Back to Posts
Oct 5, 2017

23 Keys for Unlocking the Mystery of Gender, Identity, and Human Sexuality

Bill Donaghy

Who am I? GenderGraphic

This fundamental question is asked ultimately by every person ever born. What is this great mystery of human life? What is our origin, and what is our destiny?

As Catholics, informed by Sacred Scripture (God’s Word) and the great gifts of reason and human experience (man’s understanding), we propose the following points to serve as a kind of manual on this mission of self-discovery.

1. The Catholic understanding of the human person is that we are more than just a biological organism.

Our body is animated by a soul. We are, in fact, a body and soul marriage, a harmony of spirit and matter. We have a transcendent and immortal destiny that makes us different from the animals. We laugh, cry, sing, love, hate, and yearn more than any creature in the world for something more than what the world can give us. Deep in our hearts is an unquenchable thirst for an unending happiness that lies somehow beyond us. “My heart and my flesh cry out for the living God” (Psalm 84:2).

2. The human person, however, never departs from the body.

This immortal destiny in God is for the whole person, body and soul. Catholics believe we are not ghosts in a machine, or spirits trapped in bodies waiting to be set free. Nor would we ever say something like “the real me” is a disembodied thought, or a detached mind that’s opposed to our body. We are our body.

3. Our quest for identity is always and deeply linked to our sexual nature.

Because “what God has joined, (body and soul) no one may separate.”

4. In the beginning, God made us in his image, male and female.

Biologically, existentially, our quest for our identity flows then from a mother and a father. Not a single person on earth comes into existence without this combination of male and female. Catholics believe this means something. This signifies something that is us and is also pointing beyond us.

5. Because of original sin, we are born into a kind of identity disorder.

We are born into a kind of identity disorder, a struggle, a wrestling match with ourselves and the world. We’re always searching “through a glass darkly” for our true identity. It is always inescapably linked to our sexuality.

6. We are all the fallen sons and daughters of Adam and Eve, and our beginning in this world is already a “trail of tears.”

Our beginning in this world is already a “trail of tears”—a pilgrimage to a wholeness we know somehow must exist but which our parents could not give us. We all have a mother wound and a father wound.

7. In the quest for our identity, we should all prayerfully ponder our relationship (or lack thereof) with our mothers and fathers.

There are significant graces and crosses in this self-reflection.

8. The gender dysphoria and the myriad of gender variations offered to us today are all cries to find a peace within our given masculinity or femininity.

The gender dysphoria and the myriad of gender variations offered to us today through gender ideologies are all cries to reconcile the mother wound and the father wound within us; to find essentially a reconciliation and a harmony within our heads, hearts and bodies, a peace within our given masculinity or femininity.

9. There are many variables and factors that come to play within us and outside us to form us in our human identity.

It would be a disservice to pretend we are only spiritual, and ignore the body, just as much as it would be wrong to imagine we can be reduced to only our physiology or genes, at the expense of the soul.

10. This isolation and separation of body from soul, gender identity from sexuality, will only deepen our mother and father wounds …

… and distract us from our quest to discover authentic femininity and masculinity.

11. Nothing in our quest for identity should compel us to do violence to a healthy body or act in a way against the nature of our sexual organs and their procreative dimension.

12. We should listen to creation, it speaks a truth.

We should listen to this potentially procreative, generative meaning inscribed in us as male and female.

13. Every one of the trillions of somatic cells in the human body has forty-six chromosomes, except the gametes, or sex cells, which hold twenty-three chromosomes.

Only the sex cells hold half the number, as if to say, “We hold the two halves of a key to the mystery of every human life!”

14. Catholics believe we are made in the image of God, who is a blessed Trinity of love, a communion of persons; Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

We believe man, woman and child, the human family, are theological, imaging the love of the three Persons of the Trinity.

15. So motherhood and fatherhood—expressed either physically in marriage or spiritually in loving service to others—are the true ends of all women and men.

All human beings are made for relationship through either form of life-giving complementarity.

16. The goal of a man is to have a “feminine-integrated masculine heart, and a woman to have a masculine-integrated feminine heart.” (Roch Gernon)

17. There are certainly abnormalities and anomalies, but none of these should negate the norm or cast a cloud over the deeper spiritual sign of the human body.

There are certainly abnormalities and anomalies, like rare intersex births, deep-seated same sex attraction, impotence and infertility in individuals today, but none of these should negate the norm or cast a cloud over the deeper spiritual sign of the human body as an image of the life-giving love of God as a Blessed Trinity, in whose image we are made for this life-giving communion.

18. An over emphasis on epigenetics, hermaphrodite anomalies, or certain genetic proclivities as the defining factors of our identity puts more weight on the flesh than the spirit.

It is a deterministic approach that ends with taking away our freedom, our free will, and our hope.

19. We must not place our whole identity on a feeling or attraction, but on the whole arc of the human person as an embodied thirst for the infinite.

In the words of the late Msgr. Lorenzo Albacete, “We talk about different ‘sexual orientations’ in human life. But the ultimate orientation of human sexuality is the human heart’s yearning for infinity. Human sexuality, therefore, is a sign of eternity.”

20. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church observes, “the number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible …

“This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided” (CCC, 2358).

21. Through the body, God is teaching us about love.

Especially in the incarnate body of Jesus, the Bridegroom, the Word who became flesh! “Jesus Christ fully reveals man to himself and makes his supreme calling clear.” (Gaudium et Spes, 22)

22. Rather than attempt to redefine the meaning of our gender, we should recall our genesis in Genesis …

… wherein God generously generated human life to generously generate the generations of men and women who would continue to reflect the image of God in this great dance of human life and love, of the masculine and the feminine.

23. “The dynamics of the relationship between God, man and woman, and their children, are the golden key to understand the world and history, with all that they contain …” (Pope Francis)

This article was originally published on

You May Also Like:

Bruce Jenner & the Transgender Question

St. John Paul II’s Love & Responsibility: A Bird’s Eye View

YOU: Life, Love, and the Theology of the Body

Has Ascension's free media strengthened your faith?
You can now offer ongoing support for this content with a recurring gift.
Support Ascension

Get your favorite Ascension content sent right to your email!

  • So–there are many good perspectives here, but I have an honest question as to theology. Point #2 says the “human person never departs from the body”. My understanding has been that the soul is always alive, even after the body dies, and we have not yet been given our “glorified bodies” that we are to receive at the final resurrection. Jesus says God is a god of the living, not the dead. Hence, when I pray for the intercession of the saints, I am not asking things of the dead, although clearly, their bodies are dead. Can you please clarify this point for me? Thank you!

    • Thanks for the comment and question! So the statement I made above that the “human person never departs from the body” refers to our identity. “The human person is a unique composite – a unity of spirit and matter, soul and body, fashioned in the image of God and destined to live forever.” (St. John Paul II)

      Death is the separation of body and soul, but this happens as the tragic consequence of our sin. As the Catholic Catechism teaches, “Death is a consequence of sin… death entered the world on account of man’s sin. Even though man’s nature is mortal God had destined him not to die. Death was therefore contrary to the plans of God the Creator and entered the world as a consequence of sin. ‘Bodily death, from which man would have been immune had he not sinned’ is thus ‘the last enemy’ of man left to be conquered.” (CCC 1008)

      So Jesus conquers death, and restores the entire human person, body and soul, in the end! St. John Paul II has some powerful insights on the body/soul (full human person) experience of Heaven. “(Heaven) will be a completely new experience, and yet, at the same time, it will not be alienated in any way from the experience man shared ‘from the beginning’… with reference to the procreative meaning of the body and of [its] sex.” (TOB 69:5)

      “The heavenly reality “will above all be man’s rediscovery of himself, not only in the depths of his own person, but also in that union that is proper to the world of persons in their psycho-somatic constitution (that’s a fancy way of saying body/soul union).” (TOB 68:4)

      “For man, this consummation (Heaven) will be the final realization of the unity of the human race, which God willed from creation… Those who are united with Christ will form the community of the redeemed, ‘the holy city’ of God, ‘the Bride, the wife of the Lamb’” (CCC, 1045)

      Does this help shed more light on things.


      • Thank you so much for your response! However, I still find the whole thing confusing. Jesus told us that we will not marry or be given in marriage in heaven as we will be spirits, which implies not having body in the same way as we have body with its needs and inclinations down here. Whether or not sin is responsible for the separation of soul and body, it still seems as if they will be separated at least for a period of existence (which I guess is the same thing as “time”, but I’m not sure!) I really don’t understand the difference between soul and spirit, either! I guess it remains a mystery, but hearing arguments for certain ideas without my really understanding the premise is problematic to me. Anyway thank you, again!

        • Sure thing. Thanks for the conversation! If I could comment on this point of yours, and it’s such an important one! You said “Jesus told us that we will not marry or be given in marriage in heaven as we will be spirits, which implies not having body in the same way as we have body with its needs and inclinations down here”…. Let’s consider the “gap” between the death of the person here and the reunion of the whole person in the End of Time with the body…. time only exists here now for us. Once we slip the bonds of time and space (aka death) there is no time or space as we know it, to measure. So I’d imagine the reunion of the body and soul might appear almost instantaneous from Heaven’s perspective. And Heaven will be a bodily experience. Christ in His bodily resurrection leads the way! Scripture speaks of the new heavens and a new earth (“I saw a new heaven and a new earth… – Revelation 21:1) Jesus says we will be “like” the angels in the sense that we will gaze on the Face of the Father in bliss, but we do so in the glorified body. Marriage and being given in marriage as we know it now dissipates because the Heavenly Marriage (that human love was always pointing us towards) becomes our glorious end! The Wedding Feast of the Lamb…. “I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.” (Rev 21:2) “Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.” (Rev 21:9) “… the Spirit and the Bride say come!” (Revelation 22:17) How exciting is this? Bishop Sheen called it the Divine Romance!

  • >