Our faith calls us to follow our consciences, accept mystery, and love one another without exception. Reaching out to my marginalized, extreme minority is not only possible, but also enriches the faith communities who do so. Reconstructionist Judaism, Reform Judaism, and various Quaker groups openly allow transgender worshippers in their congregations. Certain Christian denominations, including the Presbyterian Church (USA), the Ecumenical Catholic Church, the United Church of Christ, the Metropolitan Community Church, and the Unitarian Church, openly accept transgender individuals. I hope that having no public Catholic policy in this rapidly evolving field may make it possible for the Catholic church to avoid the kinds of mistakes it has made with the teachings concerning sexual orientation and contraception that have divided its members so deeply.
This year, I joined a group of transgender ministers and theology students to develop a curriculum for a school of religion. We were challenged to create our own mission statement and goals. We spent the first day discussing the background of our being called together, testing a workshop by two of our members on gender in a faith group setting, and getting to know each other. The next day we would need to do the “real work” of determining just what our organization was going to do. I went to sleep that night wondering what we could do that would be any different from the many programs of “radical inclusion” that ask churchgoers to accept the marginalized LGBT community. The next morning I awoke and dashed this off:
The mission of the Trans Roundtable is to testify to the transfigurational power of spirituality and religion to nurture dignity for people of all genders.
It felt as though God had written through my hand, and I feared that I would have to fight to be sure the statement remained intact. I was frightened and felt unworthy. Very uncharacteristically, I knelt down and prayed first to be spared this task, then for the eloquence to do it.
When I read the statement to the group, everybody immediately supported it. Anyone who has done committee work of any kind will understand what a miracle this was. All of us, we discovered, believed that transgender people have a spiritual story, a story that, when shared, can help heal what is broken about gender for the church and what is broken about the church for queer people. By framing our mission and educational work in this way, transgender believers can choose to use the power of our powerlessness to build our faith communities from the margins.
While the Roman Catholic hierarchy has taken no public position concerning transsexual or transgendered persons, there is hope that ordinary Catholics will be accepting. A 2011 survey by the Public Religion Research Institute found that 93 percent of American Catholics believed that transgender people deserve the same legal rights and protections as other Americans.
Even the confidential Vatican document on transsexual persons, according to the Catholic News Service article I mentioned previously, accepts that life goes on for those who transition. It provides that:
- Priests who undergo a sex change may continue to exercise their ministry privately if it does not cause scandal. (This makes it abundantly clear that the Vatican’s real concern is, not morality, but being caught in their unsupportable exclusion of women from the priesthood.)
- Surgery could be morally acceptable in certain extreme cases if a medical probability exists that it will “cure” the patient’s internal turmoil. (Far from extreme, transition is the only medically approved treatment for people diagnosed as transsexual. Reassignment surgery can be the final step in the process that provides for a person’s social integration and personal safety.)
- Marriages in which one partner later transitions may be affirmed as valid. (Marriages like mine are also affirmed by United States courts as well)
I hope that Catholics would look at the body of scientific and medical evidence to develop a loving acceptance of those of us who are gender-variant. The intentional Eucharistic community I belong to has done this. My priest has noted how the unique perspective I have on gender issues that comes from seeing life from both sides now, and how my path to my true gender has parallels in the process of Ignatian discernment, which helps us to understand God’s desire for us.
I understand that my journey, though personal, touches that which is universal about gender and change for everyone. Perhaps your notions of father, mother, brother, sister, husband, and wife will be opened a little by meeting someone who has been all of those at different times in her life. Maybe you can take it from someone who has been there that looking at everything in oppositional terms–“us and them”, “black and white”, “male or female”–is limiting and dangerous. Ultimately, welcoming the mystery of diversity in God’s plan is a starting point for healing in our church, and that for which I most hope.
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