Just What Is the Definition of “Gender Ideology”?

Crux, a Catholic news website, recently published an analysis essay on transgender issues and Catholicism, written by Austen Ivereigh, one of the site’s regular contributors.  Ivereigh’s essay, the first of two parts (no indication of when the second part will appear), sets out to examine some of the current debates in what he calls a topic on which the church is “developing.”  The essay contains some weaknesses and some strengths.  Today, I will look at some of the weaknesses, and later this week, I will offer a post on its strengths.

The biggest weakness is that the author has a skewed interpretation of the term “gender ideology,” which is understandable given the fact that although church officials, even the pope, toss this term around, they have never offered a plausible definition of it.

Ivereigh lays out the problem of  Catholic discourse about transgender issues, noting that the “transgender issue is in reality two discrete phenomena”:

“On the one hand, it involves the growing awareness of a suffering group that often has been marginalized and brutalized. On the other, it is an academic theory that has grown out of feminism and gay rights that challenges the notion that gender is rooted in biological sex.”

Ivereigh is correct that this two-fold approach is what is causing so much confusion about transgender issues.  Where he misses the mark though, is in his analysis of “gender ideology,” which he explains this way:

“A person’s gender, in this thinking, is an arbitrary social construct, the result of social conditioning that can (and should be) thrown off in the quest for self-realization. Expressed in political action, it demands not just ‘rights’ for transgender people – their own bathrooms, and so on – but the abolition from public documents and passports of the very notions of masculinity and femininity.”

The problem with Ivereigh’s thinking is that he reduces the whole field of gender theory to social constructionism.  Not all people who argue for rights for transgender people hold this view. Most trans people and theorists affirm the fact that gender identity is, in fact, a psychological experience, not one defined by social roles.

Similarly, not all trans people and theorists are pushing for the erasure of masculinity and femininity.  What they are asking from governments is their right to be accurately described in official documents.   And trans people are not asking for “their own bathrooms,” but for the ability to use whichever bathroom available is appropriate for them.

Ivereigh’s big weakness becomes magnified even worse when he claims:

“The task for the Church is to work out how, on the one hand, to critique the theory as false and to resist this new public ideology, while on the other mercifully to embrace those suffering from gender dysphoria as vulnerable people in need of pastoral care and the Church’s protection.”

As for the first part of the claim,  I ask a simple question:  “Why?”

Why does the church have to critique this theory as false and resist new accommodations that make trans people more integrated into social and civic life?   I think the church could learn a lot if it paid more positive attention to these theories and learned from them.  Learning more about these theories could help end the stifling and deadening gender discrimination which infects our church at all levels.

As for the second part of the claim, it is true that the church needs to reach out to trans people more, but not just to give them  comfort, as Ivereigh suggests, but also to learn from their experiences and unique spiritual and personal gifts.

As I mentioned above, Ivereigh’s essay does make some good points, and I’ll look at them in the second part of this blog post, later in the week.

Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, October 26, 2016


7 replies
  1. Wilhelm Wonka
    Wilhelm Wonka says:

    If I were Ivereigh’s supervisor and he submitted that essay to me for grading, I’d have returned it, ungraded, with the terse instruction: Re-write!

    I find NOTHING positive in his essay. Instead, there is partisan speculation about the nature of transgenderism and, more reprehensible from a scholarly perspective, lack of scientific evidence for it.

    And then there is contradiction and hypocrisy. How on Earth can a church simultaneously “critique” transgenderism “as false” (when this would merely be presumptious rather than scientifically verifiable) while reaching out “mercifully to embrace those suffering from gender dysphoria”? Ivereigh would set the Catholic Church on a collision course not just with trans people, but with itself: it is neither honest nor merciful to disregard a person’s deeper self-awareness in order to have it fit pre-conceived ideas about him or her.

    As for someone’s “suffering from gender dysphoria”, yes, Mr Ivereigh, he or she does indeed suffer, but not from any intrinsic quality of transgenderism, but from negative and misrepresentative social reaction, the kind provided by you in your essay.

    It’s called “extreme prejudice”.

  2. lynne1946
    lynne1946 says:

    “Similarly, not all trans people and theorists are pushing for the erasure of masculinity and femininity. What they are asking from governments is their right to be accurately described in official documents. And trans people are not asking for “their own bathrooms,” but for the ability to use whichever bathroom available is appropriate for them.”

    This is the thing that people seem to find so hard to understand. We don’t want special rights or special bathrooms, we just want the ones that are right for us. Period. I am at a loss to understand why this is so hard to understand, or so difficult to do.

  3. Ned Flaherty
    Ned Flaherty says:

    Regarding a column by Crux Contributing Editor Austen Ivereigh, this article proposes that perhaps he “makes some good points.”

    Actually, he doesn’t make any good points. Here’s why.

    No one ever “makes a good point” if that point is arrived at for entirely wrong reasons. For example, during the droughts of antiquity, people made a good point in noticing that rain was long overdue, but they wrongly believed that the reason their crops were parched was because angry deities were delaying rainfall until more virgins and infants got sacrificed.

    Taken in isolation, several of Ivereigh’s sentences do, initially, appear to stand validly on their own, such as his reaction to an English bishop’s 17-paragraph letter to Roman Catholic schools, about which Ivereigh says, “It is as if transgender people themselves are absent.”

    But his few correct remarks deserve no credit, because Ivereigh’s entire column is based upon the junk-science claim that transgender people are both an “ideology” and a “false theory,” and that both must be denied, opposed, and banned, not only within Roman Catholic doctrine, but also in the larger world to which people of all other faiths (and of no faith) belong.

    Ivereigh’s several seeming “good points” are arrived at for the wrong reasons, so he ends up advocating for ignorance and pity instead of understanding and acceptance. The real danger of such apparently nice people is that they mask their very concrete plans to continue not understanding — and misunderstanding — transgender people and their actual lives.

    Scientific knowledge does not melt into ideology merely because a religious doctrine rejects it; science is still science. See: Galileo.

  4. bjmonda
    bjmonda says:

    An assumption is also that LBGTQ people want attention, ie. are attention seekers as in spoiled children. This is like saying That Martin Luther King or Mother Jones were in it for the attention. I think they, some Church higher ups, have latched on to this and equate LGBTQ equality to bad children throwing tantrums because they want to be part of a FAD…While the truth is WE want NO ATTENTION. WE JUST WANT TO LIVE EQUAL AND PARALLEL LIVES WITH THE HETROSEXUAL MAJORITY.

  5. Lisa Fullam
    Lisa Fullam says:

    Thanks for addressing this. Another error in the paper is to cite the Karolinska study, viz.: “A 30-year Swedish study of the effects of sex-reassignment surgery showed death by suicide was 19 times higher than in the general population.” The study itself carries this caveat: “the results should not be interpreted such as sex reassignment per se increases morbidity and mortality. Things might have been even worse without sex reassignment.” (Interview with the study’s author is here: http://transadvocate.com/fact-check-study-shows-transition-makes-trans-people-suicidal_n_15483.htm.) There’s a meta study supporting hormonal treatments as helpful: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1365-2265.2009.03625.x/abstract. And what ticks me off is that no one takes into account the bullying and marginalization that trans folks experiences as part of what contributes to depression and suicidal ideation. And essays like Ivereigh’s seem to support that by continuing to demonize gender “ideology,” even if he claims to want trans people treated decently…


Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. […] days ago, I posted a critique of Austen Ivereigh’s Crux essay entitled “Transgender debates require distinction […]

  2. […] Source: Just What Is the Definition of “Gender Ideology”? – Bondings 2.0 […]

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