Helping Young People Navigate the Cultural Minefield

At my son’s large public high school it is not uncommon to see kids in various states of “gender fluidity,” but not simply in the sense of feminine boys and tomboy girls as I saw back in my own public high school in the 1980s. No, these kids are either formally “transitioning” or experimenting with opposite-sex alter-egos, both of which have become trendy and faddish.

As parents, we are often lulled by a misguided compassion that keeps us from sharing the truth, even in a loving way. If your compassion (or, let’s face it, cowardice) leads you to silence about or sympathy for sin, you are playing into the hands of a truth-denying culture that endangers many souls.

Kids do not need wishy-washiness. They need us to graciously, firmly, consistently stand up for the truth.

Remember the words of St. Paul, who hoped that“we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the cunning of men, by their craftiness in deceitful wiles. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ”(Eph. 4:14-15).

Your gracious confidence in these discussions is paramount, so ask the Holy Spirit to give you plenty of it! After all, Jesus said “Ask and it will be given to you!” (Matt 7:7).

One source of conflict in your kids’ culture might be which pronouns to use for those who identify as transgender. Your teen might be caught up in a discussion about a transgender celebrity, or have a biologically male classmate who now has a female appearance and a new name, and who demands to be addressed with “she” and “her.”

These pronoun battles actually present an opportunity for Catholics to turn the tables on critics and point out how they are imposing their morality on us. After all, it’s one thing for a person to claim to be transgender, but quite another to force others to go along with this claim against their will, even requiring them to speak words they don’t believe.

If your teen gets cornered on this subject, or even challenges you on it, return to first principles: it’s wrong to lie. Additionally, a lie becomes more serious when it is spoken about something significant. This shifts the focus from your child (or you) to the real issue. Here’s how this might play out:

Tom:Why do you keep saying [man who claims he’s a woman] is a he? That’s really hurtful!

Mary:I’m not trying to hurt anyone, but please see where I’m coming from. It’s wrong to lie, and if I say [man who claims he’s a woman] is a woman, that would make me a liar.

Tom:But it’s not a lie! If she says she is a woman then she is a woman.

Mary:Wait, are you saying that merely saying or believing you’re a woman makes you a woman? Why should I believe that? Can a person change his race or his species in the same way?

Tom:Well, it’s her own sense of self that matters!

Mary:But that still doesn’t make it true. There’s no evidence, in science or in anything we can measure, that “gender” exists except in the imagination. Morally, I am not allowed to lie for anyone. I hope you can respect that my faith requires me to be honest and speak only what is true.

When a person has a body dysphoria unrelated to sex or “gender,” everyone understands that the person needs help. When an anorexic looks in the mirror, she might see someone who is obese, even if she weighs much less than everyone else her age. We don’t tell that girl, “That’s right, you are overweight, and we will help you reach the weight that’s right for you.”

Instead we say, “What you perceive yourself to be, well, that isn’t you. In reality, you are dangerously underweight, and because we love you, we aren’t going to help you harm yourself.” That is the loving response.

Another body dysphoria concerns people who identify as being amputees or paraplegics even though they have all their limbs and can walk. Doctors call this Body Integrity Identity Disorder (BIID), but some who have this disorder say instead that they are “trans-abled.” Like those who identify as transgender, these people feel disconnected from their own bodies; they seek out doctors to paralyze them or amputate their limbs so that they can be who they “truly are.”

One researcher in Canada (who identifies as transgender but not trans-able) explains that the transgender community hasn’t supported the trans-able community because the former doesn’t want its recent momentum in the court of public opinion to grind to a halt by association with the latter, which almost everyone still understands to be a serious pathology.

Yet if we are rightly disgusted that a doctor would amputate the healthy limbs of a person who suffers from BIID, then why aren’t we equally disgusted by doctors amputating the healthy genitals of persons who identify as transgender? This mental gymnastics of holding both positions at once (trans-able = bad; transgender = good) is not tenable, unless we completely obliterate in our own minds that man and woman mean something objectively, as we know that healthy and disabled do.

The way we talk about issues generally is going to be different from the way we talk to people personally, especially those who are working through these issues. This means that we must meet each person where he is and as prudence dictates, while refusing to be silenced from speaking Christ’s truth generally.

I wholeheartedly believe, as the Church teaches, that transgender ideology is unreasonable and dangerous; however, my heart breaks for those who are truly confused about their own nature and identity, and who struggle with any kind of body dysphoria or disorder.

Teach your older children that, when they talk with someone who identifies as transgender or loves someone who does, they should spend time listening and asking open-ended questions that allow the person share his experience. This builds rapport and goodwill, and will give them time to put their own thoughts together when sharing the truth that applies to all. Then, they can discuss our common identity as children of God, and stress that we don’t want to lie about people or treat them with disrespect.

Your teen can express to the person that one’s “sense of gender” is not what ultimately defines human identity. The goodness and fulfillment of each person can only be found in the God who loves us, created us, and who can even use the trials and sufferings in our lives to make us complete and truly happy.

When your child’s friends have been lied to and gone down dark paths that can never bring true or lasting happiness, when they are weary and broken and at the end of their rope, your well-formed child may be the only one left who has never lied to them. This is what we want our children to be for others—imitating Christ in both love and truth—and it’s what a confused world needs them to be. As long as they are strong enough in their own interior faith life and in their understanding of natural law truths, they will be the ones to help pick up the pieces for their friends and others who have been victims of a merciless culture. 

Remember . . .

  • We should tell those who force transgender ideology that we cannot lie about people, biology, and human nature, and that it is unfair for them to demand that we do.
  • People clearly recognize other body dysphoria and identity disorders related to race or disability. We should point out the double standard when those same symptoms in “gender” identity issues are ignored or denied.
  • We must be compassionate with those who struggle with their identity, encouraging them to find their true identity in the loving God who created them in his image.

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Jun 18th 2024 Trent Horn and Leila Miller

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