Abigail Favale, “The Genesis of Gender: A Christian Theory”
Ignatius Press (2022)
OSV News recently reported on a U.S. Navy surgeon with experience in reconstructive surgery who discussed the harmful effects of transgender surgery on young people. Dr. Patrick Lappert, who also is a deacon with the Diocese of Birmingham, Alabama, called such surgeries a dangerous form of medical experimentation and said that “… gender reassignment poses grave risks to both body and soul.”
Against this “gender dysphoria” phenomenon comes a recent book from Ignatius Press, offering a compelling Christian-based defense of the traditional understanding of male and female complementarity and separateness.
Abigail Favale’s “The Genesis of Gender” is a timely counterbalance to the confusion and division promulgated by gender activists who populate many gender and women’s study programs in North American universities. The book rejects the arguments of transgender extremists who look to blur the distinction between male and female for political purposes.
A professor at the McGrath Institute for Church Life at the University of Notre Dame, Favale has special insights into the emergence of gender confusion as an unfortunate offshoot of fourth-generation feminism.
A one-time advocate of feminist doctrine, Favale eventually realized there was something not quite right with the content of gender studies programs at the university level – a realization that furthered with the author’s conversion to the Catholic Church in 2014.
At the heart of Favale’s concern is the disorientation and confusion being sown by transgender activists through obfuscation and the distortion of ordinary language used to argue that gender and human sexuality are nothing more than social constructs.
According to Favale, the gender paradigm may be understood to insist “there is no creator, and so we are free to create ourselves. The body is an object with no intrinsic meaning; we give it whatever meaning we want, using technology to undo what is perceived to be ‘natural.’ We do not receive meaning from God or our bodies or the world – we impose it. What we take to be ‘real’ is merely a linguistic construct; ergo we should consciously wield language to conjure the reality we want.”
The author pointedly states that sex is not a spectrum, as proposed by gender activists, but a stable binary. “There is no third sex. There is no spectrum of possible sexes,” Favale writes. She also posits that the contemporary concept of gender identity is not based on “material reality” and that it requires its supporters to willingly overlook the falsity of its doctrine. “A man who claims to be a woman is a woman in language only,” Favale says. “For the postmodernist, that’s enough, because all of reality, all of what we consider ‘true,’ is linguistically constructed. This means that the construct of gender identity must be continually buttressed by language, in order to appear true.”
This kind of thinking has influenced the mainstream media, universities, the medical community and even corporate human resource departments, exacerbating debates and rules about gender pronouns and the creation of new, gender-sorting words such as “cis.”
Favale criticizes certain medical practitioners for their adoption of “affirmation therapy” in the treatment of young people looking to transition. In this situation, doctors accept the patient’s self-declaration and support a sex change, disregarding those therapies that urge caution and psychological counseling.
The book is especially successful in restating the Book of Genesis’ creation story to show the natural and divine rationale for separate male and female genders. “Contrary to the innovations of gender theory, which speak of sex as something not read from the body but arbitrarily imputed to it, the Catholic view holds that there is a givenness to our bodies; they are inscribed with sacred meaning that is not determined or constructed by our whim. Bodies speak the language of symbol, with or without our permission.”
Notably, Favale calls for compassionate consideration and understanding for people experiencing gender turmoil. “Even as we speak honestly about the machinations of the gender paradigm, we have to realize that there are real people, real lives, being churned up in its gears. We have to welcome these people into our parishes, into our families, into our communities. It is possible to judge whether an ideology is true or false – but we cannot judge persons. Each person’s status before God is a mystery that cannot be known from without. We must critique the framework, in the appropriate time and place, while embracing those who are caught up in that framework, no matter how they look or sound.”