Monday, April 4, 2011

E pur si muove: A response to Keith Fournier’s lies and disinformation

Deacon Keith Fournier recently wrote an ignorant, inflammatory and inaccurate piece on transgender activism which was published at Catholic Online, entitled Exchanging the Truth of God for a Lie: Transgender Activists, Cultural Revolution

Fournier’s article is evidence of the continued resistance of the tradition-encrusted Roman Catholic Church’s to advances in scientific understanding that caused that Church to bring Galileo to trial for heresy, to condemn the more advanced (though still rather simple, cosmologically, as the Sun itself is not now understood to be the center of the universe, and is only a rather minor star in a peripheral spiral arm of a galaxy of over 200 million stars in a Universe that is staggeringly huge) scientific understanding of heliocentricity as being “false and contrary to Holy Scripture" because Galileo dared challenge the prevailing Church-accepted Ptolomaic geocentric theory of the solar system’s workings.

The Cardinals who condemned Galileo in their profound 17th century ignorance of the advances in cosmological science, pronounced in their decision that heliocentrism is “absurd and false philosophically and formally heretical, because it is expressly contrary to Holy Scripture” and that “The proposition that the earth is not the center of the universe and immovable, but that it moves (around the sun) and also with a rotational motion, is equally absurd, philosophically false and theologically erroneous.”

After a study of the Galileo trial that was commenced in 1979, on Halloween in 1992 Pope John Paul II finally issued an explanation, lifting the edict of Inquisition against Galileo, 359 years after the fact. While not actually apologizing, the pope said that

"Galileo sensed in his scientific research the presence of the Creator who, stirring in the depths of his spirit, stimulated him, anticipating and assisting his intuitions."

Pope John Paul II pointed out at that time that the province of the Church is theology, and not science or astronomy. The pope indicated that the lack of modern scientific knowledge among the Cardinals on the tribunal,

"led them unduly to transpose into the realm of the doctrine of the faith, a question which in fact pertained to scientific investigation.”

And yet, Deacon Fournier, like many in that Church’s Magisterium, seems to have learned nothing at all from the serious error of those who put science on trial, and decided incorrectly.

Deacon Fournier is today in the same position of those 17th century Inquisition cardinals. He confuses his erroneous theological interpretation with Truth, he misstates and misinterprets the science and he ignores the evidence that explains the physiology of transgender people, the evidence for genetic predispositions and ontological development of brain structures along one sexed blueprint, while genital duct systems follow the other blueprint.

Instead, he starts with accusations that transgender people are the product of moral corruption, ignoring the moral corruption and mean-spirited attitudes that infest his church’s Magisterium. He misinterprets Romans 1 as a condemnation of homosexuality, rather than understanding that it is a condemnation of people who engage in sexual practices against their God-given natures while intoxicated during Bacchanalian religious rites. But why is Fournier beginning with a misdirected attack on homosexuality when the intended victims of his bullying are transgender people?

Does he not know the difference between sexual orientation and sex assignment, or with gender identity?

When Fournier erroneously declares that there are biblical references that must be ripped out of the Bible by those who maintain that “there is no reference to the rejection of homosexual practices in the Bible” - he is the one who has apparently ignored 1 Samuel 18, 2 Samuel 1 and many references in between, that relate to the marriage of David and Jonathan. In addition, he would have to rip out the often is interpreted story of the Men of Sodom – because a proper reading of that passage actually condemns Fournier’s own position, which, while wholly wrong, are consistent with the interpretive writings of Benedict XVI about things that “everyone knows” about Sodom, when he was merely Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger and the head of the successor to the Inquisition, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

But Fournier iss supposedly condemning transgender people – so lets start with Isaiah 56, Matthew 19:12 and Acts 8 - all of which don’t seem to appear in Deacon Keith’s Bible – or he would understand that even Jesus knew about transgender and intersex people, and that we are special to God. Or he might ponder about the relationship between Genesis 1:27 and the secret name of God derived from reading the Tetragrammaton backward in Hebrew – which translates out as “He/She.” (This analysis is courtesy of Rabbi Mark Sameth of Pleasantville, who knows more about Jewish scripture than Deacon Fournier and any college of Cardinals combined.)

Fournier cites to the Reuters story about the lawsuits challenging New York’s birth certificate regulations. As I am the plaintiff in the first of these cases, I would suggest that he would do much better to refer to the actual legal documents and to the scientific materials that provide the basis for some of the challenge, rather than engaging in fanciful flights of illogic.

After quoting from the Reuters article, including a quote from me, he still does not have a clue, despite the words pointing him in the right direction for inquiry.
The next thing, Deacon Fournier starts some gibberish about the Australian Human Rights Commission recognizing “23 genders.” The ignorant article he first refers to cites to the Australian document – which does not identify 23 genders at all, but rather 23 terms for various gender identities on the spectrum of transgender identity that is in the gray area at the edge of the artificial binary that Western society imposes on the physiological sexual diversity in the nature of human beings. Those who accept the binary of sex as some strict “male and female” construct will shrug off those who don’t quite fit into their arbitrary definitions as abnormal, as “freakazoids,” or as delusional.

For Deacon Fournier’s edification, my best guess as to what “neutroi” might mean, is perhaps a weakly bigender identity that is the gender identity equivalent of asexuality. But that is not itself a “gender” if by gender Fournier means “sex assignment.”

Fournier is confused by all this, and he is in turn confusing apples with oranges – it is as if he is saying that some school board is no longer dealing with students as “boys” and “girls” but as” jocks, brainiacs, nerds, geeks, cheerleaders, skaters, outcasts, preppies, artsies, druggies, goths, gangstas, punks, rednecks, queers, etc.”

Interestingly, the Australian commission looks with favor on the language being considered by “the United States Senate” called “for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act of 2009” which defines gender identity as:

‘the gender-related identity, appearance, or mannerisms or other gender-related characteristics of an individual, with or without regard to the individual’s designated sex at birth’.

The wording of the federal Bill has a number of advantages over the narrower Australian definitions that only protect people who identify as a member of the ‘opposite’ or ‘other’ sex.

I could go through a detailed history of how the American definition grew and evolved between 1979 and the present day – but I will leave that to another essay.
Of course, Fournier is too busy making things up about “23 genders” to actually find anything useful to discuss, at least until he gets really deep into his article.
Fournier attacks hormonal and surgical treatments that are used to help those transgender people who feel the sociocultural pressure to conform those parts of our bodies that can be brought into greater conformity with the artificial binary expectation of society.

Perhaps in a society that respected the diversity of natural sex as was common among many world cultures in ancient times and even more recently, before those cultures were exposed to western binary prejudices, there would be a cultural niche appropriate for those who are different. However, we live in a society that recognizes two sexes, so the accepted medical practice is to try to help transgenderr people conform more closely to the physiological norm for those whose brain development is similar to our own.

Certainly, the late iranian Shi’ite Ayatollah Khomenei actually understood more about transgender people than the Catholic Church – even though the mullahs who have followed him have twisted his fatwa on the subject to give gay people they plan to execute by stoning, an alternative, to subject themselves to transsexual surgeries rather than a painful death.

Fournier writes, without a clue as to the real science:

“Medical science confirms that our identity as male or female affects even our brains. In addition, even the physical appearance must be sustained by massive doses of synthetic hormones.”

In the first sentence, he gets a glimmer of the truth – yes, there are sexed differences in brains – but he ignores the science – that transgender people have sex-differentiated brain structures in the hypothalamus that conform to those of the other genital sex.

In 1995, in a peer-reviewed article in Nature, entitled A sex difference in the human brain and its relation to transsexuality [Nature 378, 68 - 70 (02 November 1995); doi:10.1038/378068a0] the researchers involved gave us a first glimmer into transsexual brain structures.

This was confirmed in a follow-up study in 2000, entitled Male-to-Female Transsexuals Have Female Neuron Numbers in a Limbic Nucleus, published in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism Vol. 85, No. 5 2034-2041

But Deacon Fournier, as little as he understands the theology of transgender people (or gay people, for that matter) fails even more spectacularly to understand medical science. The first thing is that not all hormone therapy is by way of “synthetic” hormones. (He apparently does not know how premarin is manufactured, for example). Then he does not undertsand that synthetic hormonal therapies are used for a number of medical treatments – for example, one of the diabetes drugs that keep me alive every day is called Byetta, and it is a synthetic hormone derived from Gila monster saliva, which works as a mimetic for hormones secreted by the first two feet of the small intestine at the beginning of the digestive process and which stimulate the pancreas to produce insulin.

In rejecting surgeery for those transgender people who need it and can have it, he should also reject other life-saving surgery - perhaps he should forgo a needed triple bypass, because the intervention of a surgeon would violate his body as a temple of the Holy Spirit and interfere with God’s plan for his life and death. Applying this sort of “theology” to science is exactly what went wrong with the Galileo case – and Fournier is repeating history.

He also does not really understand the source of the “sub secretum” document issued by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith – it was issued first in 2000, and then circulated in 2002 to the bishops when it became apparent that none of the bishops had been asking their papal representatives anything about transgender people.

This document was leaked to Catholic News Service in February 2003 – and that is where a lot of the information available to the public about this document comes from.

It is believed that the source for mush of the erroneous information about transgender people in the sub secretum document came from Dr. Paul McHugh, an Opus Dei zealot whose area of psychiatric expertise is eating disorders, but who, as head of the Department of Psychiatry at Johns Hopkins, shut down that institution’s sex reassignment surgery clinic. Much of the thrust of McHugh’s animus against transgender people comes from his severe lack of understanding of the facts – and his attack is on the discredited theories of the late John Money – an attack that Deacon Fournier continues. But the attack is misdirected, and is not against the actual science, but only at John Money's discredited ideas.

In addition to McHugh, another person thought to have been a source for the document was Urbano Cardinal Navarrete, a Spanish Jesuit most noted for being responsible for the enforced masculinization by the of the three persons of the Holy Trinity – Navarrete is thought to have been responsible for the invalidation of Catholic baptisms performed using gender-neutral references to the Trinity (example: Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier), rather than the traditional patriarchal masculine Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This pronouncement of masculine attributes of God is as ridiculous as the Church’s position on transgender people – but as long as they are sticking to theology for the adherents of their increasingly irrelevant and morally backward Church, that last is something that does not affect me, and as ludicrous as it is, there is no reason for me to do more than snicker at their patriarchist chutzpah, especially since I've since rejected the trinitarian doctrine and the divinity of that great Jewish teacher, the Rabbi Yeshua ben Miriam.

The place where the Church goes wrong on the science as it relates to transgender people is in its insistence on birth genital essentialism as a reaction to the unsound theories of John Money, and to certain aspects of feminism (though the Church itself is the source of the birth-genital essentialism espoused by some who style themselves radical feminist separatists based on Catholic-influenced doctrine passed to them by the late Mary Daly and her protege, Janice Raymond, the infamous author of The Transsexual Empire.

Fournier directs his attack without taking into account the individual’s personal biological, genetic and developmental factors that indicate that this birth genital-based assignment is incorrect.

In 2008, two separate studies from Australia established separate genetic predispositions for different kinds of transgender development.

In one study, the predisposition for those who develop with female-identified brains and male genital tracts was shown to involve a long androgen receptor gene:
Lauren Hare, Pascal Bernard, Francisco J. Sanchez, Paul N. Baird, Eric Vilain, Trudy Kennedy and Vincent R. Harley. Androgen Receptor (AR) Repeat Length Polymorphism Associated with Male-to-female Transsexualism. Biological Psychiatry, Advance online publication date 27 Oct 2008, Jan 2009 print edition

The other study,aimed at those who develop with male-identified brains and female genital tract development, was entitled A Polymorphism of the CYP17 Gene Related to Sex Steroid Metabolism is Associated With Female-to-Male But Not Male-to-Female Transsexualism by Bentz, Eva-Katrin; Hefler, Lukas A.; Kaufmann, Ulrike; Huber, Johannes C.; Kolbus, Andrea; Tempfer, Clemens B., published in Obstetrical & Gynecological Survey: December 2008 - Volume 63 - Issue 12 - pp 775-777
doi: 10.1097/01.ogx.0000338093.21452.0b

These studies, and the brain structure studies from 1995 and 2000, provide clues to the ontological developments that result in transgender people. While there is much additional study required, these studies make it possible to discredit the earlier understandings of transgender people that date back to 1965, in which transgender people were seen as merely delusional members of their initially-assigned sex, for whom any treatment is seen as merely palliative. It is the erroneous assumption at the root of the Roman Catholic Church Magisterium's position, and it is just as wrong as relying on the Bible to classify bats as birds merely because they fly, or whales as fish because they swim in the ocean.

Strangely enough, once one realizes that this misplaced genital essentialism is the primary issue with the Magisterium’s doctrine, it becomes apparent that things like Bishop Gregory’s quote about “canonical condition” can be made to make sense. Of course, it’s okay to see gender as fixed at birth, as long as we understand that it is the brain and not the genitalia, that is the predominant factor in the correct assignment. In addition, it should be obvious that even the Bible recognized some people as falling outside the male/female binary - the people classified as "eunuchs."

After all – my own situation is one in which I am asking the City of New York for a correction of the error made in my assignment at birth, as well as to conform my birth certificate with my other identity documentation. I am looking for a correction, not a change. There is a difference, one lost on Deacon Fournier.

Indeed, the Church’s position is and should be purely theological, and not scientific. He Magisterium should keep its theological noses out of the scientific arena and the medical science as it relates to who is properly assigned to which sex, unless it wishes to conform its theology to the prevailing science, and is willing to change that theology when the scientific understanding becomes more complete.

I am not calling for a right to “choose” a gender – I am calling for a legal right to correct my sex designation on a document that was erroneous at the time of my birth. And if the Church won't change my baptismal certificate, that's perfectly fine, since I have rejected their theology a while ago.

Deacon Fournier and his Church have a nasty habit of interfering in areas about which their Magisterium has no credible scientific, legal or cultural business. These include civil marriage, women’s reproductive rights in the civil arena (they can call whatever they want to be “sinful”), and the human rights, dignity and worth of transgender, lesbian, intersex, bisexual and gay people. The Church can deny us the priesthood, it can deny us the right to a sacrament of matrimony, but when it interferes in the civil arena in its gross, immoral and theologically unsound manner, they should expect pushback from those they oppress in their mean-spirited effort to impose their peculiar and backward morality on those whose moral compass actually points in the right direction.

Western Civilization became what it was in large part despite the resistance ot the Church, not because of it.

Thank the Arabs. Thank the Irish. Thank the Jews. Thank the Greeks and the Romans. Thank Thomas Aquinas, who more than anyone else was responsible for the Church accepting Aristotle, which allowed for a jump-start for the renaissance. Thank Martin Luther and Henry VIII, at least a little. Thank the scientists, engineers and inventors who brought the Industrial Revolution.

But the Church itself has done more harm than good over its lifetime, particularly when it acts in ignorant tradition-bound resistance to advances in science and to a kinder, gentler, superior morality. And rather than making me wait 359 years for a tepid apology, perhaps Deacon Fournier can start the ball rolling by apologizing now. But I won’t hold my breath or that. I would only hope and pray that the day comes when God will open his eyes, soften his heart and make him open up to the idea that at least some of the things he knows for sure about sex and gender may not be right 100% of the time.

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