Craig A. Ford, Jr., is a Postdoctoral Teaching Fellow at Fordham University. He writes at the intersection of queer theory, critical race theory, and the Catholic moral tradition.
A pair of developments in the fall of 2018 helped illustrate once more the need for an understanding of gender and sexual identity adequate to what we know about human sexuality. The first was the Trump administration’s proposed modification of Title IX to define “sex” as either “male or female, unchangeable, and determined by the genitals that a person is born with,” leaving all “disputed cases” to be resolved through genetic testing. This binary classification of sexual identity would impact nearly 1.4 million Americans who do not identify with the gender indicated on their birth certificates, prompting transgender and gender-queer persons (and those who stand with them) to characterize the proposal as transphobic and anti-LGBTQ+.
The second was the decision by bishops at the 2018 Synod on Young People not to include terms like “gay” or “LGBT” in the synod’s final document when discussing theologies relevant to persons who identify somewhere along the LGBTQ+ spectrum, or simply as “queer”—even though the former term was used in the gathering’s preparatory documents.
Of course, when it comes to the Catholic Church’s conversation about queer persons, there’s nothing new about a conflict over something so small as how to refer to people who clearly already have shown a preference for how they would like to be named. But it has made it more clear than ever that the current theology of sex and gender has run its course.
Just consider how this theology typically, and predictably, is debated today. On the one side, we have comments like these from Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia, writing against the use of the term “LGBT” in church documents:
There is no such thing as an “LGBTQ Catholic,” or a “transgender Catholic,” or a “heterosexual Catholic,” as if our sexual appetites defined who we are; as if these designations described discrete communities of differing but equal integrity within the real ecclesial community, the body of Jesus Christ.