bring about the Godly end of wholeness in a person instead of treating them with hormones and radical surgery to affirm something that is, ultimately, disordered. We are using a sledgehammer to kill a fly in our house instead of following the fly outside and figuring it how/why/where it is reproducing to allow it to invade our house and treating THAT problem outside at the root instead of every individual fly in our home. I know it is a difficult as a Christian to mine this area these days from a political and social perspective – wanting to love and help people is now considered a form of hatred in a society that has pushed away God or even the remembrance of Him. We who wish to love face an uphill battle. And, as an aside (and honestly, I know it is a hot-button discussion for many) I just can’t not say that perhaps if we weren’t injecting all our kids with the entire DNA sequences of other human beings through vaccination, maybe we wouldn’t be seeing such sudden high rates of transgenderism and other dysphoria. I read recently that some are starting to look at the actual science of this practice as it relates to brain development, and how that may result in brain chemicals being “arranged” to pave the way for a person to wind up carrying the burden of gender issues (an ineloquent expression of what I read…apologies). I can’t imagine that having the DNA of another human being (boy? girl?) injected into your body/bloodstream on a regular basis throughout childhood has no consequences for development, and I find it somewhat disingenuous that many reject it out of hand without actually studying it. God just did not make us for that to be placed in our bodies as a “medicine”.

  87. Petra L,
    I think that regular advise from a truly capable spiritual Father would be wonderful if you have access to that.
    I also believe that, as I’ve stated above, putting one’s focus on increasing the frequency and regularity of ‘entering’ into the ‘now’, (i.e.: having times set aside for encountering the Lord with the Jesus prayer and with spiritual studying, as well as retaining an, as-far-as-possible, unceasing invocation of Christ, living in that ‘eternal-present’ –which somewhat coincides with the notion of the “deeper heart”), all in (a grateful and trustful-of-God’s-providence) intense attentiveness, is the only practical method that takes care of what is within our reach. It is the foundation of any activism. First hesychasm, then activism.
    This obviously includes the issue of how or when to deal with others. Without this basis, any words or actions would potentially “come out wrong”; with it, they will be directed correctly, and perhaps fewer will be needed, and the genuinely confident peace emanating from you (of the sons and daughters of God), will also inform all others of the ‘humble superiority’ of your position. People need to see (the majesty as well as the humility of) love and joy before they are swayed these days.
    We must be accepting of whatever befalls though. Christ must be our joy and trust no matter what. Worrying will undermine our spiritual attentiveness and side-track it.
    I’ll also repeat that the actual “quality” of our prayer (and Christ-centred vigilance) is reserved for God’s Grace to bestow, the mere “quantity” of prayer & Christ-centred vigilance is the thing that is “our part of the deal”.

  88. Petra L,

    In agreement with Dino, I will add: be kind. The people you have described are deeply wounded. So understand that it will likely require a lifetime (or close to) of healing, so patience in the face of every evil is required.

    Don’t be afraid to state that they will only find the truth of their humanity in Christ. But always say this in the fullness of your love for them. Mostly, pray and trust God to bring them to completion and fullness in Him.

    Prayers for your family and you. May God hold you all close.

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