Transgender: A Wholistic Perspective
Over the past couple of decades, the topic of transgender and gender-variant identity has reached the forefront in this country and beyond. It is a deeply personal topic and, at times, a deeply divisive one. It is one where individuals and entities often find themselves clashing in moral, legislative and ideological disputes. It is a subject that deserves books of study; and so in this brief article, I will simply work to introduce relevant information – but I ask that you consider reading my five-part series entitled “Transgender,” which can be found either at courierpress.com/topic/james-schroeder or by direct request through my email listed below.
For starters, it is important to note that, despite reported controversy, there are a number of areas in which most professionals agree. For example, although a person’s “gender” (i.e., psychological feeling of being male, female or neither) has been a subject of debate, professionals agree that there is no debate about the topic of a person’s “sex,” which is determined at the moment of conception. With the exception of those who have sexual developmental disorders or chromosomal abnormalities, all females are born with two X chromosomes, and all males with one X and one Y chromosome. Many pre-pubertal children who exhibit cross-gender feelings actually end up identifying with their biological sex as adults. It remains difficult to identify which youth will “persist” with cross-gender identification. Professionals from all sectors also note that transgender individuals are at increased risk for medical/psychological issues, suicide, traumatic experiences, abuse/family dysfunction and discrimination. Although stories seem to abound regarding transgenderism, research indicates that transgender identification is actually very rare; and there has yet to be a “gold standard” study to indicate the best way to intervene with someone who identifies this way.
Despite these areas of agreement, the controversy is largely centered on a few issues. The first is whether identifying as the opposite gender (or neither) is a healthy alternative, or whether it denotes an unhealthy state of being. Secondly, there is dispute about whether the poor health and outcomes of transgender individuals are largely (or even solely) related to discrimination/prejudice versus whether they are manifestations of pathological processes (e.g., a boy identifying as a girl reflects underlying medical/psychological problems and/or family dysfunction). Also, while certain professionals advocate for medical means to facilitate adolescents (or even younger) transitioning to the opposite gender, critics have raised serious questions about whether this is truly a healthy alternative.
Transgender issues are not a new phenomenon. The first edict against cross-dressing appeared in the book of Deuteronomy (22:5): “A woman shall not wear an article proper to a man, nor shall a man put on a woman’s dress….” Over the past two millennia, stories of “transgender” individuals appear in unexpected places. Some canonized saints were found to be women posing as men only after their death. St. Joan of Arc remains the most famous cross-dressing saint, although the impetus of her male attire (as with other saints) varies depending who is telling the story. Reportedly, 400 Civil War soldiers in the U.S. were found to be women at a time when combat was not an option for females. In many Native American tribes, certain individuals have long been revered as “Two Spirits” – people who were considered neither man nor woman, yet held distinctly unique places in the tribe. Various rebellions, whether in Greenwich Village by black and Latina drag queens or “Rebecca and her daughters” (men dressed as women) in Wales dot the historical landscape, along with various individuals at many places and times posing as the opposite sex.
It is also critical to note that the issue of transgender and gender variance stems from more than just a personal discernment or conflict between sex and gender. Cultural shifts in perceptions of how much “autonomy over self” a person should have and issues of past and present oppression/discrimination (e.g., racism, sexism) are deeply tied into the matter of trangenderism. But in the midst of all these complexities, the topic that most needs to be examined – but regularly is lost in conversation – is just what is healthy from physical, psychological, social, and spiritual perspectives. The question of health is the paramount issue in this discussion—from a secular perspective and from a religious one, as the Catholic Church is a foremost advocate of health in mind, body and spirit. It is one that all parents and professionals need to engage in, especially when it comes to our youth. Otherwise, we will struggle to provide the guidance and wisdom needed.
Ultimately, each adult will make his or her own decision in this matter, just as each parent and professional should discern what they should do. But in order to make informed decisions, I encourage you to become more educated on this topic from Catholic and scientific perspectives so that what you say or do will reflect a deeper wisdom and empathy on a complicated subject involving our brothers and sisters in Christ.
Jim Schroeder is a married father of seven children, a pediatric psychologist, and an endurance athlete. He is a
member of the Southwest Indiana Guild of the Catholic Medical Association. He writes a monthly column entitled “Just Thinking” at www.stmarys.org/articles. He is the author of “Wholiness: The Unified Pursuit of Health, Harmony, Happiness, and Heaven;” “Into the Rising Sun;” and “Forty Days of Hopeful Prayer.” Send comments or questions to Dr. Schroeder at firstname.lastname@example.org.