Orthodox Christology, Gnosticism, and Gender Identity Disorders

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I’ve had a few conversations recently about gender identity disorders and so have done a little thought on the issue and would like to articulate the beginnings of an Orthodox opinion on the subject.  First, I will present a bare-bones sketch of a position I’ve heard some Christians endorse.  The position goes something like this:

1) Both souls and bodies are gendered. (or are in some sense “sexual,” or perhaps the body is the bearer of sex, but the soul is the bearer of gender; I’ve heard all these)
2) Because of the fall, sometimes souls can be put into mis-matched bodies in terms of gender/sex.
3) A person in this situation ought to identify with his/her soulish gender and not the sex of his/her body.
4) The patient ought to be treated by bringing the body and outward image in as close as possible conformity with the gender of the person’s soul.

I will admit right off the bat that I do not understand what it’s like to be in this sort of situation. Nor do I have any psychological credentials. Nor am I an expert in Gender theory. What I am is an Orthodox Christian with some slight training in philosophy and theology and I believe that this is all that is really necessary to make the kind of argument I want to make successfully.

Aside from the fact that the canons of the Church specifically forbid castration, (which I think for an Orthodox Christian should decide the issue already) there is a much deeper reason that this kind of thinking is flawed.  The problem with the account I have presented is that it disconnects personal identity from the body in a way that is incompatible with Christian teaching.  The body is essential to humanity.  This is why the Resurrection is a necessary component of salvation; because our very being was coming apart at the seams and God had to heal us. 

That you are your body also seems supported by the way we use language.  Who hit me?!  Hitting my body is hitting me because I am my body.  You’re beautiful!  You are beautiful because your body possesses beauty and you are your body.  I could produce endless examples but I imagine the reader has the idea. 

However, the problem with this disconnect between personal identity and the body becomes much more clear and drastic when we try to apply it Christologically.  Is Christ his body?  “He who has seen Me has seen the Father.”  I hope Christ is referring to His body because otherwise the apostles never saw him, and by implication, never saw the Father.  Thus, if Christ’s body is disconnected from His real personal identity, then the revelatory purpose of the Incarnation is not realized.  All we’ve seen is another body, not the Logos.  Clearly the hypostatic union itself means that Christ is personally united and identifiable with His body!  How could the Eucharist be a genuine communion with God if the Logos was not personally united with His body?

Thus, what this view presupposes, is a gnosticism incompatible with the Orthodox doctrine of the Incarnation and all doctrines (like the Eucharist) which are derivative of Christology.  That this gnosticism exists within Western theology should not be very surprising.  Protestantism has long been afflicted by a gnostic theology that devalues matter and makes it an unfit receptacle for Divine Grace.  The prevailing attitudes towards the sacraments and icons in most Protestant communions are an obvious sign of this gnosticism.  Another sign is the way western Christians treat their dead and speak at their funerals.  Cremation has a become an all too common practice in Western Christendom.  Many funerals lack any respect or reverence to the body of the deceased, preferring rather to speak of it as merely a “shell” from which the real person (the soul) has been released from.  This is not compatible with the theology or practice of traditional Christianity. 

So what does all this mean about Gender Identity Disorders?  What it means is that although a person may be psychologically at odds with their body, this does not mean that they have a differently gendered soul, or that they ought to recieve gender reasignment surgery to “treat” their disorder.  While I cannot imagine how difficult it must be to be to have such a difficult psychological disorder, the proper course of treatment is to figure out how to heal the patient’s delusion and dissociation from reality.  Although a man may feel like a woman, he is not.  By looking at his body one can (in general) clearly tell that he is, in fact, a man (I am not here talking about cases where there is a real biological confustion).

In closing it is worth noting the obvious, that this is only an argument aimed at people who accept Christian doctrine.  Atheists and pagans will not be convinced.  It is also worth noting that my arguments are not needed to refute this type of thinking of one is a materialist; in this case, there is no soul and the only bearer of identity is the body.

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11 Responses to “Orthodox Christology, Gnosticism, and Gender Identity Disorders”

  1. Georgios Says:

    Well said.

  2. ZSDP Says:

    Just to be clear, you’re not talking about LGBTQ people, but rather about people who feel they were born into the wrong body (i.e. “I have a penis, but I’m supposed to be a woman”), right? Seems kind of Nestorian on its face. To me, the interesting thing about this reasoning is that it really isn’t particularly intersectional, but rather works from within the established framework of gender identities.

  3. Krause Says:

    Well I might be talking about the “T” in LGBTQ. Specifically, I’m interested in pointing out the flaws in a specific line of thought that some Christians use to deal with Gender Identity Disorders.

    Could you flush out the Nestorianism charge a little bit?

    What do you mean by “intersectional?”

  4. The Lichenthrope Says:

    I suppose you could be talking about transgender people. Usually, when I think of transgender, I typically think of people who say they are both or neither established gender, but perhaps I am being more rigid than I really ought to be.

    As for Nestorianism, I was thinking of the specific way these Christians attempt to grapple with transsexualism—which is to say, they sort of parachute this separately-existing “spiritual” thing into a body, which is overridden by the spiritual thing. I guess this would be the soul. It’s really only an analogy.

    As for intersectionality, Wikipedia’s not a bad primer.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Intersectionality

  5. The Lichenthrope Says:

    I’d also like to point out that, in a bizarre twist of fate, you seem to be supporting a species of biological determinism.

  6. Krause Says:

    What do you mean by “biological determinism?”

    All I’m saying is that one can identify gender (in typical situations) by looking between one’s legs. Biology is only “determinitive” in the sense that one can “determine” what gender one is by looking at their body.

  7. MG Says:

    Krause,

    Can one generally accurately identify gender by looking at a person’s anatomy? Aren’t there sometimes cases where a decision about which gender a person is can’t be made reliably, because the anatomy itself is ambiguous?

    If anyone other than Krause has some statistics to bring to bear on this subject, or has references related to this issue, I’d be interested.

    Also, Lichenthrope, I think that determinism that takes away responsibility only applies the the will and the agent. To say that biological determination of gender is a negative thing would presuppose that gender is the kind of thing about which we should be responsible. Do you think that this is the case? If so, why?

  8. catz206 Says:

    Given your (pl) ideas on the matter, what do you think about those rare folks who are born to be “both” physically? How does your understanding understand the situation or give insight into how those individuals should view themselves?

    Thankx

  9. Krause Says:

    Catz:

    Sorry i didn’t catch this until now. I’m in law school and I don’t really check this blog much any more. I don’t have anything too helpful to say by way of response in some respect because I don’t have the biological knowledge to be able to clearly assess the scientific facts on the ground of whether or not one can always find some way to tell what sex the person is meant to be (looking at biological/genetic info. other than the outward manefestations obviously). Furthermore, I’m not a priest so I’m far from qualified to tell these individuals how they should think about their situation.

    I do, however, feel confident in saying that God meant them to be one specific sex. The Scriptures tell us that God created them male and female, not male, female, and indeterminite. That there is sometimes confusion as to what sex a person is is a result of the brokenness of human nature as a result of the fall. No one is essentially ambiguous as regards to sex. We may not be able to tell what sex a person actually is, but this is an epistemic confusion, not a metaphysical confusion.

    Such a person should, like all of us, put their trust in God and seek to live out their repentence with the hope that eventually all the tragedies of the fall will be put to rights when Christ renews all things. In the meantime, the counsel of an experienced and discerning spiritual father is the only thing I could refer them to for guidence beyond that.

  10. Justina Says:

    it seems to me that when one is really both sexes, hermaphrodite, then one should either have an operation setting things one way or another, or (and all this should be AFTER puberty and a test on semen under the microscope as to whether it has sperm or not the menstruation being present at some point already), one can either be polygamous with a male and a female mate, or settle for one sex only partner of whichever category.

    A lot of “gender identity” issues have to do with feelings reaction styles and interests and likes and dislikes that have nothing to do with gender outside of cultural assignment, and can be found in different centuries and locations assigned to different sexes than we are used to here, and of course those assigned to women devalued.

    Transsexualism is a full sellout to patriarchal (male supremacist) sexism, and should never have been tolerated in the feminist movement. another sellout was letting lesbians to be a part of any feminist organization which fits the sexist stereotype, that women who like to do men stuff or not be limited to assigned roles are perverts. Finally, the modern feminist movement (as opposed to the original one that got us the vote, which was anti sexist and anti abortion and pro monogamous single standard, both sexes be chaste no double standard) being rooted in the peace movement, an unfortunate linkage between non warlikeness and femaleness (setting us for violent domination in the home in patriarchy) was made.

  11. Justina Says:

    I also think in this conversation, we need to dump the modern distinction between “gender” and “sex” the former being mental the latter physical.

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