Conference Theme

Transsexuality: Exploring a Challenge for Society at the Intersection of Theology and Neuroscience

International and interdisciplinary conference

February 4 to 6, 2016

Goethe University Frankfurt

For centuries, transsexuality was regarded as a severe mental disorder. It was assumed that being personally convinced that one belongs to a gender different from the one determined by one’s genitals was a form of derangement or the like. It was believed that one’s “true” sex is displayed accurately and unambiguously by the genitals.

During the past twenty years, however, science has ushered in a new era of efforts to better understand transgender people. Thanks to the insights of neuroscience and bioscience research, transsexuality is now regarded as innate, with its biological basis in the brain (in Milton Diamond’s words, “The most important sex organ is not between one's legs, but between one's ears”): the brain is the basis of one’s gender consciousness—and of one’s gender. Transgender people possess, therefore, a deep inner knowledge of having a gender that was not assigned to them at birth, but withheld from them instead. In such cases, the genitals are in a sense sexually “discrepant” to the brain. Today, the fact that those affected by such a discrepancy feel a strong desire to have their body and way of life approximate their actual gender is regarded as natural and non-pathological.

So far, however, this new scientific paradigm has left theology and the Church largely unimpressed. For this reason, a thorough and specifically systematic- and practical-theological reflection on transsexuality, with the aim of changing our way of dealing with transgender people, is an urgent desideratum. The central aim of this conference is to prompt an open and unprejudiced dialogue between theology and neuroscience/bioscience on the process of gender identity formation within the transsexuality paradigm.

In its topic and the range of disciplines involved, this conference is a novelty. It presents a platform for intra- and interdisciplinary exchange about an ongoing social challenge of the highest order. (gs)