An Open Letter to the Vatican

| Jun 17, 2019
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I know you’re out there. I can feel you now. I know that you’re afraid. You’re afraid of us. You’re afraid of change. I don’t know the future. I didn’t come here to tell you how this is going to end. I came here to tell you how it’s going to begin. I’m going to hang up this phone and then I’m going to show these people what you don’t want them to see. I’m going to show them a world without you, a world without rules and controls, without borders or boundaries, a world where anything is possible. Where we go from there is a choice I leave to you. — The Matrix, Wachowski Sisters, 1999

Open Letter to:

Giuseppe Cardinal Versaldi, Prefect
Archbishop Angelo Vincenzo Zani, Secretary
Congregation for Catholic Education
Vatican City

I know that you are afraid. The carefully crafted fabric of rules to define and control gender behavior that has been fashioned over the years is beginning to become unraveled. That is because it has come top-down, without consideration of the science of how human behavior is actually formed. As depicted above in The Matrix, systems of behavioral control are inherently unstable and become unraveled if not consistent with human nature. We can only know the essential nature of humans when they are free to behave. The Enlightenment and capitalism have made it possible for humans to achieve the synergistic goals of political and economic freedom.

Your church used to blame demons for the behaviors you condemn such as same-sex relationships, transgenderism, and polyamory but now you blame them in your recent document on some nebulous “gender ideology.” You cannot detail this ideology or name its proponents, just as you cannot detail your own positions about gender behavior because they are not evidence-based. Respectfully, I believe that is because you currently argue from an uninformed position.

I understand your obligatory need to condemn such behaviors based on previous leaders’ statements and documents. I see beyond such condemnations in your recent document in a call to obtain new understanding of these and other behavioral phenomena. As demonstration of this you condemn unjust discrimination and seek to raise the status of women (however the latter in your document only in the context of motherhood and education.) I, for one, am willing to look beyond these obligatory condemnations that injure me and others to help you understand the relevant science, at least the science pertaining to being transgender. I believe, as you claim to believe, that an understanding of human nature should drive our actions and policies.

So, let’s get beyond the obligatory condemnations and get to discussion of the science. Yes, human beings reproduce sexually and generally can be classed as male or female based on sex organs. However, there is a diverse range of genetic and epigenetic precursors that result in these organs and we are not yet in a position to predict the anatomies of sex organs from genetics and epigenetics. In your document, you acknowledge that genetics are involved based on your overly simplistic explanation of XX and XY chromosomes and sexual dimorphism. Sex chromosomes were discovered in 1905 by Nettie Stevens, a woman, and the science of genetics is far beyond that now. (I mention that she is a woman in alignment for your giving credit to women for their accomplishments in your document.) There are many combinations of X and Y chromosomes and many variations in sex organ blueprint details in all 46 chromosomes that carry the information to construct and operate human bodies. And there are many sex organ anatomies that cannot easily be classed as male or female. So please, get caught up with the science, most of which is taught in your own Catholic colleges right now in many countries.

If you are interested in gender systems, I suggest that, since you are a global organization, you should look out at the gender systems around the world to understand that a binary, cisgender, rigid system is not the only one possible and that other systems may better fit the diversity of human gender predispositions. In many cases where religion did not obliterate local human cultures, 3-5 gender categories are the norm, not 2. In some of your remote outposts, for example, in extreme southern Mexico, your religion has tolerated and blessed a 3 gender category system for decades based on the local Zapotec culture. Such tolerance and acceptance also obtains for the Muslim religion in various countries, so it is possible for religion to work with non-binary systems.

Muxe is a third gender in Zapotec culture.

Muxe is a third gender in Zapotec culture.

You acknowledge that sex organs and gender behavior are two different things that can be separately studied. But you do no acknowledge that they can dissociate in people. This is based on 19th Century anthropology which assumed that gender behavior was an evolutionary result of sex organs which restricted women during pregnancy and nursing. That anthropology is in dispute; it was likely that such conclusions more reflected the European cultural biases of the investigators than the actual evidence. Since the Catholic church has generally fostered science, except in some historical periods, you should be aware of and study the alternatives.

The dissociation of sex and gender has been demonstrated scientifically with transgender people. Being transgender is heritable and current transgender science indicates that sex and gender are decoupled in transgender people. This decoupling is due to certain genes common to transgender people. The heritability of being transgender is based in part on twin studies. Furthermore, in these studies, for those identical twins in a pair with only one transgender twin, both members of the twin pair had the same sex. So, sex and gender are dissociable scientifically. Dissociation can be further tested through genetics research on a genome-wide study basis. If you want to study this area further, I am sure that genetic investigators could use some funding because such funding is considered frivolous in the US and is resource-limited elsewhere; but you undoubtedly know that it is important for understanding the human condition which has long been a Catholic intellectual pursuit.

Transgender science also indicates that being transgender is not a choice or “a subjective mindset” as you say. No one would willingly go through the social rejection which accompanies being transgender unless it was an integral part of their being. Being transgender is thus a move towards nature, rather than away from it. Everyone has a genetic gender behavior predisposition which may or not be congruent with their cultural assignment of gender category. As you indicate, a person should not be “denied any original given element in the individual” and gender predisposition is clearly one element. This assignment of gender behavior category has been driven exclusively according to natal sex in Western culture by Abrahamic religious beliefs. But this is not the case in many other cultures which better accommodate human nature.

Once you are exposed to the science, I am sure that it will help form recommendations that are consonant with the human condition. You can call this 21 Century natural law, if you wish. I understand that the US State department will be in future basing its policies on natural law but we need to fill in the picture of what that entails from scientific evidence. I would welcome your assistance in changing Western culture to conform with the human condition in order to accommodate those currently considered to be cultural gender outlaws such as transgender people.

You state your desire for dialogue on gender issues and that the “primary outlook for anyone who wishes to take part in dialogue is listening.” I suggest that you listen to the scientists who have studied transgender people. The next step, as you indicate is to be open to the “contribution of reason.” I suggest that you should reason with transgender people, scientists and providers. They are not attempting to subvert the family, schools, church or society. They merely seek to make it possible for transgender people to live in societies and cultures without rejection, discrimination and violence. What Catholic schools teach about being transgender can then be evidence-based, being sensitive to the experience of transgender people.

Yours truly,

Dana J. Bevan, Ph.D.
Atlanta, Georgia, USA

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Category: Transgender Body & Soul, Transgender Opinion


About the Author ()

Dana Jennett Bevan holds a Ph.D. from Princeton University and a Bachelors degree from Dartmouth College both in experimental psychology. She is the author of The Transsexual Scientist which combines biology with autobiography as she came to learn about transgenderism throughout her life. Her second book The Psychobiology of Transsexualism and Transgenderism is a comprehensive analysis of TSTG research and was published in 2014 by Praeger under the pen name Thomas E. Bevan. Her third book Being Transgender was released by Praeger in November 2016. She can be reached at [email protected]

Comments (4)

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  1. clewis clewis says:

    I am a faithful, active Catholic that happens to be transgendered. I revealed my background to everyone at my parish simply by attending Mass as such, one spring Sunday morning five years ago.

    I wore an appropriate Sunday outfit – pastel top, white skirt and sandals – took my regular place in the pew, worshipped peacefully as always, and went home afterward.

    My parish is rather traditional in its theology, culture, programs, etc. (as am I).

    Not only was there zero negative feedback, I was subsequently invited to join our ladies group. I was thrilled and honored to accept.

    (We coordinate the social events and the fundraisers for the parish, so it is a very active and visible activity.)

    In the five years since, there has never – not once – been an iota of negative response or feedback from the clergy, staff, or parishioners. Far from it; they have shown me such love and support.

    I have also become involved in other parish ministries, including our altar guild and women’s scripture group.

    Perhaps this is not the norm, and others know their own situations better than I do.

    I am not an activist of any sort, and I refrain from potentially awkward and controversial subjects in my conversations with parishioners. I tend to wait for others to make the approach.

    I simply have tried to show myself to be a caring individual who is happy to be involved. I believe people have responded accordingly.

  2. j2emily j2emily says:

    this is excellent-where is the theology to support the Chuch’s position? Unfortunately this was a waste of time. The Church never changes until their position is so absurd that they must. Eg. annulments , movies labeled as mortal sins(now plan vanilla) etc. One of my favorites is advising parents of newborns who died before before baptism that the child would go to Limbo and never be with God. Now the Church says there is no Limbo!
    Consider all of the heartbreak and anguish these “positions” caused the faithful over the decades. And in its arrogance-never an apology.Wait another 20 years or so and the will do an 180 concerning us

    • danabevan danabevan says:

      All we can do is to hold the church to its better angels. It has fostered science and scholarship at various points and those traditions are not completely lost.

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