There are some things (both moral and doctrinal) about which the Church is incredibly clear and precise – things like the nature of the Trinity, or the objective sinfulness of abortion. She paints those pictures with clear lines and well-defined forms, even through the layers of human or divine complexity that color them.
There are other things about which she is largely silent, leaving the murky watercolors to be lived out in the conscience-informed prudence of her members. These things include education (where there are basic principles within which parents are left free to make decisions according to their wisdom and personality), housing choices (urban or rural? large home or small? bad neighborhood or good? – the choice may be a matter of obedience to God’s leading for an individual, but is never universally proscribed), career paths (let’s just say that some things are automatically excluded and that’s about it), and so on. These are things that touch a myriad of moral principles, but are not themselves defined or regulated in a binding way.
And while homosexual behavior falls solidly into the first camp, the Church having defined it as inherently disordered, transgenderism is just as definitely in the second camp. There is no official position, no magisterial teaching, no long history of tradition draw upon from the writings of the Fathers. We are left to figure it out on our own, to sort through the various principles that are at play, and to decide in the circumstances with which we are presented how best to behave as a follower of Christ in a shattered world. We cannot naively assume that everything is positive, nor should we cynically believe that everything is negative. We should not blow with the winds of extreme gender theory and deny that male and female have any real meaning, nor should we deny the reality of what most transgender and intersex individuals face by claiming that they are all perverts or performers. After all, if our reason and will can be weakened or damaged by sin, and if we respond to this brokenness not by throwing out our understanding of the importance of reason and will but by giving our support and love to those who are affected, why wouldn’t sexuality be the same? Can we give them the benefit of the doubt and believe what they say about their own experience? Can we acknowledge that maybe the general brokenness of creation has touched the link between their bodily and interior genders, and left them feeling incomplete or out of place?
I totally understand all the gut reactions most people have to transgenderism. It just feels strange. It feels especially strange when someone who has been living as one gender for years announces that they really identify with the other gender, because we don’t see the journey of growing self-awareness, suffering, and courage that have to build up in order for such an announcement to take place. You want to claim that their new identity must be a lie because otherwise your whole previous relationship with them feels false. You see their gender-typical body and wonder how in the world they can feel like the other gender. You feel like your own experience of your gender is being stereotyped and patronized by people who have no genuine understanding of it (especially when people like Jenner try to reduce femininity to fashion – I have serious trouble believing the authenticity of that transition, to be honest with you, because he/she doesn’t seem to understand or value womanhood as anything beyond physical appearance and sexual objectification). But those gut reactions, and the celebrities that fuel them, can’t address the moral and philosophical principles at play.
Can we find a way to embrace the “both-and” tension in this area, as Catholicism does in so many areas? Can we praise and value masculinity and femininity as the duality created in the image of God, without demonizing those who fall in between or are dealt aspects of both? Can we continue to see the beauty and mystery of the two sexes, both in marriage and society, but still make a space for those who, because of the fallenness of the world, don’t fit neatly into that dichotomy? The transgender individual is a human being just like us, called to holiness, called to Christ; he (in the universal sense) is our brother, for whom Christ died, for whom we are supposed to live, that he might know Christ and come to heaven in the end. How can we say we have truly loved him if our rejection pushes him away from the Church and away from Christ?