Although LGBT leadership has decried Pope Francis’ supposed ignorance and insensitivity regarding transgenderism, a recent paper from a group of prominent pediatricians suggests that the pope may have science solidly on his side.
Several LGBT activists criticized Pope Francis after he denounced attempts to teach children that gender is fluid and can be chosen, rather than a biological fact and a gift from God. In a meeting with Polish bishops during World Youth Day, the pope bemoaned the infiltration of “gender theory” into educational materials for children.
“Today, schools are teaching children—children!—that everyone can choose their own sex. And why is this being taught? Because their textbooks are chosen by the people and institutions that give money. This is ideological colonization, promoted by very influential nations. This is terrible,” the pope said.
Sarah McBride, a transgender woman and National Press Secretary of the pro-LGBT Human Rights Campaign, said that Francis’s words were “not only hurtful, and frankly harmful, but really demonstrating a misunderstanding of what it means to be transgender.”
Francis DeBernardo, the executive director of New Ways Ministry, a Catholic LGBT advocacy group, also responded immediately to the pope’s remarks, suggesting that he was ignorant concerning the nature of transgenderism.
“Pope Francis’ shocked lament about schools teaching children they can choose their gender says more about the pope’s knowledge of LGBT issues than it does about the reality of gender identity,” DeBernardo said in a statement.
“Nobody chooses a gender identity. They discover it. Transgender people come to know themselves in a process is [sic] similar to the way that lesbian, gay, and bisexual people discover their sexual orientation,” he said.
Despite DeBernardo’s claims, recent clinical studies suggest that gender identity—an individual’s awareness of being male or female, sometimes referred to as an individual’s “experienced gender”—is not an innate component of human psychology that can be “discovered,” but is fundamentally determined by a series of post-natal experiences, influences and choices.
A paper released this past week by the American College of Pediatricians on gender dysphoria (GD) in children—a psychological condition in which children experience a marked incongruence between their experienced gender and their biological sex—suggests that Pope Francis was fundamentally correct in his criticism of gender theory.
“The norm for human development is for an individual’s thoughts to align with physical reality; for an individual’s gender identity to align with biologic sex,” the doctors assert. People who identify as “feeling like the opposite sex” remain biological men or biological women.
“GD is a problem that resides in the mind not in the body. Children with GD do not have a disordered body—even though they feel as if they do,” they note.
(The American College of Pediatricians is a socially conservative group of health care professionals that broke from the American Academy of Pediatrics, the main professional body in the field, over its support for gay adoption.)
The largest study ever of twin transsexual adults found that only 20 percent of identical twins both identified as transgender, despite their identical DNA. Since identical twins contain 100 percent of the same DNA from conception, and develop in exactly the same prenatal environment, if gender identity were innate, the concordance rates would be close to 100 percent—rather than 20 percent.
According to the ACP report, twin studies alone disprove the theory of an “innate gender identity” arising from prenatally “feminized” or “masculinized” brains trapped in the wrong body. This theory is rather “an ideological belief that has no basis in rigorous science,” the doctors assert.
Moreover, they continue, studies have shown that gender dysphoria among children is radically reduced when they are not encouraged to impersonate the opposite sex. Encouraging gender fluidity and identity experimentation among children is one of the primary causes of gender dysphoria.
This factor justifies the pope’s reaction to school textbooks that suggest that children be encouraged to experiment with gender as if their sexuality were not biologically predetermined.
The physicians state that the literature regarding the treatment of childhood gender dysphoria is heavily based upon clinical case studies, and yet these studies “suggest that social reinforcement, parental psychopathology, family dynamics, and social contagion facilitated by mainstream and social media, all contribute to the development and/or persistence of GD in some vulnerable children.”
On numerous occasions, Pope Francis has reaffirmed Catholic teaching that God creates human beings as male and female, and that young people should be taught to embrace the sexuality that God gave them.
In his letter on marriage and the family, Amoris Laetitia (“The Joy of Love”), Pope Francis said that sex education should teach “respect and appreciation” for sexual differences, as a way of helping the young to overcome self-absorption.
This respect includes self-acceptance and learning to embrace the body one is born with, rather than playing with fictional identities that deny reality.
“An appreciation of our body as male or female,” he added, is “necessary for our own self-awareness in an encounter with others different from ourselves.”
According to the most recent studies, the pope’s views are not only theologically orthodox, but scientifically sound.