The Impossibility of Transgenderism

Nature, Gender, and Biological Sex


It is becoming more and more common to hear politicians, social media influencers, and celebrities discussing biological sex and gender in much the same way that they discuss religious or political affiliations. We are told that we choose them, to a certain extent, or, perhaps, that we are chosen by them and only come to a progressive discovery that we just “are” Christian, Buddhist, Muslim, Republican, Democrat, Male, Female, or something else. What we are hearing through the various media outlets, in cinema, and online, is essentially a trickle-down effect from research and theorizing that has been going on in the“academy” for well over 100 years.1

According to the Standards of Care for the Health of Transsexual, Transgender and Gender-Nonconforming People (hereafter, SOC), published by the World Professional Association for Transgender Health (hereafter, WPATH), “Sex” is defined as follows, “Sex is assigned at birth as male or female, usually based on the appearance of the external genitalia. When the external genitalia are ambiguous, other components of sex (internal genitalia, chromosomal and hormonal sex) are considered in order to assign sex (Grumbach, Hughes, & Conte, 2003; MacLaughlin & Donahoe, 2004; Money & Ehrhardt, 1972; Vilain, 2000). For most people, gender identity and expression are consistent with their sex assigned at birth; for transsexual, transgender, and gender-nonconforming individuals, gender identity or expression differ from their sex assigned at birth.”2 The term “Gender Identity,” used in the second part of this definition, is defined as “A person’s intrinsic sense of being male (a boy or a man), female (a girl or woman), or an alternative gender (e.g., boygirl, girlboy, transgender, genderqueer, eunuch) (Bockting, 1999; Stoller, 1964).”3

From these definitions alone, which are increasingly influential on public opinion, it is clear that biological sex and gender are no longer understood, as they historically have been, in relation to a person’s phenotypical and genotypical traits. Rather, they are  presented to the public as something that is “assigned” or “imposed” upon children at their birth, though potentially (and truly) discovered at a later time. Indeed, models of gender-fluidity are becoming more and more prominent in discussions about sex, gender, and studies related to the social aspects of “being” some “gender”.4 We are told that it sometimes happens that an individual’s “gender identity or expressions” differ from the biological sex they were assigned at birth. This “gender identity” refers to one’s intrinsic sense of identity—who or what they feel themselves to be—or, their way of socially acting in relation to reproductive processes. Gender, and even biological sex, is a social construct which needs to be deconstructed.

The question we wish to discuss is, does natural law have anything to say to this cultural phenomenon? To do so, we will provide a quick reminder of what natural law is. We will then perform a short “experiment” of sorts, illustrating how natural law theory can be helpful in public discussions surrounding sexuality.5 In this second section, we will first consider questions related to biological sex, and then turn to questions related to gender.

Natural Law and the Gender-Identity Debate

What is Natural Law?

As we have stated elsewhere, natural law, as that part of the eternal law which applies specifically to human beings, is the rule or norm of practical reason which governs all human actions. Natural law is “natural” because it is based upon human “nature”—what humans “are” as designed by their Creator6—and not upon the human will.7 Natural law is a “law” because it is not only binding (prescriptive and proscriptive commands) on all humans, but also because it directs all humans to their proper end and common good, and is in principle knowable by all humans.8 Some might wonder about the promulgation of natural law, suggesting either (1) that it is not promulgated, as there is no “place” where one can find it written down, or (2) that it is not promulgated, because it appears that not all are aware of it.

To the first objection, we reply (a) that it is inscribed on the mind of man—it is more naturally anchored in the mind of man than the Operating System and basic applications are in a newly purchased i-Phone.9 Furthermore, (b) as if “permanent inscription” of the law on the mind of man was not sufficient, many of the early Reformers held that God also “published” the main tenets of natural law in the 10 Commandments given to Moses on Mount Sinai.

To the second objection, we reply that ignorance of a law is proof neither that the law was not promulgated, nor that one can be held non-guilty if one breaks the law. It is simply not the case, even in our technologically advanced age, that all of those who live within any given municipality are aware when new laws are created, even though they may be posted publicly. Even if one is not aware of a law which has been promulgated, one is still held responsible for knowing about it (and seeking to find out what regulations may apply to any socially affective action one makes), and one is considered guilty for breaking the law whether one knows about it or not.10 In the same way, though the Natural Law is equally promulgated to all, it is not necessarily equally known by all. Just as there may be many who are unaware of the laws in a given area, there may be many who, due to lack of time, training, or ability, or due to negligence (vicious or innocent), have less knowledge of the givings of the Natural Law than others. However, the Natural Law is sufficiently promulgated that those who break it are rightly condemned.

How can we apply Natural Law to Gender and Sexuality?

Though there are many aspects of transgender theory and the philosophy of gender that we could discuss, we will concentrate on two aspects which are fundamental to the discussion: (1) biological sex and (2) gender or gender-identity. As there is somewhat more of a consensus on the first, we will begin with biological sex and then turn to gender. Natural law, grounding human morality in human nature, is able to call upon the observations of human biology to arrive at conclusions concerning sexual morality. In what follows, we will approach the question of sexuality in a way which could be broadly construed as a natural law approach to sexuality. Such an approach necessarily begins with an examination of what is meant by the terms “biological sex” and “gender”.

Biological Sex

Despite the fact that some gender theorists suggest that biological sex is fluid and that bodily changes associated with sexual development are ambiguous until given meaning in a socio-cultural context,11 the study of biological life reveals a number of important natural truths about human beings, which have normative implications for our question. First of all, though some gender theorists claim that biological sex is “assigned” at birth, or that individuals must “determine” their sex when they discover, create, or recreate their “gender identification,”12 it is still recognized by most that biological sex is determined at the molecular level,13 and “discovered” through the examination, first, of the phenotypical traits of an individual; and, then, if there is some doubt as to the biological sex of an individual, genotypical traits can be examined.14 Some gender theorists, though they see biological sex as a bodily reality, argue that the bodily changes related to reproductive processes take on the meaning that we give them within the society in which we find ourselves, and in relation to the gender structures of our culture.15 It is worth emphasizing here that even for those who deny that biological sex is “determined” by genetics and discovered through examination, it remains, by their own admission, inescapably related to genotypical and phenotypical traits. Connell and Pearse, for example, suggest that bodily processes related to reproduction, such as childcare, birthing, and sexual interaction “which deploy human bodies’ capacities to engender, to give birth, to give milk, to give and receive sexual pleasure,” should be understood as “an arena, a bodily site where something social happens…the creation of the cultural categories ‘women’ and ‘men’.”16 We will address the question of gender in the next section, but it is worth noting that they recognize that biological traits do have some bearing upon what they see as culturally relative categories.

Secondly, going a step further, recent research into the function and interrelation of the various parts of human bodies has shown that the piece-meal “mechanistic” view of the human being, which sees the human body as highly modifiable (malleable) through the removal, addition, or replacement of body parts, is far from the truth, especially in relation to our biological sex. Rather, “Systems Biology,” which understands living things as dynamic networks of integrated parts all working together for the growth and flourishing of the individual, suggests that “the sexual development of an organism cannot be readily divorced from its overall developmental trajectory.”17

It follows that, “the specification of sex/gender and the maturation of the sexual organism is the result not of the activity of a single gene but of the interactions among numerous genes and the molecules that they encode. Together these molecules determine the shape and overall trajectory of human sexual development.”18 This implies that in discovering the biological sex of an organism, one does not rely exclusively on genotypical or phenotypical traits, but must also consider how the phenotypical traits of the biological organism have naturally developed, in relation to their proper ends and functions. If biological sex is determined by the role of the sexual organs, based on the natural development of a biological organism, in relation to the process of human reproduction, then there can only be two sexes — male and female — one that, to put it simply, fertilizes an egg, and one that produces the egg which will be fertilized and which brings the fertilized egg to term.19 In relation, then, to biological sex, we find that it is neither assigned nor determined by doctors, but, rather, discovered by observation.

Thirdly, one consequence of the above observations, which is directly applicable to sex reassignment surgery and transsexualism,20 is that if biological sex is a question of phenotypical traits, genotypical traits, and how they develop in the biological entity in relation to reproductive purposes, then “sex changes” are no more than cosmetic procedures which alter the phenotypical traits of an individual. That is, if it is not possible to alter the genotypical traits of a person, nor to maintain the reproductive capabilities of the person’s phenotypical traits even after surgical alteration, then it is not possible to change one’s biological sex. When the phenotypes of an individual are altered, the individual is rendered infertile—thus, destroying, not replacing, the individual’s sexual organs. It is not possible, therefore, to truly change one’s biological sex, even if one is able to so modify one’s physical body such that one has the appearance of having changed one’s sex. The question becomes whether one can change their biological sex to match their perceived gender. We will discuss the question of gender shortly, but, based upon our previous observations, it should be clear that it is not possible to change one’s biological sex.

These three points can be used to defend a number of moral claims. For example, if our biological sex is discovered (not assigned), if our biological sex is based upon phenotypical and genotypical traits which develop naturally towards reproductive ends, and, if it is not possible to change one’s sex, then it is immoral (1) to tell children that they can choose what sex they want to be, (2) to encourage children to think about what sex they want to be, as if they could choose, and (3) to insist on giving hormone blockers to children who may have doubts about their sex. By analogy, would society deem it morally good to inhibit the natural growth of an infant’s eyes, ears, or tongue, because we are not certain about whether or not the child will want to identify as “able to see” or as “blind,” “able to hear” or as “deaf,” “able to speak” or as “dumb”. Would it be considered morally good to remove a person’s eyes, ears, or tongue, because, later in life, they have decided to identify as “blind,” “deaf,” or “dumb”? Why, then, is it considered morally permissible to modify the sexual organs of an individual cosmetically, young or mature, who decides they wish to identify as a “sex” other than that which they are by birth?


In relation to the notion of gender there is significantly more debate, not all of which can be examined here. However, there are some key aspects of the debate which must be discussed. First of all, one of the most debated elements of gender theory is, in fact, the proper way to understand the term “gender”. There is, as of yet, no established consensus on the proper way to define the term “gender,” though there are common themes that come up repeatedly in the literature.21 It is worth noting that the term “gender,” when it was used of biological organisms, was historically related to the biological sex of the organism in question, the fact that it was “engendered” and could “engender.”22 Indeed, considering literature in which the terms “sex” and “gender” are used, Elliott Louis Bedford rightly notes that “even a cursory review of the literature reveals the terms are often used interchangeably, if not equivocally.”23 “Gender,” then, does seem to have a necessary connection with “biological sex”.

This does not, however, solve the problem, for, as Connell and Pearse rightly point out, “Language is important, but does not provide a consistent framework for understanding gender.”24 Having dismissed the linguistic basis of the meaning of this term, they then discuss and criticize the “common” understanding of gender as “the cultural difference of women from men, based on the biological division between male and female.”25 Rejecting the common use of the term, they suggest that “Gender” should be understood as “the structure of social relations that centers on the reproductive arena, and the set of practices that bring reproductive distinctions between bodies into social processes.”26 Gender, that is, for Connell and Pearse, though in some way related to biological reproductive processes, has “no fixed ‘biological base’ for the social process” being a certain gender.27 Rather, they portray gender as a way of acting or portraying oneself in relation to actual social interpretations of social relations centered on processes of reproduction.28 If gender is primarily a social construct, then gender is, for Connell and Pearse, necessarily fluid.29 Calling upon Derrida, gender theorists suggest that

Gender identities are produced discursively, but meanings in discourse are not fixed…meanings are incapable of being fixed in any final way. Further, there is no fixed connection between discursive identities and the bodies to which those identities refer. People with male bodies can enact femininity, people with female bodies can enact masculinity. Gender identities can be played with, taken up and abandoned, unpacked and recombined.30

Gender, then, is a social structure, with some relation (though not a necessary one) to biological processes, which can be chosen by the individual through their ways of acting out their understanding of their own sexuality in relation to the gender structures of the society in which they find themselves.31 It follows, they suggest, that there may be thousands of possible gender variations.32 We can respond to this understanding of gender, first, by pointing out one theory of gender which accounts for the relevant aspects of gender (such as the relation of gender to biological sex and the social aspect of gender roles, and so on) without falling prey to cultural, or even individual, relativism, and then we will point out some difficulties with key elements of social or fluid theories of gender.

First, though there are a number of approaches to gender which are of interest, one of the most helpful ways of talking about the relationship between “biological sex” and “gender” can be found in the writings of Charlotte Witt, who argues that the notion of gender is more than just biological (but not less), and more than just socio-cultural (but not less). Gender defines “the social positions of being a man and being a woman in terms of the different socially mediated reproductive functions of men and women.”33 In other words, “whether an individual is a woman or a man is fixed by the reproductive role that individual is recognized by others to perform. Social recognition is a necessary condition for occupying gendered social positions.”34 This implies, first, that, “being a man and being a woman are social positions with bifurcated social norms that cluster around the engendering function. To be a woman is to be recognized as having a body that plays one role in the engendering function; women conceive and bear. To be a man is to be recognized as having a body that plays another role in the engendering function; men beget. The social norms include, but are not limited to, those attaching to different gestational roles and to different parenting roles.”35 This implies, secondly, that there cannot be a 3rd (or more) gender unless some way is found to relate that gender to the bodily functions of generating.36 Witt points out that, “If transgendered individuals are defined primarily in terms of desire, sexuality, and sexual orientation, however, they would not count as a third gender in my sense of the term.”37 The gender of the person, therefore, recognized (not assigned) based upon the person’s biology and the social norms associated with the role of that sex in reproduction, is the cause of the social unity of the social individual in all of the roles that he/she occupies. The gender is not, therefore, fluid, but biologically and socially determined.

Secondly, the notion of a core interior “gender identity” is severely flawed. Space does not permit to delve too deeply into the difficulties inherent in this concept, though we might point out that the notion of an inner gender-identity, as socially and not biologically grounded, gained popularity (if it wasn’t “birthed”) through the writings of John Money, Margaret Mead, Simone de Beauvoir, and Michel Foucault. Psychologist Robert Stoller38 defended this thesis by suggesting that it must be this inner gender-identity which allowed those whose biological sex had been wrongly identified at birth to know their “true sex”.39 For Stoller, this fundamental gender identity is immutable, established before the phallic stage of human life, and may conflict with (1) our observations of the phenotypes—the external genitalia, and (2) the expectations of, and relationships with, the parents and the surrounding society.40 Connell and Pearse note that later theorists modified Stoller’s concept of gender identity to allow for it to be plural, fluid, and subjective.41

One of the many difficulties with the inner gender-identity theory is revealed by the question, “What does it ‘feel like to be’, or act like, a ‘man’ or a ‘woman’?” Thomas Nagel, in his famous article “What is it like to be a Bat?” raised the question of the possibility of knowing the subjective experience and feelings of another. His argument can be directly related to the inner gender-identity theory. Nagel begins by describing the objective aspects of a bat: its body, its observable actions, etc. He goes on to say, “In so far as I can imagine this (which is not very far), it tells me only what it would be like for me to behave as a bat behaves. But that is not the question. I want to know what it is like for a bat to be a bat. Yet if I try to imagine this, I am restricted to the resources of my own mind, and those resources are inadequate to the task. I cannot perform it either by imagining additions to my present experience, or by imagining segments gradually subtracted from it, or by imagining some combination of additions, subtractions, and modifications…We cannot form more than a schematic conception of what it is like.”42 Nagel goes on to point out, that “the subjective character of the experience of a person deaf and blind from birth is not accessible to me, for example, nor presumably is mine to him.”43

The point is not only that I can know very little (if anything) about the subjective experience of a bat, or of a particular blind person, but that I also cannot know anything about the subjective experience of an individual who is biologically female or male. If I can’t know their subjective experience—their internal feelings—then how can I say that “to feel like a man is to feel like …” or “to feel like a woman is to feel like …” I might know how I feel as a man, or a woman might know how she feels as a woman, but I cannot know what it feels like “to be a man” or “to be a woman” if I am not that sex. In relation to what a man or a woman “acts like,” and if gender-fluidity theorists are right to suggest that gender is mostly (if not completely) socially determined, then there can be no objective “way” to act like a woman or man, and the theory falls apart. It falls into the well-known traps of cultural relativism.

Finally, the many examples of socially-determined ways of expressing genders which are raised by gender theorists to refute the various versions of “gender essentialism” tend to be descriptive of “accidental” rather than “essential” ways in which biological males and females act—they confuse the objective ways in which a person of a particular biological sex acts in relation to human reproduction (such as activities related to birthing, raising, and educating children) with diverse social norms related to how a person with a particular biological sex acts. We must recognize that there are socio-cultural norms, different for each culture (and even for each species of animal), which describe how a man or a woman will dress or behave, what they are interested in, etc.44

For example, Scottish men wear kilts—not skirts, but not unlike skirts. This is not what a man typically wears in North American culture. For some cultures men do not wear pink, for other cultures they do. Other activities which have been occasionally designated as “gender-specific” would include things such as writing and appreciating poetry, wearing silky clothing, cultivating and appreciating flowers, baking, and designing clothing. These, however, are social constructs that are specific to each culture, and they are neither subjective experiences of the individual, nor absolutely “normative” ways of identifying “men” or “women.” As such, one feels compelled to conclude that, though there are objective ways of being male or female, they are directly related to the reproductive processes (as noted above), and the activity of raising one’s offspring. The many socially-determined ways of expressing gender (such as those mentioned above) do not amount to an objective way of being that could be referred to as “feeling like a woman” or “feeling like a man.”45

The word gender, then, can be best defined as the socio-cultural manifestation and recognition of the embodied human nature, based on the biological sex of the individual and the role of the sex of the individual in reproduction, child-rearing, and society. Some of the ways in which genders are manifested will be determined by different cultures (which often have different standards regarding the expression of an individual’s identity as a man or as woman). These different standards are subject to change or modification, even within the same culture, and, therefore, can be questioned and debated. This will certainly be complexified as all kinds of cultures are brought into contact with each other.

What is not debatable is (1) the number of genders (since the notion of gender is based on biological sex, and there are only two possible roles in biological reproduction), and (2) the biological aspect which determines that one is a member of one of the two genders (as it is impossible to really change one’s biological sex).46 We are born male or female.47 We are, therefore, male or female. And one becomes, through reproduction, a mother or father. The way we manifest our identity as a man or a woman is going to either conform to “socio-cultural standards” (on one level or another — based on how men or women are in our family, our village, our religious community, our country, or some other social community), or be a form of reaction against these same socio-cultural standards, or be a mixture of conformity and reaction.

Some Concluding Thoughts

It follows, from the above observations, that, first of all, there are only two sexes, male and female. The biological sex of an individual is discovered, not assigned, through examination of the individual’s phenotypical and genotypical traits as they contribute, in the natural development of the biological person, to its reproductive ends. Secondly, though there is no definition of “gender” that has achieved consensus in the realm of gender studies, there is a clear direction which can be taken in establishing a definition—and it is not the direction currently being taken by our society. Third, there are concepts and elements that must not be included in a proper definition of the term “gender” (such as, “inner or intrinsic feeling”). Fourth, the notion of gender is closely linked to the biological functions of reproduction—insemination, conception, and childbearing—and, therefore, to biological sex. Fifth, the notion of gender is also linked to social factors surrounding the respective roles of the biological male and female of our species — as much in the act of fathering a child, as in the actions surrounding the rearing and education of this child. We cannot, therefore, remove the notions of father and mother from the notions of man (male) and woman (female).48 Some of the socio-cultural characteristics of fathers and mothers may differ from culture to culture, but the biological aspects appear to be quite unchanging. Many more conclusions may be drawn, but these already point to very clear morally normative claims concerning sexuality and gender-identification theory.49

*Image Credit: Unsplash

Show 49 footnotes
  1. Carl Trueman has done a good job of tracing part of the discussion, in his book The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self: Cultural Amnesia, Expressive Individualism, and the Road to the Sexual Revolution (Crossway, 2020). Another publication which is helpful for tracing the history of the discussion is David Allyn’s Make Love, Not War: The Sexual Revolution: An Unfettered History (New York: Routledge, 2001). Raewyn Connell and Rebecca Pearse, Gender in World Perspective, 3rd ed. (2015; repr., Malden, MA: Polity Press, 2016), 52-71.
  2. Eli Coleman et al, Standards of Care for the Health of Transsexual, Transgender and Gender-Nonconforming People, version 7 (WPATH, 2012), 97. Published in the International Journal of Transgenderism, 13 (4): 165-232. This approach to sex has been put into public policy in Canada, as seen in the Policy on preventing discrimination because of Gender Identity and Gender Expression, (Ontario Human Rights Commission, Jan. 31, 2014, accessed Jan. 9, 2023).
  3. Coleman et al, SOC, v. 7, 96. It is worth noting that neither of these definitions have obtained any sort of consensus in either the scientific or philosophical community, but are very influential in public pronouncements and policies. In fact, this approach to gender identity has been put into public policy in Canada, as seen in the Policy on preventing discrimination because of Gender Identity and Gender Expression, (Ontario Human Rights Commission, Jan. 31, 2014, accessed Jan. 9, 2023).
  4. Cf. Connell and Pearse, Gender in World Perspective, 3rd ed., 57. 65-66. Judith Butler, Undoing Gender (New York/London: Routledge, 2004). Sally Hines, Is Gender Fluid? A Primer for the 21st Century (New York, NY: Thames & Hudson, 2018). Nancy Kang, “Painted Fetters: Tattooing as Feminist Liberation,” in Robert Arp, ed., Tattoos—Philosophy for Everyone: I Ink, Therefore I am (West Sussex, UK: John Wiley & Sons, 2012), 77.
  5. Perhaps this article will provide some sort of an answer to the questions James Clark is asking in his article “Putting Natural Law in its Place,” The North American Anglican (June 20, 2022), (accessed Jan. 5, 2023). Here, he suggests that the claim that natural law can be useful in public discourse on ethics has never been proven, only assumed. One wonders, of course, what kind of proof one needs to offer in order to substantiate this claim. Arguably, authors such as Ed Feser, Christopher O. Tollefsen, Robert P. George, Andrew Walker, and others, have already been engaging in natural law based reasoning, in the public sphere, on these issues (cf. Christopher O. Tollefsen, “Gender Identity,” Public Discourse, (Published July 14, 2015, Accessed 2019-03-07). Andrew T. Walker, God and the Transgender Debate: What does the Bible Actually Say about Gender Identity? (2017; repr., Epsom, Surrey, England: The Good Book Company, 2018). Robert P. George, “Gnostic Liberalism,” First Things, (published December 2016, accessed 2019-03-13). Ed Feser, “The Sexual Revolution Devours its Children,” Aussie Nationalist Blog, (published Dec. 27, 2018, accessed 2019-03-07). Ed Feser, “Byrne on why sex is not a social construct,” Edward Feser Blogspot, (published December 13 2018, accessed 2019-03-07).). I hope that this article is another example of engaging in natural law reasoning in the public sphere on issues related to morality.
  6. Human nature is to God as the idea of a table or chair is to a carpenter. The table or chair is first in the mind of the carpenter, as an archetypal form or cause, and is then incarnated through the production of a particular table or chair. In the same way, human being is first in the mind of God, our Creator, as an archetypal form or cause, and was brought into being when God created the first man. This archetypal cause—human nature—as it is in the mind of God, is the basis of natural law. Cf. Thomas Aquinas, ST I-II, q. 93, a. 1, respondeo; q. 94.
  7. It is interesting to note that in contemporary thought, human will has become the “divine” creator of “nature”. Contemporary thought has replaced the Aristotelian or Platonist “nature” or “form,” which is the eternal and immutable formal cause of “what” things are, with the human will which is the mutable and temporal efficient cause of itself—the ungrounded ground of its own “being”.
  8. Thomas Aquinas, in Summa Theologiae I-II, q. 90, explains that a Law, by nature, is: (1) “a rule and measure of acts, whereby man is induced to act or is restrained from acting…it binds one to act. (a. 1)”; (2) “ordained to the common good. (a. 2)”; and (3) necessarily promulgated to all those who are governed by it (a. 4). All quotes from the ST are taken from Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, trans. Fathers of the English Dominican Province (Notre Dame, IN: Ave Maria Press, Inc., 1948).
  9. Cf. Rom. 2:14-16. Aquinas, ST I-II, q. 90, a. 4, ad 1.
  10. If you ever visit the island of Montreal, and turn right on a red light, you risk getting a ticket for breaking the law, even if you were not aware that it is prohibited to turn right on a red light on the entire island of Montreal. If you go to court and plead your case saying you were unaware of the law, the judge will tell you that you are responsible to understand the local rules of the road before you begin driving locally. Natural law is inscribed on all human minds, being born and acting as a human implies the ability to know natural law.
  11. Which can be seen in the quotes above from the SOC and WPATH. Cf. Connell and Pearse, Gender in World Perspective, 99.
  12. The entire notion of an “interior gender identity” is extremely problematic, as we will see shortly.
  13. For questions concerning DSDs (Disorders in Sexual Development), see n. 28.
  14. The term “Phenotypical traits” refers to those physical traits of an individual which are observable by the naked eye, such as genitalia; “Genotypical traits” refers to the genetic traits of the individual, such as chromosomes and hormones.
  15. Connell and Pearse, Gender in World Perspective, 3rd ed., 33-35, 40. “Bodily changes such as menarche, first ejaculation, the ‘breaking’ of a boy’s voice and the development of a girl’s breasts are important, but their meanings remain ambiguous until they are given definition by the society’s gender symbolism. (Connell and Pearse, Gender in World Perspective, 3rd ed., 99.)”
  16. Connell and Pearse, Gender in World Perspective, 3rd ed., 49.
  17. Nicanor Pier Giorgio Austriaco, “The specification of sex/gender in the human species” New Blackfriars, vol. 94, 1054 (2013): 713.
  18. Austriaco, SSGHS, 713.
  19. Someone might say, “yes, but there are biological organisms which are capable of self-fertilization, or which are capable of changing their biological sex when there are not enough males or females for reproduction of the species.” Certainly, but this does not prove that there is a third sex! Only that there are certain biological beings who are capable of playing the role of either male and female (self-fertilizing), or of changing their role in order to ensure the reproduction of their species. This, in fact, implies that there are only two biological sexes. It is important to note, however, that the human being is able neither to self-fertilize, nor to change its role in the reproduction of the species (those who make a sex transition become infertile). So, this is not, in fact, a “sex change”. On the contrary, they remove their ability to reproduce, removing the phenotypes that have developed naturally with the aim of serving for reproduction, but they remain, at the level of genotypes, the same sex they were from birth.
  20. There is a distinction between transgenderism and transsexualism (cf. Connell and Pearse, Gender in World Perspective, 3rd ed., 108-10).
  21. Consider, for example, the different definitions given by (1) the APA in Key Terms and Concepts in Understanding Gender Diversity and Sexual Orientation Among Students: Informational Guide (Washington, D.C.: APA, 2015), 20; and, “Transgender People, Gender Identity and Gender Expression,” American Psychological Association, (2019, accessed 2019-03-20). (2) Ryan T. Anderson, in When Harry Became Sally: Responding to the Transgender Moment (New York: Encounter Books, 2018), 149. (3) Andrew T. Walker, God and the Transgender Debate: What does the Bible Actually Say about Gender Identity? (2017; repr., Epsom, Surrey, England: The Good Book Company, 2018), 31. (4) Christopher O. Tollefsen, “Gender Identity,” Public Discourse, (Published July 14, 2015, Accessed 2019-03-07). (5) John Finnis, “‘The Thing I Am’: Personal Identity in Aquinas and Shakespeare,” Social Philosophy and Policy 22 (2005): 252. (6) Connell and Pearse, Gender in World Perspective, 3rd ed., 73.
  22. Sr. Mary Prudence Allen, “Gender Reality,” Solidarity: The Journal of Catholic Social Thought and Secular Ethics, vol. 4, 1 (2014): 25, 27. Anderson, WHBS, 148. In fact, Rosalind Smith Edman suggest that it is only in the last 20 years, give or take, that feminist thinkers have begun to form something of a consensus concerning the idea that “gender” is not necessarily related to biological sex. (Rosalind Smith Edman, “Feminism, Postmodernism and Thomism,” in Roman T. Ciapalo, ed., Postmodernism and Christian Philosophy (Mishawaka, IN: American Maritain Association, 1997), 98).
  23. Elliott Louis Bedford and Jason T. Eberl, “Is the Soul Sexed? Anthropology, Transgenderism, and Disorders of Sex Development,” Health Care Ethics USA: A quarterly resource for the Catholic Health Ministry, Vol. 24, no. 3 (Summer 2016): 19. Cf. Connell and Pearse, Gender in World Perspective, 3rd ed., 9.
  24. Connell and Pearse, Gender in World Perspective, 3rd ed., 9.
  25. Connell and Pearse, Gender in World Perspective, 3rd ed., 10.
  26. Connell and Pearse, Gender in World Perspective, 3rd ed., 11.
  27. Connell and Pearse, Gender in World Perspective, 3rd ed., 11.
  28. Connell and Pearse, Gender in World Perspective, 3rd ed., 65, 73, 104.
  29. Connell and Pearse, Gender in World Perspective, 3rd ed., 66-67, 85-86.
  30. Connell and Pearse, Gender in World Perspective, 3rd ed., 86.
  31. Cf. Connell and Pearse, Gender in World Perspective, 3rd ed., 74, 83, 86.
  32. Connell and Pearse, Gender in World Perspective, 3rd ed., 42.
  33. Charlotte Witt, The Metaphysics of Gender (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), 29.
  34. Witt, MG, 29.
  35. Witt, MG, 40.
  36. Witt, MG, 40-42.
  37. Witt, MG, 41-42.
  38. Connell and Pearse point out that Stoller’s notion of identity seems to have found its basis in the work of Erik Erikson (Connell and Pearse, Gender in World Perspective, 3rd ed., 103).
  39. Robert J. Stoller, “A Contribution to the Study of Gender Identity,” The International Journal of Psychoanalysis, 45, 4 (April 1964): 220. Stoller examined two cases of individuals whose biological sex had been wrongly identified at birth (almost the entire article is dedicated to a single case, the second case is rapidly mentioned in two short paragraphs at the end of the article). These individuals grew up with everyone treating them as if they were one sex, that which the doctor had wrongly attributed to them. However, they acted more like the opposite sex. Eventually it was discovered that they were, in fact, the opposite sex, and measures were taken to remedy the situation. These cases are used to prove the existence of an inner gender identity, which may or may not be related to the individual’s biological sex. It seems to prove, however, that it is possible to mis-identify an individual’s biological sex, and then to correct that error later.
  40. Stoller, CSGI, 223.
  41. Connell and Pearse, Gender in World Perspective, 3rd ed., 104-6. They note that “one becomes a member of a social movement by claiming the identity (as Black, as a woman, as lesbian, etc.) that the movement represents” (Connell and Pearse, Gender in World Perspective, 3rd ed., 105).
  42. Thomas Nagel, “What is it like to be a Bat?” The Philosophical Review, vol. 83, no. 4 (Oct. 1974): 439.
  43. Nagel, “What is it like to be a Bat?” 440.
  44. Cf. Connell and Pearse, Gender in World Perspective, 3rd ed., 106-7.
  45. There is something called gender dysphoria, which is the subjective sensation of not feeling comfortable with the biological sex of your body. This is treatable. However, it cannot be treated if we do not allow people to question their “subjective” states.
  46. Sex changes do not seem to be possible as biological sex is determined not only on the basis of phenotypes alone, but, more importantly, on the basis of genotypes, and the combined natural tendency of phenotypical and genotypical traits towards reproduction. We may be able, to a certain extent, to change our “gender identity” at the social level and in appearance, but we cannot change it at the biological and functional level (as the purpose of the sexual organs is the reproduction of the species). Cf. Bedford and Eberl, Is the Soul Sexed?, 22-25. Christopher O. Tollefsen, “Sex Identity,” Public Discourse, (published July 13, 2015, accessed 2019-03-07).
  47. The so-called “intersex” exceptions—which are, in fact, cases of disorders in sexual development—prove the rule. They are called “intersex,” precisely, in connection with the fact that the individuals in question appear to have phenotypical traits of both sexes. However, usually those with DSD’s tend to be either infertile, or, are only endowed with a single functional “set” of reproductive organs. DSD’s do not constitute a third sex, but seem to prove that there are only two sexes. For more on this, Cf. Alex Byrne, “Is Sex Binary?” Arc Digital, (Nov. 1, 2018, accessed 2019-03-13). Anderson, WHBS, 88-89.
  48. Cf. Allen, Gender Reality, 35.
  49. For example, if these conclusions are true, then to teach children that their gender or sex is fluid or a personal choice, is a morally heinous action. To encourage them to discover for themselves what gender or sex they are is evil.
Print article

Share This

David Haines

David Haines is Assistant professor of philosophy and theology at Bethlehem College & Seminary, associate professor of philosophy and religion at VIU, lecturer in philosophy and dogmatics with Davenant Hall, and lecturer in philosophy at Université de Sherbrooke. His academic research and publications focus on Ancient and Medieval philosophy, C. S. Lewis, Thomism, early reformed thought, natural law, and natural theology.