This month, the question of how to deal with the rapid spread of gender dysphoria among young children reached a breaking point. In Texas, a jury ruled that Jeffrey Younger could not do anything to prevent his seven-year-old son James from undergoing irreversible hormone-replacement procedures, which can cause infertility and significant health issues if used through puberty. The jury said that because the child’s mother Anne Georgulas (the parents are divorced) asserts that James is actually a girl, Mr. Younger could not prevent Ms. Georgulas from facilitating hormone replacement. Mr. Younger also faced being forced to address his son by a female name, required to attend transgender-affirming classes, and prohibited from taking his son anywhere dressed as a boy.
The medical and moral objections to subjecting pre-pubescent children to irreversible sex-change procedures have been treated thoroughly elsewhere. The vast majority of children who struggle with their biological sex eventually come to embrace it, to the tune of over 90 percent. But if sex-change hormones or other procedures like surgeries take place, children—at least 90 percent of whom would eventually come to love their biological sex—are rendered sexually stunted or even infertile. Medical professionals from pediatricians to psychologists, ranging from conservative Catholics to pro-gay rights progressives, have expressed serious concerns with the rapidly increasing practice of affirming gender dysphoria among young children. All of this is well documented by many experts.
However, this situation has a challenging nuance, as it involves the issue of parental rights. For Catholics, a proper understanding of parental authority, responsibility, and the rights that derive from that responsibility is necessary to sustain civilization. In a situation like this, what authority do parents truly have over their children, and how ought the civil government mediate when there is a disagreement between two parents about how to raise a child?
Orthodox. Faithful. Free.
Sign up to get Crisis articles delivered to your inbox daily
The Catholic Church is clear that parents have authority over their children—and that authority extends beyond the worldly into the spiritual realm. Parents can bless their children or pray against demonic forces on their children’s behalf in a way that teachers and other adults, however well-intentioned, simply cannot; parents’ prayers and intercessions for their children are more efficacious. On the other hand, however, parents can bestow particularly powerful curses and particularly heavy burdens upon their children.
This is not to say that parents are the only adults with authority over children or that children can only be wounded or traumatized by their parents. Godparents, aunts, uncles, grandparents, teachers, and priests all have varying levels of authority, and the abuse of that authority can also lead to grievous wounds. But parents, as cooperators with God in bringing life, have a unique authority over their children, as seen in God’s commandment to honor our fathers and mothers.
As with all authority, the authority parents have over their children comes with corresponding responsibilities. Catholic parents, of course, have the responsibility to raise their children in accordance with the Church’s teachings and to do all they can to set their children on a path towards salvation. But even non-religious parents have a responsibility. Even if they have not been given the special grace of perceiving the truth of divine law, they have (as Paul tells us in Romans 1) been given the truth of natural law, and they have a responsibility to raise their children in accordance with that natural law.
This is where things become tricky, of course, because in a democratic nation the idea of “natural law” very quickly becomes “the will of the majority.” In a democracy, whatever most people think is permissible becomes enshrined in civil law, and from there it is only a step or two before people begin to argue that since something is legal, it must be natural and fine. The logical progression here is horribly flawed but highly appealing to human nature: if only we can make something legal, that will make it natural. That will make it all right.
We have seen this happen over and over again, from the abominable practice of slave-owning in antebellum America to the nightmarish sterilizations that took place in the early years of the Third Reich. Some slaveowners went so far as to argue that they were, in fact, doing African-Americans a service by enslaving them. Some medical practitioners under the Third Reich (like their American disciple Margaret Sanger) argued that forced sterilizations and abortions were not only necessary but merciful. The pattern is ubiquitous in human history: a practice that is against nature is tolerated because it is pushed into civil law, and, eventually, it is celebrated and defended.
Just as the civil government gives up its rightful authority when it makes and enforces unjust laws, parents give up their rightful authority when they treat their children against nature. This may take the form of physical, sexual, or emotional abuse or grievous neglect. It may also take the form of permanently disfiguring a child’s body—a child who has barely reached the age of reason and is far from capable of making significant decisions on his own—through irreversible surgery in a misguided attempt to subvert nature.
In the case in Texas, there is the added complication that only one parent is pushing for the transgender surgery. Only one parent has compromised her rightful authority. That would be Ms. Georgulas. The other, Mr. Younger, is upholding the laws of nature by defending his son’s biologically embedded identity as a young man.
But our nation is so entangled with the diabolical concept of gender theory that, in this situation, the jury ruled exactly the wrong way: they negated the rightful authority of the parent who is striving to uphold nature and validated the authority of the parent who spurns nature. The reasoning is completely upside down.
Fortunately, shortly after this grievous ruling, Texas governor Greg Abbott announced that the state attorney general’s office and the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services were opening an investigation. Just a few days after the jury decision, a judge ruled that Mr. Younger must have an equal say in whatever medical procedures his son undergoes.
At best, this is a partial victory for decency and reason. The fact remains that the cult of gender theory has taken on vast power in our culture today, to the point that it triumphs over not only the laws of religion but the laws of nature as well. As with the terrible cults of abortion and sexual “liberation,” there will be untold casualties, and Catholics must be prepared to stand in the gap and to preserve a haven of sanity for those fleeing from and wounded, or scarred, by its clutches.
Recently, the Facebook page “Save James” posted a photo (above) of the boy on his first day back to school, smiling and looking sharp in a button-down shirt and dark slacks, looking perfectly happy to be dressed as a boy. Maybe his mother should ask him how he feels.
Photo credit: Save James/Facebook