Catholic Medical Quarterly Volume 70(3) August 2020

Does Descartes have anything to say about Transgender issues?
A final postscript on some Transgender issues

Having written the article above I found myself thinking through the issues of gender reassignment. These issues are currently being considered by both the Scottish and UK Governments.

One of the challenges of the LGBT movement has been that under LGBT theory people define themselves not simply as men or women but according to sexual attraction and/or their personal sense of gender - something potentially entirely separable from biological sex.

As a result, people (perhaps especially younger people) may feel encouraged to think though and express their sexual orientation and also that they must question their “gender”. Regardless of their biological sex (which they may still acknowledge), individuals who are, say, biologically male may feel, believe or conclude that they are female or some other non-male gender. Gender is seen as more fundamental than sex.

While Descartes stated, “I think, therefore I am”, in Gender Theory that statement might be modified to suggest that “I think I am female, therefore I am female”. The definition of gender is thereby effectively removed from a person’s biologically based sex. Gender is instead defined by what the individual discovers in his or her own feelings. Consequently, perhaps especially at a young age, people may feel that they are required not simply to know that they are male or female, but to have thought through (perhaps even before puberty) their gender and even perhaps their sexual orientation.

In that context we may feel encouraged to make a conscious assessment of our sexuality and also our gender. As a man, it is not simply enough to accept one’s biological state of maleness. Men may feel that they must express features of maleness in order to describe themselves as male. That raises interesting questions. For example

  • is a man who has five (or ten) children more or less of a man than one who has none? Definitely not!
  • is a man who has one wife, and is faithful to her and her alone though his whole life, more or less of a man than a man who has 200 sexual partners?

Likewise, Gender Theory appears to require women to think they are female to be female. Again, what if a woman thinks she must do certain female things in order to qualify as a woman?

  • is a woman who has carried and mothers five children more of a woman that one who is infertile? Clearly not
  • is a faithful wife less or more of woman than a promiscuous woman? Clearly not. However she feels and expresses her femininity, she remains a female.

If our being a man or being a woman is defined by the way we feel and think and express ourselves rather than our biological basis, then there appear to be real dangers in thinking in such terms.

The Cartesian “I think, therefore I am” along with its derivative “I am what I think” lends itself to the view (set out in Gender theory) that we are defined by what we think and feel more than we are by our biologicalsex. To be a man, I must think, feel and conclude that I am a man. A Cartesian approach saying that my soul is my mind (and separate from my biology) appears to support the requirement for us to have thought through and answered what can be difficult and challenging questions about our self-identity.

In the document “Male and Female He created them” [6] the Vatican's Congregation for Catholic Education states that we are male and female because God made us male and female. We should not set out mental qualifications for either maleness, femaleness, manhood or womanhood. Our humanity, our sex and our sexuality is a gift of God. Humanity is not earned, it is given. It is simply enough that we are. Or, as Descartes did not say, “we are because we are”.

Dr Adrian Treloar