Pope Francis Couldn’t Be More Wrong On Gender Identity
In recent years, Pope Francis has caused a stir throughout the world for his progressive views on homosexuality and the underprivileged, advocating for the acceptance and care of both groups in a way that few other men in his position have before.
It’s not difficult to discern why Francis has earned a reputation for being refreshingly liberal, even earning him the nickname “cool pope.” As one of his first acts as pope, Francis met with residents of Brazilian slums and addressed income disparity in the country. He’s taken on Donald Trump, suggesting that the GOP nominee’s values indicate he’s “not Christian.” Of gay priests, he’s famously said, “who am I to judge?”
But apparently, if you happen to be transgender, Pope Francis is one to judge — and harshly so.
This week, Pope Francis re-upped his aggressive opposition to the transgender community when he said dramatically that teaching gender identity theory in schools constitutes a “war against marriage” (a point my wife and I would take issue with).
The pope added, “Today, in schools they are teaching this to children — to children! — that everyone can choose their gender.”
His stance is a surprisingly sour note on the human condition coming from a man who “doesn’t judge” others, and begs questions about the critical persona he has built for himself as a man of mercy to those who worship with him.
Later, Pope Francis would recount a discussion he had with a Frenchman who opened up to him about his transgender daughter. In response, Pope Francis told the father, “This is against nature,” taking pains to point out his belief that the acceptance of trans people amounts to “ideological colonization.”
It’s deeply ironic that Pope Francis would have such a problem with “colonization” — considering that historically, the Catholic Church has been so fond of literal colonization to expand its domain . . . and that, in fact, this colonization has helped engender transphobia and violence against a gender non-variant community that has always existed.
Though many churches would have you believe that the gender binary is absolute and any deviation from it is abhorrent, this in fact flies in the face of human history. Indeed, variances in gender identity and gender expression have had ancient representations in cultures around the world throughout recorded history.
There was recognition by some indigenous tribes, for instance, that there were individuals who embodied traits considered to be both masculine and feminine. Modern tribes favor the term “Two-Spirit” to describe themselves and historically have not only been accepted, but also celebrated. One study of Two-Spirit roots by scholar Will Roscoe in 1992 found Two-Spirit representations in over 130 different indigenous tribes.
In Asia, references to transgender members of Indian society (sometimes referred to as Hijra) have been found dating back to antiquity and persist even today. And in Greek mythology, the tale of Caeneus chronicles the trials of a male demigod who fought (but was later defeated by) the centaurs. It was said that Caeneus was originally female, but was “rewarded” by Poseidon with (of all things) gender reassignment, transforming him from female to male. He was also granted invulnerability.
The list goes on and on — this was the natural order of things.
However, this natural variation was upset by explorers like Vasco De Gama (Catholic), Hernan Cotez (Catholic), and Francesco Pizzaro (Catholic), who have become synonymous with words like “genocide” and “ethnic cleansing.” All these men are responsible for adulterating the way of life for untold numbers of innocent cultures. These men upset the cadence of life and instituted the teachings of Catholicism, which did not tolerate differences in sexual and gender identity.
We have records not only of their violent aggressions toward almost every native tribe they encountered and conquered, but also of specific instances where their beliefs clashed with the natural way of life of the people they met. In one case, Cabeza De Vaca was noted as condemning people he called “effeminate ‘hombres Amarionados’”:
“a man married to another man, amarionados or effeminate, impotent men that dressed like women and performed women’s duties . . . Many of these men practiced the sin against nature [Sodomy].”
Even in this example from the mid-1500s, we can see that the same language used to harass, denigrate, and murder homosexuals was used on individuals who were considered “male” by the Spanish Catholics, but who displayed characteristics and tendencies that display gender variant expression, if not an outright indication of transgender identity.
Again in 1526, in Fernandez de Oviedo’s work “Natural History of the Indies,” the same terse “sin against nature” terminology is used to describe what appear to be gender variant behaviors. The author writes that “men” throughout Native Tribes practiced “the nefarious sin against the nature” by wearing skirts, beads, and bracelets while undertaking “chores of the house customary for women.”
One of the worst examples of this discrimination concerns Vasco Núñez de Balboa (Catholic), who while acting as governor of Veraguas, ordered that 40 male-assigned Cueva Indians be fed to his dogs alive for being “sodomites,” as they had assumed the role of women. Incidentally, historic documents point out that Balboa also felt that transsexuality was “unnatural” and put these local people to death so that he could cure this “savage” society of its “infection.”
Today, this dangerous dogma persists in the Catholic Church, advocated for by its ostensibly progressive leader. Perhaps Pope Francis should take a hard look at the history of his own church before he discusses the “colonization” of trans acceptance.
When I heard the story recounted by Pope Francis about the father and his child, I was struck by this thought: I was that 10-year-old little boy, wishing secretly and desperately, trying to repress the feeling that I should have been a girl . . . that my destiny was to grow into a woman. This was my reality, not my ideology, years before Pope Francis’ “gender theory” was even a thought in his mind. I was innocent, and so are the rest of these very real and very vulnerable people whom Pope Francis has seen fit to sweep to the side.
Pope Francis’ hard-line opposition to full gender acceptance dehumanizes us — and this dehumanization is actively dangerous. It supports the belief many have that transgender people are merely freaks of nature who are unworthy of rights and basic human decency. This devaluation is the reason the Human Rights Council has tracked 19 murdered transgender people in the United States so far this year, and why a total of 21 transgender victims were killed in 2015 — the highest number so far recorded in one year.
Even when the pope mildly “clarified” his statement on Monday, he still made a point to tell reporters that they shouldn’t ask him to bless transgender people.
What we have to remember is that the pope is a very powerful man. His influence touches so many people that it’s hard to avoid the residual effects of his dogma. When that dogma puts someone or something in the crosshairs by irresponsibly and erroneously labelling it a “sin against nature,” he must be held responsible at least in part for the follow-up effects of that.
This pope has a unique opportunity here and now to do right by a group of people in desperate need of protection everywhere that his church has representation. The institution he leads and represents — one that purports to value repentance and humble admission of wrongdoing — has the chance to make amends for the damage it has caused to gender and sexual minorities for centuries.
Continuing an archaic line of attack on transgender people serves no purpose to the church. Targeting trans kids to promote traditional marriage values is the true crime against morality — which is why it’s a shame to see such an influential character singling out a group of people who already have enough problems in life without the pious retribution of this man of the cloth.
While we wait for the doctrine of the Vatican to catch up to modern day, we will continue to bury our friends and family who have lost their lives to violence and suicide due to irrational and anachronistic fears of a docile part of human nature. We’re waiting for a society that ostracizes us with damaging rhetoric to put down the unnecessary slings and arrows and to love us for who we are.
We’re waiting for you, Pope Francis.
Lead image: flickr