“Congratulations, You’ve Given Birth to a Baby Girl…Maybe”

A recent article about a presentation made in my neighbouring province of Alberta made me wonder if I didn’t live in the Twilight Zone rather than Canada. Twelve years ago, a baby girl was born in Alberta by the name of Wren Kaufman. Soon after her birth, the customary birth certificate was issued, containing the information that she was “F”, a female. She later said that she found it stressful being a girl, and wanted to be a boy, and objected to her birth certificate identifying her as a girl. Alberta law since the 1970s only permitted such reissued and altered birth certificates if the person requesting it had undergone sex reassignment surgery, which Kaufman had not. Kaufman filed a complaint with the Alberta Human Rights Commission, protesting that such a law violated her constitutional rights as a transgendered person.  The court agreed, and a new birth certificate was duly issued. It was presented to the now Mr. Kaufman during a Pride festival brunch hosted by the city’s mayor by the province’s culture minister Heather Klimchuk. The new certificate identifies Kaufman as an “M” instead of an “F”. All is now well in Kaufman’s world.

Like I said: the Twilight Zone. Whatever one thinks of the transgender issue, a birth certificate is an historical document, containing pieces of historical information. It does not contain information about the child’s eye colour or weight, nor about the religion of the mother. It does not specify the mother’s political affiliation, nor her sexual orientation. The evidence contained in the little document confines itself to four indisputable facts: the new-born child’s given name, the city in which the child was born, the date of the birth, and the gender. The first piece of information depends upon the decision of the parent; the second and third pieces of information depend on noting the calendar and remembering which city you are in, and the fourth depends upon simple observation; it is not a matter of ideology, just of knowing where to look. Except in cases of physical deformity or of the medical condition known as hermaphroditism, this is pretty straightforward.

One can, of course, later decide that anatomy notwithstanding, one would prefer to be the other gender. But that decision does not alter the facts of history. I can decide that I would have preferred to have been born in Vancouver rather than Toronto, and I can move from Toronto to Vancouver, but the geographical move does not alter the historical fact that I was born in Toronto. In this sense, the birth certificate is like other legal documents, such as the marriage certificate. After marrying, one can decide that it was a mistake, and get a divorce. That would alter one’s marital status, but it would not re-write history. It would not obliterate the record of the marriage as if it never happened, nor could the divorced man afterward identify himself as “bachelor/ never married”. The now-single man would then have two legal documents: one affirming the historical fact of his marriage, and another affirming the historical fact of his divorce. Historical realities are stubborn things, and that is why historical papers documenting them are meant to be inalterable. Most people acknowledge this, and think that re-writing history is a bad idea.

That is the problem with reissuing birth certificates—it is an attempt to rewrite history. A birth certificate should only be reissued if the information on the original was incorrect, and that was not the case in Kaufman’s case. For the record that baby Kaufman was “F” and not “M” was simply a documentation of what the nurses saw when they looked at the customary place on the baby—a record of anatomy, not a statement about the baby’s soul, nor a decree about the baby’s future. That is why transgendered people are called transgendered—the “trans” in the word indicates a change from one gender to the other, and the birth certificate simply documents one’s gender at birth. The Kaufman case represents the triumph of transgender ideology over historical common sense. It also witnesses to the power of the gay lobby in Canada.

What does all this legal hoopla mean for us Christians? It means that the frontline in the culture war has shifted yet again, and not in favour of us traditional Christians. Before now, most of the debate centered on gay marriage—whether one could call the union of two persons of the same gender “marriage” or not. Now the debate centers on the more basic question of what we mean by “gender” in the first place. It also provides us with interesting questions. For example, if (the now) Mr. Kaufman marries a woman, is this an example of gay marriage or not? Mr. Kaufman’s anatomy presumably is still female; would his marriage to another person with female anatomy be a traditional non-gay marriage? Other questions arise too: what if Mr. Kaufman decides in the future that, on balance, he is now a woman again—does Ms. Klimchuk reissue yet another birth certificate documenting the fact that Kaufman was born a female after all at yet another Gay Pride luncheon?

The basic issue, of course, is the relationship of anatomy to gender. Up until now in human history throughout the world, there was considered to be a one-to-one correspondence between the two, which is why gender could be determined by a simple glance by the nurses attending a birth. Apart from cases of hermaphroditism, a person’s anatomy gave its inalterable verdict. Feelings that its verdict was incorrect were labelled as “gender dysphoria” (discontent with one’s biological sex), and were regarded as a problem to overcome. Such feelings may properly elicit sympathy and compassion, but they should not lead one to regard gender as having nothing to do with anatomy, nor to regard one’s gender as so fluid as to be ultimately determined one’s subjective feelings.

Deciding that gender is ultimately a subjective matter, and scrapping the concept of “gender dysphoria” in favour of a new concept of being “gender creative” does not always lead to happy outcomes. Consider the case of Nancy Verhelst of Belgium. She had sex reassignment surgery to become Nathan Verhelst and underwent hormone therapy. After undergoing a radical mastectomy and an operation to construct a penis, he was not happy. He said, “I was ready to celebrate my new birth. But when I looked in the mirror, I was disgusted with myself. My new breasts did not match my expectations, and my new penis had symptoms of rejection. I do not want to be a monster.” It was a heart-rending situation, with an even more heart-rending outcome. Nathan at length decided to die by State-sanctioned lethal injection and was indeed killed at the hands of Dr. Distelmans, a cancer specialist. One can have sympathy for Kaufman and others suffering from gender dysphoria, but the example of Nancy Verhelst reveals that anatomy is not so easily overridden, and that gender should not be determined ultimately by subjective feelings. The issue is more complex than the province of Alberta’s culture minister thinks it is.

So, what’s the final word for us traditional Christians? Obviously we must have compassion and must show love for all people, male or female, straight or gay or transgendered. But as we articulate and transmit our Christian culture to our young and to our catechumens, we must take care to include a traditional understanding of gender. We believers have always been counter-cultural, and at odds with the secular world to a greater or lesser degree. Here is one more way in which we differ from the secular world around us. Our catechetical teaching must include this difference.

Posted by the Orthodox Christian Network.  You can find the Orthodox Christian Network on Google+.

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Fr. Lawrence was formerly an Anglican priest, graduating from Wycliffe…
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