Conservative Catholicism’s Attack on Transgender Rights

February 9, 2013 in General

Even though reassignment surgery and transsexuals have been around for the last sixty to eighty years, the Vatican arbitarily decided that “faithful” Catholics could “not” have gender reassignment surgery¬† because it was suddenly “against natural law”, the prescientific and premodern twelfth century framework of St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Augustine, Plato and Aristotle, back in 2000.¬†

As I’ve noted in a prior blog on transphobia and religious social conservatism, under Pope John Paul II, the Vatican adopted its current animus against reassignment surgery in 2000, although it was not made official until 2003. Other Christian Right opponents of transgender rights include the US Family Research Council and its odious Peter Sprigg, the late Charles Socarides and the American Family Association, REAL Women of Canada, Focus on the Family, Canada‚Äôs antiabortion and antigay ¬†Lifesite ¬†and Family First New Zealand. They also include conservative Catholic activist Dale O’Leary, who attacked ‘gender theory” in a piece published on her own blog and the Australian Catholic Right’s Mercatornet.

Why? Well, it probably has a lot to do with Canada’s Bill C-279, stalled legislation that is attempting to remedy transphobia through rendering it illegal to discriminate on the basis of gender identity when it comes to accomodation, employment, goods and services. After ignoring similar developments in Australia and the United Kingdom, as well as numerous unsuccessful referenda against transgender rights legislation within the United States, the Catholic Right is suddenly engaged in temper tantrums against C-279.

O’Leary argues that the transgender movement arose because of the rift within transgender rights politics and transssexual and trans-inclusive feminism between the alleged “biological substrate” of “natural” sex and the social construct that is gender. Well, yes. Increasingly, governed by scientific study of the actual scientific atttributions of endocrinology, genetics and ambiguously “sexed” bodies in the case of the intersex community, the illusion of “natural” sex has been increasingly eroded within mainstream scientific study and has legitimised the struggles for transgender and intersexed equality.¬† Of course, O’ Leary ignores that inconvenient fact.

She is also anti-feminist, arguing that there are “natural differences” between women and men. However, that argument is a straw person. So what? Granted, men can’t become pregnant, except if they’re FTM and haven’t had their uterus removed, but neither can women who have had to undergo a hysterectomy due to uterine cancer or other illnesses. Granted, transwomen can’t become pregnant, at least due to the current status of reassignment surgery. However, in many western jurisdictions, it is illegal to discriminate on the basis of pregnancy, and there are legislative protections that shield women and men from reproductive hazards. One would have thought that as a conservative Catholic, O’Leary would have welcomed a solution to employment discrimination on such a basis, whether she believes in “natural” sex or not.

However, here’s the major problem for O’Leary’s argument. In itself, it is a social construct, and a fairly recent social construct¬†at that. The Vatican only made its current ¬†arbitrary decision that reassignment surgery was “immoral” and should be “forbidden” within public policy thirteen short years ago. Unlike its stance on marriage, it cannot state that its current arbitrary opposition to transsexuality is a matter of “traditional values”, given the novelty of this dogma.¬†

Regardless of this, O’Leary uses perjorative transphobic phrases like “unnatural”, “mutilation” and other terms to describe the process of transitioning and reassignment surgery and ignores DSM V’s recent decision to transfer the clinical status of transsexuality from “gender identity disorder” to gender dysphoria.¬†¬† O’Leary talks about the “denial” of reality in this context. Nonsense.

Let’s get this perfectly clear. It is the transsexual community which has scientific and medical evidence on its side. Gender dysphoria is a legitimate and documented clinical condition and it can be resolved through transitioning and reassignment surgery. Science is based on observation of empirical reality, structured hypotheses and verification or rebuttal. Therefore, science is a valid evaluative tool for the description of reality, however much the Catholic Right and its fundamentalist Protestant fellow travellers want to deny it when it comes to ‘inconvenient truths” about sexual orientation and gender identity.¬† Therefore, science is also a suitable basis for grounding antidiscrimination legislation and other remedial measures to secure transgender legal and social equality.¬† Unlike subjective, prescientific, abstract and archaic transphobic social conservatism.

Not Recommended:

Dale O’Leary: “The expanding gender agenda” MercatorNet: 08.02.2013:


“Catholic beliefs about the cures and causes of transsexuality” Ontario Consultants for Religious Tolerance:

“Vatican says sex change does not affect a person’s identity”:



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