It feels like there has been a lot of popular attention paid to the ministry of Pope Francis. Right from the moment he was chosen by the papal conclave, if not before, there was just something so unique about him.
Though I am not myself a Catholic, I was fascinated.
I think a lot of people were.
When I heard his famous proclamation “Who am I to judge?” I started to really pay attention.I remember in 2015 when he met with Diego Neria Lejarraga, a transgender man from Spain who Francis affirmed as “A son of God,” and adding, “The Church loves you and accepts you as you are.”
However, I also remember reading about the release of The Joy of Love (Amoris Laetitia) wherein the Pope upheld traditional gender roles and referred to transgender and other experiences as “complicated situations.”
And I’m still here. Still listening.
Last week, Pope Francis spoke again concerning our transgender community. He said that our actions are a form of “ideological colonization” and that, “Today children – children! – are taught in school that everyone can choose his or her sex.” Before concluding “We are living a moment of annihilation of man as image of God.”
I’ve heard this language of “choice” from a lot of cis people. To be perfectly honest, for a long time I couldn’t wrap my head around why it kept being used. Do some people really choose their gender? Maybe, I can’t speak for everyone.
I only know my experience, and my gender certainly doesn’t feel like a choice.
The more I’ve thought about it, the more I’ve started to think cis people use this term “choice” because it makes sense to them. If Francis, or any other cis man, were to suddenly identify as female, that would be because of a conscious choice—one that was outside of what was natural for him. He can’t know true trans experiences the way we do, so he’s going from his own. So “choice” is how it would have to be for him.
I get that, and that does sound like a “complicated situation.”
But it isn’t ours.
I’ve had complicated parts of my transition, sure, but they did not come from some kind of confusion—another word popular with cis folks. Instead they happened because I had not been equipped to understand or process my experience of gender, and the people around me had not either.
The only real choice people are making when they come out is a choice to be open and honest with themselves and others.
For children to be able to learn what it means to be trans, gender nonconforming, and/or even intersex, and for a society to be more accepting and affirming of these and other identities, is only going to be a blessing.
When we teach kids about transition earlier, we aren’t changing their minds.
We are easing their struggle.
I know. I was seventeen when I finally realized what it meant to be trans. Thirty when I started to come out widely. I can only imagine what it would have meant to transition as a child. Those who critique educating children about themselves aren’t saving those children, and they aren’t bringing them closer to God. Instead they are saying they’d rather trans people lie and continue to suffer quietly, rather than to just be honest about who God made them to be.
We are not, as the pope claimed, an “annihilation of man as image of God.” Our God is a god of diversity! A diversity of race, of gender, of language, of ability, of advantage, of country, even of hair color. And so much else. Within all of these diversities, are further diversities, none of which are binary, and all of which are beautiful.
I believe that we are made this way because God loves for his creation to be vast and varied. If we cannot see how God is reflected in a person who is different from us, it is only because we can never really understand God’s full nature.
However, we can trust that people know for themselves how God has created them to be.
And we can listen when they tell us their needs. And if, as Francis claims, we are teaching children what they can and can’t choose, I am hoping that I am teaching trans/binary non-conforming kids to choose how best to follow the design of the God that fearfully and wonderfully created them.
Photo via flickr user Jeffrey Bruno