Pope Benedict has an argument with himself about gender

In a somewhat bizarre Christmas message, the Pope has delivered a stirring rebuttal to an argument no one is making. After noting a famous quote by feminist author Simone de Beauvoir (“one is not born a woman, one becomes so”), Pope Benedict makes this claim:

These words lay the foundation for what is put forward today under the term “gender” as a new philosophy of sexuality. According to this philosophy, sex is no longer a given element of nature, that man has to accept and personally make sense of: it is a social role that we choose for ourselves, while in the past it was chosen for us by society.

This might have been true if he had said it in 1974. But this is very nearly 2013.

The Simone de Beauvoir quote is from The Second Sex, published in 1949. The idea that gender is a social construct and not biologically determined was very much in play by the 1970s. That was the era in which the theories of sexologist John Money became influential. Money believed that children are born as malleable blank slates, and can be raised to “be” the gender of their caregivers’ choice. Money was delighted when he had the opportunity to prove his theory on the unwilling body of an actual child, David Reimer. After his penis was destroyed in a botched circumcision, Reimer and his twin brother became the subjects of Money’s infamous “John/Joan” case. He was given feminizing hormones, “corrective” surgery, and raised as a girl, all without his knowledge until age 14, when his parents finally told him the truth. He began living as male, and later took steps to reverse his unwanted gender reassignment. He took his own life in 2004, but not before sharing his story.

More Pope Benedict:

People dispute the idea that they have a nature, given by their bodily identity, that serves as a defining element of the human being. They deny their nature and decide that it is not something previously given to them, but that they make it for themselves…The words of the creation account: “male and female he created them” (Gen 1:27) no longer apply. No, what applies now is this: it was not God who created them male and female – hitherto society did this, now we decide for ourselves.

“People dispute the idea that they have a nature, given by their bodily identity”? The truth is the exact opposite. What Money’s experiment ultimately demonstrated was that no matter what “society” tries to impose on them due to external appearance, and no matter what invasions are perpetrated on the rest of their body, a person’s gender is biologically determined and is what it is: “a given element of nature” and “a defining element of the human being.” This is exactly the point with which we agree. This fact, and not some post-modern notion of people “deciding” what their gender is, defines the movement to secure equality, safety and dignity for people whose gender was incorrectly assigned.

In other words, the Pope is having an argument with a convenient fabrication. His argument completely relies on the pretense that we hold the opposite view of the one we actually hold.

There is something especially pitiful about this.

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