Pope Francis, who has in the past seemed to be more tolerant than his predecessors when it comes to LGBTQ issues, has suggested that gender theory ‘does not recognise the order of creation’, that ‘the design of the Creator is written in nature’ and that ‘ideologies that consider man like an accident, like a problem to eliminate’ are wrong. This has been interpreted to mean that the Pope considers transgender people who transition ‘destroy creation’ and ‘disfigure the face of man and woman’. I’m not sure that we can really make this assumption based on the Pope’s translated, and somewhat garbled prose, but it does throw up an interesting point. (For more info on his comments, see here).
It is a well-established, provable, medical fact that the brains of transgender people have developed in alignment with their recognised gender and not the gender of their bodies. Being transgender is neither a lifestyle choice nor influenced by your upbringing or environment.
My question then is: would the Pope feel the same about medical intervention (therapy or surgery or prosthetics) to rectify a club foot or a stammer or a missing limb? So, what’s the difference when it comes to transgender people?
The difference is that trans people are still not believed. We can see a club foot or missing limb, we know that’s real but, for those whose gender and sex are aligned, it is almost impossible to conceive of how it feels for your sex and gender to be out of alignment. This transition-thingy is seen as a whim, a phase, a sexual fetish, an attention-seeking device, a subterfuge, etc. Rather than what it is, the only really viable option at the end of a long road where all other options have been exhausted.
Transgender people have to face the suspicion that their gender dysphoria is not real regularly. It happens when a trans woman is refused admittance to the women’s toilets, when a trans man is called “miss” or “madam” by a healthcare worker, when a policeman arrests a victimised trans person for causing a disturbance and lets their abuser off with a warning, when trans people have to face a panel of “experts” who decide whether they are the gender they say they are. It’s time that this stopped and public figures, such as the Pope, have a duty to base what they say on facts not fictions about trans people.
Gender dysphoria is real but, fortunately, it is treatable. For all those who have sought and received treatment, there are thousands who have not done so and may never do so. If that is their choice, fine, but many may not have done so because they fear not being taken seriously. Unfortunately, the Pope is not alone in his ignorance of what it means to have gender dysphoria, which is why we need to continue to educate and speak about what it means to be transgender.
Trans advocates and activists are doing their best on the educational front but we need more allies in the cis community. The problem with trans people speaking about trans issues is that their words are filtered through the “they would say that, wouldn’t they?” lens. Just like the LGB community has its straight allies, the trans community needs more high profiles voices prepared to support us whose impact will be greater for not being trans. When was the last time you saw someone in the public eye (a politician, celebrity, sportsperson, commentator), who wasn’t trans, educate people about what it means to be trans by doing nothing more than correcting an incorrect statement?