I was raised with no religion and identified as an atheist or agnostic the entire time I was male. But over the course of my life, Catholic teaching and Catholic people have touched me deeply. As a design student, Jungian art therapy opened windows to my soul that I had shuttered in my attempts to be the man people expected me to be. Over time I came to understand how much Jung’s lessons are supported by his understanding of Catholicism as a universal faith. Seeing every Bible character as an expression of the masculine and feminine in me helped me to get past what some see as sexist or gender-oppressive in those stories.
At the age of 22, I married a thinking Catholic whose father had been a Jesuit seminarian for 10 years and who had raised her with a well-reasoned faith. I came to see her as a conduit of God’s unconditional love as we raised a child, and later, as she supported me through my gender change. Her strong grasp of the core principles of Catholic teaching, rather than superficial dogma, allowed us to remain faithful to God, ourselves and one another through the mysterious and complicated spiritual journey of gender change.
That journey was broken open when, in 1994, I read Healing the Shame That Binds You by John Bradshaw. Bradshaw attended a Catholic seminary and has advanced degrees in theology, religion, and psychology. He writes about the concept of the false-self that we create out of the shame and guilt we feel by believing that our real-self is unacceptable to society. This has resonance for many with addiction issues, but it is the elephant in the room for the gender variant. Bradshaw’s work provided me with a lens and a vocabulary that illumined and helped make sense of my experience. At a young age my effeminate nature was discouraged so I learned to suppress anything that might be seen as feminine, like emotions. I did allow my self to express anger and tried to harden myself into what I believed would be acceptably masculine. Imagine examining everything you say or do to hide who you really are and play a role constantly. Completely separated from your true self and true emotion with no inkling spirit you slip into a functional depression that keeps you distanced from friends, family and any true identity. In my case, once I had female hormones in my body, I discovered an access to emotions and spiritual awareness that was unimaginable when I lived a false-self life of a man. I’ve had menopausal women credit hormone therapy for restoring their emotions too. Bringing my mind, emotions and public persona into alignment was the starting point for my spiritual growth.
During this new stage of my life, my wife and I have also discovered new and meaningful ways to be Catholic. In particular, five years after my transition (and after some spiritual searching), I was blessed to find a Catholic Intentional Eucharistic Community. This lay-organized but priest-led group features a shared homily during which people reflect on how they live the gospels in their daily lives. It was though this group that I was able to get past the false religiosity of some Catholics and truly appreciate the miracles of shared Eucharist. After 3 years of attending I was baptized and confirmed as a catholic woman, 25 years after marrying one. 5 years later during a retreat focused on Tomas Merton his ideas about the false self came up “In order to become oneself, one must die. That is to say, in order to become one’s true self, the false self must die… [This involves] a deepening of new life, a continuous rebirth, in which the exterior and superficial life of the ego-self is discarded like an old snakeskin and the mysterious, invisible self of the Spirit becomes more present and more active…” (Merton, “The Inner Experience: Notes on Contemplation (1) CSQ 18 (1983), p. 7). It was at that time I came out to my community as transgendered to explain how my path of discarding the exterior and superficial life as a false-man allowed my formerly invisible female true-self to be reborn, present and ever deepening in my relationship to God. Making my life a parable about the spiritual path we all walk has enriched my community and others I speak to.
Excerpt from:Mother, Father, Brother, Sister, Husband, and Wife by Hilary Howes
an article in-
More than a Monologue Sexual Diversity and the Catholic Church:
Volume I: Voices of Our Times
Christine Firer Hinze and J. Patrick Hornbeck, editors