This is a tremendous yet challenging question. The situations that our young people encounter in the area of human sexuality and identity are as complex as they are ubiquitous. It is good to give some thought as to how to respond in a loving and age-appropriate fashion. As Pope Francis continues to remind us, dialogue and conversation are essential to foster healing and a deeper appreciation of the truth. What is true at a societal level is equally true for conversations within our own families.
As always, the first place to look is to the words of Jesus Himself. When He was challenged by the Pharisees with questions of sexual morality, He pointed them to Genesis as God’s foundational revelation regarding human sexuality and identity: “From the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female’ and ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’” (Matthew 19:4-5). The word of God states simply that we are created as male and female, and our sexual polarity is for the purpose of a man and woman entering the one flesh union of marriage.
It is not wrong to respond with St. Peter, “This is a challenging teaching.” And the Church offers a clear and compassionate clarification. The following passage was written for those who experience same-sex attraction, but certainly extends to those who feel discrepancy between their gender identity and sexuality: “They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity… These persons are called to fulfill God’s will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord’s Cross the difficulties they may encounter” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 2358). If you desire to more fully grasp the Church’s teaching yourself, search the 2019 document from the “Vatican: Male and Female He Created Them: Toward a Path of Dialogue on the Question of Gender Theory in Education.”
With this background in mind, I would like to offer some practical suggestions. Speak to your child about God’s plan for human sexuality and identity from the beginning, just as Jesus did. But then speak of how all of us experience challenges to living the Gospel in our lives in different ways. You want to avoid two extremes: On one hand it may be tempting to pretend there is no universal guidance from God in the area of human sexuality and identity. Yet on the other hand you want to avoid words of condemnation and stigmatization. Gently affirming the truth that we are created male and female and the need for healing will make present Jesus’ compassionate love and fulfill your baptismal duty to proclaim His Gospel, even in this sensitive and challenging conversation.
Father Charlie Archer is associate pastor of St. Peter Parish in Kirkwood.