All Gender Experiences Should be Valued | Pushing the Wave

All Gender Experiences Should be Valued

Opinion, 10 November 2023
by L.A. Davenport
Basilica di Santa Maria delle Grazie Milan Italy
Basilica di Santa Maria delle Grazie, Milan, Italy.
This week I have been turning over something that has been playing on my mind for quite a long time. That is, the relationship between gender and religion.

I am sure at least part of Pope Francis’s aim in making the Roman Catholic Church more welcoming to non-cisgender people is to generate some much-needed positive headlines among people who have largely written off religion in general and the church in particular as having no relevance to our moderns lives.

Of course there bound to be legion rosary-clutching traditionalists who dislike intensely any acceptance by Papacy that the world has moved on from the 19th century. But moved on it has, and I welcome his recent indication that transgender people can be baptized, serve as godparents and be witnesses at church weddings.

There are caveats to all of this, however. Pope Francis remains opposed to same-sex marriage, even though he has described laws that criminalize being gay as “unjust,” and has urged bishops in countries with draconian laws to welcome LGBTQ+ individuals. (After all, the church is supposed to be there for the marginalised and the disadvantaged.)

But what bothers me about all of this is just how much gender, sexuality and birth alignment have come to dominate identity politics in recent years.

Gender is just one of many ways in which a person can be defined or categorised, and is not even the most interesting. Yet the tenor of public discourse around the topic suggests that it is considered the only one of any relevance.

Worse to my mind is the way individuals from different standpoints are ejected from debates simply because they do not have the same life experiences.

This is dangerous, as it leads us down the very blind alleys that activists accuse their opponents of inhabiting.

It is hardly a new concept, but it apparently needs stating over and over again: when it comes to gender and sexuality, everyone’s experience is equally valid.

We all have a sexual alignment at birth, we all have a gender and we all have gender- and sexuality-based experiences as we grow up within our societal context. And these should be valued and learned from.

To put it another way: If you accept that all people are born equal, then no one’s experience with their gender is more important, more valid or more relevant than any other.

That does not mean, however, that we can, to borrow a notion from the church, pontificate on another’s experiences.

Someone who is cisgender and who has not had same-sex or transsexual experiences does not know what it means for someone who has. One could argue the same for a gay person trying to give their opinion on heterosexual experiences.

It is simply a question of experience, regardless of whether one has watched educational videos on the topic on the internet. Or to give a rather flippant example, a person who has been in the back of a car does not know what it is like to be a taxi driver.

So of course one has to tread carefully when discussing other people’s lives, but the issue we all face is that we do not live in isolated communities, walled off from each other. A transgender person may wish to use a female toilet for entirely understandable and very important reasons, but the views on the women (I mean cisfemale here) who were already using the toilet are equally understandable and important.

This is where things can be difficult when thinking about the role the Roman Catholic Church can play in gender politics and the acceptance of divergent lifestyles.

The same argument that was made when I was a child about counselling heterosexual couples can be made again here: How can a man (and it is always a man) advise you on your emotional and physical relationship with your partner when they have not experienced one themselves?

It’s an interesting question. In an ideal world I would like to think they can. We believe a qualified psychotherapist, psychologist or similar mental healthcare professional can offer us advice and guides us, even when they have not lived as we have.

Is it that Catholic priests are not deemed ‘qualified’ for that aspect of their role? I am sure they would argue that spiritual counseling in the affairs of human existence is very much within their abilities, and that human relationships are different only by degrees: the same rules of engagement apply whether in a couple or not, and whether one is sleeping with someone of the same sex or not.

Except that those who would be on the other side of the confessional box do not really believe that.

To my mind it is not until the Catholic Church addresses that part of the dilemma over its place in the modern world that any announcement it makes on gender and sexuality will carry any real weight.
The New York Times also carried an interesting piece the other day on a commercial plant in California’s Central Valley that’s using carbon capture technology to pull carbon dioxide out of the air.

The concept is interesting: it is basic science that limestone is formed when calcium oxide binds with carbon dioxide. Put that way, it sounds simple: liberally sprinkle calcium oxide on a baking tray and let (chemical) nature take its course.

Except that they start with limestone, cleave off the carbon dioxide that is already in there using enormous amounts of heat, soak it in water, then spread it onto huge baking trays and let (chemical) nature take its course, before repeating the process all over again.

The electricity needed to generate the heat is from renewable sources, but it still currently costs around $600 to $1,000 per ton of carbon dioxide taken from the air, “making it by far the most expensive way to curb emissions, even after new federal tax credits worth up to $180 per ton,” says Brad Plumer.

Critics obviously have a lot to say about it, not least that we shouldn’t use things like this, given it can be scaled up industrially, to assume that it’s business as usual for fossil fuel consumption, and we can forget all about climate change.

The truth is much more nuanced, of course. Carbon capture efforts like this will have to be a part of a much wider and extremely diverse effort across many, many different technology platforms to both reduce carbon dioxide release at source and increase its removal from the atmosphere.

Maybe this particular incarnation of carbon capture won’t succeed. But hopefully it will lead on to things that could have a major impact in years to come.
I haven’t given an update on my writing in a good long while. But don’t assume that means I haven’t been doing any.

There are two writing projects that are as exciting as they are close to completion. First is the follow-up to My Life as a Dog: More Life as a Dog. That, I am happy to say, will be available for download and purchase in the coming weeks.

The wait will be a little longer for the second, but I think it will be worth it.
© L.A. Davenport 2017-2024.

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All Gender Experiences Should be Valued | Pushing the Wave