Language matters! One of the lessons I remember from high school debate is that if you can define the terms right, you almost always win the debate. Even a cursory glance at the recent referendum on gay marriage in Ireland shows that the “yes” side managed control the language so that it was about 2 people loving each other not about family, society, and children.
Language is also important when we want to win teens for Christ. If we call a dude “jerkface,” chances are you won’t come back. If we are able to remember his name after he says only once, he will feel appreciated.
In the past week, the news is abounded with stories about Jenner: formally Bruce, and now wanting to be called Caitlyn. Many others have explained all the problems with sexual reassignment surgery but I want to discuss whether we should use “he” or “she,” and “Bruce” or “Caitlyn.” I want to apply this not just to one individual case but in general to any transsexuals we might have to discuss in ministry or we may encounter in ministry. Since teens who have these desires are often transitioning, we need to be ready for a transsexual teen in our youth group – a bad reaction to such a person could set them against the Church permanently.
I’m not 100% sure what the best option is but I want to present the arguments for both sides and conclude with what I would do.
Why you should call him Bruce
- There is something unique about being born male or female. Every human being is born a certain gender which is immutable. In theology of the body, John Paul II talks about it as a way of loving. Thus to call a trans-woman “he” simply expresses the deepest reality of their gender.
- If we want to win the cultural battle here, it would seem that we need to stick to this and win the language battle that you are the gender you are born with.
- If we call a trans-woman “she,” it seems that we are implicitly endorsing their immoral decision. It would even seem charitable to call someone out for their sin here.
- Operations to change someone’s gender (both cosmetic and sex change) are deceptive. Our biology is or biology – it’s in every strand of DNA.
- Masculinity and femininity go deeper than biology or physical characteristics – our soul is masculine or feminine. No matter how many physical changes someone undergoes, even were it possible to replace every Y chromosome in the body, someone who was born a male has a masculine soul.
- Both charity and justice would lead us to addressing a person as the Lord made them. God doesn’t make mistakes and he made him a male.
Why you should call her Caitlyn
- Charity to the person and their choices (even if we don’t agree with it). We usually adjust how we address someone to their liking. For example, most of us would address a Catholic relative who got married on a beach as “Mrs. Jones” and not by her maiden name “Miss Smith.” Almost all of us would respect to fully call an Anglican/Episcopalian priest “Father” even though he is not. Calling a trans-woman “he” is simply rude and thus uncharitable.
- Meet them where they are… If you were introduced, you’d probably call her Caitlyn so as not to lose her. Christ showed the example of meeting people where they are.
- Calling her “Bruce” disrupts the peace in her soul; we are called to bring peace to lost sheep.
- Paul VI: “It seems to us that the relationship of the Church to the world, without precluding other legitimate forms of expression, can be represented better in a dialogue, not, of course, a dialogue in a univocal sense, but rather a dialogue adapted to the nature of the interlocutor and to factual circumstances (the dialogue with a child differs from that with an adult; that with a believer from that with an unbeliever). This has been suggested by the custom, which has by now become widespread, of conceived the relationships between the sacred and the secular in terms of the transforming dynamism of modern society, in terms of the pluralism of its manifestations, likewise in terms of the maturity of man, be he religious or not, enabled through secular education to think, to speak and to act through the dignity of dialogue.” If we want dialogue, we need to refer to them respectfully.
- The key principle we should be guided by is “truth in love” (Eph. 4:15).
- The desire to change one’s gender usually comes from psychological hurt and need to help them get over that. (I could see this used for either side.)
- Another option that might be preferable is using “they” and simply referring to them by their last name in discussions about them.
- There is a difference based on circumstances: we can legitimately use “he” unless we encounter a trans-woman who is particularly sensitive, or we might distinguish between an academic discussion with other Catholics (use “he”) and a cultural discussion with secular people (use “she”). As an extension of this, I would be much less likely to call someone by a name they don’t prefer to their face then when talking about them with others.
- I think I will generally use “Jenner” and “they” in general discussions but out of charity I would usually refer to a person directly by what they prefer to be called.
Note: I posted this question on Facebook and have used my friends’ ideas for this post.