In her new book, The Genesis of Gender, Abigail Favale beautifully illustrates a balanced approach to the difficult issue of gender dysphoria. Favale, an English professor and dean at George Fox University, embraced postmodern feminist theory in the early part of her career before being drawn into the Catholic Church by its teaching on Christ’s incarnation – and our own. Weaving together personal narrative, academic research, and theological insights, Favale presents a guide through the gender debates that will be particularly helpful to Christians, regardless of their current views on this issue.
After telling her own story, Favale offers a clear and detailed exposition of the creation story in Genesis, contrasting it not only with other ancient creation myths, from the Babylonian Enūma Eliš to Plato’s Timaeus, but also with what she calls the postmodern gender paradigm. In the Christian cosmos, Favale suggests, “sexual differentiation is not a mishap, but cause for celebration and wonder.” Our bodies are good, she continues, because “the body reveals the person. … Each person’s existence is entirely unrepeatable, and our unique personhood can only be made known to others through the frame of our embodiment.”
The difference between traditional Christian teaching and today’s prevailing gender paradigm centers on their conceptions of reality and its relationship to language. In Genesis, “divine speech makes reality; human speech identifies reality.” By contrast, “most gender theories hold that what we think of as ‘reality’ is a linguistic and social construction.” In other words, human speech creates rather than identifies reality. Building on this key distinction, the middle section of the book presents the intellectual genealogy of various forms of feminist thought, from existentialism to intersectionality, relating and contrasting them not only with each other, but also with the Christian worldview.
The final section of the book is especially powerful. With sensitivity and compassion, Favale shares the stories of men and women who say they have been harmed by gender theory. She emphasizes that “trans identities signal a longing for wholeness, for an integrated sense of self, in which the body does reveal the person. This desire is fundamentally a good one.” And yet, while affirming the goodness of this desire for integration, Favale also cautions: “The error comes in thinking that this integration has to be achieved through artifice, through violence against the body, rather than recognizing that we are integrated by our very nature.”
Favale calls for Christians to encounter people who identify as transgender as beloved children of God. She tells the stories of people like Addy, whose Catholic roommate patiently listened and asked questions about how Addy reconciled belief in orthodox Christianity with a transgender identity, extending love and acceptance. In the safety of relationships like this, Favale contends, there is room for “not a negation of self, but a rediscovery; not a repudiation of identity, but an unveiling.”
As gender norms continue to shift in our society, Favale’s book will be an essential guide for Christians who want to encounter their trans-identifying neighbors in a spirit of both truth and love.