The transgender moment is an unsettling one. Just last week I began reading Enid Blyton’s Famous Five stories to my children, and was struck by the character of Georgina, the tomboy who hates being a girl and is very keen to do things that boys do. She cuts her hair short and disdains the more conventionally feminine preferences and behaviour of her cousin Anne.
Yet – until very recently – it would surely never occur to anyone reading the books that Georgina, or George as she insists on being called, was in any objective sense not actually a girl, any more than a boy who enjoys ballet and butterflies is not truly a boy. Such an analysis is only possible in a world where radical gender theory has become commonplace, breaking free from the particular fringes of academia where it originated, and entering the mainstream through determined activism.
The BBC reported in February 2019 that London’s Tavistock Clinic had seen a 400% increase in child referrals in just five years. – Niall Gooch
Gender theory has many different definitions. One online encyclopaedia puts it well when it notes that gender theory “replaced or challenged ideas of masculinity and femininity and of men and women as operating in history according to fixed biological determinants … removing these categories from the realm of biology.”
This way of thinking is increasingly influential in British society, and looking at the statistics for young people identifying as “trans”, it is spreading fast. The BBC reported in February 2019 that London’s Tavistock Clinic had seen a 400% increase in child referrals in just five years. Charities such as Mermaids – which “supports gender variant and transgender youth” – have the ear of influential figures in society and celebrities such as Harry Potter actress Emma Watson.
It is increasingly presented not as a point of view that must be argued for, but a set of facts that must be learned. The ferocity with which critics or sceptics of transgender theory are attacked can be frightening, as JK Rowling has found. The intolerance of many transgender advocates has been discussed by Andrew Doyle here in Chapter House. This intolerance seems to me suggestive of the fragility of the ideology’s claims.
The transgender ideas are fundamentally opposed to the true, Catholic understanding of the human person. As Psalm 139 has it, God knit each of us together in our mother’s womb. Male and female are part of the fundamental order of the universe; when joined in marriage they participate in God’s ongoing creation, and we should view this as good. The tiny proportion of babies that are born with “intersex” condition, where genitalia are ambiguous or incomplete – we are talking less than 0.1% – does not refute this.
The transgender ideas are fundamentally opposed to the true, Catholic understanding of the human person. – Niall Gooch
Even on liberalism’s own terms, the transgender claims raise problems. Most importantly, the ideology leans towards an old-fashioned and rigid understanding of what it means to be a man or a woman. This is seen especially in its demand that “trans” children – that is, children who are atypical of their sex – should be allowed to transition before they reach adulthood. Why should we accept that a boy who has unusual interests is not a real boy? Why should we accept that a girl who doesn’t like pink frills and dolls is not a real girl?
Defenders of transgender views might argue that this is a mischaracterisation, that some people feel very deeply that they are in the “wrong body”, and that this is a persistent and deep-seated problem. The psychological condition is labelled Gender Dysphoria. But accepting that this condition exists does not entail accepting that the appropriate treatment is to be transformed by surgery and powerful drugs into an imitation of the opposite sex.
Catholicism is often criticised – not always unfairly – for promoting a rigid and limited understanding of what it means to be either a man or a woman. But at its best, the Church offers a beautiful and coherent vision of male and female, and understands that men and women may have many different vocations and ways of life. Georgina from the Famous Five – prickly, independent-minded, scornful of convention – may not have been cut out to be a “normal” woman, relishing domesticity and children; but for the Church this doesn’t mean she was not a woman at all.
Niall Gooch is a writer and Chapter House columnist.
This page is available to subscribers. Click here to sign in or get access.