Tuesday , 21 February 2017

Belief Matters … or Not? Trans response to Pope

Pope Francis
Pope Francis

Last week Pope Francis described gender theory and teaching about transgender people as a threat that is a “world war against marriage” and an example of the “ideological colonisation” that is “corrupting” many parts of the world.  I respond to his speech here.

I am become Death, the Annihilator of Man.

Ma ricòrdati sempre che i mostri non muoiono. Quello che muore è la paura che t’incutono. Così è degli dèi. Quando i mortali non ne avranno più paura, gli dèi spariranno.

You must remember that monsters do not die. What dies is our fear of them. When we no longer fear them, they cease to be. So it is with the Gods.

Cesare Pavese, Dialoghi con Leucò”  (my own rather free translation)

I have known a few clerics in my life, and respected them, and enjoyed their company, and Clarence Musgrave, Colin Martin and Anthony Ross impressed me with the quietness of their faith. Knowing them smoothed down some of roughness of my own early anti-clerical militancy. Later still, as I struggled to recover from alcoholism, I met men and women who adopted a “higher power” in their search for a spiritual basis, unbound by dogma, with which to underpin their freedom from addiction. These men and woman are my family in ways in which my family of origin were not, and never will be.

My parents were atheist (my mother) and agnostic (my father). God was neither praised nor condemned in my childhood home; sectarianism was treated with the same anger as racism. They had their failings but in this regard, at least, I was blessed.

Fast forward most of a lifetime and I have become the “annihilator of man as the image of God” and I am guilty of participation in a “global war against traditional marriage and the family” as churches throughout the world, Republican legislators in the US, Texas lawmen, and some radical feminists form an unholy alliance, and circle the wagons to defend their increasingly untenable orthodoxy.

Let us start at the beginning with the Biblical book of genesis, shall we.

“Let the water teem with living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the vault of the sky.” So God created the great creatures of the sea and every living thing with which the water teems and that moves about in it, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good.

“Let the land produce living creatures according to their kinds: the livestock, the creatures that move along the ground, and the wild animals, each according to its kind.” And it was so. God made the wild animals according to their kinds, the livestock according to their kinds, and all the creatures that move along the ground according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good.”

I was a country girl. For me, nature, in its fabulous variety, is beyond comprehension and understanding. If I were to explain to you how I have come to accept a spiritual dimension to myself, I would point at nature, and tell you that this wonderful panoply is my higher power, that – if you must find God – find him here in this wonderful world, not in the hereafter, but now, in living, and in variety.

Nature has her own way of mocking clerics who wish to confine creation within their own narrow term of reference.

Parrott Fish, Anemonefish, and Hawkfish will change sex if required to do so. There are all-female reptile species that reproduce by crossing their chromosomes. One of the oldest trees in the world is changing its sex after 5000 years. There are mammals, insects, amphibians, and birds that employ gender mimicry as an aspect of their natural behavior.

I can easily imagine that the present inheritor of the shoes of the fisherman has a well-crafted Jesuitical argument against my need to lump man with the God’s lesser creations. I don’t care. God’s creation makes a lie of any sophistry he might muster to defend his denial of the full splendour of nature.  Man too can display characteristics that give a lie to the male or female only option with which we are often presented. There is a bewildering array of intersex conditions that I refuse to call abnormalities. The simple truth is that truth is not simple; nature is complex, complicated and typified by fabulous variety. If are to accept Genesis as a real or symbolic representation of the birth of the universe, we must accept its ability to be varied, and to change. If we are to believe in a divine creator, must accept this, or we must deny God.

But how might I represent the annihilation of man as the image of God? In what way was I created in God’s image? Does God look like me? Is God humanoid in his physical representation? Does God have a humanoid representation? Does God have a penis? Question after question, and no answer that makes sense.

I have an answer. My answer. We are like God in that we must answer God’s injunction to love our fellow men and women. By embracing nature, and variety, by turning our backs against defining nature in simple terms, by believing that God’s will can be found in our ability to feel love and compassion, by abandoning dogma.

Variety and change are natural and normal and clerics who set themselves above the process are annihilating man as the image of God.

But what of the charge that I engage, with many others is a “global war against traditional marriage and the family” and guilty of ideological colonisation? Let us consider what traditional marriage might be. In addition to supporting polygamy, the Old Testament also supports the right of a rapist to marry his victim (Deuteronomy 22:28-29) and includes a command obligating a man to marry his brother’s widow regardless of the living brother’s marital status (Deuteronomy 25:5-10) and elsewhere. Sexual relationships between close relatives are condoned when required. I plead guilty; I am opposed to all of the above.

The accusation of “ideological colonisation” is almost laughable. Historical records make it very clear that the church condoned, supported and participated in the ideological colonisation of much of the new world, as well as the subjugation, genocide and enslavement of indigenous peoples everywhere. Give us a break, Francis, will ya? Don’t lay that lie on me.

The admonition that an appreciation of “our body as male or female is also necessary for our own self-awareness in an encounter with others different from ourselves” is beyond comprehension. Are we to assume that an awareness of our physical body is more important than an awareness of our spiritual connection with God?

This argument lies at the heart of my sadness around Francis’ latest invective.

His early portrayal as a reforming and liberal successor to both John Paul II and Benedict has required that he must find a way to balance the opposing wings of the church. His handling of the child sexual abuse scandal – that might have engulfed the church – has shown a willingness to meet societies concerns, and that the laws of man must be respected, and that secular justice in a secular society is not of necessity in opposition to the church and her teaching.

The emergence of transsexual men and woman from the shadows is not a threat to Christ’s teaching, but an affirmation of his concern that we love one another. In the simplest of term, I see his latest invective as a failure of the church to embrace God’s will in its fullest. It is a failure of faith. Just as some Christians wish to pick-n-mix those parts of Ezekiel, Leviticus and Deuteronomy that meet their own prejudice, there are those among the church’s hierarchy who wish to pick-n-mix those aspects of creation that meet their requirements, just as they like to select those medical procedures which will not challenge their lazy assumptions.

And, yes, I have undergone genital surgery, and I am unashamed and unrepentant. The details of my physical body are no more a part of my spiritual self than the clothes I wear. My body is not God.

About Lesley Stafford

Lesley Stafford
Lesley Stafford was active on issues around the treatment of male to female transsexuals within the NHS, and is co author of a report by the Women Thinking Trans Issues Group. She is a freelance grumpy old woman.

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