Flexible Genders and Fanciful Selves

The US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission made “transgender” a protected status under the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Catholic moral theologian Christian Brugger states that a “baffling multiplication of categories of sexuality” are now seeking “rights,” including transsexualism, transvestism, bi-genderism, genderqueerism, pansexuality to name a few. As Brugger further explains, “transgender” is the catchall term referring to all persons who do not identify with their sex. Within this umbrella term “bi-genders” are those who alternate between feminine and masculine gender typed behaviors in different situations; “transvestites” find satisfaction in dressing in clothes of the opposite sex and “genderqueers” refer to persons who do not identify themselves as either male or female—some feeling they are both male and female, some neither male nor female, and some believing they are a “third gender.” Any identification is acceptable and it can change over time into any desired permutation.

In case you believe this is too difficult to believe, an Australian called Norrie took his desire to be “no gender” to the High Court in Australia in 2014 and won. However those New Yorkers wishing to change their birth certificates because they don’t feel they are what they were born with are having a more difficult time as this makes paperwork a nightmare.

What would Martin Luther King, Jr. think of transgender “rights” being included under the term “civil rights” as the transgender activists would like it to be? And what is all this about?

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The transgender issue has not suddenly emerged but has been on the boil for many years. The first calls for recognition of transgenderism came from a German physician called Magnus Hirschfield (1868-1935) who observed and categorized 64 possible types of sexual categories ranging from masculine heterosexual male to feminine homosexual male. His advocacy of “rights” for all genders found a voice in John Money who was born in New Zealand to a Plymouth Brethren family and who later completed his studies at Harvard. He became professor of pediatrics and medical psychology at Johns Hopkins University and furthered the notion of the social construction of gender from the 1950s onwards and wrote Man & Woman, Boy & Girl (1972), which was used as a college level textbook.

Money coined the term “gender role” in 1955 proposing that the term gender role signifies all those things that a person says or does to disclose himself or herself as having the status of boy or man, girl or woman, respectively. That is, having a gender is a socially constructed role and is not limited to the fact that one is a ‘male’ or ‘female’ at birth. After homosexuality was removed from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) in 1973, the challenge remained to remove any negative reference to transgenderism or gender identity disorder from the manual, which occurred in 2015.

This transgender advocacy has been fueled by various stories such as the one involving the children on the devoutly Christian Caribbean island who are born female but because of a genetic abnormality, become male at puberty. In this case, their lack of the male hormone dihydrotestosterone at birth continues until puberty when it is suddenly activated and these female children become male. However, if one thinks about it, the case of these children could point to an entirely different conclusion: they could not “construct” their identity; it was indeed biologically “given” and furthermore accepted by the children involved. None of the children when female wanted to be male and once they were male none wanted to be female—their biological changes were more significant than social “gender construction” or their “choice.” While no one disputes the fact that some men and women have experienced gender identity disorder throughout history, societies have traditionally accepted that a person was male or female and that experiences outside of this were anomalies and “difficulties” requiring sympathetic care.

In 1965 psychiatrists and plastic surgeons at Johns Hopkins University introduced a “sex change” program that became a cause célèbre in the media. One of their first “projects” was the Canadian boy David Reimer who was one of twin boys born in Manitoba, Canada in 1966. Reimer was born a healthy male but due to damaged sex organs was “reassigned” as a female from infancy onwards by John Money mentioned above. David was dressed in female clothes and attended sessions with Money to further the process. He was given the name “Brenda” and various operations were performed on him. Despite the frilly dresses, Brenda did not feel he was a girl and was not accepted by other female peers. The reassignment also involved his twin brother in various sexual behaviors with his ‘female’ brother.

From the age of 11 onward Reimer began to question his ‘female’ identity and then decided to live as a male from the age of 14, no longer attending ‘sessions’ with Money, sessions which he found traumatic rather than therapeutic. He had further surgery to reassign him as a male, or recover what was left of his maleness. After his childhood experience, Reimer urged others not to engage in gender change. Sadly, he suffered from severe depression from the age of 13 onwards and he committed suicide in 2004. His twin brother who had mental health problems had committed suicide in 2002. John Money made no comment on the failure of this “project” and attributed media criticism to “right-wing” bias and “antifeminism.” However, the sex reassignment project, which had been used on thousands of infants, was discontinued in 1979.

The advocacy for “transgender rights” has nonetheless continued and has involved some Christian churches. The US Episcopalian Convention has approved new anti-discrimination language for transgender church members and is on the way to allowing transgenders (remember all the varieties quoted above?) to become clergy. Perhaps they should listen to the words of Walt Heyer, who in his book Paper Gender, states that it is damaging and destructive to procure a sex change. He should know—he lived through the experience himself as “Laura Jensen” before finding his way to Christ’s healing power after years of confusion. He was horrified at the suppression of unpleasant facts about transgenders, saying that their suicide rate is as high as 30-40 percent. Heyer submitted testimony against the Massachusetts Transgender Rights and Hate Crimes Bill H502 saying that there is “Nothing normal about wanting to become a different gender. There’s something desperately wrong with them … the advocates are trying to remove any required psychological treatment.”

Heyer runs a website with stories of those who have regretted their “sex change” attempts. He says that psychological treatment is needed for transgenders—but of a helpful kind, giving some outline of what is happening within the person, not the “experiments” of John Money and his associates. He adds there is a “darker side” to the transgender story that has left a trail of vulnerable souls who have been harmed by the “ideas” of Money and his followers. One day, history will condemn them as it condemns the process of lobotomies. Heyer raises a poignant plea to all who have ears to hear what he is saying. He asks Christians in particular to point out the other side of the transgender agenda wherever possible to young people who are most at risk.


  • Wanda Skowronska

    Wanda Skowronska is a Catholic psychologist and author living and working mainly in Sydney. She is a regular contributor to the Australian Catholic journal Annals Australasia. Her most recent book is Catholic Converts from Down Under … And All Over (2016). She earned her PhD at the John Paul II Institute in Melbourne in 2011 where she does some sessional lecturing.

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