Not much more than a year ago, I linked to a Salon piece I thought initially was satirical detailing the risks associated with infant gender assignment. What, you might be asking, is infant gender assignment? From that Salon piece:
Obstetricians, doctors, and midwives commit this procedure on infants every single day, in every single country. In reality, this treatment is performed almost universally without even asking for the parents' consent, making this practice all the more insidious. It's called infant gender assignment: When the doctor holds your child up to the harsh light of the delivery room, looks between its legs, and declares his opinion: It's a boy or a girl, based on nothing more than a cursory assessment of your offspring's genitals.
You might be thinking that this sort of thing is beyond extreme... think again... this sort of thing, if some would have their way, would become the new 'normal':
We live in a society that assumes gender based on genitals. When we are born, we are categorized as a gender based on the appearance of our genitals.
“Transgender” is a word that generally refers to people who do not identify with the gender they were categorized as at birth.
A person with a penis would be classified as a boy, but will identify as a woman. Therefore, this person is a woman. Likewise, someone with a vagina might identify as a man.
Many people do not feel like solely a man or a woman.These people often refer to themselves as non-binary.
Trans* people can experience gender in a number of different ways.
As such, the existence of people who identify as transgender essentially challenges the idea that gender = genitals.
Unfortunately, the conflation of gender with genitals is deeply rooted in society.
It is seen as “normal” and “natural” to identify with the gender associated with one’s genitals. As a result, transgender people are often labelled unnatural or abnormal, and are oppressed, marginalized, and underrepresented by society.
Cisgender people – people who identify with the gender they were categorized as at birth – enjoy a range of privileges over trans* folk.
We often use the word “transphobia” to refer to a range of negative attitudes towards trans* folk.
While the difference between cissexism and transphobia is not entirely clear, and many people use the terms interchangeably, cissexism is often thought to be a more subtle form of transphobia.
By “subtle,” I mean that it is less visible to cisgender people. Despite this, it is no less damaging.
In fact, it could be argued that it is more damaging as fewer people notice it – while most decent people would be quick to condemn physical attacks on trans* folk, fewer people would notice how harmful it is to assume that only women have vaginas.
However, the very attitude that regards cisgender as the norm and others the trans* community leads to the denial of trans* people’s rights.
Our society regularly makes cissexist assumptions.
It assumes that all people identify with the gender they were categorized as at birth, based on their genitals. Assuming all people are cisgender results in cisgender people being seen as “normal” and “natural”, while transgender people are seen as the opposite – “abnormal” and “unnatural.”
This attitude toward the trans* community is what leads to discrimination and transphobic attacks.
Into that fray steps Pope Francis during his General Audience today in St. Peter's Square:
"As we all know, sexual difference is present in many forms of life, in the long ladder of the living," he noted. "But only man and woman carry within them the image and likeness of God."
Genesis, he explained, not only explains that man and woman individually bear this likeness to God, but also together as a couple.
"The difference between man and woman is not for opposition, or subordination, but for communion and creation, always in the image and likeness of God."
The 78 year old Pontiff went on to say that without the mutual enrichment in their relationship, neither can truly understand what it means to be man and woman. While modern culture has opened new ways and freedoms to understand these differences, the Pope noted that it also introduced "many doubts and much skepticism."
"I wonder, for example, if the so-called gender theory is also an expression of frustration and resignation, which aims to erase sexual difference because they can no longer deal with it. Yes, we risk taking a step back," he said.
"The removal of the difference, in fact, is the problem, not the solution. To solve their relationship problems, man and the woman should instead talk more, listen more, know more, [and] love each other more. They must treat each other with respect and cooperate with friendship."
The Pope went on to call on intellectuals to not abandon the importance of this theme, which he said has become secondary.
When the Pope feels the need to directly address this issue, you know that it's crossed the fringe realm and entered mainstream thought.
The Pope went on:
The collective mistrust in God, he said, gives way to incredulity and cynicism and connects to the crisis between man and woman. This division is exemplified in the creation story in which this covenant is broken once sin entered.
"In fact, the biblical story, with the grand symbolic fresco of the earthly paradise and original sin, precisely tells us that the communion with God is reflected in the communion of the human couple and the loss of trust in the Heavenly Father generates division and conflict between man and woman," he said.
Concluding his catechesis, Pope Francis said that the Church has the responsibility of rediscovering the beauty of God's design in the covenant between man and woman.
"Jesus encourages us explicitly to give witness to this beauty, which is the image of God," he concluded.
God help us form a moat between right thinking and twisted thinking that's becoming more and more prevalent.