The emperor's new gender— or lack thereof

I never liked Hans Christian Anderson’s children’s story “The Emperor’s New Clothes.” Even as a child, I could grasp the lying, the vanity and the pride blatantly evident within the story, and it made me uncomfortable, despite its valuable moral. When the emperor, having been dressed in invisible clothes that only those who were “unfit for their positions, stupid or incompetent” could not see, it took a child’s innocence to break through to reality. “But he isn’t wearing anything at all!”

I find myself thinking about that moral often in our world today. Where pride, vanity and untruths reign, so many of us actively choose to look the other way or, God forbid, smile placidly and go along with it even though we have a nagging feeling — or worse, a certainty — that all might not be quite right. We see this play out in our political arena and the policy choices enacted by our government. We see this reflected in our lack of mobilization for the benefit of, as Pope Francis says, those on the peripheries. And we see this in our moral sphere, with the redefinition of marriage and, increasingly, the normalization of the concept of the “gender spectrum.”

It’s ironic that a change in the understanding of gender — that is, the growing belief that one’s gender is what one chooses rather than one’s God-given biological identity at birth — comes at a time when “gender reveal parties” are at the height of popularity. Is it a boy or a girl? Let’s have a party and look at the color of the cake, piñata candy, balloons or mom’s dress to find out. If gender isn’t either/or, then why all the fuss?

Those of us in journalism have a close relationship with the Associated Press style manuals. We regard them as a type of bible that holds the answers to life’s most important questions. Is it toward or towards? Judgment or judgement? Forgo or forego? We take these questions seriously.

In March the AP announced it was introducing the “singular they” specifically to accommodate those who are “nonbinary and don’t use gendered pronouns” — for example, when Max turned 13, they decided to have a party. AP says, too, that referring to gender as “both, either or opposite” is no longer kosher, as one can be anywhere in-between — including the increasingly popular “agender.”

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There are individuals who struggle today with feeling like their gender doesn’t correspond with their biological sex, and the Church should offer assistance and counseling where possible. They, too, are on the peripheries. But there is also a growing celebration of the human body being completely divorced from nature that is greatly disturbing. “Natural” truths, instituted by our Creator, are unpopular. The world, instead, is whatever we make of it.

Let’s pray for a revolution of innocence then — one where we will have the courage, like the child looking at the emperor, to speak the truth clearly and without reserve: “But he isn’t wearing anything at all!”