The Beacons Are Lit: “Unraveling Gender”

John S. Grabowski is a professor of moral theology and ethics at Catholic University of America, and the epigram to the first chapter of his new book, Unraveling Gender: The Battle over Sexual Difference comes from Tolkien’s The Return of the King – Gandalf’s rallying cry (in part) to the people of Gondor to defend their way of life: “See! The beacons of Gondor are alight, calling for aid. War is kindled.”

But Unraveling Gender is not a manifesto for conflict. In fact, it’s a compassionate appeal for Christian charity and clarity. “Our battle is against the powers of evil – sin and the devil – in ourselves, and in the world around us (see Eph 6:10–17). Other human beings are not the real enemy in this battle.” Perhaps. But it seems clear that those of us who reject the idea of gender fluidity are the enemy to those who endorse it – just ask them.

Grabowski takes pains to show the long (since St. Paul VI’s papacy) Catholic history of compassion in matters of sexuality. But he also sees the new gender ideology as aligned with what St. John Paul II so memorably called “the culture of death.”

Underlining this whole business is a simple question: Is sex (or gender) binary? The simple answer is yes, although there is such a thing as intersex, a very rare genetic anomaly (and like “gender” a word that’s been hijacked by contemporary enthusiasts). Grabowski refers to this as the Babel Effect: “Gender ideology rejects both the realist’s belief in a reality where things have common natures or essences and in the ability of language to correspond with that reality.”

And the genesis is obvious. As Grabowski writes: “The presupposition of this Marxist feminist program is clear – sexual difference itself is unjust and must be overcome as much as possible.” So true is this, that those advocating the LGBT agenda have no qualms about killing their unborn children and throwing biological women under the bus whenever a man pretending to be a woman steps forward to compete against them in sports.

And it’s always male athletes unable to compete successfully against other men who do this. Had Bruce Jenner decided to become Caitlyn in 1976, the year he won Gold at the Montreal Olympics, people would have thought him nuts, and U.S.A. Track and the IOC would never have allowed him to compete as a woman. Of course, he wouldn’t have, because he was the best man in the men’s field. (By the way, Jenner thinks male-to-female transgender athletes should not be permitted to compete against biological women.)

Speaking about the divine plan for sexuality, Professor Grabowski makes the marvelous point that Scripture is “bookended” by marriage: by Genesis 2 (“This one, at last, is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh”), humanity begun; and by Revelation 21 (“And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband”), humanity fulfilled. Unraveling Gender is a Biblically based and very Catholic book.

Faith and reason are key to figuring out how to deal with what amounts to the heresy of the Left’s sexual ideology. The “synthesis” that they cravenly seek always invokes “science”:

relatively new questions posed by more recent scientific research that have been intensified by the cultural upheaval that we are just beginning to grapple with and think through – the causes of sexual attraction, the phenomenon of persons whose expression of sexual difference is ambiguous on some level (i.e., intersex persons or those with disorders of sexual development), and the best ways to respond to persons who experience the pain of gender dysphoria.

Putting aside a man’s insistence that he’s a woman (for which genetic reality offers irrefutable evidence of the absurdity of such a claim), I look at the transgender movement as a sideshow in the garish, earsplitting, and mind-blowing carnival that is American culture.

I’m too old to care. Except, that is, when it comes to sports – to men arrogating women’s competitions. Professor Grabowski writes that “second-wave” and later feminist theorizing are to blame: “Having sown the existentialist and postmodern wind, modern feminism now faces a transgender whirlwind to which it helped to give birth.”

It is obvious that, in this case, women seeking to affirm male-to-female transgender “women” hurt biological women. They wound them deeply. Worse, they can’t now bring themselves back from the edge of the self-destructive, post-modern abyss they helped to spawn.

Self-determination is alluring. But, from the Garden onwards, it’s the root of sin.

I’m informed that Grabowski’s publisher, the estimable TAN Books, has decided not to bother listing the book at mega-retailer Amazon – this to avoid the travails of cancel culture that we witnessed when the smug and self-congratulatory “earth’s biggest store” refused to sell Ryan Anderson’s When Harry Became Sally, a book Professor Grabowski cites often.

The Amazonians, in concert with other leftist organizations, sincerely believe that a better world will only arise through the suppression of ideas that do not conform to the neo-Marxist rainbow they’re chasing. It’s almost inevitable, I fear, that Amazon will soon purge from its inventory any faithful Catholic book not written by a contributor to the National Catholic Reporter, Commonweal, or America magazine.

Prof. Grabowski ends where he began – back in Middle Earth, quoting Galadriel, the elven queen, (and this was Tolkien’s own view) that the culture war we’re fighting against gender ideology is “an engagement in. . .‘the long defeat.’” He explains:

Human beings and even the Church herself cannot by themselves overcome the powers of evil arrayed against them. But they do not have to because victory is assured – and not just at a future eschatological finale to history. This victory has been accomplished in Christ’s life, death, and Resurrection.

So be it – as long as we keep fighting, here and now.


You may also enjoy:

Hadley Arkes’ A Telling Moment, Foregone

Michael Pakaluk’s What’s Wrong with Bostock

Mr. Miner’s Lysenko at the Olympics

Brad Miner is the Senior Editor of The Catholic Thing and a Senior Fellow of the Faith & Reason Institute. He is a former Literary Editor of National Review. His most recent book, Sons of St. Patrick, written with George J. Marlin, is now on sale. His The Compleat Gentleman is now available in a third, revised edition from Regnery Gateway and is also available in an Audible audio edition (read by Bob Souer). Mr. Miner has served as a board member of Aid to the Church In Need USA and also on the Selective Service System draft board in Westchester County, NY.