The Vatican-issued document ‘Male and female he created them’ is a call for dialogue and not a definitive and unquestionable statement, reminds Luís Corréa Lima, Jesuit priest, theologian and pastor to the LGBT community in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
In the year we celebrate the 50th anniversary of Stonewall, marking the eruption of protests in favour of the LGBT community, the Vatican has released a document on studies and controversies concerning gender.
The text is from the Congregation for Catholic Education, entitled Male and female he created them. For a path of dialogue on the issue of gender in education. It reiterates traditional Catholic Church teachings on anthropology and sexuality, while also opening some potentially promising avenues.
The title refers to the first chapters of the Bible, to the creation of man and woman, and their lifelong union, for procreating and populating the earth. The subtitle is very interesting, proposing a two-way dialogue in dealing with the controversial and often explosive subject that is gender.
One good thing in this document is the distinction between ideology and the various studies into gender, conducted by the human sciences. The document recognises there is no lack of research that seeks to properly deepen the way sexual differences between men and women are lived within different cultures.
There is, therefore, no reason for hysteria every time we talk about gender. It is necessary to seek a serene reflection. Studies on this topic are quite heterogeneous and there is no unifying and comprehensive theory. They generally highlight the role of culture and social structures to configure and relate genders; question the subordination of one gender to another; and — in recent decades — they contemplate the reality of LGBT people.
As for the so-called gender ideology, the Catholic hierarchy faults it for denying difference and the natural reciprocity between men and women; foreseeing a society without gender differences; and promoting a personal identity and affective intimacy that is disconnected from the biological diversity that exists between men and women.
Human identity is at the mercy of an individualistic option. The biological sex (sex) and the sociocultural function of sex (gender) can be distinguished but not separated. Nature must not be annihilated, this encompasses all we receive as the prior foundation of our being and all our actions in the world. There is a very complex reality in these matters.
Neuroscientific research claims biological sex is not limited to genitalia and anatomy. It is the brain that defines gender identity and sexual orientation.
In the case of transgender people, the brain and the perception of self do not correspond to the genitalia and the rest of the body. The person feels they are a man in a woman’s body, or a woman, or a transvestite in a man’s body.
Concerning sexual orientation, there are smells linked to masculinity and femininity, pheromones, which when inhaled are identified by the brain and influence perception and behaviour. In the animal kingdom, these odours are fundamental to the coming together between the sexes and mating. Specialised tomographies reveal that the brains of homosexual women respond to pheromones differently to the brains of heterosexual women, but similarly to heterosexual men. Similar experiments with homosexual men yielded opposite and symmetrical results.
Even considering psychosocial factors affecting this reality, being LGBT is neither a choice nor an individualistic option. They are faces of the complex diversity between men and women. It cannot be imposed on everyone to live as if they were heterosexual and cisgender, that is, identified with the sex assigned to them at birth.
Another welcome development in this document is the warning against bullying, which is the practice of intentional and repeated acts of physical or verbal violence against a defenceless person, which can cause physical and psychological harm.
In the education of children and young people, one must respect the other in his or her different and peculiar condition. Let no one be a victim of violence, insults and discrimination. This is very important as LGBT children and young people are often severely oppressed. It is not uncommon for the school and even the family itself to become hell for these people.
As the document is a proposal to promote dialogue and not a definitive and unquestionable statement, it is worth listening to the other possible partners in this dialogue. These include specialists cited in the various studies on gender, as well as the people in question, the LGBT persons themselves. Their life experience and conscience cannot be neglected.
Pope Francis’ pastoral practice of receiving homosexuals and transgender men at his home with their respective companions is an excellent example of welcoming and listening, which should be followed by parents with LGBT children.
Finally, this dialogue is a long process which, if well conducted, could bring great benefit to all.
There are many wounds to be healed and lives to be saved from oppression, depression, and suicide. As one gender researcher rightly says, let everyone live and breathe in their gender and sexuality without fear of pathologisation, marginalisation or violence.
This article was first published in Dom Total, a Jesuit-affiliated news portal in Brazil. The article is by Luís Corrêa Lima, Jesuit priest, theologian, lecturer,