Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Propaganda, Vatican style

I have been meaning to talk about the speech the Pope delivered to the Roman Curia, the Vatican’s central administration, before Christmas. It has become quite controversial and been vilified by many an LGBT blog after bits and pieces of it were released to the media. Of course it didn’t help that the press sort of sensationalized it as well.

After the Pope delivered his message, an AFP article said: Gays outraged by pope’s ‘homophobic attack.’ Hmmm. meanwhile had the following headline: Pope’s message angers gay rights activists. Okay. Time’s online banner headline was the one that took the cake though as it read: The Pope’s Christmas condemnation of transsexuals. Whoa!

So I went searching and found out three important things:
1. the speech was not public although its message was released to the media
2. a full and official English translation of the papal address has not been made available and may not be for some time
3. nowhere in the speech did the Pope mention gay or transsexual people

Some of you may be surprised with my reaction but I must tell you that we must never join the fray without knowing the facts first. So I went looking for an approximate but at least full translation of Pope Benedict’s pre-Christmas speech and read it and my reaction was: tell me something I don’t already know.

The Catholic Church has been and will always be anti-LGBT. (Although it is interesting to note that for the longest time, it didn’t have an official stand against transsexual people. It was only fairly recently, around 2000 to be exact, that the Church was able to articulate a coherent position on trans people. Read on it here. And what do you know? Naturally, as far as the Church is concerned, we do not exist. No matter what, we will always be the sex we were assigned at birth.) But that’s a given. We all know that already.

In his pre-Christmas address, the Pope essentially was affirming the gender binary by saying it was set by Creation itself. Respecting that and listening to the “language of creation” will be saving man from self-destruction much like saving the environment from further degradation. Using the language of environmentalism, the Pope called for an “ecology of the human being” which involves upholding the distinction between man and woman and shunning attempts at blurring it.

The media interpreted this as the Pope’s criticism of modern-day gender theory which interrogates the essentialist notions of gender that the Catholic Church espouses. Well, the way I see it, the Pope’s pre-Christmas address is not a condemnation but in fact an affirmation of the global LGBT movement particularly its gains. All around the world, the fight and struggle for equality is being taken up by more and more people and Vatican is feeling the pressure. It felt the pressure enough this year that the Pope had to mention it in a speech scheduled a few days before Christmas when the world is mostly quiet. Of course it hit home.

As LGBT rights activists we really shouldn’t waste time calling out the Church on a charge that it is already guilty of. Vatican will always be homo- and transphobic. What we should do instead is to engage the Church on its own propaganda. What ecology is the Pope talking about here, for example? High school biology text books will teach you that ecology is the study of the organism and its relationship to its environment. It studies living things as a part of a community, an ecosystem populated by other organisms. Thus, one of its major principles is biodiversity, the idea that there is a variety of life forms on Earth.

So if we will follow the Pope’s line of thinking, respecting the language of creation would entail respecting the diversity found in it. Therefore, a genuine ecology of the human being is one that affirms sexual and gender diversity! A true ecology of the human being is one that will celebrate the various ways sexual and gender identity and expression are lived out in the world. Moreover, diversity does not equal destruction! Instead, it is natural and in fact is an index of life and its abundance.

If anything, what the Pope’s pre-Christmas address should tell us is that we must get ready. As a global movement we should get our act together because this is just the beginning of an all-out propaganda war the Catholic Church will wage against us. Vatican cannot just help itself what with the many positive developments we are seeing all over the world. The LGBT community in Hong Kong for example just held their first Pride March there last year on December 13. In South Africa, trans activists recently got together to map out a plan on how best to respond to African trans people’s needs. Asian members of the International Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender and Intersex Association (ILGA) meanwhile are trying to establish a network of Asian trans activist groups and individuals. Here in the Philippines we are all anticipating an election year in 2010 and it is my fervent hope that Ang Ladlad, our national LGBT organization will secure a seat in Congress.

The Church is a formidable foe but until it recognizes us as HUMAN, until it ceases to dismiss us and until it stops reducing us down to our sexual and gender identities and expressions, we cannot rest. We must do the work needed to correct the campaign of LGBT hatred it has been teaching the world over and will continue to preach well into the new millennium.

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