Fools rush in where angels are afraid to step. So this fool (i.e. me) is going to storm in. Be kind. An elementary school teacher in Leesburg, Virginia has been on the news for the past few weeks. Mr Tanner Cross has been suspended for saying he would not follow a proposed policy requiring elementary school teachers to use students’ preferred pronouns and first names. However, the judge of the 20th District Court of Virginia, James E. Plowman, ruled that Mr. Cross’s freedom of speech has been violated and he must be reinstated.
The teacher said at the end of May: “I will not claim that a biological boy can be a girl and vice versa, because it violates my religion, lies to a child, abuses a child and sins against God. “I find this case fascinating for several reasons. First, however, I have to say that his decision to base his opposition on “my religion” is a difficult argument in my opinion. (The context in this case makes it clear that Mr. Tanner is a Christian.) But apart from his interpretation of his religion, other reasons can be given for not using gender-affirming therapeutic language in dealing with gender dysphoria in children.
Gender dysphoria is the new medical term used to replace the older term “gender identity disorder”; it is the strong and persistent discomfort of having been born into a body of the wrong gender, that one’s gender identity does not match the gender stated on the birth certificate. The term is derived from the Greek and Latin word “dysphoria”, which means a deep discomfort. It’s not the same as same-sex attraction; it is much less common and often has much more serious effects on overall health. Over the past 20 years, the rise in gender dysphoria, especially among girls, has grown exponentially – a topic that deserves further serious and comprehensive study.
The Leesburg Elementary School is for students in Pre-K through fifth grade. This means that 95% + of these students are not older than 10 or 11 years. Age is very relevant here, as “abstinence” is called in sex science. Abstinence is the opposite of persistence. It is now known that between 50 and 90% of pre-adolescent children with dysphoria do not continue their dysphoria (they stop) by the time they reach puberty. This wide percent waiver is due to the fact that there are not many studies and there is not a complete consensus on how the studies should be conducted. But at least 50% (and probably far more) of gender dysphoria goes away by the time the person turns 20. For this reason, gender reassignment surgery, for example, is not allowed as a treatment before the age of 18.
One question is fair to ask: Given that at least 50% of teenage children who suffer from dysphoria “outgrow” it is fair to ask anyone who comes into contact with this phenomenon to refer to the to let in what actually is a special form of the new therapy? Called “affirmation therapy,” it begins with changing names and pronouns and can lead to radical medical interventions: sometimes drugs are given to delay the onset of puberty; hormones can be injected into children; Mastectomies can be performed on young women. The final medical procedure is of course a physical sex reassignment surgery of the male or female genitals. All of these medical interventions come with serious risks and numerous medical complications – including the side effects of hormone therapy for the rest of life. There is quite a strong disagreement among doctors (and families and patients) about the pros and cons of all of these treatments. The case is not closed.
But that’s not the worst. Worst of all, children with gender dysphoria have suicide / suicide attempts way above other children. The same goes for adults who are transgender and / or have undergone sex reassignment surgery. Their suicide rate is far higher than that of heterosexuals or homosexuals. Gender dysphoria is a very rare condition (approximately 0.4% of the adult population according to the US National Institutes of Health) and a very serious condition. It is not yet entirely clear whether gender affirmation therapies as practiced now, especially pharmacological and surgical interventions, consistently bring more benefits than risks, especially in the long term – that is, after 10 or 15 years. My heart goes out to trans people, really. And I remind doctors to remember their Hippocratic oath: ‘First, do no harm.’
It is a valid question to ask: are there other, simpler ways to deal with gender dysphoria? What if we broadened our acceptance and at the same time weakened the representation of their gender in men and women. What if we didn’t encourage and allow this ad to be thrown in our faces 24/7 on our streets, in our schools, and on our screens? For example, in terms of acceptance, women today can wear loose fitting “men’s clothes”, especially pants, and this means nothing special about their sexual identity or implies gender dysphoria. However, when a boy or a man wears a skirt or a dress, it is a whole different story and just not accepted – almost nowhere.
At this point I hear a voice in the background shouting with mischievous pleasure: “Except for priests, bishops and popes! In these soutan dresses they walk around in public all the time, not only in black, but also in red and white. And those robes during mass – talk about cross-dressing! And this guy Jesus? He never married, never had children, refused to use violence, always talked about love and turned the other cheek the whole time – not exactly a man for men, right! ”And that voice that screams in the background has one Sense. He means he’s just being funny, but something can be funny and insightful at the same time – albeit unintentionally.
Jesus could have spoken against androgyny and homosexuality, which were well known in the Greek and Roman worlds, but he didn’t. This is what the apostle Paul did later. Androgyny, cross-dressing, and homosexuality are harshly condemned in the Old Testament – but Jesus violated many Old Testament laws. In this context, too, it seems that Jesus withdrew from the world of sexual attraction and was chaste and celibate – at least this is his identity as portrayed in the Christian canon and in early and later church scribes.
Religious historians and anthropologists have long noted links between holiness, chastity, celibacy, and androgyny. Both early and much later there are artistic depictions of Jesus that depict Jesus with an androgynous look. And the Catechism of the Catholic Church says that God (and thus also Jesus) “transcends the differences between the sexes” (CCC 239). To this day, Catholic priests (as well as nuns and monks) have to be chaste, celibate and wear clothes that do not emphasize gender identity. This long tradition, which goes beyond Christianity or Judaism, has deep psychological, sociological and religious reasons. (For an insightful essay, see “Zelibacy and Androgyny,” by Diarmuid O’Murchu, published by the National Catholic Reporter, March 16, 2011, available online.)
All of this is to say: There are many ways for humanity to deal with androgyny, gender, and gender dysphoria. A prime example that springs to mind is the 14th-century Joan of Arc – France’s greatest hero and canonized saint. Think of different authors from the 19th and 20th centuries, different pop stars and visual artists such as Andy Warhol et al. Not that they were all necessarily chaste, but they were androgynous.
Something else occurs to me: What about this assumption that is so widespread today that celibate priests and nuns “need to be sexually mixed up”. (Yes, a small number were, as is the case in society as a whole – but we can’t all paint with this brush.) Instead of thinking like that, why not accept that the vast majority of religious are navigating? their sexual identity and attraction in a way that is beneficial to society and themselves. And all of this without officially rejecting your birth gender on the birth certificate, without hormone injections and without surgery. You live alone in a class (sui generis) – that’s the whole idea after all.
All of the above considerations should feed into our discussions on how to manage gender dysphoria in children and young adults. You need to know that there are more options than changing their names, pronouns, hormones, and physical bodies. There are possibilities that are possibly more effective and at the same time less difficult to endure for the human body and the psyche. Our propensity to use medicines and scalpels is not always the best answer. As William Cowper said, “God mysteriously moves His miracles to work.”
John Nassivera is a former professor who remains a member of Columbia University’s Society of Fellows in the Humanities. He lives in Vermont and lives part-time in Mexico.