Abigail Favale’s “The Genesis of Gender” Forgoes Transgender Realities, Writes Reviewer

Maxwell Kuzma

A new book on Christian ideas about gender fails to do justice to the realities of many transgender and gender nonconforming Catholics, according to a trans book reviewer.

Abigail Favale’s popular book, The Genesis of Gender: A Christian Theory, was reviewed by Maxwell Kuzma for the National Catholic Reporter, who suggests that the book “leaves out quite a bit of the story.”

Favale, a professor at the University of Notre Dame’s McGrath Institute for Church Life, looks at the issue of gender from a conservative viewpoint. But from Kuzma’s point of view as a trans man and Catholic, the author’s assessment of sex and gender fell short, leaving him disappointed and leveling sharp critiques of the book. For instance, Kuzma wrote:

The Genesis of Gender is a book full of ‘$10 words,’ as Favale calls them, and contradictory statements that are not intended to come together into a coherent defense of what she believes. Rather, they are designed as a shotgun-style attack against not only the identity of transgender and genderqueer people themselves but also against any philosophical or intellectual thought on the topic of gender that doesn’t follow a strict binary of male/female or appeal to Favale’s worldview. Her strategy hinges on firing off so many shots that the reader will be unable to follow the thread of her argument closely enough to ask questions or defend the concepts she’s attacking.”

Kuzma wrote that the perspectives in Favale’s book echoed theories he had heard and found dissatisfying while growing up Catholic and coming out as transgender:

“Writing in a matter-of-fact rhetorical style, Favale highlights philosophers and writers that either prove her point or provoke outrage while sprinkling in personal anecdotes and stories from detransitioners (while trotting out scientific studies that play to one side), to ultimately make the claim that she has fully and fairly vetted the field of gender studies — and found it wanting.

“Reading the book as a transgender man, I must say none of the theories, information or scientific studies sketched out in the book surprised me; after all, I’ve been on the internet long enough to see many theories come and go. But I was disappointed to see that Favale purposefully laid a breadcrumb trail of implications that would lead any innocent reader to a conspiratorial conclusion involving modern feminists, politics and ‘big pharma.'”

Kuzma objected to Favale’s language of a “gender paradigm,” a term Favale uses to describe “the increased visibility of the transgender and genderqueer community in modern social and legal discourse.” Kuzma argued that Favale “intends for us to believe the goal of this gender paradigm is social and individual destruction — and that it is succeeding.”

The struggle of my own transgender life was not in identifying myself or in knowing who I was, but in realizing that those who told me they loved me would only respect me if I played a role that did not ring true to me,” Kuzma wrote. He described losing his parents’ support and transitioning as a young adult without their accompaniment.

For Kuzma, Favale’s view failed to acknowledge what trans people like him know about their bodies. He connected Catholicism to his embodied experience as trans:

“Favale references the powerful image of the crucifixion, but does not see the connection between the scars of Christ and the scars of a transgender person — she doesn’t make the final connection between Genesis and Calvary. The mystery of the Incarnation, Crucifixion and Resurrection are not just the source of human redemption but also a profound meditation on the experience of human embodiment.”

Kuzma reminded readers that a key part of Catholic faith is in how we see the sacred in one another, and, unlike for Favale, that is the focus when it comes to trans issues for many Catholics:

“In a world preoccupied with verifying or vilifying the experience of being trans, there are still Catholics who love me without question. Without deliberating over my name and pronouns. Catholics from all walks of life have made a seamless transition from using my old name to my new one, Catholics like my 73-year-old Aunt Dorothy, who wrote me a Christmas card the year I came out that said, ‘I am happy to have another nephew,’ Catholics for whom I am not a theological problem to be solved but a transgender person to be loved.”

Amid all the noise about trans issues happening right now, authentic progress in talking about gender in Catholic circles can only be made when love is truly the starting point.

Grace Doerfler (she/her), New Ways Ministry, January 17, 2023

1 reply
  1. Alexei
    Alexei says:

    GOD SAVE THE QUEER: Catechismo femminista.
    I don’t think this book is available, yet, in English translation. This short intro I found on line and used “google translate for the English, with a slight correction to the first paragraph made by me. “What God sees, God declares “It’s Good”!

    «Vorrei capire, da femminista, se la fede cristiana sia davvero in contraddizione con il nostro desiderio di un mondo inclusivo e non patriarcale, o se invece non si possa mostrare addirittura un’alleata. Da cristiana confido nel fatto che anche la fede abbia bisogno della prospettiva femminista e queer, perché la rivelazione non sarà compiuta fino a quando a ogni singola persona non sarà offerta la possibilità di sentirsi addosso lo sguardo generativo di Dio mentre dichiara che quello che vede “è cosa buona”».

    Si può essere persone femministe e cattoliche nello stesso tempo?
    Michela Murgia, cattolica, pensa di sí. E questo audace pamphlet, popolare e coltissimo, sfida il senso comune, e con lucidità e ironia ci spiega perché.

    Come fai a tenere insieme la tua fede cattolica e il tuo femminismo? È una domanda che Michela Murgia si sente rivolgere di continuo. È la stessa che si pongono le persone credenti LGBTIAQ+ e che si pone chiunque debba fare compromessi tra la propria coscienza e i precetti dottrinari, per esempio in merito ad aborto, eutanasia, fecondazione assistita. Per rispondere è necessario capire quali aspetti della vita e della fede siano davvero in contraddizione, e soprattutto se certi insegnamenti non siano semplicemente un’eredità storica da ridiscutere ogni giorno alla luce del Vangelo e della propria intelligenza. D’altronde, lo stesso Dio dei cristiani è contraddittorio: è divino ma anche umano, è uno ma anche trino, è onnipotente ma è morto in croce. Partendo dalla rilettura del Credo e attingendo alla propria esperienza personale – la sé bambina piena di dubbi, ma anche la nonna, la madre, la zia, le donne con le quali ha incontrato la fede – Michela Murgia fornisce gli strumenti per affrontare alcune di queste antinomie, e mostra come la pratica della soglia, che rigetta l’appartenenza a un unico recinto, cioè la queerness, sia una pratica cristologica. Accettarla come tale significa riconoscere che «il confine non ci circonda, ma ci attraversa, e che quel che avvertiamo come contraddizione è in realtà uno spazio fecondo di cui non abbiamo ancora compreso il potenziale vitale».

    «I would like to understand, as a feminist, if the Christian faith is really in contradiction with our desire for an inclusive and non-patriarchal world, or if instead it can’t even show itself as an ally. As a Christian I trust that faith too needs the feminist and queer perspective, for revelation will not be accomplished until every single person is given the opportunity to feel God’s generative gaze upon them as God declares what God sees ” it’s good”.

    Is it possible to be a feminist and a Catholic at the same time?
    Michela Murgia, a Catholic, thinks so. And this bold pamphlet, popular and highly cultured, challenges common sense, and with lucidity and irony explains why.

    How do you keep your Catholic faith and your feminism together? It is a question that Michela Murgia hears constantly. It is the same that LGBTIAQ+ believers pose and that anyone who has to compromise between their conscience and doctrinal precepts, for example regarding abortion, euthanasia, assisted fertilization. To answer it is necessary to understand which aspects of life and faith are really in contradiction, and above all if certain teachings are not simply a historical legacy to be re-discussed every day in the light of the Gospel and one’ss: own intelligence. On the other hand, the same God of Christians is contradictory: he is divine but also human, he is one but also triune, he is omnipotent but died on the cross. Starting from the re-reading of the Creed and drawing on her own personal experience – her child self full of doubts, but also her grandmother, mother, aunt, the women with whom she encountered faith – Michela Murgia provides the tools to address some of these antinomies, and shows how the practice of the threshold, which rejects belonging to a single enclosure, i.e. queerness, is a Christological practice. Accepting it as such means recognizing that “the border does not surround us, but crosses us, and that what we perceive as a contradiction is actually a fertile space whose vital potential we have not yet understood”.


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