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“Ask a Priest: What If She Doesn’t Want to Be Called a She?”
Q: A friend of mine said that she would refuse to use the neutral their, theirs, them instead of he or she, etc., if the person was having a problem with his or her gender identity. My friend said she is not going to change her beliefs to say otherwise. However, I think it is disrespectful to blatantly refuse to call them a certain way when they tell you that those are their pronouns. But I also don’t know if I’m going against my beliefs for not sticking to my guns. If a little girl wants to be called a masculine name, I would want to do so if she means it until she can figure her life out with my guidance. Aren’t we called to love as Christians? I’m a peer-diversity educator at my university, and the more I learn from my role, the more I worry about whether I am going back on Catholicism by learning. In light of current events, I am beginning to question the stance on gay marriage. I have read some of John Paul II’s theology of the body, and I can somewhat understand the logic behind it. But I still struggle. I am not sure why we are policing it. What are we really doing by not accepting it? Those people will continue to be LGBT. Contraception, divorce, masturbation, pornography, and cohabitation are things that are against the Bible; however, are we going after any of these people? The Church would be empty if we were to reject people in grave sin or matter. I really wish to understand the Church’s reasoning behind its decisions before I can defend my beliefs when questioned. Thank you for your response. – K.
Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC
A: Thanks for your note. As someone working at a university, you probably deal with a wide range of young people who are going through all kinds of crises.
A full answer to your questions could fill a book. Suffice it for now to begin this short answer by recalling the words of Jesus, “The truth will set you free” (John 8:32).
One of the best things we can do for people is to help lead them to the truth.
And what does “truth” mean in this case?
The truth is that when God created us in his image (Genesis 1:27), he created us male or female.
The Almighty had his reasons. “God blessed them and God said to them: Be fertile and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it” (v. 28). The complementarity of men and women is meant, in part, to raise up new human life. Within this context we can understand the gift and purpose of sexuality.
But back to your questions.
A person is either male or female. Masculinity or femininity is built into a person’s very being. We can no more change our sex as we can pick our biological parents. We are human in one way or the other.
People who can’t accept their identity as they are, male or female, are showing psychological and/or spiritual problems. They need help. They don’t need others to be feeding their fantasy.
In that sense it doesn’t help people to call them something that they aren’t. It doesn’t help to add to their distorted view of themselves. Real respect requires that we try to help them accept themselves as they are, not as they imagine themselves to be.
An analogy might help.
Imagine that you go for a physical exam. Imagine, too, that you have great plans for the next few years and beyond. You think you are doing well, and you only want to hear that your health is excellent.
But your doctor detects an irregular heartbeat, or she sees something suspicious in your blood test.
Is your doctor being respectful and compassionate if she tells you that your health is excellent and sends you on your merry way? No, she is being grossly (if not criminally) negligent. She might be telling you what you want to hear. But she isn’t telling you the truth. She is playing make-believe.
By using pronouns that deny the femaleness of a young woman, you aren’t doing her any favors. You are adding to her problems. The woman has serious issues to deal with, and you are basically telling her that her health is excellent.
Nowadays there is a distinction widely posited between “gender” and “sex.” It’s an artificial distinction. There might be differences about what is expected of men and women in various cultures. But that’s a far cry from saying that maleness and femaleness are cultural constructs.
Confusion about “gender” has many roots, including the contraceptive mentality that has caused people to dissociate sex from procreation and all the responsibility that that involves.
Sex has been cheapened and become a recreational sport for many people. And now, the very notion of one’s own sexual identity is seen as something malleable. From this arise fictions such as same-sex “marriage” and transgenderism.
The deeper issue here is that original sin has done a number on us. We are weak, we are easily misled, we are fallen.
The Church isn’t here to “go after” anyone, much less reject them. It’s here to help people get their lives together and to reach heaven. To this end the Church offers the sacraments, solid teaching, pastoral help and true works of charity. What it won’t do is feed fantasies.
By teaching clearly and charitably the truth about our sexuality, we are not excluding anyone; we are doing our best to invite all people to the fullness of life in Christ.
Perhaps you might want to take some of this to prayer.
For more reading on the fallout from the normalization of contraception, you might look at this First Things article, https://www.firstthings.com/article/2018/10/reflections-on-the-revolution.
By the way, the use of they, their and them as third-person singular pronouns or adjectives is increasingly common, not so much for “transgender” reasons as for convenience. It’s a widely accepted, if grammatically dubious, way of referring to a non-specified person in general.
Grammar concerns aside, this moment of confusion about sexuality might be unprecedented in history. It’s not the time to add to the problem.
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