Saturday, 16 April 2016

Gender ideology harms children

The April 2016 Bulletin of the Family Education Trust has drawn my attention to a statement published on the website of the American College of Pediatricians, with the title "Gender Ideology Harms Children". A full statement is due to be published by the College later this year.

Before continuing with this post, please read the statement Gender Ideology Harms Children as I am not going to repeat it here. I add below my own observations, using the numbering of the paragraphs of the statement.

1-2. It appears to me to be the competence of the physiological/biological/chemical/physical sciences to arrive at the conclusion drawn by the American College of Pediatricians in n.1: "The norm for human design is to be conceived either male or female. Human sexuality is binary by design with the obvious purpose being the reproduction and flourishing of our species." The competence of sociology, referred to in n.2 with regard to the idea of "gender", does not extend to the sphere of human physiology. A discussion of gender should not displace or deny the physiological reality of sex (as it does, rather dishonestly, in much public discussion, by maintaining a silence on the real distinction between the two concepts).

2-3. These paragraphs appear, to me at least, to require some reflection on the relationship between a person's biological sex and their experienced gender. Whilst this reflection has its sociological and psychological dimensions about which I am not competent to speak, it also has a philosophical dimension. It strikes me that the account of the reality of this relationship, and the way in which that relationship should be supported to achieve outcomes that are in the interests of the health and well being of the persons involved, asks for an appropriate integration of the person's identifying gender with their physiological body. It is undermined by allowing the one level of human acting (the sociological/psychological) to override the other (the physiological). And yet it is precisely this overriding that the promotion of gender ideology seeks to bring about. Karol Wojtyla, for example, in The Acting Person, includes in his discussion of the integration of the person in their acting an account of the part played by the bodily dimension of human activity in that integration (cf Chapter 5):
The integrity of the man-person consists therefore in the normal, indeed, in the possibly perfect matching of "somatic subjectivity" with the efficacious and transcendent subjectivity of the person. Such integrity is the condition of the person's integrity in the action. Any defects in this respect are a threat to man's unity and may lead to his disintegration; that which is like the body's own subjectivity, the reactive and vegetative subjectivity of the body, is then out of tune with the person as the efficacious subject. We may say that it breaks out from the control of the person and gains a disadvantageous "independence". We then observe a kind of abnormality, something that seems contrary to nature; for it appears natural for the reactive and vegetative subjectivity of the body to be in tune with the person, the efficacious subject who is conscious of himself - at least in the sense in which such harmony corresponds to the human nature of the person.
None of this is to suggest that those experiencing gender dysphoria should be the subject of stigmatization or of discriminatory behaviour. It is, however, to offer a challenge to a surrounding ideology which might determine treatments, rather than it being good medicine that determines those treatments.

5. The importance of the figures cited here - even if we take the figures that are at the upper end of the cited ranges and therefore most favourable to those who wish to promote gender ideology - lies in challenging what I think of as the idea of a "single narrative". Testimonies from women who experience a decision with regard to abortion (and I have a book authored by a writer seeking to support women seeking legally available abortion containing such testimonies) indicate that the narrative of "making my own free choice" is only one narrative among many. And yet, in public debate, the right to make that choice is often presented as the one narrative, though the reality for many women reflects a different narrative. Likewise, the figures cited here with regard to young people experiencing gender dysphoria suggest that the narrative of the public debate - that is, the narrative of legitimising the suppression of puberty in preparation for sex change surgery - is offering a single narrative when the reality of the individual young people involved would appear to reflect a range of narratives that may well not be best served by such a presumption.

Pope Francis' observations in Laetitia Amoris n.56 are prescient in this context:
Yet another challenge is posed by the various forms of an ideology of gender that “denies the difference and reciprocity in nature of a man and a woman and envisages a society without sexual differences, thereby eliminating the anthropological basis of the family. This ideology leads to educational programmes and legislative enactments that promote a personal identity and emotional intimacy radically separated from the biological difference between male and female. Consequently, human identity becomes the choice of the individual, one which can also change over time”. It is a source of concern that some ideologies of this sort, which seek to respond to what are at times understandable aspirations, manage to assert themselves as absolute and unquestionable, even dictating how children should be raised. It needs to be emphasized that “biological sex and the socio-cultural role of sex (gender) can be distinguished but not separated”. On the other hand, “the technological revolution in the field of human procreation has introduced the ability to manipulate the reproductive act, making it independent of the sexual relationship between a man and a woman. In this way, human life and parenthood have become modular and separable realities, subject mainly to the wishes of individuals or couples”. It is one thing to be understanding of human weakness and the complexities of life, and another to accept ideologies that attempt to sunder what are inseparable aspects of reality.


Patricius said...

I am wholly in agreement with all the views expressed in this piece however I would urge some caution regarding the American College of Pediatricians. They may be absolutely correct on this issue- in fact I believe they are- but they are not as representative of American pediatricians as their inclusive name might lead one to believe. Very decent people, no doubt, but only a minority of their profession in the USA.

Joe said...


I think you are right in your comment on the American College of Pediatricians - I linked to their "About Us" page so that readers could recognise this.

I also think that the references in their statement might need to be treated with some caution.

The APA, for example, in moving to the use of the term "gender dysphoria" are trying to avoid their previous use of the term "gender identity disorder" - so suggesting that the condition is not a "disorder" properly so called. It is only their retention of reference to "significant distress" (a feature of disorders in general?) in their definition that enables the College of Pediatricians statement to still wish to cite the APA manual to identify gender dysphoria as a disorder in the clinical sense.