[T*CT Part 1] Aristotle’s Four Causes For Transgenderism

This post is part of a series on Trans*Catholic Theology. 

What are Aristotle’s four causes?

Much of modern Catholic philosophy and theology finds its grounding in St. Thomas Aquinas, the 13th century theologian who took the Greek philosophy of Aristotle and combined it with a Biblical worldview to create the body of what we might consider ‘mainstream’ Catholic thought.

One of the things that distinguishes Catholic thinking from the rest of the modern world is its appeal to Aristotle’s four causes, which are various ways of answering the question why. The word ‘cause’ isn’t really a good translation of what we’re talking about with the Four Causes – a better word might be ‘explanation.’ These are the four basic explanations for why something is what it is.

Aristotle’s four causes are, briefly:

  1. The material cause – the “what” – The matter or substance of which something is comprised.
  2. The efficient cause – the “how” – The main source of the thing’s change or rest.
  3. The formal cause – the “what-it-is-to-be” – The form of the thing.
  4. The final cause – the “why” – The ‘end’ or reason for which something is done or exists.

The theoretical definitions can be confusing, so let’s look at an example. The causes of a chair would be:

  1. The material cause – The wood of the chair
  2. The efficient cause – The carpenter who constructed the chair
  3. The formal cause – The shape of the chair
  4. The final cause – The chair exists to be sat in, and the carpenter caused the matter (wood) to have its form (chair) in order for it to be a piece of furniture that can be sat in

Human beings are more complicated because we are rational living creatures. What are the four causes of you? If we ask modern science and psychology, the answer is sort of unclear:

  1. The material cause – The human body
  2. The efficient cause – Parents, evolution
  3. The formal cause – Consciousness? 
  4. The final cause –  Survival? Life is whatever you make it to be?

Modern culture only focuses on the scientific answers for what we can know (the material & efficient). When it comes to the deep life questions (final & formal), it refuses to give a definitive answer.

If we consult Aristotle and Aquinas, the Christian answer to these questions is:

  1. The material cause – The human body
  2. The efficient cause – God
  3. The formal cause – The human soul
  4. The final cause – To know, love, and serve God

Obviously the scientific accounts like evolution contribute to our “explanation” of what it means to be human, but for a Christian it’s these spiritual answers to the question that determine how we live our life.

The Transgender Four Causes

Many transphobic Christians believe that transgender people go against God and contradict Christian thinking. Funnily enough, most of them unwittingly make their arguments against transgenderism from a very modern, pagan, un-Christian position.

One of the hallmarks of the modern age is its intense focus on science. Science is by nature the study of only the material and efficient causes of things (physics without metaphysics). If science talks about the formal or final causes of things, it ceases to be good science. It’s totally fine to let science focus on what is observable since that’s what science is, but many modern people rule out talking about the unobservable side of reality even outside the context of science.

As Catholics, we are a spiritual people. We believe there is more to Creation than mere matter. When many Catholics talk about transgender people, they only talk about the efficient cause of “how we got so screwed up” and material cause of “what’s between our legs”, ignoring the other two which are actually the more important questions.

The material cause

The material cause is the one that transgender politics really latches onto. Science has shown that transgenderism is probably a physiological reality, which is very reassuring for us since it shows we’re not delusional. However, biology can’t answer the deeper questions of identity.

On the other side of the fence, anti-trans politics and pseudo-psychology have one of two responses to the physiological (material) side of transgenderism. They either say “yeah, transgenderism is what happens when an otherwise normal child’s brain gets messed up in the womb,” OR they pretend that the evidence for a material cause to transgenderism doesn’t even exist. I’ve seen this in a lot of Catholic psychological literature, where they dismissively say “there’s no evidence that transgenderism is biological” when that’s simply not the case.

The efficient cause

The people who ignore the material cause of transgenderism tend to focus only on the efficient cause. Many reactionary Catholics cling to bad pseudopsychology in order to explain away transgenderism.

Most of the ‘efficient causes’ they propose for gender dysphoria are pretty pathetic and don’t hold up to scrutiny. These people try to explain a very complex and multi-faceted reality with very weak efficient causes. They make strange causal connections like: a person has gender dysphoria because their father was emotionally distant from them. TRANSLATION: A person has a persistent, unshakeable existential and spiritual knowledge of themselves as being of a particular gender despite any accidents of gender norms because they, like almost everyone else on the face of the Earth, have daddy issues.

TRANSLATION: A strong reality that is very rare is being explained by a weak reality that is very common.


The causes that really matter

All criticisms of these crappy theories aside, do these material and efficient causes really matter? Let’s say I find out tomorrow that it’s 100% certain transgenderism is caused by hormones in the womb. This is very interesting scientifically, but what does it really say about who I am or how I should live my life?

As Christians it’s important to consider the deeper reality of what we look at. Consider evolution. So on an ‘efficient’ level humanity is the result of a process of biological elimination and mutation. Now someone looking at the evolutionary theory superficially might think that evolution leaves God out of the picture. Certainly evolution informs our anthropology and our understanding of humanity’s creaturely reality, but a truly Christian anthropology focuses primarily on the who and why. That is, as interesting as it is to know the process by which God made us as we are, it is far more interesting (and important) to know why he did so and who we are in his eyes.

However I came to be me, now I’m me and there’s not much I can do about it. Maybe I’m a product of chemicals, maybe of socialization, maybe of trauma – WHO KNOWS!? None of these explanations tell me who I am. None of them tell me who God made me to be. None of them tell me why God allowed these forces outside my control to form me into a complicated, atypical person.

Why did God allow me to have a female spirituality and existence despite being male bodied? What does he want to do with this? What facet of His nature and personality do I express by being transgender?

This series of articles will consider the deeper explanations of transgenderism: the formal and final causes. I want us to look at things more profoundly, with a mind toward our heavenly journey and eternal destiny. So much superficial anti-trans theology skims the surface and avoids the real issues by reducing trans people to one or two arbitrary facts about our material existence. Let’s take a step into deeper waters and sound the depths of real thinking.

This post is in part inspired by a talk by Aaron Harburgh called “A Christian Response to Homosexuality.” The full talk can be viewed here

57 thoughts on “[T*CT Part 1] Aristotle’s Four Causes For Transgenderism

  1. One overlooked aspect of natural selection is that it depends on a system that promotes the widest variation to make its selection from. As transgender people we represent part of the biodiversity necessary for biological evolution. Part of Christ’s mission to the marginalized like us may be part of Gods plan to maintain social diversity to allow for social evolution.
    But reason and cause as you suggest should be the least of our concern in encountering transgender people and treating them with dignity and compassion should come first as Christians.

    • I’m really glad you liked it! I don’t think it deserves quite all that praise, but if even one person gets something out of it, it was worth writing. I’m excited to write some philosophy that actually takes the trans experience seriously, since as far as I can tell that hasn’t really been done before.

  2. Sorry to inform but you ARE NOT at the “crossroads of Calvary and Rome” you are actually at the crossroad of mental illness and HELL! I suggest you read the scientific explanation of your particular HOMOsexualization variant found in the current 2014 ICD-10-CM Diagnosis Code F64.1 …might as well read down through F66.9 because you freaks are very sick in the head in a multitude of variations. You sicko fantasy’s are about as real as my Tetra-amelia syndrome! God I need to have my arms and legs amputated to fix this problem.

    • The ICD was last updated in 1992. It’s up for a new revision that’s due in 2015, which will most likely correspond with the latest revision of the DSM which now considers “gender identity disorder” to be “gender dysphoria.”

      Also, homosexuality and transsexuality are distinct things. Even the old ICD recognizes this.

      Also, the current scientific explanation of transgenderism is this: http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn20032-transsexual-differences-caught-on-brain-scan.html#.UvV61mJdU7k

      What “sicko fantasies” are you referring to exactly? Also, how do you know the state of my soul? I was under the impression that only God can read my heart.

      • Anna – I hope that you will join me in praying for GETHELP. While our variation is part of God’s biodiversity and is supported by Christ’s universal love this person’s anger and hostility that drives them to find your post and quote science from another century in a reply reveals a very tortured soul. Let us pray that they can come to understand Christ’s love and forgiveness.

        • Of course. Unfortunately the internet allows for people to be hateful within the safety of anonymity, and so often this kind of trolling is from people who are insecure in their own gender or sexual identity so they take it out on us.

  3. I really enjoy your exposition of the four causes in this context. It raises the level of respectability of our concerns. GetHelp’s reference to the lady who wanted or had her limbs amputated for her own peace is odd. When I studied psychology in college, the health of any particular behavior was always described in terms of functional (healthy) or dysfunctional (unhealthy). The choice of anyone to be on HRT or have SRS, let alone for someone to have their limbs amputated cannot morally be whimsical. For me, I can only justify HRT’s negative effects on male fertility (resulting dysfunction) as a secondary effect of pursuing my life-long, unshakable desire to be feminine. I’m 55 and have had decades of counseling, prayer, and misery. I’ve shared the misery and lack of confidence with my (now adult) children. Except for the current tensions of my wife pursuing divorce and annulment, I have peace taking HRT. If there are people who are somehow mentally ill who seek surgery, we don’t judge them and call them sickos. Thank you for your ministry. God bless you and yours.

    • I’m glad you’re finding peace. The ethics of hormones is certainly complicated, and I’m devoting this Lent to discerning God’s will for me and HRT. Please pray for me, and I’ll do the same for you.

      God bless!

  4. TogetherStyle, weren’t you a member of the facebook group (no longer existent) Transgendered Christians? There is another such group with the same name/title.

    • Miriam – I may have been. FB has a TransCatholic group that is closed to protect people’s privacy. If you have trouble finding it message me for an invite. Dignity USA transgender caucus maintains a FB page. I serve on the TransFaith wisdom council and as a member of The Pacific school of Religion’s Transgender Roundtable both of which are very interfaith. The member organizations of Equally Blessed are all committed to LGBT inclusion in the Catholic Church and my latest work for them includes a workshop in Washington DC on May 17th called Transforming Love by New Ways Ministry and the release of an article in More Than A Monologue by Fordham University Press.

      • TogetherStyle, thank you for your gracious help. (Annamagda4Christ, forgive us for using this thread beyond the topic of Aristotle’s four causes. Maybe I’ll be able to communicate with TogetherStyle through one of her many above mentioned channels.) You have quite an impressive resume. Moments ago I requested membership in the TransCatholic group. If I am denied membership, I’ll get back to you. God bless and guide you ever more, in Jesus, Mary, and all saints. ~~~Miriam

  5. Hi,
    Just saying hello again. I am sorry for us, that none of my education nor experiences fit, Philosophy. As such I must translate all you say, into other terms.
    However, if I may, I’d like to say what I say, in engineering terms. You should see, zero differences, in content, once engineering is translated to English, Philosophical or Literary ideas.
    Once, upon a time, I had wondered if this ‘god guy’ (A theory that there might be a god out there responsible for all that we see), existed, or not. Scientists (those that study what there are no present answers for), like the groups I have always worked in, with only an Associates Degree in Electrical Engineering, always had this thing called proofs. Math does also. Later I noticed that even literature has proofs within, but that is very hard for me because they use abstruse words and concepts, like focus and organic. To me concentration is focus. Naturally occuring is organic.
    Well, as I was doing some work one day, two highly acclaimed scientists are talking about God, outside of my office. One says: You cannot prove that God exists, to the other scientist. Immediately I was excited about someone already having done the proof of God. I got up. I asked. “So you are saying that God does not exist?” He said no. He then proceeded to say the rest of what I am going to speak on. “You cannot prove that God exists, and you cannot prove God does not exist.” Before I go on. I went and sat down, quite disappointed that no one had done the work yet.
    Now, on that subject of proving God exists or not, that is totally untrue, if you are actually looking for Him, have the prerequisites completed, and do the work. Fast forwarding in my life. This occurred one day.
    I know. I know how to prove God exists or not. They are wrong. I then set about the proof. Now, in science one cannot say, what I just said, and still be a scientific type, if they are wrong, and if they don’t give the proof to others, and if that proof did not stand up to others testing that particular proof. It is not possible.
    The point here is what people say, and what is true is very much different. To say, that God and science to not go together is not true objectively. It is not true. That is not my experience and it is not the experience of most scientists, who pass the tests. I know of no scientists, except the liars, who say there is no possibility that a god does not exist out there somewhere, who is responsible for all of this. To do so, remember requires proof, in that field. I do claim that is my field. I do claim naturalism there. I claim, because others have said so, that I am a natural, not man made, scientist.
    In short, the proof for God, merely requires and individual pass the test of honesty sufficient to be hurt, by others for telling the truth, for a long long, long long time. Secondly when testing for accuracy all of the supposed statements about the existence of God, they must stumble across the Bible, and try to prove to themselves that it is in fact False, to themselves, not to others. Now after that last step when I did this work, I took a short break, because it took that long to try and find anything that was provably false to me. It is no stretch to say, I wanted it to be wrong, before I finished. Even though, I lost my experimental objectivity at the end, which is embarrassing to say the least, and even though I used every person and every reference possible, I failed at proving that book wrong. I took a break, but before that break, I knew how to prove whether or not God was Real or not.
    The break was set for two weeks. That is to avoid what is called burn-out. The previous work, for me, took roughly ten years, from the start of the hypothetical question, (Is The Bible Real or Not), and the end of the first part of that work. (The first part is to try and prove that wrong, in my line of work.)
    I will finish the rest of this on the next post, hopefully.

  6. The next part, to prove whether or not the Bible is Real or not, I knew I could do what is called controlled experiments, in my field. I chose, not knowing how many I would need in the end, to start with five controlled experiments. To the rest of the world, had five not been enough, I would have done more.
    These were hard to set up. I had to find five items in the Bible, for which there was but one, unknown. That took three months to find just five items, to test.
    Having finished those five items, I started on the first one. Now, to the rest of the world, to run a controlled experiment is difficult, first everything must be calibrated for the amount of error, inherent during the work. I am calibrated, and my error rate is set into the results, to find out later, how much of what I have taken data on, is usable.
    The short answers were, after throwing out only what did not apply, things like, more out than in, which is impossible in the real world, no variation, which is also never possible in the real world, I collected the data, and forced myself to do the other four controlled experiments, only out of a sense of scientific discipline. I was able to keep all emotions out of those experiments. Three and a half years later, I was done with all five experiments. I was also done with the process of being the enemy of the data, heartlessly, mercilessly, and actually what feels sometimes like being evil, for I want that data to have errors, when that process is going on. I am that data’s worst nightmare, hopefully. It is not a pleasant feeling, but that is what is done, by scientists.
    Once I was done with all of that, the summary of the data is completed. No opinion exists here. None is allowed. If anything is ever found there in my normal job, that is not exactly a summary of the surviving data, then I am considered to be wrong. Only an occasional mistake is allowed there, and only if it is instantly corrected, is the errant member allowed to remain in the field. Only new scientists tend to make mistakes there. I after awhile was too frightened to make mistakes in the summary. The summary for our group, is also what they called the conclusion. So the conclusion, is merely a summary of the data, and nothing else.
    That, are the only tools and that was my trade, when I tried to find out if the Bible was Real or not. And, in case you think I wanted to do that work, you are quite quite quite and then some mistaken. I only do that work, because someone else’s needs were great enough, to have me find out if what they were being told, was fantasy or not.
    Now, the summary, where the definition of real is: It is true where it says it is true, and it is false where it says it is false, The Bible is Real. Since The Bible talks about God, then God is real, but wait, there is more.
    Soon, after this work was done, stuff started happening, and happening and happening, and all of that is written in That Book also.
    Now, in science, if you do not have a test for falsehood, (I don’t say it that way), then whatever you say, is not provably wrong, thus they… (And I don’t know who. I worked. I did not study science that way. I just did science, and those around me also did science. The kind where no one has done the work before you.)…thus they say it is not scientific. The proof for this is merely to duplicate the work the way it was done, and see if you get a different answer. It is now ten years since I have completed this work and the proof, and so far everyone gets the same results as I have gotten. Maybe your work will be different, but you must have the prerequisites. You must do the work yourself. You must have a genuine reason to want to know. You must prove this to your self not others. You must try and prove That Book wrong, to yourself. Now if you can, then you have done a great service to the world, unfortunately you will be famous, you will probably be rich, as the Nobel Prize and other people will reward you for this. And, if you survive your new found imposed fame, I and everyone like me, will love you, because you have rid us of a fallacy. That should be manageable by you, because of your contribution to the world, like Newton and Einstein before you. All of them are admired for their contributions.
    If you fail to prove that book wrong to yourself, do the next two steps, then even if you succeed there you will be a great help, for you will have done peer review, and found my work and the work of others like me, to be wrong. Then we will know once again, what those scientists said earlier in my life, is actually true, and I am the one in error.

  7. So Darling of God,
    And I will keep calling you that, for a reason. I need to read you article and do all the translations. I was impressed by seeing concepts such as metaphysics and physics never meeting. Yet, that is only true, because no one has either proved it before or no one has done the follow up proofs. One day, I was missing a data point, and knew what the answer was. Later it turned out that what I knew to be true was proven to be true. On what we call Lasers, Einstein may have done the same thing there also. There was no way that he proposed nor said, that he knew why light (photons), being emitted by an atom would be precisely in step (phase and direction), with the incoming photon, when the new photon was emitted by the atom to go along with the incoming particle of light (photon). Yet he said it. That was later proved to be true. He mentioned something about God, and I think like me one day, He just knew what God, Did, in this case. Although it is anything but certain to me, whether or not he had calibrated God, in this way. It is so close in every way to an action of mine one day, that I think he did in fact, Know Something, One Little Thing, about God, and said what he knew. He said what God would do.
    Since the above proof was completed by me years ago. Ten or so to be more exact. What is called science by others, is now a mixture of science and God, when and only when it is actually correct, by proofs.
    That concept of proofs is a wonderment, and I wish it would be applied to all fields and all of the time. It has no horrors, anywhere that I have ever seen. It just is not done, except maybe by those of us, like me. And it seems most people say, they cannot understand what I say. They do however, and have always accepted the results I have given them, because that they can understand.

  8. I find this post very interesting, and would like to know some of your ideas on this really complex issue. Do you mind if I ask you short questions in a more or less back-and-forth manner?

      • First off, how do you define the terms sex and gender? Are they interchangeable? Are they essentially or accidentally properties of the human person?

        • Ooo, tough question. Well, I define SEX as an apparent physiological reality (basically, what you are labeled based on your genitalia – male for a penis and female for a vagina) as well as sometimes the underlying chromosomal structure (xx for females, xy for males). I define GENDER as a broader, deeper concept that gets into a persons PERSONHOOD – who they are in relation to God, themselves, and other people. Gender is usually defined as the social reality of sex. Science is increasingly showing it is also a neurological reality. I argue that it is also a SPIRITUAL reality. So to me gender is the psycho-spiritual identity of a person as a man or woman before God (or alternatively as spiritually masculine, feminine, or in-between).

          Which is essential: sex or gender? Well, I’ve never really caught onto what Aristotle means by these distinctions just because the line between matter and form (or accidents and essence) seems so vague, and I’m not sure anyone in the Middle Ages ever really agreed on how to interpret the relationship between the two. That being said, I think that GENDER is the essential reality – who the person is on the level of soul or spirit. SEX is determined by accidental properties – whether a person is primarily physically masculine or feminine. Of course, this doesn’t mean that biological sex doesn’t matter. As a Catholic, I believe we as human beings are hylomorphic – body AND soul, not a ghost in a bodily machine. Our bodies somehow reflect (or incarnate) our spiritual essence in a real way. So the sex of our bodies tells us SOMETHING real about ourselves. However, genitalia and chromosomes are not the whole story. For one thing, if I have male genitalia and a female brain, both the genitalia and the brain are PHYSICAL and have to be taken into account as part of my “bodily identity” – and therefore only by looking at BOTH aspects of my body can we get a clue into my spiritual identity. And I think that the brain (more so than the genitals) points to my underlying spiritual reality. After all, Scripture is rife with using “head” and “heart” as symbols for a person’s divine reality, and the “loins” as symbols of sinfulness or lowliness.

          And as important as the body is, at the end of the day if there’s a fight between the body and soul, it seems pretty clear from Christ and the whole history of Christian theology that the soul wins out in the hierarchy of the human person. Christ says “do not fear the one who can kill the body, but rather the one who can kill both body and soul in Hell.”

          I hope that answered your question.

        • I would suggest that it may be fruitful to look further into the difference between matter and form; it is a vital one, and unless one properly understands hylomorphism, one is prone to lapse into a sort of dualism regarding body and soul. The two cannot properly be separated except in abstraction. Matter, according to Aristotle, is the principle by which things change and forms are instantiated. Thus, the physical shape (intelligibility, structure, etc.) of a thing is not merely part of the body. Any “fight between the body and the soul” is, from the classical perspective, an instance of a form being improperly instantiated in a being. (As a result of sin, most likely.)
          Now, another question: you believe that the sexual organs are important in discovering one’s “spiritual gender”, correct? But that the brain is more important? Would you be content to give your approval to the following formulation of your position:
          Essence (E) is determined by sexual organs (G) and the brain/psychological states (B). If G is female, then E is female, unless B is male. If G is male, then E is male, unless B is female.

        • (I should probably specify that the views on hylemorphism I presented are my own formulation-I won’t claim to be speaking directly for Aquinas. Also, I realize that the soul is obviously separated from the body on death; but, in my view, a human soul cannot be easily proven to subsist after separation from matter. Not through natural philosophy, anyways.)

        • AS to the difference between matter and form, I was wondering if you could explain it yourself. My problem is that every Aristotilean I ask doesn’t really seem to have a clear answer. What does it MEAN that form resides in the matter? Is the form identical to the matter as a whole? Is it simply the impression the mind gives to coherency? Is it the form in God’s mind? But then we’re becoming Neoplatonists. Where do you draw the line with what has form? This chair has a form. What about the arm of the chair? What about the splinter of the arm? What about a molecule of wood? What about the carbon atom? What about the electrons of the carbon atom? What about the quarks? If all these have form, and the form resides in the matter, then aren’t we just saying that a thing is what it is? This seems like a needed commonsense view perhaps, but it’s a tautology. Are we just playing word games? What do we MEAN by these things? We’re talking about the intelligibility and identity of things, but WHERE does this intelligibility and identity really come from?

        • “Any “fight between the body and the soul” is, from the classical perspective, an instance of a form being improperly instantiated in a being. (As a result of sin, most likely.)”

          Do Aquinas, Aristotle, or the commentators ever talk about this
          “improper instantiation” directly? I’m fascinated and would like to learn more.

        • Your questions are good and I would recommend seeking answers in the many books which have been written upon conceptualism, realism, nominalism, hylemorphism, philosophy of science, philosophy of being, etc.

          These are the basic Aristotelian/Thomistic answers.

          Form–can be understood as the principle of intelligibility.
          Matter–can be understood as the principle of change and instantiation.
          When we perceive an object via the senses, we intentionally-become its form. “Intentional being” is a principle which provides an alternative to Cartesianism.
          Form residing in matter means a form being instantiated in matter to become a material substance. I cannot myself explain instantiation in any terms other than as it is because it seems to me to be non-discursive.
          No, form is not identical to matter as a whole. Form can exist without matter, matter cannot exist without form. (Aquinas would use the angels as an example of form without matter.)
          As to what I myself believe, like I said, I would interpret matter as being the principle of change and instantiation of forms, which are primary to matter. I myself tend towards idealism and phenomenology and so I will not claim to speak for Aristotle or Aquinas, because I am not sure that I agree with them. I would recommend, if you are interested, turning to Aristotle’s original works if you are interested in his definitions. (Physics and Metaphysics would be good.) Surely he can explain his own thinking far better than I can.
          Regardless, I would interpret, with the little philosophical knowledge I have, form as existing as fully actualized and by-analogy-intentionally in the mind of God, with our limited, intentional Life-Worlds participating in objective reality via the acts of the senses and intellect. If I am a neo-Platonist I do not particularly mind; I care about what is true, not what individual philosophers said.
          In my opinion, the basic premises of atomism have some validity. Modern physics is attempting to resolve whether there is some fundamental particle, which may or may not have relevance to the discussion. (Look up quantum foam.) If there is an elementary particle or even numbers of them they would be a composites of matter and form. Matter cannot exist without form, form can exist without matter. I am inclined to believe that certain sub-atomic particles do in fact constitute the smallest possible matter-form composites.Things which posses form, e.g. atoms, quarks, can make up larger things which also posses form. This does not mean that the form of the larger thing made up from atoms/quarks is any less a form than the smaller ones.

          These questions are very interesting and are worth exploring, but at a certain level become irrelevant to the issue of transgenderism once the basic principles and their implications have been mastered. Again, I would not myself look to the internet on matters of epistemology or metaphysics; I would start with introductory books written on the subjects and then read the primary sources. That’s my two cents, anyways.
          Yes, Aquinas discusses evil, form, creation, etc. at some length. Such ideas are deeply ingrained in his philosophy. Improper instantiation is a way of saying “material evil”. I would recommend Edward Feser’s book on Aquinas, or just reading Aquinas: Part I of the Summa, Q. 44-49 would be a good place to start.

          A basic way to understand it is as such: there is a way a dog ought to be (the form towards which it is inclined by its essence). When a dog has six legs instead of four, it is improperly instantiated. It may still be a dog, but it is in some sense a bad (or evilly made) dog. (Obviously this isn’t saying that the dog is morally evil, but it does stray from its proper form.)

  9. Very interesting. It’s nice to hear someone use the term hylomorphic–I’ve seen too many confused Cartesians on the internet fighting about brain vs. mind to not be happy about seeing that. 🙂
    Would you be willing to clarify what you think is the actual essence of either gender? What does it mean (essentially) to be a woman/man? Also, what are some characteristics of a “female brain”/soul which would help us to define a person’s “gender” as opposed to “sex”, assuming the gender/sex dichotomy to be philosophically valid?
    One more thing: we would both be agreeing if we defined “soul” as the form of the body, correct?

    • The truth is I have no idea what defines someone as essentially male/female, man/woman, or masculine/feminine. I’m not even entirely sure what the distinction between these 3 sets of terms are. It’s very difficult to define masculinity and femininity without spiraling into unhelpful stereotypes.

      Yes, i would agree that the soul is the form of the body, but again I’m not entirely sure that we really have any idea what this means practically speaking. I guess the best answer I have to both the question of essence and the question of how the soul is formally related to the body is that our form is that which we will become eschatologically. I think for a Christian the question really boils down to who we are in the eternal/teleological sense. The truth is that we have no idea how “the Sons of God will be revealed” in heaven, but we can begin to guess and conjecture. Maybe the easiest way to say what I want to say is that I believe in Heaven transgender people will be perfected as the gender they feel themselves to be.

      As far as specific characteristics that might define a person’s brain as male or female, a study by Zhou et. al. observed that “the volume of the central subdivision of the bed nucleus of the stria terminals (BSTc), a brain area that is essential for sexual behaviour, is larger in men than in women. A female-sized BSTc was found in male-to-female transsexuals. The size of the BSTc was not influenced by sex hormones in adulthood and was independent of sexual orientation”
      (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7477289). You can read more here: http://www.transgendercare.com/medical/hormonal/brain_sex_diff.htm. The brains of men and women can have various levels of feminization and masculinization, but a man with a feminine brain or vice versa doesn’t necessarily mean they are transgender. It seems that gender identity is encoded specifically in the hypothalamus. The problem is that so far we can only study this part of the brain through post-mortem autopsy, which means we can’t test living trans people to determine if they have a neurological “justification” for their identity.

      • I wholeheartedly agree that it is hard to define masculinity/femininity in terms that avoid stereotypes; however, do you not agree that it is vital that we DO figure out the essence of man and woman? After all, you do seem to imply that certain people can know themselves to be actually men or actually women despite their bodies being male or female. Surely you have a criterion by which one can declare this? It seems to me that you are suggesting that brain structure or psychological functioning is this criterion. Is this in fact the case? Also, I have taken enough psych and neurology classes to find the neuroscience articles you brought up to be very interesting. Thank you for them 🙂 But could you be more specific, that is, describe masculinity and femininity in non-neuroscientific terms? If you do not want to make broad overgeneralizations, could you tell me what leads you personally to believe that you are really a woman in spite of being biologically male? (I am guessing that you didn’t use a brain scan.)
        It is good that you brought up teleology, because it is without a doubt very important to these issues. What do you view as the end (“telos”) of sexuality? Also, would you agree with Aquinas and Aristotle that the final cause is the chief among the causes, the “cause of causes” as it were?

        • To answer two of your questions.

          (1) What led me to believe that I am really a woman? That’s the problem. Nothing “led” me to the conclusion; it’s a starting premise. It’s not like I woke up one day and made a table of my characteristics and then said “well I must be a girl.” It’s a deep, nagging, existential knowledge or self-perception. It’s that simple (at least for me). And it just got to the point – practically speaking – that I couldn’t go on just pretending this all away and trying to live as a guy.

        • (2) What is the end of sexuality? Well, as Peter Kreeft points out in his enumeration of Theology of the Body, sex isn’t just something we “do”, it’s also something we “are.” As something we do, its end is procreation and union – in other words, a relationship bearing good fruit. I think “being” gendered also has the same end – relationship bearing fruit. Some people say gender is a social reality. I somewhat agree insofar as gender is our intersocial reality. We exist as a person TO God, TO others, and TO ourselves. My gender is who I am to God. My gender identity is who I am to myself. My gender expression is who I am to other people. I guess what I’m saying is that I think all three of these should line up. My gender identity seems pretty immutable, plus I believe that it already lines up with how God sees me, so the next step is to make my gender expression (physical and social) line up with the first two so that I can have right relationship with my body and other people.

        • (1) This will probably come across as offensive (it is not meant as such), but would you be willing to re-read your own post and remove references to “sex/gender/man/woman/male/female” and replace them with “species/’inner species’/turtle/human/rational animal/sensory animal”? “I am really a turtle because it is a starting premise. I may have the body of a human but I am spiritually a turtle. God intended me to be a turtle.” Do you see one of the problems I am having?
          Further, it does not seem right to me to suggest that an appeal to intuition is valid when the intuition is contradicted by deductive and inductive evidence derived from more numerous and more primary intuitions, e.g. metaphysical principles and empirical evidence. It is entirely possible for an intuition, even a deeply held one, to be wrong. Paranoid schizophrenics have intuitions and people who believe that 2+2=5 have intuitions, but that does not mean that their intuitions are correct.
          Furthermore, when one thinks deeply upon this intuition that one is a woman when all other evidence points to the contrary, one must wonder what one means by “woman”. A woman is a concrete, definable reality, and to say that one feels that one is a woman when one is evidently not is unintelligible. It is like saying that a square is a circle “deep down”. The only way out, I believe, is to suggest that the true essence of a “woman” is “how one feels”, not on any externally available fact. (e.g. brain structure, reproductive organs.) But this is subjectivism and dualism, and entails more numerous problems than I care to enumerate here.
          You seemed to be grasping at some form of essentialism earlier, when you implied that brain/psychological differences probably constitute the essence of one’s gender. But this belief is utterly incompatible with the belief that an existential “I feel like a woman” constitutes one’s *real* gender. You seem to be adopting the position of Jean-Paul Sartre, that “Existence precedes essence”, or that one’s own subjective desires define what one is, not concrete reality. And I am not criticizing this; Sartre may very well be correct. But you can’t have him alongside Aristotle and Aquinas, who were both essentialists. One or the other must be wrong.
          (2) Yes on much of this. But sex (both as the act of intercourse and as the physical constitution of one’s body) is primarily oriented towards reproduction. Relationships, intimacy, etc. are subordinate to and complement the end of reproduction. Even biologically pre-ordained secondary sex characteristics (which include psychological makeup) serve the end of reproduction when they are properly ordered. (Even evolutionary theory will attest to this.) Thus, according to the Thomistic/natural law theory of ethics, SRS is always wrong because it deprives the body of the ability to reproduce, which a good and end-in-itself, and because SRS is unneeded mutilation. (Additionally, it disrupts God’s plan; the possession of male or female genitals clearly indicates a design which is disrupted.)
          Following Aquinas, an intuition which contradicts reality must be interpreted as an improper ordering of the cosmos–a psychological disorder. I realize that this is a sensitive issue, and know that I am not meaning to offend or to “be right”, but the feeling that one is a woman when one is not (i.e. possesses a male body) constitutes a disorder of thinking, even if the intuition is strongly held. As such, Aquinas would, were he alive today, insist that treating such a malady would involve psychological care, not changing one’s body. One’s body is not bad or evilly made simply because one has a pre-disposition leads one to believe so; for limited humans, only reason can find the essence of things.
          I’m still not saying one way or another whether I think you are right or wrong about transgenderism. But under the premises of Aristotelian/Thomistic philosophy, I still cannot see how your position squares; not because I do not want to, but because it does not logically seem to follow.

        • “I cannot myself explain instantiation in any terms other than as it is because it seems to me to be non-discursive.”

          This is sort of what I mean by my frustration with anyone being able to concretely answer the most basic question of Aristotle’s formulation.


          I don’t have a problem with being a Neoplatonist either, as my own philosophy is a shifting mix of Platonism, existentialism, and possibly phenomenology (with a dash of Leibniz). I think as humans we have a very irreducibly subjective experience of the world, and our link to objectivity is through our subjective relationship with the person of Christ, who is the objective Logos. The objective truth is that which is in the mind of God, and we have direct access to the mind of God only through Christ.

          But as a Roman Catholic I feel obliged to tackle things with Thomism in mind. I have a huge soft spot for Aquinas since not only is he my confirmation saint, but his writing really is spectacular.

          I think form resides in the mind of God, and we have limited access to that form because we are gifted with reason, which naturally reflects the very intelligibility that is in God and that gives intelligibility to the world. If I were an atheist, I would believe in some sort of relativism where the mind creates the forms entirely on its own. What I don’t understand is how the form of a chair could exist without a chair, and how the matter of chair can have form in it, without there being a higher Mind determining that this otherwise arbitrary arrangement of wood is intelligible as a chair and as part of the category of chairs. In the case of a chair and other man-made objects, I think the intelligibility could come solely from the mind of man in that we confer intelligibility on it by conceiving it as a category and constructing it for the end of sitting.


          As far as the implications of Aquinas’ view, I would agree that his philosophy implies that transgenderism is a disorder in some way, as it would imply that visibly intersexed people are disordered. This is where I personally depart from Aquinas because I think being intersexed or transgender can be an inherently beautiful thing willed by God. Plus, I think the Passion and Death of Our Lord radically altered the fabric of the universe by making precisely our weaknesses, deformities, and lackings the place where salvation occurs. And Christ had an impossible contradiction/tension in his being since he was both fully God and fully Man, but this incarnation was the very height of all creation and sanctifies the tension of paradox.

          However, to play ball with Aquinas, if there is a conflict between the matter and form, there must be some improper insubstatiation of the form in matter. If the mind and the body are in conflict, then since order implies harmony, there must be some sort of disorder between the two. The question is which side of the conflict is “correct” in its assertions. From a practical point of view, the body is fixable on this issue whereas the mind is not, so if harmony is the goal, the only earthly way we know to resolve the disharmony is to bring the body closer to the mind, whether through hormones or surgery or lifestyle change. All attempts at “reparative therapy” have failed thus far.

          Is it possible for the majority of the body to be “disordered” according to the Thomist view? Yes, since there exist intersex men who have xy chromosomes, identify as men, but because of an androgen insensitivity syndrome develop physically as female. In this case the person’s gender is pretty conclusively male even though they have a body with an extremely feminine form.


          Let me rehash the gender/sex distinction for a second. Really it’s a matter of ingredients to being 100% male or female. The broad category of a person’s gendered reality contains many elements: chromosomes, genitalia, gonads, secondary sex characteristics, gender expression, hormones, brain sex, gender identity, and masculinity/femininity. It’s not that there is a dichotomy between sex and gender, but that within this list of categories there must be some sort of hierarchy if we want to determine who a person is. The limits of various theologians writing in the past has been how many of these ingredients they are privy to, or how they see them in relation to sex differences. When we say “sex,” we are generally referring to only one or two of these categories: genitalia and sometimes chromosomes. When we talk about gender, we are either talking about our psycho-spiritual and social reality (gender identity and expression), or we are talking about the big picture of who the person IS given this amalgam of ingredients.

          The problem with some of the Church Fathers is that since they have the Greek unisex conception of gender, they see women as inherently disordered. They see both physical sex and spiritual gender on a spectrum, where a person can fall short physically by failing to develop fully as a man, or spiritually by forsaking manly virtue for womanly vice. This is interesting because their view of sex/gender is almost as complicated and spectronized as the modern one, but the main difference is they see ANYTHING OTHER than a stoic man as being disordered or imperfect.

          I don’t know what the Thomist perspective would be in particular, but I know that medieval theology and natural science also had a complicated view of sex/gender. For example, for a “hermaphrodite” (what we now call intersex), their ultimate sex was determined by their gender inclinations – their inner nature as “passive” or “active.” They were allowed to participate in sexual intercourse as long as they stuck to one strict role as being exclusively active on the top as a man or exclusively passive on the bottom as a woman for life. Their natural inclination/preference pointed to their true gender. (I’d give you the name of my source for this, but I lost track of it and need to find it again). The genital dichotomy of penis vs. vagina (and subsequently xy vs. xx chromosomes) is a modern invention of the late Enlightenment which reduces gender to a purely physical dichotomy. It was part of the agenda of materialism and a Newtonian worldview, not from the Christian tradition.


          “would you be willing to re-read your own post and remove references to “sex/gender/man/woman/male/female” and replace them with “species/’inner species’/turtle/human/rational animal/sensory animal”?”

          I would not be willing because you can’t equivocate the two kinds of claims. There aren’t humans born with turtle shells on their back, but there ARE humans born with both sets of genitalia. There exists no spectrum between man and turtle, such as intelligent turtles, turtle-men, were-turtles, and bipedal turtles. But between man and woman there is a fantastic spectrum with every possible variation represented. There are xy males who develop physically as women; there are xx females who develop physically masculine. There are people born with indeterminable gonads (ovo-testes), with both sets of chromosomes in each cell (xxxy) or different chromosome pairs in every other cell (xx/xy). There are people who grow up one sex and then have the puberty of the other sex.

          A person who feels themselves to be a turtle won’t be found (presumably) to have a turtle brain upon dissection. A person who feels themselves to be the opposite sex very well may. And even if we don’t have the means to look at the brain, philosophically we can conjecture that the turtle man’s claim is impossible whereas the transgender person’s claim is within the realm of species possibility.
          Whenever a person has a physical mix of male and female elements, the paradox was resolved by observing the person’s identity. If the body can’t tell you who you are, then the soul can. It wasn’t until the 19th century that this issue was resolved purely on the basis of genitalia, and in the 20th century sex chromosomes came into the picture. Now we know that chromosomes are (sometimes disordered) blueprints for the body’s future development, but often are irrelevant to how the body actually develops. People keep trying to turn “essentialism” into “biological determinism,” but the two are hardly the same thing.

          Also, it’s worth noting that psychology finds trans* people to be markedly different than schizophrenics, dissasociative identity patients, and people suffering from severe delusion. As a rule we tend to be rational, as realistic about problems and solutions as any other sane person, and usually come to a psychologist in distress over a very real problem we need to face daily: that our experience of gender identity doesn’t match our perceived biological sex. If I assert an identity now, it’s not as some 100%-certain delusional and prideful up-yours assertion; it’s born after many sleepless nights of grappling spiritually and intellectually with my condition.

          On some level the claim that I’m crazy is irrefutable as much as a person’s claim that they are God is irrefutable. You can say “I think your crazy,” and at some point in the argument I’ll be forced to shrug and say “Perhaps. Hey, perhaps you’re crazy.” Certain catch’all accusations like insanity and demonic possession are really irrefutable. It ultimately amounts to knowing the person and trusting their sanity since we can never know a person’s inner state of mind for sure.

        • ==========================================
          “Further, it does not seem right to me to suggest that an appeal to intuition is valid when the intuition is contradicted by deductive and inductive evidence derived from more numerous and more primary intuitions, e.g. metaphysical principles and empirical evidence.”

          I see what you’re saying and I agree to some extent. But what do you mean by “more primary”? “More primary” to YOU? My empirical evidence is a lifetime of experiencing life as transgender, which I cannot help but believe points to a firm neurological reality given its robustness. And what metaphysic are you referring to that is primary and intuitive? As much as I love metaphysics, much of it is NOT intuitive – rather, it’s man grasping at the stars (a noble effort, but often hardly intuitive). And on a certain level my gender identity IS a metaphysical intuition. Other people looking at me may have an opposite metaphysical intuition about my nature, but the question is who is closer to the source. People outside of me certainly have a limited access to my formal reality through my outer appearance, and it seems that in this case I have much more direct access than them to my formal reality by also being directly attuned to my own brain, as well as BEING my own matter and form, since that’s what I AM.


          “Furthermore, when one thinks deeply upon this intuition that one is a woman when all other evidence points to the contrary, one must wonder what one means by “woman”. A woman is a concrete, definable reality, and to say that one feels that one is a woman when one is evidently not is unintelligible.”

          It again depends on what you are defining woman as. If woman is reducible to the term “female,” then whether you are a man or woman is determined solely by anatomic function and has no bearing on your personhood, spiritual activity, hormonal levels, and everything else. If, however, being a “man” or “woman” is a much larger reality, then different persons perhaps can fit into it in different ways or to different degrees. And when we talk about “man” or “woman,” we usually mean something vastly larger. We have implications for who a person is, what they want from life, how they express themselves, how they ought to interact with others, etc…

          Here’s a puzzle: So right now if I told someone “I am a woman,” they might object that I’m being dishonest in portraying myself as a woman because they then miss out on the fact that I was born with male genitalia. However, I could argue that if I told someone “I am a man,” the ONLY thing they’ve learned about me is my genitalia, NOTHING ELSE, and they are now missing out on (or I’m now being dishonest about) the entire rest of my being. And what really matters in almost every situation? Is it of utmost importance that my entire life and existence be a walking advertisement of my current reproductive potential? Why should my reproductive potential be relevant to 99.9999% of people? So important that signifying it must eclipse signifying the entire rest of my being? Part of the radicalness of Christ’s speech about eunuchs for the kingdom of God is that it frees man from the obligation to reproduce. Before Christ, all Jews more or less HAD to marry as an imperative vocation to be fruitful and physically multiply. Through celibacy man can exist, by vocation, simply for his own sake and before God, to reproduce spiritually and bring forth fruit of virtue.


          “But sex (both as the act of intercourse and as the physical constitution of one’s body) is primarily oriented towards reproduction.”

          This is not true either theologically or biologically.

          THEOLOGICALLY: Yes, it is true that for the majority of the Church’s history it has put exclusive focus on reproduction. But the Theology of the Body makes it clear that both union AND procreation are indispensible to sexuality. If you have union without procreation, you are in danger of lust. If you have procreation without intimacy, you are in danger of Old Testament sins like valuing a woman solely on her reproductive capacity. And Plato, St. Paul, and John Paul II agree that both union and procreation aren’t limited to carnal realities, but can include intellectual, spiritual, and social goods.

          ~“[B]ut they whose souls are far more pregnant than their bodies, conceive and produce that which is more suitable to the soul… Whosoever, therefore, from his youth feels his soul pregnant with the conception of these excellencies, is divine; and when due time arrives, desires to bring forth; and wandering about, he seeks the beautiful in which he may propagate what he has conceived” (Plato, Symposium)~

          BIOLOGICALLY: If you reduce Darwin to simple propagation of the races, then you’re right. But if you have a fuller view of evolution, then reproduction isn’t its only mechanism. Evolution works based on the survival and propagation of a species, which includes fertility and breeding as well as species survival and the “common good” of the pack. The better animals in the same species work together, the better the species does as a whole. In the animal world, creatures not only have sex to procreate, but also to create bonding relationships between individual animals in order to solidify the pack.

          ALSO: What is the telos of the female clitoris? In the middle ages, since sex was assumed to only be about reproduction, it was assumed that female orgasm is necessary to the conception of a baby. However, this is patently false, and was disproved in the 1700s (or thereabouts) when a woman got pregnant after being raped while unconscious. The end (telos) of the clitoris is sexual pleasure, and the end of sexual pleasure is to bring together people in union (and perhaps is a good in of itself). At this point you could retreat to the reductionistic Darwinian view and argue that the end of drawing people together in union is to reproduce, but from a Christian perspective this isn’t necessarily true. The command to “be fruitful and multiply” came AFTER God saw that “it is not good for man to be alone” and then made Adam and Eve for each other. The first end of sexuality, the reason for an existence of difference of sex, seems to be that humanity cannot be alone but must be in union with/for the Other. God commands that the union bring forth fruit, but the union comes first.


          “Thus, according to the Thomistic/natural law theory of ethics, SRS is always wrong because it deprives the body of the ability to reproduce, which a good and end-in-itself, and because SRS is unneeded mutilation. (Additionally, it disrupts God’s plan; the possession of male or female genitals clearly indicates a design which is disrupted.)”

          I would hardly call SRS an unneeded mutilation. People who undergo SRS do so often when they’ve reached their last resort and all other resources have run out. “It is better to lose one member than have the entire thrown into Gehenna.” Often it saves them from suicide. If something is cancerous, it is removed even if it is an otherwise healthy and useful body part, in order to preserve the whole. SRS isn’t merely cosmetic; it helps the body and mind align in a thereafter more harmonious manner. Some studies in neurobiology have suggested that our brains have maps of our body, or at least how our body ought to be. For example, if a person’s limb is amputated, they will experience phantom limb syndrome because their mind still maps a limb as being there. If a man has his genitals cut off, he experiences phantom penis syndrome. Studies show that MtF transpeople often do not experience phantom penis syndrome after SRS, whereas FtM transpeople often have a history of experiencing phantom penis syndrome despite never having a penis. This implies that their body map is of the opposite gender.

          The other alternative to excising the genitals is to excise the brain, which seems much more morally dubious.


          “the possession of male or female genitals clearly indicates a design which is disrupted.”

          Couldn’t the possession of a male or female brain also clearly indicate a design which is hitherto disrupted? Why the priority on genitalia? What about women who have a female brain, female gender identity, uterus, xx chromosomes, and have a penis? Does the penis clearly indicate a design which is disrupted by the rest of her being?

          Or take the example of Katie, the intersex girl who appeared on Oprah. Does her xy chromosomes clearly dictate a design which was disrupted, or does her female identity and morphology?


          “One’s body is not bad or evilly made simply because one has a pre-disposition leads one to believe so”

          I’ve never asserted that my body is bad or evilly made. I’m sure many people with dwarfism would assert that their body is in fact good and well made even if it poses obstacles and is, according to a Thomist perspective, “disordered.” However, like a cisgender woman who has a hormonal disorder which causes her to grow a beard, I wish to correct the biological imbalance and be able to live a more harmonious, ordered life. If I despised my body, I would join some Vedic religion or Gnostic cult and seek to transcend the material world entirely. But since I love my body and see it as integral to my being, I wish to cultivate it like a garden so that it physically actualizes toward a more authentic potential, which will allow me to bear fruit in the world with greater ease, as myself, and in right relationship with others.

        • “Other people looking at me may have an opposite metaphysical intuition about my nature, but the question is who is closer to the source. People outside of me certainly have a limited access to my formal reality through my outer appearance, and it seems that in this case I have much more direct access than them to my formal reality by also being directly attuned to my own brain, as well as BEING my own matter and form, since that’s what I AM.”

          A further thought on this. A delusional person to a certain extent lacks full access to their reality as other people perceive it. Their outer reality is entirely swallowed by their inner reality. So a turtle-man may actually feel his body actively to be shaped like a turtle, and that other people perceive him to be a turtle. I have the same access to my body as other people do (or at least similar access), and I am fully aware of what my body is to other people, how it appears, its current morphology, its implications, etc. This is what gender dysphoria and dysmorophia IS. It’s the acute awareness of living in this horrible tension. So the turtle-man may only have access to his mind and observers may only have access to his body, but I would argue that I have access to both my mind and body. And people who take the time to get access to transgender minds (psychologists) tend to conclude that transgender people seem sane.

        • It is true that on extremely fine points Aristotle and Aquinas may be interpreted in different fashions, but as regards the basics and the essentials of Thomistic/Aristotelian thought, there is widespread agreement concerning their systems. I didn’t say that you have to accept “the whole package”, but if you want to accept the vast majority of it you have to accept the basics, which do not deductively allow us to condone a transgender lifestyle. And once you have thrown out the inconvenient aspects of Thomas and Aristotle, i.e. the ones that do not conform to a transgender person’s intuition about being the wrong biological sex, then the whole system becomes much less credible, if not entirely unintelligible.
          To speak of “mechanisms” by which instantiation works is puzzling to me. Mechanism is not a concept relevant to the discussion, though in fairness it is not clear what you mean by mechanism. I myself cannot see how “mechanism” is needed in order to explain a simple principle of metaphysics; it’s like trying to explain the “mechanism” behind 2 + 2 = 4.
          The relationship between body and soul isn’t actually too mysterious or hard to define in a Thomistic or Aristotelian fashion, i.e. naturalistically. Perhaps if by “soul” you mean what most modern non-philosophers mean, then yes, it would be very hard to defend, but this is irrelevant. I suspect that you are still, whether you want to or not, thinking within a Cartesian framework; you are giving far more credit to Catholic theology than is really owed for “understanding the soul”. What, might I ask, is some question that Aristotle or Aquinas could not have answered without divine revelation? Even the immortality of the soul (Aquinas purports) can be established without appeal to Scripture. (Not sure if this is in fact true.)
          The problem with your statements about “monism” and “dualism” is that they reify something that really must not be reified; i.e. consciousness or “intentional being”. Consciousness is not a “thing”. The reason most Thomists do not wish to be called dualists (or add the qualification “hylomorphic”) is precisely this Cartesian inability to distinguish between form and matter and how they are related to being. I would suggest that, instead of thinking about the issue from a modern “philosophy of mind” perspective, you look at it in a more ontological sense.
          Aristotle’s thoughts about an afterlife are not clear. I do not personally believe that his system necessitates one, though it can allow one. But that doesn’t mean that Christian theology somehow came along and saved Aristotle from his own internal inconsistency, or from something he “couldn’t explain”; they more or less added to it without changing many of the principles.
          Stoics were not dualists.
          Your views on transgenderism are necessarily incompatible with a hylomorphic dualism, given what Catholic theology, classical philosophy, and common sense say about the purpose of sex. If you do not agree with me, then there is nothing more that I can do to persuade you. I would suggest consulting actual Thomistic / Aristotelian scholars, if you are interested in the truth. Needless to say, I do not believe you will hear what you want to hear.
          I am not certain what prompted your rail against Aquinas. Obviously you are angry, but this Aquinas quote hadn’t even really come up, nor is it especially relevant. Obviously Aquinas was wrong about the empirical specifics concerning women’s abilities; anybody would have been in that day and age. But that doesn’t really change anything; the essence of Aquinas’ thought could just as well be found in the statement that “Men and women need each other primarily because otherwise they couldn’t reproduce.”
          The emphasis upon reproduction makes male genitalia just as much “baby making machines” as female genitalia. Thomistic philosophers and theologians admit to the goodness and importance of the unitive aspects of sex, but deny that they can be cut off from the procreative aspects. In this, I don’t think (based off of your last paragraph, there) that there is actually anything principled concerning the Thomistic tradition that we disagree upon. Sure, men and women are different in many wonderful ways, but that doesn’t change the fact that the purpose of reproductive organs is—shocker—to reproduce. Sex may also be unitive, but this can’t be used as an excuse for contraception, extra-marital sex, or a SRS.
          The same thing could be argued for a dwarf person. If we are talking about the material and efficient causes of dwarfism, we can talk about a hormonal imbalance or an in-utero “external influence,” and we can come up with the terms “disordered,” “defective,” or “misbegotten” to describe such a biological development. Now not even getting into the dubiousness of these terms being applied to something so essential to someone’s personhood, such an evaluation does not invalidate the person as being willed by God as that particular individual.
          Yes, Aquinas and Augustine did get a good ball rolling, but it doesn’t roll into a SRS room.
          Confirming that sex is a biological drive, which we share with animals and which is not contained in the Intellect or Will, is only degrading if you are Satan and you look down upon animals. (Angels have no gender precisely because they have no bodies.) That said, perhaps, indeed, the fact that humans are destined for eternity, have the ability to comprehend universals, and are able to choose between greater and lesser goods *does* elevate human sexuality above that of animals. But it doesn’t make man’s body an angel, it doesn’t make sex angelic, and it doesn’t make sex bad because it proceeds from the sensory soul instantiated in matter.
          A big difference between Platonists and Aquinas is that Aquinas acknowledges that even the lesser parts of the soul and the things they seek are good in themselves. Nothing is bad save for that which is disproportionate or ill-ordered (i.e. not in alignment with the perfection of God’s plan.)
          If you know the purposes of having bodies, sexes, genitalia, hair, toenails, appendices, etc. after the resurrection, great! I don’t, and would love to hear about it. If you even know what a resurrected body looks like*, you know more than anyone save God and the possibly the saints in heaven. But St. Paul takes a different attitude, which I need not mention.

          *(Remember, Jesus even seemed to be able to change His appearance in the Gospels after the resurrection, and it could be argued that His body need not be contained in physical space; hardly characteristics of nature as we know it.)

          To some degree “normalcy” and what is “natural” is interpreted as “statistically common”. What we are really interested in is “What is God’s will?” The fact that 99.99% of the human population thus far have been clearly male or female, and that male and female organs have clearly intelligible purposes, seems to indicate a divine plan. If not, then we have no means by which to determine what is God’s will, save by scripture and Church teaching, in which case we must abandon naturalistic ethics.
          Honestly, I don’t see how references to wrong past opinions about the sexes are of any relevance. Neither Aquinas nor Aristotle would have had to make huge changes to their philosophies if they had possessed the empirical data we have now.
          The perfection of either sex (or any nature whatsoever) lies in its ability to fulfil its functions. Thus, a good human being is one who aligns his will with God and is allowed to know God; the function of an eye is to see; the function of the genitals is to reproduce and unite, etc. Thus a hermaphrodite is only more perfect inasmuch as his or her natural human functions are fulfilled to a greater degree, but often reproduction can be inhibited, so it is unlikely that hermaphrodites tend, as a rule, towards being better human beings.
          So, is this a final, definite description of the “essence” of sex: the hypothalamus? If so, you should have just said it. As a matter of fact, as a core principle for your philosophy of sex, you should say it often; you should be loud and proud about it. You should tell the Church and the government, and should try to get the definition of sex changed from “the alignment of one’s genitals” to “a brain structure”. But what if one is happy living as a male or female, but has the hypothalamus of the opposite sex? Should we force this person to identify as the sex of their brain? You have pinned the essence not on the genitals, but on the brain? In this case, we will still have transsexuals; people who are happy living as one sex or another, but whose brains are not good enough to be male or female.
          Yes, it does. True, the Church has never officially declared Aristotle / Aquinas to be doctrine, but to dismiss their worldviews indicates an oblivious attitude towards official Church teachings; if you read the Catechism and do not believe that N.E., ST, etc. are almost fundamental to the Church’s understanding, then you cannot read a text.
          Their metaphysics of sexuality would not be changed by correct empirical data because metaphysics do not, largely, rely on such empirics. Give clear examples as to what psychological, physiological, neurological, or sociological data says otherwise and how it pans out logically. (Such data by definition cannot alter metaphysical principles, though.) I know that they both posited certain wrong empirical ideas concerning the sexes, but these are not essential to their philosophy any more than geocentrism was.
          The category of the transsexual is, I would say, likely different from these other categories, perhaps in subtle ways. But one way or another it does not matter; Aquinas and Aristotle and the Church didn’t really discuss the matter directly, with the few instances in which they did being more practical in nature. But what they would have said is easy to see, because it follows from logical, defined principles which, once one understands and abandons one’s Cartesian worldview, become easy to follow.
          A fundamentalist reading of Genesis is hardly what philosophers would talk about. The sociological reasons for transsexuality not being accepted are irrelevant, though, for determining the ethics and metaphysics behind transsexuality.
          “Androcentrism” may be wrong, it is not relevant to the morality or immorality of transgenderism.
          It is hard to see how the faith can be overly rational if both faith and reason are from God.
          Certain categories are qualitative, not quantitative. Thus, one is either human or not, male or not, existent or non-existent. The classification “male” does not, thus, become less meaningful. It is qualitative, not quantitative. If he is male then he is male, if she is female, then she is female. He or she may exhibit a certain quantity of typically male or female characteristics, “femininity” vs. “masculinity”, but these are accidental and do not change his essence. How would it be to tell a less stereotypically masculine boy that he is “less meaningfully male” than others in the class?
          I formulated it as inane because it is inane.

          In this case, you have changed your position towards “existence and essence”. This is good, but you are now stuck with hypothalamus-essentialism, which is a form of the “biological-determinism” you criticized earlier.
          Androcentrism is very bad, but it does not factor into this discussion. It is an extraneous red-herring. I am not androcentric, but I still see how A/T/CC’s principles do not allow for much of what you proposed. (I could be a woman, for all you know; in fact, you would apparently need to scan my hypothalamus to know.)
          To some degree, all of reasoning is based off of intuitions. Some things are discursive (known through reason), some are non-discursive (known through intuition). Nobody has devalued intuition, but it one intuition does not stand up against all others, it must be discarded.

          No, you have changed this intuition from being a “first principle” to an “emotionally motivated assumption”. The two are not equivalent. The people in my example have no hatred of transgender people, they just have the same intuition you have, only opposite.
          Yes, good! Some intuitions are to be trusted more than others. My point was that you are trusting this one intuition, which is apparently finds its bodily origin in the hypothalamus (loosely speaking), over the ones that lead to the principles of much of logic, matter/form, act/potency, philosophy, etc.
          I do not understand what you mean by “spiritual essentialism”. I will ponder this, re-read what you have posted, and address it in another post.
          No, because the brain structure of a transsexual is a disordered anomaly, whereas the genitals are not.

          If I dropped the word, ‘merely’, then you would have no basis for this paragraph. But to nit-pick, I will say that a fuller definition of “form” does in fact entail that they can exist separately from the body. Angels are just this; forms without bodies. Aquinas is Aristotelian, but in many ways have much in common with Augustine.
          No, one with a dwarfish body will probably be free from that after the Resurrection, though in honesty Catholic theology has little idea (by its own admission) about what Resurrected bodies are like. Dwarfism is not an essence but a perversion of an essence.
          No, these views are not “monistic”, because “monism” and “dualism” are by and large considered, by most Catholic thinkers, a bad idea. They belong to the Cartesian/Analytic “philosophy of mind”, which can be destroyed by more careful ontology. If you disagree, I would advise that you turn to Edward Feser’s “Philosophy of Mind”; it is by a modern Analytic Thomist who is about as friendly to “philosophy of mind” as genuine Thomists will get. My quote about the body and soul being nearly inseparable is straight from Feser.
          Well, obviously emotion cannot be fully stripped from a human being, but one can attempt to be more or less dispassionate based on how committed one is to truth. I did not compare transgender people to turtles; I compared them to people who think that they ought to be turtles. If this is a logically inappropriate comparison, then you must show me how it is so, and I will stand corrected.
          Obviously, your emotions are starting to come out. I do apologize if I’ve said anything that has looked offensive or insensitive. I like discussions and like both learning and trying to persuade other people on things that I think are true. Obviously I’m only doing a good job on one of those counts.
          Now, I’m not judging or criticizing, but I would further like to humbly suggest that at times you seem to accuse other people of “hating” your lifestyle, of having “emotionally driven commitments”, and of doing bad reasoning because of passion. Please try to understand how that may come across, if you are too emotional in the discussion.
          I don’t care to go into why “essence precedes existence” is meaningful, if we basically seem to agree on the implications. Given your hypothalamus model of the essence of sex, you are clearly not diving into an emotional / mystical existentialism which regards sex as “what you feel”.
          I would not agree that God gave us radical freedom, not, at least, as some understand it. We do have free choice—NOT free will, as many insist—but it is often limited and some people have no freedom whatsoever in this life.
          I am writing a play about Kierkegaard. 
          As to De Beauvoir, her quote may be construed have a certain emotional or practical significance, but as a metaphysical statement, it is non-sense.

          Some things, while not wrong in themselves, may be curbed by human law or custom, and law and custom should be respected in curbing them. For instance, there is nothing in principle wrong with me running around naked shouting “I AM THE WALRUS!”, but it is reasonable that society should prohibit me from doing so, and that if I do so, I have earned the stigma attached to such behavior.
          Now, in themselves, many societal norms surrounding gender are more-or-less arbitrary (social expression, dress, voice, name, pronouns). However, human beings do not live by themselves, and as such, some behaviors would probably more often than not cause scandal—a harm to society. Mainly, people would often assume that cross-dressers, etc. were perverts. (Such people do exist—I know this from experience.) Further, non-sexual crossdressing looks like it is “giving in” to a disorder which could have been avoided. Certainly crossdressers do not need to crossdress in order to live, while disordered people in wheelchairs need wheelchairs to get around. Crossdressing, etc. would thus provide scandal in that (a) people would assume that they were perverts, (b) it would look like they are condoning or taking pride in a disorder.
          People who tell you that your being resides in your genitals are wrong. Ignore them. They are stupid. Your sex does reside in your genitals. Your sex is one part of your personhood and is very good and important.
          You should read Chapter 5 of Mark Lowery’s “Living the Good Life”; it provides a nice overview of what constitutes church teaching, what is “infallible”, etc.
          Quotations from a few OP’s does not contradict the preponderance of evidence regarding the views of the Church on sexuality. An appeal to authority is the weakest of appeals; as is well-recognized, it is probably possible to find a Jesuit or priest who will say anything.
          Further, even if, in some rare circumstances, SRS could be justified (only a proportionalist can actually argue this) it does not follow that transgenderism, a “third sex”, hypothalamic essentialism, etc. actually follow as legitimate views.
          “Woman defines the characteristics, not the characteristics woman. And this isn’t an existential view, it’s actually an essential view.”
          I agree 100%. I could not have said it better myself.
          Definitions cannot, by definition, be composed only of accidents. An essence is, *in a certain sense*, nothing other than a definition. (A “limiting-down”).
          I am not an expert on JP II, but I would like to think that he was more reflective than to be simply be willing to say “No” to something without basing it off thought. Would St. JP II have said, “No, certainly not!—oh…wait. Yeah, no that’s ok.” No, probably not.
          Christopher West’s bible-school version is accurate, whether or not it is simplistic or stupid-sounding.
          We would not have sexuality without being animals. See above on how being an animal is a good thing.
          I am say nothing about what I believe. I am saying what follows from reason, if you accept the Catholic / Aristotelian position, about which I have nothing to say regarding legitimacy. For all it matters, I could be an atheist.
          Essentialism is “deterministic”, in a way, by definition. If you have an essence, then at that moment, at that place, you are indeed determined to have that essence. If God gave you a certain essence, you have that essence. You can’t “will” your way out of being some things.
          Sex and gender is superfluous and is indeed unsupportable by the traditions of the Church and philosophy.
          I did not say that intuition is to be excluded. Depending on what we mean by “intuition”, it may form the basis for reason. Intuitions can be wrong, though. (I intuit the principle of non-contradiction, I do not prove it. If one disagrees with it then I do not talk to them. “I ought to be a turtle” can be an intuition, but evidently it is wrong.)

          I must wait to finish, but from what I have seen, you have not answered my turtle-man analogy, now that it has been clarified. Apologies if somewhere you did—I must return later.
          A cursory glance of the rest, though, indicates that your thinking seems, and I do stress SEEMS, to be taking much more license concerning what practicing Catholics may or may not believe than it should. You should look into Catholic moral theology and teachings on teaching; simply because something is not “defined” does not mean that it is not taught, and simply because it looks like there are ‘loopholes’ does not mean that you can jettison common opinion and philosophically demonstrable conclusions.
          More later.

        • I still do not have time for a full response, but since I myself have not drawn on authority or posted many links yet, (except for vaguely citing the authority of the Church, Aristotle, and Thomas) I’ll start “bringing out the big guns”:

          http://www.ncbcenter.org/page.aspx?pid=1287 (National Catholic Bioethics Center–hardly to be ignored if you are genuinely interested in Catholic teaching.)

          National_Catholic_Bioethics_Center (An organization of this stature can, I think, be said to speak on behalf of the Church as much as any lay person; when they advise the USCCB, you have to take them seriously.)

          http://ncronline.org/news/vatican-says-sex-change-operation-does-not-change-persons-gender (Obviously you probably already agree with this to some extent, but it seems puzzling that the Church would talk about this from a genital perspective if the essence of sex is the hypothalamus / other brain structures / subjective feelings.)

          Much of Rizzi’s article is simply common sense — at least, sense that should be common among Catholic philosophers — but hopefully this can clarify a few things, especially given that the original post was on the four causes.


          Now, finally, it is true that the Church has never officially defined “sex”. Part of the reason for this is that the Church generally tries to avoid defining things if they are considered obvious or if there is already widespread agreement over them. There is widespread agreement, not only in the Church, but in the non-religious community that sex is constituted by one’s capacity for reproduction. It is a basic and important assumption in society, and the fact that the Church has not questioned it says at least something. What it does not say, however, is that ‘silence’ on this matter indicates that the Church is dubious or that there is room for casual disagreement.

          One may claim that though the Church does seem to have a taught, if not defined, position on transsexualism, one can still disagree with it since it was not necessarily taught “infallibly”. But simply because the Church does not rubber-stamp something with “INFALLIBLE” does not mean that one can ignore it; Church teaching requires the assent of Intellect and Will. Anyways, in many cases such teachings are in fact considered infallible when they are universal teachings on matters of faith and morals, as SRS clearly is.

      • ——
        I’m sorry to hear that you cannot understand instantitation. I myself do not see the problem with it, so perhaps consider that you are looking at it from the wrong stance.
        You have some good metaphysical thoughts in paragraph 2. It is good that you keep Thomism in mind, but you are obligated to do justice to Thomism and to avoid construing it in a manner that suggests that it is other than it is. (Namely, that it can be used in support of the transgender lifestyle.)
        Thomas Aquinas deals directly with the question on woman in S. I Q. 92.
        As to paragraph 3, yes, it is possible for the majority of the body to be disordered. However, the basic differences between male and female are contained primarily in the part of the soul that we share with animals. This includes psychological characteristics and instincts. (I do not believe that women have inferior intellects or wills.) Thus what you mean by a female “mind” must be clarified. Further, one must support the claim that being intersexed pro ispe is willed by God, especially when the claim is contrary to a tradition and faith which one belongs to.
        We have difficulty in the third paragraph, because no, according to Aquinas one’s real sex would necessarily be determined by one’s genitals. This follows from his, and the Church’s, metaphysical outlook. They did not directly address the issue of “transgenderism” because it had not been created as a human category yet.
        I would be willing to look at the writings of any theologian who said that for hermaphrodites, sex is what you “feel” etc., but the orthodox answer is clear. The few discussions of hermaphrodites were doubtless in the context of practical matters and canon-law, neither of which are good places to look for a grounding for a philosophy of sex. Overall, medievals were not interested in hermaphrodites.

        Catholic teaching on sexuality and ethics stems from many sources, but not Newtonian materialism. You would have to extract evidence to the contrary–there is little–and erase Scholastic thought to have me convinced otherwise. “Biological determinism”, if by that you mean paying close attention to the body and the fact that people are psycho-somatic beings born with clear ends and from Providential design, is something the Catholic tradition must plead guilty to. But it didn’t need materialism’s help on that.
        Well, I can just as easily say that women are not born with male genitals as you can say humans aren’t born with sea-shells. When we look at the logical form of the two claims, they are equivalent. As I have attempted to demonstrate, philosophically (in the tradition of Aquinas and Aristotle) it is impossible for a man to actually be a woman, and sex is scrutinized by the genitals. Metaphysics in this sense is not a matter of “probability” or “likelihood”, thus to say that it is “more impossible” for a man to be a turtle than for a man to be a woman is inane. 2+2=5 may be “less wrong” than 2+2=6, but only trivially, if at all. Instances where the genitals are not clear are difficult, in that God’s will is not clear, but do not refute the Thomistic position.
        Further, it seemed to me that earlier you implied that cold, logical philosophy cannot be used to disrupt the strongly held, existential/spiritual intuitions of certain people. If this is the case, suppose that turtle-man’s intuition about being a turtle is the strongest one he has, that it is the core of his being, that the most important first principle he has is that he is a turtle. It is “metaphysical” for him. Surely, if Zeno’s paradox and the hardship of daily life are enough to convince you that syllogism can be thrown aside in the case of transgender people, would you really deprive turtle-man of his right to define his own existence and to become who he really is?
        Also, what if someone comes along with a strong, deeply held, emotional intuition that transgender people are not in fact “in bad bodies”, and that transgenderism is wrong? What if he just knows it to be true and no psychological care or syllogism can change that? Do you put your own intuition first? Do you suggest that he is mentally unstable? I don’t see how this can be resolved in transgenderism’s favor except arbitrarily, by “will to power”. “I am right because I am right and you are wrong.”
        Most schizophrenics are NOT dangerous, and many can go about their daily lives with minimal help. Consider John Nash. Further, the amount of danger which a mentally ill person can cause is irrelevant for determining whether they are mentally ill. If Mother Theresa had been convinced that she was a porcupine this would be a delusion in no lesser sense.
        An essence is not quantitative but qualitative. Thus, one cannot be 40% a woman 59% a man, and 1% unsure. One belongs to one sex or another, regardless of secondary characteristics. (Essentially ordered accidents.) It is true that there is no spectrum between a man and a turtle. There is also no spectrum between a man and a woman. To claim that there is confuses essence and mere accidents. (e.g. secondary sex characterists, brain structure, etc.)
        It is very rare that the body cannot indicate one’s sex. People are biologically determined animals, in many ways, and so biology cannot be ignored. To do so and to regard one’s “inner self” as more important is Cartesianism. Whether or not one’s genitalia are “destiny”, they are certainly design.
        You say that looking at a person’s soul can indicate one’s intended sex, but it is unclear what you mean by “soul”. A soul, in Aristotelian/Thomism, is merely the form of a living body. One with a male body has a male soul–indeed, the two cannot rightly be separated except for the sake of linguistic convenience. By “soul” do you mean something different, like feelings or intuitions?
        I never said that you or anyone else was “crazy”. This term has an emotional weight to it that is unfitting for a rational discussion. And of course everyone is, in a way, mentally ill according to a Catholic/Thomistic perspective. Nobody denied this. But a mental disorder remains as such whether or not everyone has got problems.
        For the foundations of epistemology, logic, and metaphysics, I would look into Aristotle’s works on the matter as a starting point. E.g. according to Aquinas, the first principle of the Intellect is the principle of non-contradiction, which is inferred by the difference between being and non-being.
        Again, I should raise the question: what if it is my perception that I am a turtle? Or that you are a man? You could say that this contradicts your intuitions about essence, form, species, appearance, accidents, etc. but I am still here claiming to be a turtle, and believing it. (Or that you are a man.) If an intuition is clearly opposed to reason, is it a valid place to seek one’s “existential answers”? The basic problem here, I believe, boils down to the fact that you believe that “Existence precedes essence”, whereas the tradition being discussed (classical) believes the opposite. These are irreconcilable views, and have drastic everyday consequences. According to the former “biological determinism”–indeed, any sort of determinism–is repugnant to man, whose only destiny is to be free. Thus, I can be a woman, a turtle, Batman, or basically anything I choose. The later, I think, is more sensible; we have responsibility for many of our actions, but to some degree our being is determined by and built into an infinitely wiser plan, one by which we are meant to be happy.
        No, I mean primary to the human race as a whole, but especially the philosophers who spent their lives thinking about these things. (Aquinas, Aristotle, Plato, etc.) The principles upon which metaphysical reasoning are built are intuitive, but putting them together can lead to non-intuitive answers.
        Man and woman, as a matter of essence, does boil down to male and female. But it is wrong to say that this subtracts sex from someone’s personhood; people are psycho-somatic wholes, and to differentiate between one’s body and one’s self borders dangerously upon dualism. If embodiedness were irrelevant and distracted from man’s “total being” then Christ’s incarnation (according to Catholic/Christian theology) was a puzzling move on God’s part, to say the least. Jesus should have said, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life; just don’t get caught up with my body or anything, that’ll distract you from my personhood!”

        What do you mean by “total being” as opposed to flesh? The fact that you have male genitalia represents one part of your being, but not its totality. Nobody is telling you that the central aspect of your being is your sex. By means of your voice, your hands, your face, etc. you are able to represent other parts of your being. It seems to me that you are presenting your sex as if it is THE defining characteristic of your personhood, and that if one misunderstands your “real sex” one has missed out on the biggest aspect of your being. (Further, it seems that you view your bodily expression of your sex–your genitals–as bad.)

        (By the way, I am saying “You” as a matter of mere convenience. I don’t mean to say “you” personally or to pontificate over your life; I mean it more along the lines of “If you have pasta and antipasta, do they cancel out?” or some other such commonality in speech. Further, I am not condemning you or your life choices, but only meaning to state the facts about Aristotle/Aquinas/the Catholic Church’s teaching.)

        I think that part of the problem is that you are putting more weight upon socially and culturally determined “gender roles” than I do or that the classical tradition would. Just think–if you were born upon an island with only people with male genitals (or dropped there, whatever), and never heard about women, never saw women, never knew anything about women, would you still hold yourself to be a woman? Perhaps you would perceive yourself to be different, as a result of brain differences, but I would argue that this perception of “difference” is highly impacted by your environment. You may have a certain “noetic stance” (to use Husserl’s language) but the noematic facts about external reality do determine your intuition. One way or another, it is clear that what you perceive women “ought to be” is socially constructed in some ways, and may be constructed badly. I am left to wonder who constructed the version of “woman” you perceive yourself to be: is it God and some Platonic Form of Woman, implanted in your brain from birth? Is it society and the docile, feminine female? Is is something of your own construction? If your perception that “I am a woman” is truly so dependent upon environment, can it really be so essential to your nature?

        Further, if you cannot answer the simple question “What is a woman?” then it seems presumptuous to claim that one is in fact a woman. Overall, you just seem to be putting more emphasis upon secondary sex characteristics and cultural perceptions than would be ideal. One’s sex is oriented towards reproduction and the rearing of children (romantic relationships are subservient to this end, though good in themselves)–without the need for this, I do not believe God/Nature would have given us different sexes. The determination of one’s suitability for reproduction is most relevantly determined by one’s genitals. Other characteristics are accidental, even if they usually follow essence naturally.

        Your philosophy makes sex a more defining and stressful characteristic of mankind than is needed–Ockham’s Razor is not something I like to talk about, because it is often misused, but it is something to consider. Would it not be simpler if the sex you were “meant to be” was the sex that you are biologically? I realize that there are emotional and psychological factors at work here, and that making “sex=the sex you actually are” may seem less deep and less spiritual/existential than answering existential questions about one’s “true self” with intuitions, but it seems to me that if one is less occupied with making squares into circles (so to speak) one can focus more on living a life of virtue and contemplation of the divine. That’s obviously more of an emotional argument, but tit for tat.

        Unfortunately, sex is, according to theology, biology, and philosophy, oriented towards reproduction. Union is important, but cannot be sought without openness to reproduction, and even in itself union serves the purpose of reproduction. (A united husband and wife are better able to raise children.) St. John Paul II’s Theology of the Body is very important, but the idea that JPII would have supported SRS, transgenderism, etc is not plausible.

        The clitoris adds pleasure and a unitive element to a woman’s sexual experience. This helps to bring the couple together for the purpose of raising children. (This is not an exhaustive list of the purposes, but I believe that that is the primary one you are looking for.)

        You could claim that the brain determines sex, not the genitals. I would encourage you to make that claim, so that I can address it as Aquinas would. But it seems to me (no offense meant) that you have been wavering back and forth between a sort of existentialism which discounts biology, to a sort of mysticism/dualism, and then back to a “many factors” essentialism. You need to come up with a definition of how to determine “man” and “woman” or else no discussion can proceed. Aquinas and the Catholic tradition have one, and a very straightforward one, at that. You can claim that the brain is the essence of sex, but must do so in a frank and ordered fashion.

        Here is the thrust of what a response to brain-essentialism would constitute: the primary end of sex is reproduction. The primary instruments of reproduction are the genitalia. Secondary sex characteristics, such as breasts, increased strength in men, (stereotypically) gentleness in women, (stereotypically) aggressiveness in men, are both biologically and philosophically ordered towards the maintenance and preservation of families, which exist for unitive and procreative purposes, procreation being the ultimate telos. The brain contributes to secondary characteristics such as psychological makeup. It is thus accidental in its importance, and though it is unfortunate that transgender people’s brains do not always align with what is typical for their sex, but that is a mere material evil. It is not the transgender person’s fault, and they should be helped in any way possible to deal with their issue. But they should not be forced to have intellectual doubt about their “real” sex or whether their genitals are bad. A cross must be borne, and a thorn may be instructive, but God did not make human beings for crosses or thorns.

        The rest of your post I will have to respond to later. I would request that for the purposes of cleanliness you wait to reply until I have posted the second half of my response.

        • Concerning Darwinian evolution, the primary purpose of sex for both individual animals and the species as a whole is definitely reproduction. It may have other effects and secondary purposes, such as bonding (though it also causes something called “cheating”), but if you deny that the primary purpose of sex is obviously reproduction then you are contradicting the scientific community and common sense. (Bearing in mind that much of strict “natural science” biology does not tend to believe in final causes and dismisses language about “purpose” as being merely conventional.)


          According to Catholic moral philosophy (see Veritatis Splendor) one may not commit an intrinsically evil act in order to achieve some good, even a greater good. SRS is an evil act because, even if it is done for the good of psychological peace, it arbitrarily destroys the capacity to reproduce and disrupts a clear Providential design. Needless to say, the reason it disrupts design is because, as I have tried to establish, sex is defined by genitalia according to Thomism and the Church (i.e. we see God’s will in our bodies). Our genitalia are mutilated (look at the etymology; it means “change”) by SRS. You can disagree about what defines sex, but, given the Thomistic definition and Catholic moral philosophy, this is sound reasoning.

          Further, it is better to not lose/modify one member than to have the entire thrown into Gehenna. If SRS constitutes an intrinsic evil, then committing it cannot be condoned by society, not even as a way to prevent suicide. Also, there are almost always other ways to prevent suicide which do not involve committing instrinsically evil acts. (I myself can barely imagine any sort of case in which one had literally no other way to prevent suicide other than deliberately planning and performing a surgery.) Some methods to prevent suicide may, in extreme cases, involve restraint, but as you pointed out, better this than Gehenna.

          It is true, of course, that perhaps an individual may in some cases feel (perhaps rightly) that he or she has no other choice than to commit one evil or another. In such cases, which are very rare, one must always choose the lesser evil. But such cases only exist when one literally cannot abstain from voluntarily committing an evil, e.g. in traffic when one must either break and cause a wreck or move forward and hit pedestrians. (Doing neither, “abstaining”, causes a wreck too.) Transgender people do not have this case before them, because the option of suffering one’s psychological affliction (i.e. not doing anything or seeking other forms of help) always exists for free beings. That said, it is possible for a transgender person to NOT be free, because humans can actually lose their capacity for free choice. In such cases, a transgender person is not a moral agent and must be treated as such by society, i.e. with care and good will, but not by bending to their desires. Thus, even if a transgender person insists that he or she will commit suicide without surgery, neither society nor a doctor may assist such an individual in mutilating his or her body. On the other hand, society may, and indeed, may be obliged to, take such a person in and help them to regain their freedom and psychological peace.

          Perhaps you may insist that in the long term a transgender person cannot, except by surgery, attain peace. You may insist that without SRS, his or her life will turn out to be truly horrible–may be pure torment. This may be true. But we cannot commit wrong even to alleviate suffering. Would Job have been right to commit suicide to escape suffering? Would Abraham have been right to disobey God and not endure the terrible reality of sacrificing his own son? Such reactions may be understandable–truly, every human being knows what it is like to be in pain–but they would not be right. We can only hope that any individual who faces such suffering is someday relieved of it in God’s bosom, and that if they ever do commit wrong in the face of pain that God will not hold them responsible, or will at least forgive them. But we cannot do wrong to avoid pain. I know that transgender people may not like being unable to have surgery; it must be truly terrific suffering, and I that, and I’m sorry. But to be blunt, do you think Christ liked being on the cross?

          A Proportionalist theologian may argue that in certain cases the good of SRS outweighs the evil, but Proportionalism has been condemned by the Church (see Veritatis Splendor) and Catholic deontology has been well defended by lay intellectuals. I do not wish to discuss the specifics of 20th century Catholic ethics, especially because even a Proportionalist will agree that in most cases SRS is to be avoided and that electing to take up a transgender lifestyle is wrong (all else being equal).
          Yes, you could appeal to the brain as the essential element of sex. If you wish to do so, you ought to do so directly and formulate an essential definition of sex, e.g. Sex essentially consists of one’s brain structure being that of a typical male or of a typical female. The logical definition according to Thomism is clear, whereas yours is not yet.

          Cases involving unclear sex organs mean nothing more than that, in those specific cases, we do not know God’s plan as well as we would otherwise. The doctor of a child born as such should use practical reason to determine which sex he thinks the child leans more closely towards and should make the modification as such. In this case, I would say that “the preponderance” of evidence should be used to judge gender and in some cases this may involve observing chromosomes and secondary sex characteristics. If sex entirely unclear (extremely rare), then a choice may be made to make the child’s body align more closely with the sex which would probably make him or her more happy.

          The modification of one’s body in order to better “align” oneself with one’s sex is not unnecessary mutilation because the possession of both genitalia is clearly a disorder. (SRS, on the other hand, is, by definition, an attempt to stray from one’s natural sex, which, according to Aristotle/Aquinas, is dependent upon genitalia.)

          Furthermore, cases in which one is born with sex organs of both sexes are very rare, and cases in which neither male nor female organs dominate are even more so.

          Thus, a woman like the one you described ought to have the penis removed, because the dominate tendencies of her body have clearly been towards a female identity, and this is the closest we have to being able to see Providential design.

          “Chromosomal sex”, I would judge, is probably only relevant in cases when both genitalia are expressed or when they are not clear. As regards sex, chromosomes seem to exist for the purpose of expressing primary and secondary sex characteristics. Sex characteristics do not exist for the sake of chromosomes. Thus, the sex characteristics which are actually expressed seem more relevant than the chromosomes used to express them, all else being equal. When chromosomes do not align with the sex expressed in genitals, this constitutes a disorder and material evil, but I would tend towards saying that chromosomes do not define essence.

          A body which does not correspond to one’s proper essence is bad or evilly made by definition. If I had a clubfoot or dwarfism, my body would be bad. Bad does not mean, “lacking in intrinsic worth” or “totally bereft of good”. Badness or evil is the privation of a good (properly-ordered being), and can only exist in a thing which has some goodness in it. Thus, if a transgender person were in reality a woman but had male genitalia then “her” body would indeed be bad.

          Of course, everyone has a degree of badness or disorder in their body (original sin?), and this (according to Catholic theology) will not be “fixed” until the resurrection. But some bodies are more bad than others, and thus are more worthy of the term “bad”. Obviously you did not mean to imply that your body was “bad” in the sense of “totally bereft of goodness” (which is impossible for a being) but if you wish to consider yourself to “really” be a woman then your male genitalia by definition constitute a defect or material evil.

          I would maintain that (according to Aristotle and Thomism) the badness or evil in a transgender person exists only in their thinking, i.e. their supposing that they “ought” to be a woman or man in spite of their biological sex. In a way, their only badness is seeing badness where it is not (in their genitals).This may be biologically caused thinking, and may be deeply ingrained, but this does not make it any less an evil.


          Your access to your “formal being” (not sure about this terminology) is the same for you as it is for others in terms of your reproductive organs, which are the essential constituents of your sex. Only those things contained in your intellect and will are absolutely impenetrable to external access, and while you may have more easy access to your brain and emotions, this means nothing in terms of defining your sex, since sex in not defined by the brain. (I know that you might disagree, but please stick with me for a second.) The intellects and wills of men and women, I would maintain, are equal, and so, on these foundations, nothing which you have exclusive access to has direct relevance to your essence with regards to gender.

          “A delusional person to a certain extent lacks full access to their reality as other people perceive it. Their outer reality is entirely swallowed by their inner reality.”

          A delusional person is one who holds untrue beliefs on principle, as opposed to holding them because of incomplete information or ordinary incorrect reasoning, e.g. one who insists that he is a turtle in spite of overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

          Turtle-man, as I intended him, is fully aware of how his body appears to others. He merely believes that he “ought” to be a turtle, or that his body is currently disordered and that his “real essence” is that of a turtle. He lives in tension between having the “inner reality” of a turtle and the “outer reality” of a human being, and is distressed that other people do not recognize his turtle-hood. Psychologists who get to know the mind of turtle-man find him to be quite sane.

          Overall, Turtle-man is a harmless, exemplary citizen, one who is a good Catholic, a loving man, and a beautiful mind. He simply believes that God meant him to be a turtle.

          I realize that the Turtle-man analogy does not work if you maintain some sort of brain-essentialism; you can point out that what defines him as not being a turtle is that he does not have the brain of a turtle. I know that; Turtle-man was meant in response to your “intuitivism”: that is to say, your claim that your intuition of being a woman overrides reason and arguments to the contrary. It is a reductio ad absurdam for transgenderism as a “metaphysical starting point”, and only makes sense if you are still holding to “existence precedes essence” and existential philosophy.

          As I have said before, you really must choose between essentialism and existentialism. On the point of essence they are mutually exclusive and contradictory philosophies.

          Also, “sane” is not a psychological but legal term. I think what you meant was “psychologically healthy” or “not disordered”. But whatever psychologists deem transgender behavior to be (i.e. disordered or not), the theological and philosophical status of such a lifestyle remains the same to Aristotelian/Thomistic thought. I would also point out that “disordered” is a philosophically loaded term, and that, while empirical psychology may shed light on an issue regarding “disorder”, any judgement of a thing as “disordered” is ultimately a philosophical judgement. Thus an appeal to the authority of psychologists (most of whom are philosophically inept [don’t be quick to doubt this] and not especially religious) changes nothing. (Unless you wish to redefine “disordered” as “statistically uncommon” or “harmful to utility”, neither of which necessarily entail an ethical judgement and neither of which work well with for transgenderism.)

        • Pardon in advanced for this wordy tome of text.

          Let’s step back for a moment and put this conversation in context. This whole discussion is a reply to the article above, and let’s clarify what the article above is actually saying. Nowhere in the article do I claim that I am representing the views of Aquinas himself. All I am doing is applying a philosophical tool – the same used by Aristotle and Aquinas, viz. the four causes – to take a step back from a materialistic interpretation of transgenderism.

          As you said of yourself, I’m more interested in truth than in what one particular person has to say. I make no attempt to say “this is the right view of transgenderism because I think it is what Thomas would say.” Your main thesis seems to be that if I take the entire Aristotilean/Thomistic package of all beliefs, primary or secondary, to be true, then I need to have X view of transgenderism. Not even getting into the question of WHICH INTERPRETATION or VERSION of Aquinas or Aristotle we’re using to evaluate that, I also have no problem with developing a theology that goes beyond what the PERSON of Aquinas would have said (in the context of his day and age given his understanding of things).

          “I’m sorry to hear that you cannot understand instantitation. I myself do not see the problem with it, so perhaps consider that you are looking at it from the wrong stance.”

          I don’t have a problem with instantiation – I believe it “doctrinally” so to speak. What I have a problem with is people claiming to actually understand the exact mechanism by which matter and form are related to each other, or the relationship itself, without being able to give a coherent, unified, substantial account that isn’t ultimately a word game. The majority of post-Thomistic theology is, as I read it, mostly debates on how to interpret Aristotle and Aquinas (e.g. nominalism debates, etc). You keep bringing up what can be known through natural philosophy alone. It seems pretty clear to me that the exact relationship between the body and soul is impossible to fully understand from natural philosophy alone without the aid of divine revelation. I don’t think it’s an accident that Aristotle wasn’t widely followed until Christianity came along; it may be a sensical philosophy, but the inability of the world to find it appealing without it being heralded by a theology of divine revelation is at least worth thinking about.

          Following a purely Aristotilian line of thought, there is no life after death because if matter and form are truly as inseparable as a wax is from the shape of a candle, then what’s the sense in believing the shape could continue to exist without matter to comprise it? Aristotle really seems like a monist, and while Aquinas could technically be read as being a sort of monist, this seems to be incompatible with the history of orthodoxy. Keep in mind that before Aquinas, orthodox theologians were primarily Neoplatonist or Stoic dualists. As for Aquinas himself, he seems to be some sort of hylomorphic dualist. I suppose it could be further nuanced that hylomorphism is an alternative to monism or dualism, but practically speaking it’s never clear what we mean by this. Certainly Aquinas isn’t a CARTESIAN dualist, but there’s more than one way to skin a cat, and there are orthodox ways to be a dualist just as there are heterodox ways.

          Back briefly to the first point I made : the four causes are broader ideas than simply how Aristotle vigorously defines them. Otherwise Aquinas wouldn’t have been able to assert that the human soul can live on past death. An appeal to the four causes isn’t necessarily an appeal to Aristotle as a set of doctrines (let’s look at the ideas here and not ad verecundiam at the man), but an appeal to useful categories that can help guide us out of reductionistic materialism.

          “It is good that you keep Thomism in mind, but you are obligated to do justice to Thomism and to avoid construing it in a manner that suggests that it is other than it is.”

          Again, it depends how we are defining Thomism. I cannot say that if you were to put Aquinas in a time machine and interview him about transgenderism, that he’d come to the same conclusions, but I don’t think my views are incompatible with a generally hylomorphic or Thomistic line of inquiry.

          Aquinas says: “It was necessary for woman to be made, as the Scripture says, as a “helper” to man; not, indeed, as a helpmate in other works, as some say, since man can be more efficiently helped by another man in other works; but as a helper in the work of generation” (Summa I, q. 92).

          This is a classic example of Aquinas applying intelligent thinking to a shitty understanding of gender. It’s not his fault that the entire ancient world thought women were inferior and viewed them in an androcentric way, and Aquinas did the best he could with the limited understanding he had to defend their dignity. But right here you have an obvious problem. First of all, it’s simply not true that woman is an inferior helper in all ways other than reproduction. This is all based on a Hellenistic view of humanity, which Nietzche later revives as a nostalgic anti-Christian paradigm. And I entirely agree with Nietzsche’s evaluation of Greeks versus Christ. The Christian worldview is completely opposed to the Hellenistic notions of “might makes right” and “power makes dignity.” You can see these notions in the ancient/medieval conception of gender because in Aquinas’ inquiry it is assumed that (1) being the ‘active agent’ is more honorable than being the ‘passive agent,’ (2) men are inherently more ‘active’ in every realm, and thus have more honor, (3) it would be degrading of man to have to take a ‘passive’ role, (4) thus God had to make a creature suitable to bear the dishonor of being receptive to man’s most honorable activity. Not only is there some heinous blanket stereotyping going on, but even if we recognize the defensible archetypes behind the indefensible stereotypes, there are ancient value judgments being made here that aren’t necessarily true. For example, why is ‘passivity’ (if we have to call it that) inherently less honorable than activity, especially when Christ himself was passive at times and Mary the-Most-Perfect-Human-Being-Ever was perfectly receptive to God?

          Also, this conception of sex reduces woman to an instrument of reproduction. If you want to know why some feminists assert their right to procure an abortion, it’s a reactionary distress regarding this androcentric conception of their worth as human beings. Having this sort of one-sided complete emphasis on procreation is just as dangerous as having a one-sided emphasis on union or expression. Whereas a one-sided emphasis on expression without procreation can reduce woman to a pleasure-thing, a one-sided emphasis on procreation (as we see in the Old Testament) can reduce woman to a baby-making machine defined by her ability to produce male heirs.

          “As regards the individual nature, woman is defective and misbegotten, for the active force in the male seed tends to the production of a perfect likeness in the masculine sex; while the production of woman comes from defect in the active force or from some material indisposition, or even from some external influence” (ibid).

          The same thing could be argued for a transgender person. If we are talking about the material and efficient causes of transgenderism, we can talk about a hormonal imbalance or an in-utero “external influence,” and we can come up with the terms “disordered,” “defective,” or “misbegotten” to describe such a biological development. Now not even getting into the dubiousness of these terms being applied to something so essential to someone’s personhood, such an evaluation does not invalidate the person as being willed by God as that particular individual.

          This celebration of the dignity of the individual seems to be the general trend of Augustine and Aquinas’ theological thought on gender that is often lost in the shuffle. Understood in the context of their times, both were revolutionary thinkers. Up until their time, there was a common misconception that since women were “disordered” and men “the pinnacle of human development,” all people would naturally become male in Heaven. After all, if there is no procreation or marriage in heaven, what is the use of women? Both these great theologians began the ball rolling on recognizing the UNIQUE DIGNITY of EACH PERSON AS AN INDIVIDUAL separate from some idealistic conception of what the “ultimate human” or “ubermensch” looks like, and this is expressed in their theology that a person will retain their unique sexual identity in Heaven. They got the ball rolling, but unfortunately the ball hasn’t rolled much farther since, because people take their ideas dogmatically rather than organically and simply repeat the exact words they say without considering what lines of thought they were going down or where the Spirit might have been leading them.

          “the basic differences between male and female are contained primarily in the part of the soul that we share with animals”

          This can become a dangerous line of reasoning depending on what you are trying to defend. Among the Church Fathers there was always an instinct to degrade human sexuality (understood comprehensively, not just sexual appetite) to that part of the man that is “lower” and “baser,” which we are meant to transcend. It’s a very Platonic view. And here I think we get to the core of the issue. The Church more recently seems to want to say that sex (or gender) is something that is a spiritual reality as much as a physical reality, and by this they don’t just mean a tired recitation of Aristotle’s “the wax and the form of the wax are inseparable.” By this essentialism, they seem to mean that a person is constituted as a man or woman on the level of soul, on a relational level (pertaining to their relationship with themselves and with others) that transcends purely physical reproductive concerns. After all, if sexual identity is only important to a person’s reproductive function, then what is the point of arguing for the existence of sexual differentiation in Heaven? And with this view in mind, a person’s physical virility seems somewhat secondary. After all, will a person who is physically infertile be physically fertile in Heaven when there is supposedly no reproduction in Heaven?! What is CERTAIN is that physical infertility on Earth will be matched by SPIRITUAL fertility in Heaven, for as Isaiah says: “To the eunuchs who keep my sabbaths, who choose the things that please me and hold fast my covenant, I will give in my house and within my walls a monument and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name which shall not be cut off” (56:4-5).

          Now I think there can be two responses to this sort of “spiritual essentialism.” 1 is to deny this form of essentialism as a sort of soul-stereotyping, in which case a transgender person can admit that they are biologically male but then conclude that this fact has little bearing on how they spiritually and psychically choose to express themselves, be in relationship to others, etc. The other response is to accept this form of essentialism, which for a transgender person has a validating conclusion since it supports their own conclusion that while their reproductive organs suggest a certain physical function, they have a sexual identity and dignity that transcends the earthly good of physical virility.

          “Further, one must support the claim that being intersexed pro ispe is willed by God, especially when the claim is contrary to a tradition and faith which one belongs to.”

          I’m not sure there can be a “natural philosophy” defense of intersex people assuming that you presuppose certain notions of normalcy, particularly if you consider the primary goods of humanity to be physical reproduction, an active agency, and all the rest that is tied up with the androcentric worldview of the Greeks. Although interestingly, event the Greeks saw the “hermaphrodite” – as they called it – as having a mysterious dignity precisely in that the intersex person transcended the active/passive reproductive roles. The Jewish rabbis interpreted the hebrew of Genesis “And God created humanity, male and female He created him” as saying that God created a single human being as being both male and female, and then later split that being into two beings, one male and one female. If the dignity of man and woman, as John Paul II says, is from being made in the image and likeness of God, then a person who is either a combination, paradox, or lack of male and female could easily be argued to even more fully (and literally) image God since God Himself has no sex and begets on a spiritual level rather than a physical one. If I were to argue from Aquinas, then I’d point to the trend I mentioned earlier in which Aquinas, following Augustine, asserts the unique dignity of woman and the preservation of her sexual character into the Heavenly life EVEN THOUGH and DESPITE THE FACT that according to the medieval view, women were on a certain level INHERENTLY DEVELOPMENTALLY DISORDERED. The exact same thing could be said of intersex persons.

          “Thus what you mean by a female “mind” must be clarified.”

          A female mind might tend physiologically toward certain traits, such as better inter-hemisphere (right and left) integration, whereas a male mind might tend physiologically toward a front-back integration, but this is simply a measure of the ‘masculinity’ and ‘femininity’ of a brain. As to an essential maleness or femaleness, it seems practically speaking that the part of the hypothalamus is what defines it. It really seems like the brain has a label on it, or a core microchip from which the innermost gender perceptions processes, and this microchip is more often than not a binary self-perception as “man” or “woman.” This chip affects how the mind perceives the body and how it forms the identity of the whole. You could argue that this instance of a male having a female brain is disordered, but it seems pretty biologically likely from the studies thus-far that the brain is in fact female in its core hypothalamic morphology.

          “We have difficulty in the third paragraph, because no, according to Aquinas one’s real sex would necessarily be determined by one’s genitals. This follows from his, and the Church’s, metaphysical outlook”

          No, it follows from the application of a certain metaphysical outlook attempting to make sense of incorrect notions of sex, just as their metaphysics informed an incorrectly geocentric model of the universe.

          “They did not directly address the issue of “transgenderism” because it had not been created as a human category yet.”

          Categories akin to transgenderism have existed in most cultures since the dawn of time, whether it’s the Greek transgender mythos like Hermaphroditus, Ceaeneus, and Tiresias, Native-American two-spirits, Indian Hijra, Roman Galli, Ethiopian Ashtime, Samoan Fa-afafine, Neopolitan Feminiello, Mamluk tomboys, Arabic Mukhannathun, Muslim Xanith, German Uranians, or the countless others. Why has there been so little discussion of transgenderism in Christian European culture? I think there are two main reasons: (1) the huge influence of Germanic culture, which is massively androcentric, masculine, and anti-effeminate, and (2) a fundamentalist reading of Genesis that prevents most Christians to this day to comfortably admit even the existence of some of the more extreme forms of intersex conditions.

          “Catholic teaching on sexuality and ethics stems from many sources, but not Newtonian materialism.”

          Catholic teaching doesn’t, but preconciliar Catholic culture and theology definitely was heavily influenced by modernism just as much contemporary culture and theology is influenced by postmodernism. It’s evident in the issues that Vatican II sought to address, issues which bear the mark of modernism like an overly rationalistic faith, eletist and triumphalist tendancies in the Church, and individualism.

          “Well, I can just as easily say that women are not born with male genitals as you can say humans aren’t born with sea-shells.”

          Except you can’t because there are clear instances of intersex kids who are born with male genitalia who are in all other ways female. I suppose you could argue that the kid is actually male since their penis overrides every other aspect of their sexual differentiation, but then the category “male” becomes less and less meaningful.

          “Metaphysics in this sense is not a matter of “probability” or “likelihood”, thus to say that it is “more impossible” for a man to be a turtle than for a man to be a woman is inane.”

          Well, the way you formulate it is inane because you say “for a man to be a woman,” which sounds like “1 = 2,” whereas the transgender claim is “X ≠ 1 despite the superficial appearance of X ≈ 1; rather, X = 2.”

          “Further, it seemed to me that earlier you implied that cold, logical philosophy cannot be used to disrupt the strongly held, existential/spiritual intuitions of certain people.”

          No, it’s more a general dislike of Ockham’s razor in all its forms and a refusal to engage in one-sided thinking that values only one category of truth or knowledge. This actually gets into the issues of gender from earlier. There are value judgments made in the West (particularly post-Enlightenment, but they are very strong prior to then among Greek and Christian thinkers) regarding the powers of man. For example, there is the war between the rationalists and empiricists, both trying to assert the superiority of their particular mode of knowledge. Most other cultures have a more well-rounded yin-and-yang approach to knowledge that draws from multiple sources, including logic, experience, phenomenon, beliefs, intuitions, imagination, etc. It is part of the long history of androcentrism in the West that the more stereotypically “feminine” modes of knowledge like intuition are suppressed.

          This is what allows for Aquinas to say things like: “For good order would have been wanting in the human family if some were not governed by others wiser than themselves. So by such a kind of subjection woman is naturally subject to man, because in man the discretion of reason predominates.” Notice the equivocation of reason with wisdom, and the assumption that the more analytically-thinking man is wiser than a more synesthetically-thinking woman.

          “Also, what if someone comes along with a strong, deeply held, emotional intuition that transgender people are not in fact “in bad bodies”, and that transgenderism is wrong?”

          Well, this is the ‘intuition’ I have to face every day since most peoples’ commitment against transgender people is emotional rather than intellectual. The difference is in the kind of intuition. Which intuition is more likely to be correct: Person A who has an intuition that they are unconsciously or preconsciously depressed about something, or Person B who has an “intuition” that Person A is completely happy and seems normal? Person A’s intuition is an intuition in the fullest sense – she has a preconscious or subconscious access to a subconscious reality. Person B claims to have a subconscious access to another person’s subconscious reality, which is ludicrous. Person B’s claim is more of a belief than an intuition given the shallowness of its content.

          “An essence is not quantitative but qualitative. Thus, one cannot be 40% a woman 59% a man, and 1% unsure. One belongs to one sex or another, regardless of secondary characteristics. (Essentially ordered accidents.) It is true that there is no spectrum between a man and a turtle. There is also no spectrum between a man and a woman. To claim that there is confuses essence and mere accidents. (e.g. secondary sex characterists, brain structure, etc.)”

          This gets back to my earlier point of how we approach the claim of a spiritual essentialism. It is A FACT that there is a physical spectrum of male and female. This is hardly disputable. Given the kaleidoscope of sexual diversity in creation, we are confronted with the choice of either saying the idea of spiritual essentialism needs to be reformed, or we’re okay with it. If we’re okay with it, then as you say, one belongs to one or the other regardless of secondary characteristics, and the transsexual claim to actually belong to the ‘other’ sex is technically possible. If we’re not okay with it, then it doesn’t really matter how we express ourselves because the only thing that really matters is physical virility, in which case why should anyone care if a transgender person expresses themselves in a manner different than one would expect from their nascent sex. I suppose a third possible position is an INDIVIDUAL ESSENTIALISM – that each person has a nature, that a person’s nature is decided by God, but that the focus is on the plurality of essences. So, according to this view, when confronted with any kind of sexual ambiguity where a person doesn’t readily fit into the categories, the emphasis shifts from their participation in those categories to their unique individual soul and what God seeks to express through that soul’s unrepeatable existence. All three of these options all leave plenty of room open for the transgender claim.

          “Whether or not one’s genitalia are “destiny”, they are certainly design.”

          And whether or not a person’s brain structure is destiny, it is certainly design.

          “A soul, in Aristotelian/Thomism, is merely the form of a living body.”

          A soul in ARISTOTILIAN thought is merely the form of a living body. It is NOT MERELY this in Thomistic thought, because there is in fact a distinction. If it is ‘merely’ this, then logically it should be inseparable from the body, which it isn’t, although it is completed by having a body. And if it is completed by being instantiated correctly in a body, then transgender people are right to hope in the Resurrection of the Dead when their souls will be harmoniously instantiated in bodies that fully actualize the form.

          And if Aquinas in fact actually holds the exact same view as Aristotle, then I willingly dissent from him and choose instead to put myself in the camp of everyone else in Catholicism, from John Chrysostom to Teresa of Avila, from St. Paul to Thomas Merton.

          “One with a male body has a male soul–indeed, the two cannot rightly be separated except for the sake of linguistic convenience”

          So does one with a dwarf body also have a dwarf soul? Maybe so. Maybe in Heaven someone with dwarfism will be Resurrected with dwarfism, and Heaven will transform what is “disordered” into a triumph just as Christ’s crucifixion wounds were transformed into trophies of glory. Maybe. But that doesn’t prevent a person with stunted growth to seek human growth hormone pills.

          And holding such a rigorously monist view borders dangerously on materialism.

          “I never said that you or anyone else was “crazy”. This term has an emotional weight to it that is unfitting for a rational discussion.”

          I think the equivocation of transgenderism and turtles has an equally inherent emotional weight given the context of our discussion. To try to separate emotions from a rational discussion is like trying to not breathe. If one perceives oneself as having absolutely no emotional or practical investment in a rational discussion, then either one is correct in which case the conversation is not worth having, or one is more likely simply repressing emotions and compartmentalizing the discussion. Again, I’m not a huge fan of compartmentalized thinking or Ockham’s razor. That being said, I know what you’re saying, and I’m generally pissed at the unintelligent emoting that constitutes most internet conversations. THAT being said, it is ludicrous to think you can have a completely dispassionate conversation on such a personally weighty issue. However, having emotions in an argument does not invalidate the argument. Where did the notion come from that a person has to cease to be human in order to access truth? God made emotional faculties as well as intellectual faculties. And since reason pertains to reality, reason cannot be hermetically sealed from all other modes of being/knowledge/reality/humanity/whathaveyou.

          Sorry, end rant. We probably shouldn’t get further into this since it touches on the huge topic of how to do philosophy, which is a conversation that could go on for centuries.

          “The basic problem here, I believe, boils down to the fact that you believe that “Existence precedes essence”, whereas the tradition being discussed (classical) believes the opposite.”

          It seems that a genuinely hylomorphic view would be that neither precedes the other, unless by “precedes” we are talking about which causes the other, in which case essence is more “essential” to existence (which is a redundant thing to say I guess). Why does one have to pick a side in this debate? Even if essence precedes existence, we access essence through existence. To me it is as meaningless to pick a side as it is for Aristotle to separate the form of the candle from the wax. I don’t think I can deny the fact that we have natures (which honors essence). However, one cannot ignore the practical realm of a life begging to be lived (existence), and that God gave us radical free will. I think both determinism and relativism are heresies that approach the issue one-sidedly.
          Granted, I have a huge soft spot for Kierkegaard, so I think there can be a genuine Christian formulation of “existence precedes essence,” but I’m certainly not committed to it.

          Take Simone de Beauvoir’s quote that “one is not born a woman; one becomes one.” It’s one of the classic summaries of existential philosophy. Now Benedict XVI explicitly condemned this view insofar as it is radically existential and denies any essence whatsoever to women. However, I think it’s easy to see how this quote also has an element of truth to it. Take the way we use the language of ‘girl’ and ‘woman.’ We can make a distinction between the two by saying that a woman is something that must be grown into, which evokes the tradition of most of mankind that we all require a sort of “rite of passage.” This idea points to the grander concept of gender, in that our existence is not merely an actuality of what was set in stone by one accident or another, whether it be the color of our skin or our genital morphology, but is an ongoing process of actualizing a Heavenly potential that draws us forward to grow into more complete human beings, informed by but beyond the material and efficient, and upward toward the formal and final explanation of ourselves.

          “What do you mean by “total being” as opposed to flesh? The fact that you have male genitalia represents one part of your being, but not its totality. Nobody is telling you that the central aspect of your being is your sex. By means of your voice, your hands, your face, etc. you are able to represent other parts of your being”

          So I take it from this that you see no ethical problem with a person who is determined male at birth to live otherwise as feminine through her social expression, dress, voice, name, pronouns, etc?

          And actually, plenty of people are telling me that the central aspect of my being is my genitalia. In fact, most people are. Again, this boils down to what we mean by things and where exactly the essence of something resides. If all you are trying to say is that the word “man” refers to a person’s genitalia, I might be willing to give you that. But then we need a new word to refer to masculinity and femininity as a spiritual reality constituting a major part of one’s personhood and psychic sexuality. If you really reduce sex and gender down simply to genitalia, then ironically sex has become fairly meaningless in the social, spiritual, and pastoral spheres.

          “I am not condemning you or your life choices, but only meaning to state the facts about Aristotle/Aquinas/the Catholic Church’s teaching”

          I’m not sure what you mean by the Church’s teaching on this issue. As I’ve discussed elsewhere, the Church has no official teaching on gender transition. In fact, even the most negative rumors of its position (cf. John Norton’s ‘expose’ of the Church’s ‘secret’ pastoral teaching) accede that “the [gender reassignment surgery or GRS] procedure could be morally acceptable in certain extreme cases if a medical probability exists that it will ‘cure’ the patient’s internal turmoil.” Albert Moraczewski, OP, the founder of the National Catholic Bioethics Center, accedes in a chapter in “Sex and Gender: A Theological and Scientific Inquiry” that sex and gender could in fact be distinct even within a hylomorphic conception of humanity, and that transgender individuals may very well be justified in this claim of gender-sex distinction given their neurological sexed reality. At the time he wrote it, there was no evidence to date that this is the case, but now there is a plethora of studies demonstrating exactly that. Moraczewski said in effect: IF there is any neurological evidence for transgenderism being encoded (which there may not be), THEN the sex-gender dichotomy is valid and we should take the transsexual’s psychic reality as being more than delusion but as a valid assessment of their own personhood. The most recent science says YES, the IF term is in fact true, so we should proceed onward to allow for the THEN term as a possibility. Not to appeal to authority, but just to put Moraczewski’s words in context: he is a Dominican and a foremost Thomistic bioethicist.

          As he quotes the fellow Dominican ethicist Ambrose McNicholl as saying: “sexuality for infra-human animals is primarily directed to reproduction, whereas in human beings sexuality is also for completion, the perfection of the individual person.” This gels well with John Paul II’s Theology of the Body, which treats sexuality as primarily RELATIONAL.

          From this orthodox foundation of theology and bioethics, I am left with the affirmation of my experience, which is that I as a PERSON and INDIVIDUAL bear a desire and nature toward a relationship with others and myself which is the relationship of a GIRL. It is no small thing to then reduce my sexuality and my category simply to my genitals and to collapse my existence into an equivocation of “man/male/masculine,” since this eclipses my personhood.

          If God were to resurrect me as a man, I would be okay with it because it’s God’s will and He must know better. However, from the standpoint of God’s love rather than philosophy, I find it hard to believe that this would be the case. Why? Because to raise me up as a cisgender male (with a psychic reality that conforms to my genitals) would eclipse my personhood and utterly change my relationship with God. I would cease to be me. And this seems to be the truest definition of ‘essence’: that which is inextricable from the person’s being such that to remove it would be to destroy that being. If a man loses his genitals, he still is himself. If a man suddenly becomes a woman though, it could be argued that he (she) is not the same person.

          Because I believe in God’s love, my limited human perspective applies this faith to conclude that the greater likelihood is that God would resurrect me as myself (embodied as a woman or embodied as a transgender woman), not as something other than myself. Indeed, this coheres with the most unanimous point of resurrection theology, which is that the person remains the same person after death, transformed to be MORE that person and not less.

          “Further, if you cannot answer the simple question “What is a woman?” then it seems presumptuous to claim that one is in fact a woman.”

          The answer to this question hinges on how we approach the rest of the discussion. Now if I refuse to give a definition of woman, it might be because if ‘woman’ is essential, then it is not determined by accidents (and accidents are usually what definitions are comprised of). I just don’t think there’s adequate language to define womanhood anymore than there is adequate language to define the essence of a particular person. The person is their own definition. You can superficially create a list of characteristics like personality traits, but these do not constitute the person themselves qua that person as subsisting through change. Likewise, you can come up with a list of socially agreed-upon feminine characteristics, but that does not define woman. Woman defines the characteristics, not the characteristics woman. And this isn’t an existential view, it’s actually an essential view.

          * NON SEQUITOR: I think a human being as an animal can be approached from the perspective of a positive anthropology. A human being qua human being, since he is in the image of God, is (like God) only understandable through a “negative anthropology” (perhaps akin to negative theology). Like God, we are subjects; we can say in a limited way that I AM THAT AM.

          “St. John Paul II’s Theology of the Body is very important, but the idea that JPII would have supported SRS, transgenderism, etc is not plausible.”

          I think JPII as a personality if asked right-out what he thought about the idea of SRS without any discussion would probably respond negatively. However, his IDEAS are perfectly compatible with transgenderism (cf. the Moraczewski quotes above). Hopefully I’ll publish a more in-depth analysis of this later, as I am currently reading through JPII’s original sermons on the subject. So far I have found them surprisingly friendly to transgenderism (and infinitely more nuanced than Christopher West’s bible school version of TotB).

          “The clitoris adds pleasure and a unitive element to a woman’s sexual experience. This helps to bring the couple together for the purpose of raising children. (This is not an exhaustive list of the purposes, but I believe that that is the primary one you are looking for.)”

          I disagree. This is again based on the mistaken reduction of our sexuality to the animal realm. As HUMAN PERSONS our sexuality has an added dimension of relationality, intimacy, and spiritual reproduction. Even the animals participate in these goods to various degrees. Human beings even more so.

          To recapitulate some of our disagreements:
          – You seem to be saying that you are either a deterministic essentialist or a relativistic existentialist, whereas I don’t think either is correct.
          – You seem to be saying that sex and gender cannot be divided, whereas I think there is adequate Catholic foundation to make this claim.
          – You say that intuition must be excluded as a category of knowledge from philosophical discussion, whereas I think that there is no category of knowledge that is irrelevant to human inquiry.
          Correct me if I’m wrong.

          “Concerning Darwinian evolution, the primary purpose of sex for both individual animals and the species as a whole is definitely reproduction…. if you deny that the primary purpose of sex is obviously reproduction then you are contradicting the scientific community and common sense.”

          Not true. Evolution works simply on what of a species survives, which is obviously determined largely by the existence of a next generation (reproduction), but also the survival of the species in general which includes the social health of the pack/herd (intimacy). We see this in the non-reproductive sexual intimacy of animals. What is the functional role of foreplay? It serves more needs than simply seducing a partner. And as you implied, there’s no real place for adding the value of “primary” to evolutionary biology because things just are what they are in the scientific framework. I guess you could argue that DARWINIAN evolution (defining it as evolutionary theory confined to that which was formulated by Darwin himself) says sex serves reproduction, but evolutionary biology as a whole is more complex than that.

          If we’re going to bring teleology back into it, then that further affirms my stance. Maybe for animals sex is all about the mechanism of reproduction, but humans have the added dimension that I’ve talked about before. And intimacy is a good in of itself. The Genesis account says God formed Eve because it is not good that man be alone, which implies that it IS good for man to be in relationship. The intimacy is therefore a good in of itself.

          “SRS is an evil act because, even if it is done for the good of psychological peace, it arbitrarily destroys the capacity to reproduce and disrupts a clear Providential design.”

          As I’ve pointed out previously, this is not what the Church holds. The Church is still silent, but realizes that SRS could be permissible if it resolves the psychic tension of a transsexual. The Church must believe that SRS is at least a neutral action, since after applying the Principle of Double Effect, it concludes that SRS may be beneficial or necessary.

          And I’m not sure why you are calling the procedure “arbitrary.” It’s a medical/corrective procedure, not an aesthetic one.

          “I myself can barely imagine any sort of case in which one had literally no other way to prevent suicide other than deliberately planning and performing a surgery”

          Apparently you’ve never experienced genital dysphoria. I CAN imagine it, and I have relatively mild genital dysphoria compared to some people.

          Bodily dysmorphia is more than suffering; it’s like a mental short-circuit. Imagine the brain is a train station all loaded with trains, but is given an automobile freeway instead of tracks. The trains get sent out, and they crash because the station has been given the wrong transit system. It’s a testament to the adaptability of human beings that persons in this situation find ways to outfit their trains with rubber tires and get by with using the freeway for a little bit. However, the mounting number of fatal accidents and burnt rubber threaten to put the train station out of business. Such is transsexualism.

          “Your philosophy makes sex a more defining and stressful characteristic of mankind than is needed”

          See above. While the issue of how we express ourselves in society is a big part of the discussion of gender, the fact of genital dysphoria in transsexual peoples’ lives bears testament to the fact that we’re not just talking about social behavior norms, but about the person’s EMBODIMENT, which most definitely matters. Genital dysphoria is no small thing.

          “even a Proportionalist will agree that in most cases SRS is to be avoided and that electing to take up a transgender lifestyle is wrong (all else being equal).”

          I doubt this, seeing as even applying the principle of double effect some Christian bioethicists don’t see it as wrong.

          “Cases involving unclear sex organs mean nothing more than that, in those specific cases, we do not know God’s plan as well as we would otherwise.”

          It’s not just a matter of unclear sex organs. There can be ambiguity at every single level of sexual differentiation. And metaphysically the issue is up for grabs what their essence is, but pastorally the only humane solution is to allow the intersex person to figure out their own identity as they mature. Transgenderism is a mental intersex condition, so the same pastoral approach should apply.

          “Furthermore, cases in which one is born with sex organs of both sexes are very rare, and cases in which neither male nor female organs dominate are even more so.”

          People fallaciously use the idea that intersex is ‘rare’ to discount it entirely.

          First of all, ‘rare’ is somewhat relative. Intersex conditions are a lot less rare than what people generally conceive as rare. As far as developmental abnormalities go, intersex conditions are relatively speaking a dime a dozen.

          Also, even if only one perfectly hermaphroditic/androgynous intersex person ever existed, their existence would have to be taken into account in our physics and metaphysics. The weight of their existence to our conception of the world is as great whether there is one of them or a billion.

          “Thus, a woman like the one you described ought to have the penis removed, because the dominate tendencies of her body have clearly been towards a female identity, and this is the closest we have to being able to see Providential design.”

          There’s a problem with this though. Starting around the 1970s (I think), doctors operating under the assumption that sex is socially conditioned would decide an intersex child’s sex at birth based on what sex was easiest to surgically create. This basically amounted to them assigning a person’s sex based on the perceived dominant physical inclination to masculine or feminine. Some of these kids turned out fine because the doctors got lucky. Many others of these kids turned out depressed and ‘transgender’ (even suicidal) because the doctors chose the wrong sex. Many intersex people these days are campaigning for an end to this arbitrary sex assignment because it has caused them as a group unbelievable amounts of suffering.

          Coming from the other end of the philosophical spectrum, Catholic priests have had a history of supporting such corrective surgeries “the earlier the better.” Operating on bad fundamentalist philosophy about sex determination, Catholic clergy in America have been complicit in the destruction of human lives ruined by this medical interference. The growing medical consensus after seeing these horrible outcomes is to allow the person to mature with uncorrected genitals until they can decide for themselves what their actual sexual identity is. This is even the view of Dr. Paul McHugh, the Fox News’ go-to Catholic psychiatrist. As he says: “For children with birth defects the most rational approach at this moment is to correct promptly any of the major urological defects they face, but to postpone any decision about sexual identity until much later, while raising the child according to its genetic sex. Medical caretakers and parents can strive to make the child aware that aspects of sexual identity will emerge as he or she grows. Settling on what to do about it should await maturation and the child’s appreciation of his or her own identity. […] Then as the young person gains a sense of responsibility for the result, he or she can be helped through any surgical constructions that are desired.”

          “A body which does not correspond to one’s proper essence is bad or evilly made by definition.”

          Yep. Although, personally I choose to appreciate my body nonetheless because it is my body. I do not like to refer to it as evilly made since God had a hand in it as much as hormones and whatnot. But I suppose it technically is badly made by this line of thinking. 🙂

          “Of course, everyone has a degree of badness or disorder in their body (original sin?), and this (according to Catholic theology) will not be “fixed” until the resurrection.”

          One thing that generally needs to be fixed in Catholic resurrection theology is turning hope into legalism. There are two (wholly positive) sides of the resurrection coin: (1) as witnessed by Christ’s wounds, even our “disorders” and “wounds” are transformed into glory; and (2) we don’t have to have consternation about whether the blind will be raised blind, because Christ offers the promise of an end to all suffering in Heaven. To turn this hope into a rigorous delineation of what is technically evil in a person’s constitution can stifle hope and defeat the real purpose of Christ’s promises. It seems much more important to offer everything up to Christ while fixing what we can, all the while eagerly awaiting whatever perfection may come.

        • Teleology exists, to some extent, in the natural sciences in one way or another, whether or not it is acknowledged. There would be no “laws of nature” if things did not work to achieve certain ends. An efficient cause would yield inconsistent results; billiard balls might turn into whales, things would spontaneously combust, fish would fall from the sky. Everything would be purely random without final causes in nature. (Human appetites and intentions are a special sort of final causality.) One concedes too much to scientism to claim that natural science is totally devoid of teleology.
          If you subtract intimacy from sex, a species can still survive. If you subtract reproduction from sex, it cannot. Which is more “primary”?
          I never denied that intimacy, as a secondary purpose for sex, is important, either from a philosophical standpoint or a biological one. But it is less primary than reproduction in a biological sense, and is at the very least inseparable from reproduction in the theological sense.
          Of course intimacy is good in itself. But, when it comes to sexuality (since not all intimacy is sexual), it may not be sought without openness to procreation. CCC 2363 “The spouses’ union achieves the twofold end of marriage: the good of the spouses themselves and the transmission of life. These two meanings or values of marriage cannot be separated without altering the couple’s spiritual life and compromising the goods of marriage and the future of the family.”
          The Church does not teach that SRS is or may be acceptable. Furthermore, it is hard to see how it could do this if it has, in fact, been “silent” upon the matter. What one or two priests may have said (upon matters of extreme circumstance) does not constitute sufficient evidence for your claim that the Church teaches (or implies teaching) that transsexuality is acceptable.
          “Arbitrary” means, in this context, done with sufficient reason or done in a disordered fashion. SRS is not medical because it is a modification of the body not out of medical necessity, but on the whim of an individual. I know one may protest that this isn’t on a whim—it is on a deep, spiritual truth, one originating from the innermost recesses of the soul / one’s intuition / the hypothalamus. But suppose that Turtle-man—a deep, spiritual, “sane” Catholic man, one who attends mass every day, who knows the Summa by heart, who has a deep, existential, metaphysical conviction that he needs a shell—comes asking that a shell be grafted to his back and that his limbs shortened. He could complain that if he is not given Species Reassignment Surgery, he won’t be able to live; existence will be pure torment. His psychiatrist confirms that he is sane, and notes that he may indeed commit suicide if he is not given the surgery. What should we do? Is it truly impossible to consign Turtle-man to a mental hospital, to prevent suicide? It seems that you have suggested that isn’t an option for him or for transgender folk, either.
          So what are we to do with Turtle-man? Is this “SRS” a neutral act which may be condoned because of the PDE? Does the Church permit it simply because it is not explicitly condemned in the Catechism, or because one may google “catholic church species reassignment surgery permissible” and find priests who have said that it might be okay in certain circumstances?

          If Turtle-man complains that he doesn’t want to live without a shell (species dysphoria), do we honestly suppose that the only way to prevent suicide is to bend to his whim? Mental hospitals exist.
          What makes genital dysphoria privileged? If a man wants his hand cut off, because he feels it doesn’t belong to him, should we grant him “peace” through surgery as well?
          Genital dysphoria is no small thing. But being important doesn’t mean that it isn’t a disorder. We should stop trying to make disorders defining traits of persons, and should let people know that their bodies are OKAY in spite of what their “body map” tells them.
          “Some Christian ethicists” is a weak appeal to the weakest type of appeal possible.
          Well, I would first say that, in calling the issue “up for grabs”, you are giving your position more credit than it deserves, since I obviously disagree that it is sound. Regardless, the Pastoral approach to this issue needs to be based off of compassion and reason—indeed, unreasonable, unethical decision-making is not compassionate at all, regardless of how kind it feels. Thus, if one is a man or a woman, one should not be encouraged by a Pastor to intentionally mutilate one’s body or soul.
          People fallaciously use the idea that schizophrenia is ‘rare’ to discount it entirely.
          First of all, ‘rare’ is somewhat relative. Schizophrenic conditions are a lot less rare than what people generally conceive as rare. As far as developmental abnormalities go, schizophrenic conditions are relatively speaking a dime a dozen.
          Also, even if only one perfectly schizophrenic person ever existed, their existence would have to be taken into account in our epistemology and ethics and metaphysics and ontology. The weight of their existence to our conception of the world is as great whether there is one of them or a billion.
          The existence of intersex people has been noted, as have the existences of people with numerous other disorders. If you are suggesting that identity-disorders could be willed by God—that they could be unique, new essences; intersex could be the third sex!—simply because people with such disorders exist, what do you say about other disorders? Is a Down Syndrome child essentially something other than a human being with a brain disorder? Is schizophrenia the “other rationality”? Is Turtle-man his own species? I’m not saying that there isn’t something to your line of thinking, but you have to destroy a lot if you want to accept it as a valid line of reasoning.
          I never said that correctional surgery should be arbitrary. I said that it in certain, very rare cases perhaps the doctor may not have enough information to be able to form a solid opinion about the sex of a child. Perhaps, in such a case, if the child’s “assigned sex” turns out to have not worked out well, another surgery would be permissible. But all that this means is that the doctor made a wrong practical judgment—he didn’t have a good idea about what sex God meant the child to be. Only in the absence of such knowledge should the issue be explored and surgery become an option—given that the older child actually becomes uncomfortable with his or her condition. This does not constitute an “exception”; there was no clear evidence for the biological sex of the child.
          ‘Go-to Catholic psychiatrist of Fox News’ is not a compelling appeal, but Dr. McHugh seems to have said pretty much what I said.
          Part of me is starting to wonder whether disputes which many have with the Church regarding sex are actually intellectually motivated. I am starting to believe, instead, that what is actually needed is neither a good argument nor the opinion of the Church—since suffering individuals often have patience for neither. Perhaps the only people who can persuade others on issues such as “Homosexuality” or “Transgenderism” are those people who choose to suffer in manners similar to the homosexual or transgender person—those who do this to show those who suffer by unchosen nature that living well is still possible.
          On this count, I am no good, since I am a random Internet person. Perhaps, though, I can simply note that in Judeo-Christian history, there have been a great many individuals who have suffered, yet not surrendered their intellects to self-justification or irrationality. Several already-referenced figures come to mind.
          Further, it has been a common historical “intuition” that God does not exist “Because I Myself Have Suffered a Great Deal”. But how can we refute this? We must stick to reason! True faith never involves surrender of the intellect. If we shun rationality on one issue and appeal to “spiritual gender” “existential intuitions” and [disordered] “compassion”, and if we make references to Zeno’s Paradox, mystical experience, and try to refute solid metaphysics, how are we fit to deny Nietzsche his rejection of truth, God, and Christianity in favor of turbulent, insane passions?
          I have no doubt that transgenderism is a very deep, very important issue for those involved in the lifestyle or afflicted with sexual identity disorders. But strong feelings and personal histories of suffering have nothing to do with the philosophical and theological status of SRS, the transgender lifestyle, or sex. Nevertheless, the discussion continues, whether it advances or not.

  10. Also, are you aware of any specific medieval theologians or philosophers (or even broader cultural examples e.g. literature) who made a distinction between sex and gender and/or discussed it at any length?

    • I’ve been combing through the Church Fathers and at some point I’ll publish some posts on their discussions of gender, and Augustine and Aquinas talk a lot about gender, but no one that I know of makes a rigorous study of it. Most of the Church Fathers inherited the Greek Platonic view of sex, which essnetially says that there is one perfected gender – male, and all women, slaves, eunuchs, and hermaphrodites are incomplete men. This is obviously problematic for their theology since it’s an incomplete view of gender (not to mention misogynistic). I think it’s Origen who says that there are some women who are men before God, but that might have been his way of saying that some women, despite their feminine “weakness”, have displayed “manly” virtue.

      • If you would post about them, especially Aquinas, since he his the “Angelic Doctor” I would be very grateful and interested. I have studied Aquinas at not small depths, and find the idea that he would support a sex/gender dualism very surprising, both because I myself cannot find any place in his writings in which he mentions anything of the kind, and because it seems somewhat contrary to the rest of his metaphysics. I would be very interested to see something new, however. (Also, I am aware of his general positions on the sexes, inclusing womens’ intellectual inferiority, etc. I would not call him misogynistic, however, because to him it would doubtless have seemed apparent that women actually were naturally inferior (i.e. in intellect, will, body, etc.) But this does not mean that he hated women, and I tend to associate misogyny with an actual degree of arbitrariness or malevolence.)

        • You’re not going to find any direct discussion of sex/gender difference in any theologian that I know of, because most of them were operating off unspoken but evident pre-existing cultural ideas of sex/gender which their theology is based on. What there IS is interesting implications based on what little they do say.

        • I agree that you will not find any ideas on gender/sex being different, but this is not merely “cultural”. It follows from their metaphysics. Now, I’m not saying that Aristotelian/Thomistic metaphysics are correct, but it does follow that based upon them no sex/gender divide can exist. It isn’t a matter of what I or anyone else wants to be true, it simply follows from the premises.

  11. Marcellus – I have enjoyed your questioning of Anna and her excellent and well researched replies. I have not commented in part because my career keeps me quite busy and in part because the discussion has become perhaps too removed from the realities of the transgender experience. One can try many theories and work hard to fit the wonder that is God into the boxes we humans can understand but I will tell you from where I sit 20 years down the road from where Anna is today this experience may shatter those preconceptions of nature and science and God.

    “do you not agree that it is vital that we DO figure out the essence of man and woman? After all, you do seem to imply that certain people can know themselves to be actually men or actually women despite their bodies being male or female.”

    In this question you get to the heart of the problem with the discussion. She states and I will concur that in fact every human knows in their soul who they are and it has never been dependent on their flesh. The real problem is that we have a culture where you are treated very differently if you are male or female or something in between.

    If I had been born into a world where it was widely known and accepted that 1 in a thousand girls are born with penises then perhaps my family and I would have accepted this special gift from God without it affecting how I socialized into the world. This is the reality of Gods creation and we are only beginning to understand it because of the social changes that allow us to question gender roles but also the science that can study the brain.

    However I was born in the 1950’s when gender roles were much more rigid and that one small body part got me labeled male and I attempted to live as a male for 40 years. There is no way for you to understand just how painful, difficult, isolating, depressing and ultimately futile attempting to play that part can be. If God has given you some cross to bear then you may have a clue. So with this special gift I believe God has called me to help others reconcile these mysteries.
    I wish you every blessing as you attempt to understand.

    • Togetherstyle: Thank you for your courteous and heartfelt response! I realize that talking about personal and philosophical issues on the internet can be both time-consuming and difficult (given that many people, being anonymous, use online discussing in nonconstructive and even demeaning ways), and so I am glad to see a candid and well-meant opinion.

      I agree with you upon the reality of some unfortunate gender roles. I think that it is certainly true that there are unrealistic and arbitrary restrictions which are placed upon members of both sexes, roles which have no ethical or even practical basis which many people would do well to reconsider. Some examples include the requirement that men must avoid showing feelings, must be aggressive, must lack compassion, and must treat women as sexual objects or they are not “real men”. Such popular characterizations of the “ideal” man are wrongly enforced and are destructive. Furthermore, clearly all men and women are called to live virtuously, and so the practice of no particular virtue should be restricted to members of one sex.

      However, I cannot help but take issue with several aspects of your post. For instance, while I have no doubt it was unintentional and was not meant in any negative manner, you do seem to assume a great deal more personal knowledge about me than is actually available to you. (your last paragraph). It may be true that I have no ability to understand your individual suffering, but for all you know I may have gone through a very similar situation. But whether I actually have or not is irrelevant either way; ideas should be more important in a discussion than the histories of the people putting them forth. Thus, I do not understand the point of bringing biography into a discussion which is largely metaphysical. I am not one without compassion or empathy, but I am simply not persuaded by such appeals.

      Next, it is true that neither Aristotle, nor Aquinas, nor any sensible human being would attempt to “fit the wonder that is God into the boxes we humans can understand”. Any god that can be fit into a box is not God. But I don’t see why this is relevant to the discussion either–I didn’t even mention God in any of my posts. For that matter, I made few positive assertions. I only asked questions, few of which have been fully answered yet.

      Furthermore, in the context of the philosophy which this post was written upon (Aristotle’s), the claim that “who one is” is not dependent upon the flesh is very problematic. Even amongst many early 20th century existentialists (Husserl, Merleau-Ponty, Levinas) the importance of the body and its teleological/meaningful language cannot simply be ignored. (We are “embodied flesh” according to Merleau-Ponty.) Aristotle, Aquinas, and the Catholic tradition stand against the sort Cartesianism which is implied by a sex/gender divide. I would welcome the opportunity for anyone to attempt show me otherwise, but in order to succeed, one would have to provide positive evidence, which I do not believe will be an easy task at all.

      I am unsure as to how anyone can claim that the flesh does not define one’s identity if one speaks about having a female brain, and claims that this is relevant to one’s essence. (I am assuming that this is the relevance of your mention of brain-science.) If you say that you have a woman’s brain in a man’s body, and claim that this defines you as a woman then you are making flesh an integral part of your being. (Though, of course, you are emphasizing a different piece of flesh than Catholic and Western philosophical tradition; the brain as opposed to the reproductive organs.)

      All this said, I have not, nor do I plan to make, any positive assertion concerning the morality or immorality of sex reassignment surgery, transgenderism, etc. For the most part, the only things which I have spoken upon pertain to solid or demonstrable facts (e.g. the objective facts concerning Catholic teaching, Aristotelian metaphysics, etc.) But there are certain things which I do not see stacking up with regards to the latter things and the original post.

      I, in turn, wish you every blessing in your own advances towards understanding, and thank you once again for your reply!

      • I think the main point Togetherstyle was making (as I understand it – or at least what resonated most with me) is that practically speaking this problem isn’t resolvable with definitions because for a trans person, life is what it is whether you argue it away or not. I can be told that according to such and such metaphysical principle I ought to believe that I am a man and should behave thusly, but that won’t do anything to change the fact that so far my life seems to evidence that I CAN’T live as a man and I CAN’T know that I’m a man no matter how hard I try, because the inner spiritual axiom of gender identity seems impervious to any syllogism. And as important as I think philosophy is, I would agree with the existentialists that the most important questions for it to answer are “is life worth living,” and “if so, how do we live”? Philosophy divorced from experience, intuition, and just plain ol’ gritty reality in favor of “rationality” quickly becomes irrational. As much as I revel in Zeno’s Paradox, the fact is that things in fact get from point A to point B in the real world.

        • Yes, I see that this is a very important issue, and that it is very emotionally and spiritually involving. I wish you well and hope that everyone with gender-issues resolves them according to God’s will and in a manner that allows you to achieve happiness. But I cannot agree with some of your conclusions. Recognize that you are not alone in possessing an intuition which seems to be contradicted by syllogism; there are people who believe that they are Elvis Presley, who believe that they are turtles, and who believe that they are God. If you allow yourself to override philosophy with emotion, then there is no reason for them to not do the same. Their “existential answers” to identity-questions are evidently wrong, if one still puts any value in the human intellect.
          Yes, experience, intuition, and reality perhaps form the basis for our reasoning. But the intuition/experience that one is something which one is not contradicts other, more fundamental intuitions: ones which lead to metaphysical principles. In accepting the intuition of “gender”, Aristotle (or at least Aquinas) might say that you are placing a less-relevant intuition over the first principles which God gave man for the purpose of coming to know Him. Zeno’s paradox constitutes a case in which one intuition is proven wrong by others.
          This post was originally about the philosophy of Aristotle and Aquinas, and both of these insisted that the rationally ordered life was the one that “ought” to be lived. (For Aquinas, this is because God’s will is rational and living reasonably is God’s will.) I am not saying that they are right, nor am I saying that you are wrong about transgenderism. But it cannot be said that the classical philosophy laid out by Plato, Aristotle, Plotinus, Augustine, Aquinas, and their numerous interpreters, which has more or less been adopted by Catholic Christianity, is compatible with existential anti-essentialism or transgenderism.

  12. Pingback: What Does Pope Francis Actually Say About Transgender People? | The Catholic Transgender

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