the pope on gender identity

So long as there shall exist, by virtue of law and custom, decrees of damnation pronounced by society, artificially creating hells amid the civilization of earth, and adding the element of human fate to divine destiny; so long as the three great problems of the century – the degradation of man through pauperism, the corruption of woman through hunger, the crippling of children through lack of light – are unsolved; so long as social asphyxia is possible in any part of the world; – in other words, and with a still wider significance, so long as ignorance and poverty exist on earth, books of the nature of Les Misérables cannot fail to be of use.

HAUTEVILLE HOUSE, 1862

This is the preface to my Kindle edition of Les Mis, which I was looking at in anticipation of seeing the movie on Tuesday. It seemed particularly appropriate to this article about that vile old tyrant, the pope, attempting to be relevant by discussing gender identity and trans people.

The article is written by one Deacon Keith Fournier, who does not feel at home with the idea of writing for clarity. The formatting is odd, broken into three pages for no apparent reason and with a footer on the second page that makes the article appear to trail off mid-sentence. I found it difficult to tell whose words I was reading at any one time, as Fournier frequently quotes people who are themselves quoting others and makes poor use of the tools language and html provides for clarifying such things. I mention this as a pre-emptive excuse in case I mistakenly attribute one party’s words to another, not to nitpick the superficial weaknesses of the article, as the substantial ones are quite sufficient.

The title of this article is “Pope Benedict XVI Exposes the Profound Falsehood of the Philosophy of the Gender Identity Movement”, and perhaps the pope does so in his speech, but Deacon Fournier felt no need to relay this information to us, the readers. At no point in the article is the philosophy of any gender identity movement or movements discussed, nor is any falsehood established therein. In fact, it consists almost entirely of other people’s words, with Fournier occasionally chiming in to bemoan these “new rights” he is being “forced” to “recognize”.

To which I accuse him of, as the preface says, “artificially creating hells amid the civilization of earth”, because his wailing of the restructuring of society is because people who don’t easily fit into hetero-normative categories are insisting that they shouldn’t have to. Because the terrible burden they place upon him is their inclusion in anti-discrimination laws.

Just so we’re clear here, the crime of the gender identity movement is wishing to live as they please, to dress as they like, to hold in law the identity they hold within, to marry the people of their choosing, and to not be denied services, housing, employment, liberty or life for doing so. Fournier and the pope and presumably the catholic church in general would go out of their way to deny these simple things to those they find unworthy, when they need only stand aside and do nothing to grant them. Who are the bad guys, here?

But the “falsehood” claim continues to stick in my craw. There is no one, monolithic Gender Identity Movement™ working for social change, despite Fournier’s rhetoric, instead there are many, many diverse civil rights groups from a wide spectrum of backgrounds that contribute to it, and each has its own philosophy that cannot be blithely lumped with all the others. Having failed to establish (or even seriously to discuss) falsehood in their opponents, Fournier and the pope proceed to commit a few of their own.

I believe the following is Fournier quoting the pope, though it may be Fournier quoting the pope quoting the Chief Rabbi of France, Gilles Bernheim. Or possibly Fourier quoting the pope quoting Bernheim quoting Simone de Beauvoir, frankly I got a little lost in those nested quotes. But consider this.

According to the biblical creation account, being created by God as male and female pertains to the essence of the human creature. This duality is an essential aspect of what being human is all about, as ordained by God.

Now we know perfectly well that the biblical creation account is as much myth as Ea and Nintu creating humans from the blood of Kingu and the clay of the earth and the spittle of the other gods in the aftermath of Marduk’s victory over Tiamat. But even if we take the creation story as an allegory to be used in metaphor, this alleged duality has never, and I mean never, been as solid and ubiquitous as this quote implies.

File:Orchids01.JPG

These women have Y chromosomes. Because of an inability of their cells to respond to androgen they grew into women instead of men, since mammals sort of default to female and us menfolk are mutant freaks. Tell me, Deacon, would you demand that they live as men, because of their chromosomes?

The other important thing here is that this is an intersex condition, not transgender. The vital distinction is that they were born this way. God made them like this, and surely even the pope would not presume to second-guess the only authority above his oh-so-holy self, right? 

Intersex people are not a new phenomenon that sprung up since the sexual revolution, they have existed since the dawn of humanity, just like gay and trans people. They are a part of humanity, and should be embraced as such, not shunned, dehumanized, stripped of their autonomy & dignity and forced into short, harsh lives on the streets and edges of civilization as the catholic clergy seems to desire.

The entire article seems to be based on the false premise that “In the beginning there was male and female. Soon there was homosexuality. Later there were lesbians, and much later gays, bisexuals, transgenders and queers.” It’s simply not true, human sexuality has always been far more complicated that. Bisexuality was considered the norm in ancient Greece, for example, during the time “all things in moderation” was the prevailing philosophy. Or you could read My Secret Life, and see that such things were just as common, if more rarely spoken of, during the Victorian age.

sex and gender diagram

From the Center for Gender Sanity, click image to link there.

The modern concepts of sex and gender really aren’t that complicated in themselves. Sex is the physical, gender the psychological. The stereotypical “camp gay” man for example would likely be to the left on the upper two bars in that diagram, and the right on the lower two. The manly manly no-homo straight man would hang entirely to the left. It’s a simplified graphic, of course, because people are complicated, and concepts such as “feminine” & “masculine” do not have solid universal definitions, but it gets the idea across very well. Even I can follow it.

So how about those with a male body, but feminine gender expression and female identity? Is this expression and identity something they chose? Surely one’s identity is not something people merely pick up or discard on a whim, it’s something that grows out of who and what we are to begin with, molded to some degree by the culture and society we live in.

You see, Deacon Fournier, while you and the pope speak as if you feel that you are under attack by people who seem strange to you wanting to have the identity that they feel fits them best on their legal documents, many of these same people are literally under attack. Turned out of their homes, fired from their jobs, beaten, raped and murdered, sometimes with implicit and occasionally even explicit legal sanction. The fact that “trans-panic” is a valid legal defense for aggravated assault and even murder should be enough to give you pause. Are they unworthy of compassion because they’re different?

And if so where is the dividing line? After all, nobody is really normal. So at what point are they far enough outside the boundaries that they no longer deserve kindness or compassion or protection of the law? On which side of that line is failing to report to the police when your co-workers rape children in their professional care?

Fournier quotes a Reuters story from March, 2011 about a lawsuit in New York, but never tells us why. It’s simply placed there as if the excerpt is self-explanatory, with only the faintest hints as to its significance. The best I can come up with is that it’s intended to illustrate the ways transgender activists “seeks to restructure our social order”. The lawsuit is over how difficult it is to change your sex on birth certificates in New York, hardly sweeping social reform, and really only relevant to a handful of people.

Then he shares with us a bit from one Babette Francis who is whining that the Australian Human Rights Commission now recognizes 23 genders. Why, exactly, this is so offensive is not clear, but I want to bring special attention to the disdain shown for “neutrois”, especially in this quote:

I am all for diversity, but I am not going to commit to “neutrois” until someone tells me what it means

Well, at the time I read this I didn’t know either. But if you’d taken three seconds to put the word into Google you’d know that the very first result is Neutrois.com, which will tell you all you want to know about it and, probably, more. At a glance it looks indistinguishable from agender, as the word implies. Presumably I could learn the distinction at that site, but the important thing here, Francis, is that people like me don’t have to know. Seriously, if you have a gender identity that fits you it’s academic, no need to find out except curiosity or taking an interest in the lives of other people.

You certainly don’t need to know the details to commit to not discriminating against them, which is what Babette Francis refused to commit to in that quote. Seriously, you know from the context that it’s a word some people have chosen as the best fit for their gender identity, do you really need any more than that to decide whether it should be legal to fire them for it?

When you get down to it, I don’t understand why Deacon Fourtier or Babette Francis or the pope care. At best, it sounds like you’re looking for an excuse to get offended by sticking your nose into things that really aren’t your business. At worst it sounds like you’re complaining that social acceptance is reducing your pool of victims.

For all the talk about “attacks on the traditional family”, or “protecting marriage” or what have you, nobody has yet shown how treating queer or trans or intersex people as complete human beings with a full share of citizenship in society will harm anyone or anything. Gay marriage has not destroyed Canada or Argentina or South Africa. It’s merely allowed more people to marry the one they love.

In a free society, people must have control over their own lives and their own bodies. Otherwise, by what possible metric is it free? The catholic church has made it clear that they will decide the sex of their congregants, and under church rules I suppose they may do so. But outside the pews who are they to decide this for a person, even a catholic person?

The resistance to adding trans people to anti-discrimination laws in particular has a sinister ring to it. For all the howling that this means they’ll be “forced” to “recognize” these identities, what it really means is they will not be allowed to persecute the people who hold these identities. At least, not by denying them employment or benefits or equal opportunity to services offered to the public. At least some catholic organizations in the United States have made it clear that the well-being of people in their care is not as important to them as the ability to discriminate against the gays.

I really can’t see this from a catholic point of view, but I can get this far: Supposing, as Lady Gaga says, “God makes no mistakes”. This means that all people are exactly the way God intended them to be, and anybody who wants to restrict them or force them into behaving in a way contrary to their nature must seriously consider how far they’re willing to second-guess God. On the other hand, perhaps God is not as infallible as the hype makes out, and can and does make mistakes, resulting in unusual people who don’t fit neatly into the divine design. What is to be done with them? Shall they be treated with cruelty, forced to live a life of lies in order to conform or face imprisonment or execution, or with compassion, allowed to make their own choices and live as best makes them happy? What would Jesus do?

To my godless materialistic point of view, it’s a simple matter of human happiness versus human suffering. I can never quite understand why it matters so much to some people what other people do with their private lives, if it makes someone happy and hurts no-one, it matters little to me if I don’t really understand it. Anything that reduces human suffering is a good thing in my book, and increased tolerance for the extreme minorities will surely do that. But then I’m capable of feeling empathy for people who aren’t me, a quality that seems increasingly rare in the clergy.

As for the pope, I’ve long-since given up on hearing any kindness or humanity from that old-world monster, and frankly none of this surprised me. The only surprising part is that people give him any attention or respect at all, really.

About Leo Tarvi

Mostly fictional.

Posted on December 24, 2012, in Daily Post and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. As always, astute, thorough, and inarguable.

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