I am not a cynic on Pope Francis; though he’s clearly very well managed in terms of PR, I do believe there is a meaningful difference between this pope and his predecessor which has the potential to, perhaps, bear some fruit down the road.”Potential” is the operative word there, however. The Advocate’s bestowal of its “Person of the Year accolade on the pontiff is unconscionable in light of the fact that Pope Francis’ record remains resolutely anti-LGBT; his particular gentle approach is a welcome change in tone, but in practise it merely de-italicises the Church’s standing antipathy to LGBT people. To simply say “don’t judge the queers” is redolent of the “hate the sin, love the sinner” pseudo-compassion that drives a particular strain of prejudice among the spiritually inclined.
Even just considering the narrow band of issues that animate The Advocate’s editors, Francis has not been terribly encouraging– his spirited opposition to Argentina’s tranche of progressive LGBT and reproductive rights legislation says everything one needs to know, and fails to satisfy even the most forgiving of tepidly liberal standards. This is the queer equivalent of President Obama being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, and I can only pray that Francis’ record from here on out is less of a disappointment in light of his equally premature apotheosis.
This says nothing of the article’s blithe dismissal of the Church’s resolutely abysmal gender politics, the tin limits of the Advocate’s activist silo being made apparent with the lone sentence they devoted to the question. Francis has, once again, tantalised the appetites of a hopeful commentariat with words aplenty, but continuing policy that leaves much to be desired, for instance allowing the crackdown on American nuns for their “radical feminist” tendencies to proceed, and asserting that he was troubled to see some people
“…promoting a type of emancipation [for women] which, in order to occupy spaces taken away from the masculine, abandons the feminine with the precious traits that characterize it.”
Whither the many women in the LGBT community, trans and cis, lesbian, bi, and queer, who might feel condescended to by the way the Holy Father conceptualises gender politics? And whose chief promise on the question of reproductive justice is that he will simply not talk about it as often? Whether one speaks on the question of abortion access or the right to modify one’s body, it is difficult to square the circle of naming this pope a person of the year for LGBT people so early in his tenure, and the case of queer women makes that abundantly clear if it was not already. Time and again the church’s policies beg the question: in what heaven’s name are these sinful policies being carried out here on earth, exactly? What greater good or higher power benefits from the abnegation of so many?
But there is another issue to consider: ask yourself what the connection is between this rather feckless accolade and the Advocate’s long history of being clumsy (to put it gently) on transgender issues. They are, I would argue, entirely of a piece. The Advocate’s obsequious genuflections to power are made apparent as much by their apologism for various strains of transphobia as it has been by this “Person of the Year” award. I would suggest that each was sired by the same blinkered perspective and the same fascination with the traditional and familiar that has come to define a good deal of The Advocate’s content lately.
They have made some strides that are worth noting, of course– there have been some worthwhile pieces that have highlighted the voices of trans women of colour, and a slightly higher frequency of trans women writing for themselves, for instance. But as with Pope Francis, so too with The Advocate: there is only potential at the moment, and a substantial, worrying record preceding them.