On Thursday, Oct. 5, Pope Francis made his most transparent condemnation yet of the lifesaving medical procedures that allow transgender people to live authentic lives. Speaking to the Pontifical Academy for Life, he decried “the biological and psychical manipulation of sexual difference, which biomedical technology allows us to perceive as completely available to free choice” which he claimed seeks to “cancel out” differences between the sexes.
This is a widely articulated falsehood. The anti-LGBT web is full of such smear stories claiming transgender people really want to eliminate all differences between male and female. However, Pope Francis doesn’t write for an alt-right rag. He is a revered holy man whose word is respected by more than a billion people worldwide. When he gives voice to disparaging myths, those myths grow wings and overshadow the much smaller transgender community’s attempt to educate people about what we really need.
I give the pope the benefit of doubt, allowing that he cares deeply about ethics and would not knowingly spread lies about a marginalized and oppressed group. That if he knew the truth, he would feel morally driven to set the record straight. To that end, I hope these words somehow reach his ears.
No, Your Holiness, transgender people do not transition in hopes of eliminating the differences between male and female.
Yes, there are trans people, as well as many, many cisgender people who would like gender to become less of a prison, its tendencies and traditions no longer dictating lives. Some may see eliminating gender altogether as the best means to do this, just as others may be quite comfortable with traditional gender roles. Like any group thrown together by accident of biology, the trans population represents a variety of viewpoints. It is a blatant lie to say that our demands for social and medical supports for transition arise from consensus on elimination of gender differences.
Speak with a variety of transgender people from all walks of life, and you’ll find a variety of opinions, ideas, and values. I’ve noticed we disagree widely except when it comes to two points. First, we want to be treated as human beings. And second, we want our genders affirmed.
We don’t want being trans to stand in the way of jobs, housing, access to everyday goods and services or personal safety. And we want what every cisgender person, including Pope Francis, takes for granted: That our gender not be subject to question or suspicion. Francis can look down every day and see a body that matches who he knows himself to be. We require nothing less. It is not through any choice of ours that medical intervention may be needed to bring that about, just as it is not out of choice that he needs no such intervention.
What we ask can all be achieved easily without entirely eliminating gender. We only need to recognize the existence of gender diversity beyond what is allowed by binary thinking. For the simple task of welcoming transgender people into the rest of humanity, the canceling out of gender differences of which the pope warns is overkill, though it may (or may not) be desirable for other reasons.
The false claim that we want to eliminate gender from society is not a harmless misunderstanding. It drives the fear that feeds the anti-trans bathroom laws springing up around our country like poison ivy. It fuels the popularity of the current administration’s push to strip transgender schoolchildren of legal protections. Trans people have used public restrooms for generations. No one minded until power-hungry politicians began spreading fear that this is all leading to a total elimination of gendered restrooms and changing spaces. Not much can be done about their willingness to oppress trans people for personal gain. But maybe someone as deeply scrupulous as the pope can be convinced to stop paving the way with fear-mongering untruths.