“Congratulations: It’s a Baby Girl…Maybe”

An article about a presentation made in my neighbouring province of Alberta some time ago made me wonder if I didn’t live in the Twilight Zone rather than Canada.   Twelve years ago, a baby girl was born in Alberta by the name of Wren Kaufman. Soon after her birth, the customary birth certificate was issued, containing the information that she was “F”, a female. She later said that she found it stressful being a girl, and wanted to be a boy, and objected to her birth certificate identifying her as a girl. Alberta law since the 1970s only permitted such reissued and altered birth certificates if the person requesting it had undergone sex reassignment surgery, which Kaufman had not. Kaufman filed a complaint with the Alberta Human Rights Commission, protesting that such a law violated her constitutional rights as a transgendered person. The court agreed, and a new birth certificate was duly issued. It was presented to the now Mr. Kaufman during a Pride festival brunch hosted by the city’s mayor by the province’s culture minister Heather Klimchuk. The new certificate identifies Kaufman as an “M” instead of an “F”. All is now well in Kaufman’s world.

Like I said: the Twilight Zone. Whatever one thinks of the transgender issue, a birth certificate is an historical document, containing pieces of historical information. It does not contain information about the child’s eye colour or weight, nor about the religion of the mother. It does not specify the mother’s political affiliation, nor her sexual orientation. The evidence contained in the little document confines itself to four indisputable facts: the new-born child’s given name, the city in which the child was born, the date of the birth, and the gender. The first piece of information depends upon the decision of the parent; the second and third pieces of information depend on noting the calendar and remembering which city you are in, and the fourth depends upon simple observation; it is not a matter of ideology, just of knowing where to look. Except in cases of physical deformity or of the medical condition known as hermaphroditism, this is pretty straight forward.

One can, of course, later decide that anatomy notwithstanding, one would prefer to be the other gender. But that decision does not alter the facts of history. I can decide that I would have preferred to have been born in Vancouver rather than Toronto, and I can move from Toronto to Vancouver, but the geographical move does not alter the historical fact that I was born in Toronto. In this sense the birth certificate is like other legal documents, such as the marriage certificate. After marrying, one can decide that it was a mistake, and get a divorce. That would alter one’s marital status, but it would not re-write history. It would not obliterate the record of the marriage as if it never happened, nor could the divorced man afterward identify himself as “bachelor/ never married”. The now-single man would then have two legal documents: one affirming the historical fact of his marriage, and another affirming the historical fact of his divorce. Historical realities are stubborn things, and that is why historical papers documenting them are meant to be inalterable. Most people acknowledge this, and think that re-writing history is a bad idea.

That is the problem with reissuing birth certificates—it is an attempt to rewrite history. A birth certificate should only be reissued if the information on the original was incorrect, and that was not the case in Kaufman’s case. For the record that baby Kaufman was “F” and not “M” was simply a documentation of what the nurses saw when they looked at the customary place on the baby—a record of anatomy, not a statement about the baby’s soul, nor a decree about the baby’s future. That is why transgendered people are called transgendered—the “trans” in the word indicates a change from one gender to the other, and the birth certificate simply documents one’s gender at birth. The Kaufman case represents the triumph of transgender ideology over historical common sense. It also witnesses to the power of the gay lobby in Canada.

What does all this legal hoopla mean for us Christians? It means that the frontline in the culture war has shifted yet again, and not in favour of us traditional Christians. Before now, most of the debate centered on gay marriage—whether one could call the union of two persons of the same gender “marriage” or not. Now the debate centers on the more basic question of what we mean by “gender” in the first place. It also provides us with interesting questions. For example, if (the now) Mr. Kaufman marries a woman, is this an example of gay marriage or not? Mr. Kaufman’s anatomy presumably is still female; would his marriage to another person with female anatomy be a traditional non-gay marriage? Other questions arise too: what if Mr. Kaufman decides in the future that, on balance, he is now a woman again—does Ms. Klimchuk reissue yet another birth certificate documenting the fact that Kaufman was born a female after all at yet another Gay Pride luncheon?

The basic issue of course is the relationship of anatomy to gender. Up until now in human history throughout the world, there was considered to be a one-to-one correspondence between the two, which is why gender could be determined by a simple glance by the nurses attending a birth. Apart from cases of hermaphroditism, a person’s anatomy gave its inalterable verdict. Feelings that its verdict was incorrect were labelled as “gender dysphoria” (discontent with one’s biological sex), and were regarded as a problem to overcome. Such feelings may properly elicit sympathy and compassion, but they should not lead one to regard gender as having nothing to do with anatomy, nor to regard one’s gender as so fluid as to be ultimately determined one’s subjective feelings. The issue is more complex than the province of Alberta’s culture minister thinks it is.

Deciding that gender is ultimately a subjective matter, and scrapping the concept of “gender dysphoria” in favour of a new concept of being “gender creative” does not always lead to happy outcomes. Consider the case of Nancy Verhelst of Belgium. She had sex reassignment surgery to become Nathan Verhelst and underwent hormone therapy. After undergoing a radical mastectomy and an operation to construct a penis, he was not happy. He said, “I was ready to celebrate my new birth. But when I looked in the mirror, I was disgusted with myself. My new breasts did not match my expectations, and my new penis had symptoms of rejection. I do not want to be a monster”. It was a heart-rending situation, with an even more heart-rending outcome. Nathan at length decided to die by State-sanctioned lethal injection and was indeed killed at the hands of Dr. Distelmans, a cancer specialist. One can have sympathy for Kaufman and others suffering from gender dysphoria, but the example of Nancy Verhelst reveals that anatomy is not so easily overridden, and that gender should not be determined ultimately by subjective feelings.

So, what’s the final word for us traditional Christians? Obviously we must have compassion and must show love for all people, male or female, straight or gay or transgendered. But as we articulate and transmit our Christian culture to our young and to our catechumens, we must take care to include a traditional understanding of gender. We believers have always been counter-cultural, and at odds with the secular world to a greater or lesser degree. Here is one more way in which we differ from the secular world around us. Our catechetical teaching must include this difference.

 

 

 

 

 

 

5 comments:

  1. “So, what’s the final word for us traditional Christians? Obviously we must have compassion and must show love for all people, male or female, straight or gay or transgendered. But as we articulate and transmit our Christian culture to our young and to our catechumens, we must take care to include a traditional understanding of gender. We believers have always been counter-cultural, and at odds with the secular world to a greater or lesser degree. Here is one more way in which we differ from the secular world around us. Our catechetical teaching must include this difference.”

    This is well stated and can hardly be under-emphasized.

    I had to cancel my membership with Angies List this morning as a matter of conscious. Over the past few years I have really grown to rely on that service. When I explained to the customer service rep that “non-discrimination” concepts and (most importantly) legal code is being used to persecute Christians in my state (which is not Indiana) and thus I support laws like the one in Indiana, he told me “It’s OK, we did only put our business plans on hold in Indiana, we did not cancel them, while we try to see what the impact is”. I told him “so it’s ok in that you have not yet decided whether it’s OK to discriminate against Christians?”.

    Things are moving very fast now. The “New Anthropology” is being forced down our throats in many ways that people don’t want to admit. Look at how it is in fact “Corporate America” that is pushing the militant “gay agenda” in Indiana. God bless those politicians who have so far stood up to them.

    The simple fact is, even for most Orthodox Christians (who should know better), the response would and will be “It’s OK, why not let them do what they will, it’s easier to just get along”…

  2. The Church has always stressed that each individual is valuable, and has a soul, a relationship with God. Such individualism is now radicalized to mean that the individual is god . Both in the US and in Canada the Church must stand against this heresy. Good article, Fr.

  3. Well, it’s about 8 days since my post and look what has happened. The Indiana and Arkansas laws were gutted in 4 and 3 days respectfully. That has got to be a record on legislative action in both states. It shows you the power of Corporate America in BOTH parties here in America (as if this was not obvious before). It shows that the constituency for religious freedom in America is defeated, and that the so called “Cultural Wars” are over. It also reveals that a real, “hard” persecution is coming to us sooner rather than later. It will be particularly difficult for the faithful who work in Corporate America, because the Cross they wear and their opinions and very thoughts will very soon be “hate speech” that is punishable. How will we respond? We have children to care for! It will be very very difficult.

    Honestly Fr. Lawrence, I look to men like yourself (and like Fr. John Whiteford, Rod Dreher who is writting his “Benedict Option” book, etc.) to lead on how a Faithful Orthodox Christian is to respond to the current “soft” persecution and the coming “hard” persecution. I wish I could say that I look for the NA bishops to lead on this, but honestly I am not. Perhaps one or two will surprise us.

    As a member of my church’s council, I brought this whole issue up this week. I was pleasantly surprised at the number of folks who sense the danger. The number of those who either agree with the New Anthropology and the New Intolerance or who want to bury their heads in the sand was smaller than I had anticipated. Many see the need for a serious and thoughtful reflection on how to respond to all this and we are looking for guidance. I am thinking about how we will probably have to set up a sort of “underground railroad” network to support each other. How this will work I am not sure, but we need to give it serious thought IMO…

    1. There are others who may be added to the list of sound and solid faithful (which gives us cause for hope). In my blog piece for OCN (“Another Jesus”; at myocn.net/another-jesus/) I opined that the Orthodox Church should recognize that the issue before us is actually Christological, with those pushing the New Anthropology proclaiming “another Christ” and another Gospel, and so suspend ecumenical dialogue with denominations blessing gay marriage. After all, we don’t have official high level dialogue with Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses. Now is the time to speak lovingly and plainly. We must avoid shrill and hysterical denunciation (there is already too much of that), but proclaim the timeless Gospel in all its fullness and all its parts. The Lord’s part in this is to preserve His Church, as He has always done. Our part is to speak the truth and make sure we remain in that Church.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *