Op-ed: Pope Francis Has Not Made Good on Transgender Rights
Earlier this week, The Advocate named Pope Francis its "Person of the Year," a designation that has brought the magazine both praise and scorn. In all fairness, being Person of the Year doesn't mean that Pope Francis is the best person in terms of LGBT advancements, or that he’s the most LGBT-friendly person on the planet, but rather, that he's the most influential. Using that standard, it could be argued that, yes, Pope Francis deserves the title. But not if we focus only on the T.
Pope Francis has not yet enacted any change to church doctrine. The man has made the covers of The Advocate, Time magazine, and the New Yorker for having changed the tone of the church, while the content underneath that tone remains largely the same.
Still, it should be noted that the pope has never tone-corrected the church's views on transgender individuals. His predecessor, Pope Benedict, devoted a significant portion of his Christmas 2012 homily to denouncing transgender people. In his homily, Benedict cited a study by Gilles Bernheim, the Chief Rabbi of France, who reported that the "true structure of the family" was under attack thanks to gender-nonconforming individuals and sexual minorities:
“[Bernheim] quotes the famous saying of Simone de Beauvoir: 'one is not born a woman, one becomes so' (on ne naît pas femme, on le devient). These words lay the foundation for what is put forward today under the term 'gender' as a new philosophy of sexuality. According to this philosophy, sex is no longer a given element of nature, that man has to accept and personally make sense of: it is a social role that we choose for ourselves, while in the past it was chosen for us by society. The profound falsehood of this theory and of the anthropological revolution contained within it is obvious. People dispute the idea that they have a nature, given by their bodily identity, that serves as a defining element of the human being. They deny their nature and decide that it is not something previously given to them, but that they make it for themselves. 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. This very duality as something previously given is what is now disputed. The words of the creation account: 'male and female he created them' (Gen 1:27) no longer apply. No, what applies now is this: it was not God who created them male and female — hitherto society did this, now we decide for ourselves. Man and woman as created realities, as the nature of the human being, no longer exist. Man calls his nature into question. From now on he is merely spirit and will. The manipulation of nature, which we deplore today where our environment is concerned, now becomes man’s fundamental choice where he himself is concerned. From now on there is only the abstract human being, who chooses for himself what his nature is to be. Man and woman in their created state as complementary versions of what it means to be human are disputed. But if there is no pre-ordained duality of man and woman in creation, then neither is the family any longer a reality established by creation. Likewise, the child has lost the place he had occupied hitherto and the dignity pertaining to him. Bernheim shows that now, perforce, from being a subject of rights, the child has become an object to which people have a right and which they have a right to obtain. When the freedom to be creative becomes the freedom to create oneself, then necessarily the Maker himself is denied and ultimately man too is stripped of his dignity as a creature of God, as the image of God at the core of his being. The defense of the family is about man himself. And it becomes clear that when God is denied, human dignity also disappears. Whoever defends God is defending man.” [Emphasis added.]
So, there you have it: the most recent discussion of transgender individuals by a pope. I admit, it's not fair to hold Pope Francis accountable for statements made by Pope Benedict, but the fact that in a time where he's traveling the world, saying polite things to so many, he yet hasn't addressed some of the most mean-spirited remarks ever thrown at transgender people as a subset of society, it's hard to completely let him off the hook.
Pope Benedict tore into the idea that a human being could be transgender, preaching that if people like me are left to exist, that we've destroyed the very concept of humanity. That's a little harsh, don't you think? This doesn't even factor in where he asserts that transgender people cannot truly be a part of any family, best left to wander the Earth alone.
No comment, Francis? You were in attendance that day at the Vatican. You really, truly don't have anything to say about that tirade?
Last year was the first Christmas following my coming out as transgender. Growing up, my family and I would travel to Catholic mass on Christmas Eve. I loved the candles placed around the church, I loved the warmth a room filled with people can bring, and I loved the music and retelling of the birth of Christ. I can't fully explain how much it hurt to read about Pope Benedict's comments this past Christmas morning. For the first time, I felt as though I was less than human, that I was deserving of hate for what I was.
I excused myself and gathered my thoughts as tears welled in my eyes.
Time has passed, and wounds have healed. Even so, the church's view of people like me has not changed. The same month Pope Francis made his "Who am I to judge?" remark, Catholic.org, one of the top Catholic news sites, ran an article titled, "Oh, Gender, Thy Name is Legion: The Dangers of the Gender Identity Movement." The article's title refers to an army of demons, which suggests that transgender people are, themselves, demonic. The piece goes on to refer to transgender people as "anti-God and anti-Christian, and deeply anti-marriage and anti-family," even going so far as to compare transgender individuals to the "Godless Nazi regime."
That piece was published after Pope Francis took power. Why has he not said a word in defense of transgender people, with Catholic churches regularly demonizing us during homilies, and with Catholic organizations continuing to lobby against legislation that would end the practice of systematically discriminating against transgender people in housing, employment, and public accommodations? Why has he remained silent in our plight?
PARKER MARIE MOLLOY is the founder of Park That Car and works as a freelance writer. She has contributed writing to Rolling Stone, Salon, The Huffington Post, and Talking Points Memo. Follow her on Twitter @MissParkerMarie.