One problem with modern society is labelling and stereotyping without seeking to understand the profound dimensions of things. With a hat tip to Deborah Gyapong (Foolishness to the World), I came across an article on gender identity by Monsignor Tony Anatrella.
We are indeed caught between various types of totalitarianism. Though I am not qualified in political science or sociology, I detect some in common between all totalitarian ideologies – notably the subordination of the human person to the collectivity. This is something we will find in common between various forms of Marxism and of what is commonly called Fascism. It is all about labelling and stereotyping people in order to gain control over the collective.
It seems that this Monsignor is French and a psychoanalyst. I had never heard of him, but it would be worthwhile reading some of his work to understand the ideas he is trying to get over. I would be careful about overrating him. He has studied social sciences and psychology and does not appear to be qualified in medicine. He is a priest of the Archdiocese of Paris and a teacher. He is a consulter for the Pontifical Council for the Family, so is likely to tow the party line faithfully. His theories about homosexuality reflect the positions taken by the Vatican since the 1960’s, identifying it with narcissism and express very little that is original. He even associates homosexuality with Marxist and Nazi ideologies, and this may serve somewhat to dampen his credibility.
I think one assumption we can reasonably make is that we are all males and females, and even those born with certain genetic defects (Kleinfelter’s Syndrome, etc.) are fundamentally one gender or the other. On the other hand, how do we live the role assigned to us on account of our being male or female? Stereotyping, as is more the tendency in the USA than in Europe, leads to other ideologies and the constantly banging drum of the conservative agenda.
I will probably to unfair to this cleric, not knowing all his work, but I will give my take on what I see written here. One first thing to know is that there is confusion in the idea of “sexual identity”, whether it is a question of whether a person is a more competitive or more compassionate kind of person, whether he or she wants to identify with the opposite sex (or its caricature) or have a sexual relationship with the same or opposite sex.
I have grown tired of conservatives who bang the same old drum and make the issue of same sex relationships the yardstick of Catholic orthodoxy. They go on and on as if it is all about sex and regulating people’s private lives. When we read the reams and reams of stuff against homosexuality and abortion, one would almost be tempted to see some good in the 1960’s revolution! We are faced, as usual with a binary dialectic – You’re either for us or against us. I agree that the family is the ideal base of human society, but it is a model that can so easily fail. Not everyone is made for conforming to the classical roles like in 1950’s commercial advertising for cars and household appliances!
Does that mean that we have to approve of homosexuality? The answer is rather simple. We can take over the country where we live, set up a dictatorship like Hitler, and round up all homosexuals to throw them off buildings or put them in prison – a great theocracy as many conservative Protestants and Catholics would love to have (and be in charge of). On the other hand, we can respect that the society in which we live is no longer (or never has been) Christian and we have to respect people in their ways of life. Nowadays, most western countries are intolerant of those who are intolerant, and there are other ways to propagate God’s word and the Christian way of life. Monsignor Anatrella is not wrong that we are finding ourselves in societies that are going totalitarian with their intolerance of intolerance. In the end we can’t fight a wrong with another wrong. There has to be another way.
I have given quite a lot of thought to the question of androgyny, which has to be distinguished from homosexuality. Many androgynous men are heterosexual and happily married to women, and many gays are “butch” and hyper-masculine with buzz cuts. There is psychological androgeny and there are physical conditions like Kleinfelter’s Syndrome. At a level of personality, androgyny is valued in some cultures, and certainly is considered by some psychologists like C.G. Jung as something positive for self-knowledge and individuation. However, androgyny can make of a man or a woman a caricature of the opposite sex, manifested in behaviours like transvestism or undergoing medical and surgical treatment to become a “transsexual”. Most of us find such an idea repulsive, since most of us live as men or women according to our different characters, personalities and tastes of things like appearance and clothing. To want to put all men into a common mould of clothing, hairstyle, occupation and spare-time occupations like sports is unrealistic and prejudicial to the more sensitive and “artistic”. The same thing with women – I find short-haired “butch dykes” a complete turn-off! Should such behaviours be made illegal and punishable? I think not, but each person needs to live in society and judge the consequences of what he or she does.
A big problem is created by stereotypes and rigid gender roles. It is the status quo from which the “gender benders” reacted. It is important for people to be themselves and not conformed to a competitive / caring binary dialectic. I look back at my own life, my preferences for music and art rather than competitive sports like running or football, my solitary tendencies and attitudes in life. I have recently been spitefully called an “androgynous Anglican”. I had never really thought of it quite like that, but the person who said that was not far wrong. I always looked younger than my actual age and “softer”. It is only recently in my life that I decided to overcome the taboo and grow my hair long. At the same time, I am biologically a male and totally uninterested in playing female caricature games. There are degrees and exceptions to the labels and stereotypes. My wife has a unique slant on it, and sees my sensitivity as an asset, something with which she can relate. There are difficulties we have to overcome, but much is acquired. If I were of the hyper-masculine stereotype, she would not have been interested in me. It also gives me a different basis of living the priestly life.
I know little about the so-called “gender theory“, but I think it is essential for us all to reconcile our animus and anima, what is masculine and feminine within us regardless of our physical gender. The so-called gender theory seems to consist of another kind of aggressive stereotyping and “us and them” dialectics. The way I see things, I can’t see why a certain blurring of the traditional roles would cause a desire to limit births of children through contraception and abortion. I would even suspect that the “culture of death” comes more through the exaggeration of gender stereotypes rather than their blurring or reconciliation with each other in symbiosis.
I also find this prelate’s analysis quite akin to conspiracy theories. He blames everything on feminist and homosexual political agendas. Anything made into a political agenda can be nasty and harmful. I don’t personally relate to femen extremists and gay pride. Are they the cause of all ills? Would society be better off if we went back to the days of the Marquis of Queensberry and when Oscar Wilde was sent to prison? At the same time, political correctness and absurd legislation to treat intolerance with intolerance is evocative of the Reign of Terror under Robespierre. That kind of thing rather reminds us of the quip about health and safety authorities removing all the fire extinguishers from a building because an untrained fire-fighter might hurt himself!
The Church to which I belong has a clearly conservative position as regards feminism, homosexuality and sexual morals. There are objective foundations, but I think many of these issues need to be dealt with in the confessional, not the pulpit. People live in so many extremely diverse ways of life that we cannot imagine on the outside. I would refuse to “marry” a same-sex couple (I would also be in serious trouble with my Bishop if I tried it), but in private circumstances I might decide to bless a friendship on the basis of the love between the two persons independently of carnal lust. A priest has to be pastoral as well as insisting on moral standards rather than “anything goes”. Much of feminism is the kind of caricature I described earlier, and is most distasteful and fails to respect the sensitivities of the rest of us. Empathy is a strength, not a weakness – and women who are making a caricature of masculine competitivity are quite grotesque. We have had a lot of trouble in France with “femen” women committing sacrilege in churches and violent acts against innocent folk. Lack of taste may not be sinful, but lack of concern for other people is!
How we live our lives and sort out our own psychological and spiritual health is our own problem, and something that is kept in private. Monsignor Anatrella notes that children brought up by same-sex couples always suffer. That is not always true objectively. As a lawyer’s secretary, my wife has seen many examples of balanced children who have been brought up by same-sex couples. I’m not saying that I condone it, but I think the question of the stability and health of the children is a weak argument. Children can truly suffer from abusive heterosexual parents, and there are more cases of rape, incest and excessive punishment than one would like to imagine!
As for psychiatric therapy to “correct” homosexual people to make them heterosexual, some methods are recognised to be ineffective and harmful – even considered as methods of torture. Some people are really messed up and counselling is sometimes very helpful, but will involve more than telling them to what sort of personality profile they should conform. Again, we find the old confusion between gender identity and to which gender a given person is sexually attracted, when it suits the ideological conservative, serves an agenda that is no less harmful than feminism and “gay pride”.
Monsignor Anatrella rightly notes that the Church is called to accompany persons in their discovery of God’s word and the way to holiness.
Certainly, pastoral care for homosexual people is particularly difficult and demanding. It requires experienced, welcoming priests, but with specific studies behind them. Love and truth should be combined without simplifications. Mercy cannot mean justifying sexual habits in contrast with the moral doctrine of the Church.
It is not a bad conclusion. In this journey of redemption and transfiguration, the Church’s ministry cannot be limited to diatribes about what is right or wrong, but the work of holiness begins with experience of God’s love and a profound spiritual life rooted in prayer and the liturgy. Even that precedes the long work of catechesis and spiritual accompaniment. We priests should not forget that many of our colleagues have discredited such a ministry by taking advantage of vulnerable people sexually and to the extent of preying on children. Hypocrisy is a hard one to get over, and the work of honest and moral priests is made twice as difficult. This is the kind of work that is done in private and suited to the person – not a profile or type.
The real subject of this piece is not sexual activity between persons but identities of single persons. This is a different question. I would be more sympathetic of the kind of humanity that made the music of Mozart, the literature of Oscar Wilde and the countless acts of kindness and empathy by those some would consider effeminate. Psychological androgyny (nothing to do with opposite sex caricatures) can bring something very positive in terms of emotional health and a sense of identity and creativity. In life, we encounter many unique persons, each of whom are beautiful in their own way. We all in one way or another cross boundaries without going “over there” for good, and none of this offends Christian sexual morality or undermines the fabric of society.