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Choosing one’s gender: how far will it go?

A monthly column by the Emmanuel Community:

46 Rosalino Street, Woodbrook.


In days gone by one’s sex, and to all intents and purposes one’s gender, was determined by the genitalia with which one was born or, as happens in more recent times, observed through prenatal sex discernment. ‘Sex’ referred specifically to biological characteristics, while ‘Gender’ referred to the range of social and cultural characteristics pertaining to, and differentiating between, masculinity and femininity.

These notions aligned well with Judeo-Christian belief, as we’re told in Genesis 1:27 that God created man in the image of himself, in the image of God he created him, male and female he created them.

Much effort has been expended in modern times, however, on ensuring that the idea of ‘the right to choose’ extends to all aspects of our lives, including the gender to which we belong. Current literature makes much of the sex or gender to which one is ‘assigned’ at birth, as if this were some arbitrary decision taken by some arbitrary person.

To be sure, in cases where an individual is born with the genitalia of both sexes, a decision would be made about to which sex the child should be ‘assigned’, and surgery performed to give the child the physical appearance of male or female.  Given that masculinity and femininity are determined by a range of physical and psychological characteristics, it is conceivable that ‘mistakes’ may be made, and the individuals involved may eventually desire to choose a sex other than the one assigned at birth. But how far should this ability to choose one’s gender go?

In the 2009 Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute publication, The Millennium Development Goals in Light of Catholic Social Teaching (MDG), authors D Brian Scarnecchia, JD and Terrence McKeegan, JD point out that ‘gender’ is left undefined in the MDGs and the MDGs’ Reports.

They further point out that in those instances in which the UN General Assembly had defined ‘gender’, gender refers to two sexes, male and female. Nevertheless, a 2007 UNICEF report referred to more than two genders, and since Beijing, various UN agencies, as distinct from member states, have understood gender to be “a changeable social construct”.

In the zeal to stamp out “all forms of violence based on sexual orientation and gender identity/expression”, it has now become fashionable for states to institute legislation allowing individuals to choose their gender, and stories abound of hitherto unheard-of situations: it’s now possible to pick a gender other than ‘male’ or ‘female’ on birth certificates; a county in England sends a questionnaire to parents seeking entry of their four-year-old children into primary school, asking them to state the child’s “preferred” gender.

Will we find ourselves obligated to accept the normalisation of the notion of gender fluidity? Will parents be obligated to surrender their responsibility for the upbringing of their children, in keeping with the injunction of Proverbs 22:6 to train up a child in the way he should go?

We remind readers that gender identity is neither recognised nor protected in ANY international treaty.