On the occasion of the Season of Creation 2020, FIAMC-president Bernard Ars has invited His Eminence Willem Cardinal Eijk, archbishop of Utrecht (The Netherlands) to contribute to the FIAMC website with a reflection on gender, creation and human ecology. FIAMC is happy to be able to present this text to you.
by + Willem Jacobus Cardinal Eijk, Archbischop of Utrecht, the Netherlands, Medical Doctor
The present distinction between the terms ‘sex’ and ‘gender’ became en vogue in the 1950s. One finds the most common formulation of this distinction in the Oxford English Dictionary. The term ‘sex’ concerns the two main categories in which humans and most other living beings are divided, i.e. man and woman on the basis of their anatomic and procreative differences and secondary sexual characteristics. The term ’gender’ has been used in English since the fourteenth century to indicate the classes of nouns: masculine, feminine and neuter. From the 1950s the term ‘gender’ concerns the state of being man or woman, which rather regards social and cultural than sexual differences. 1 The definition of ‘gender’, used by the World Health Organization (WHO) (WGO), refers to
“The characteristics of women, men, girls and boys that are socially constructed. This includes norms, behaviours and roles associated with being a woman, man, girl or boy, as well as relationships with each other. As a social construct, gender varies from society to society and can change over time.” 2
To indicate the sexual categories one uses in English the terms ‘male and “female” and in the case of gender the categories ‘masculine’’ and ‘feminine’.
Some examples explain that the gender role implies disadvantages for women: In the United States of America as well as in many other countries women earn less than men for the same type of work; in Saudi Arabia, until recently, men but not women were allowed to drive a car; in most countries women perform more household chores than men.
Another distinction is that between gender identity and gender role. The gender identity implies that one feels him- of herself male or female. The gender role concerns the role of male and female, imposed by society. In the past the gender role of man and woman would be imposed by society as a social role and in many parts of the world that is be the case. In Western society with its very strong individualism and autonomous ethics connected to it, the individual is supposed not to accept a gender role imposed by society, but to choose the own gender autonomously. By the way, the fact that the individual allows himself to be led by the classical means of communication, the social media, public opinion and by his surroundings escapes him. What matters is the feeling of being autonomous.
The gender theory engages in the question to what extent gender, the role imposed by society on male and female, originates from the biological sex, i.e. in the biological and natural characteristics of the body. The adherents to the gender theory consider gender as a role, constructed by society, for male and female, which is linked to the biological sex only to a limited extent or sometimes even not at all. Therefore, according to the gender theory the autonomous individual could and should choose his own gender identity, regardless of his biological sex and free from any social pressure. He or she should have the possibility to choose a gender identity in conformity to one’s own desires and sexual inclination and to be or become a heterosexual man, a heterosexual woman, a homosexual, a lesbian, a transsexual, transgender or neuter. 3 A transsexual is somebody whose gender identity does not coincide with his or her biological sex: it concerns a person who feels that he is a woman, whereas he is biologically male, or the opposite. In these cases one speaks of gender dysphoria. Transgenders are transsexuals who have decided to undergo medical and/or surgical sexual reassignment treatment or who have already undergone them.
International organizations promote respect for the freedom of people to choose their own gender identity and ‘gender equity’, also outside the Western world. The World Health Organization tries to promote gender equity and facilitate a policy requiring respect for gender equity in the context of human rights at an institutional level. 4 International organizations oblige authorities and organizations at a national level by means of threatening to withdraw subsidies to guarantee to the individual the freedom to choose his own gender identity. They also impose the obligation to facilitate this choice by offering him or her the necessary sexual reassignment treatment, if needed. In many Western countries basic health insurances of national health services compensate the costs of this treatment, partially or completely.
By means of education programmes one already tries to make children in elementary schools aware of the necessity to think about their own gender identity and make a choice as early as possible. In case children start to become transgenders, but are still unsure about their gender, it is possible to inhibit the puberal development by administering a hormonal substance, triptorelin, 5 so as to give the child the time it needs to think about it. Apart from the collateral effects of triptorelin, one needs to realize that many young people have periods in which they are in doubt about their identity, their gender identity included. Blocking puberty in these cases may imply the risk that a problem is worsened, which would have been resolved spontaneously, or that a problem is evoked which would never have occurred, if no triptorelin had been administered. It should be observed that several transgenders are not satisfied after sex reassignment and want to return to their original biological sex, but in many cases especially the surgical treatment is irreversible. 6
I will first discuss the origin of the gender theory and its repercussion on the possibilities to proclaim the Christian faith. In the second part the link between gender and sex is discussed from the perspective of a Christian philosophical and theological perspective, creation theology and human ecology.