A Roman Catholic apostolate to support the dignity and inclusion of transgender laity.

Posts tagged ‘LGBT’

Transfigured, a course on transgender theology

Fr. Shay

When I started my transition I desperately wanted to find stories in Scripture that resonated with my experience, but no one was really doing transgender theology back in 2008. So as I continued on my gender journey I also started doing theology from this unique perspective. When I shared the work I was doing I found that it resonated deeply; not just with other trans folks but with straight and cisgender folks as well! 

Better understanding the lives and journeys of trans and nonbinary folks can open up and expand your understanding of your own gender and your faith as well. This will help you to advocate more deeply for trans inclusion as well as enrich your own faith. 

Even though I’ve been doing this work for over a decade now, the field of trans theology is still pretty new and much of what is available is either geared toward explaining gender identity (and making a case for trans inclusion) to cisgender folks OR is academic in nature. 

At QueerTheology.com we think there is a middle way: theology anchored in the lives and experiences of transgender and nonbinary people that is also accessible to folks outside of academia. We believe that trans and nonbinary folks have unique insights into Scripture and faith and when they share them ALL people can benefit (not just trans folks). 

In Transfigured, a course on transgender theology, we dive in to the differences between queer and trans theology, provide a Scriptural basis for doing trans theology, and then dive into ways that texts can be interpreted through a trans lens. 

There is a track for cisgender folks and a track for trans folks. Each track has overlap but is also designed to take you deeper in your journey. There are lots of reflections and prompts to guide you through your own work.

We believe this work is vital to the faith of trans and nonbinary folks and our straight/cisgender supporters. We hope you’ll join us. 

Registration will open on October 13th through October 22nd and the optional kick-off call will be Sunday, October 24th at 4:00pm EST/8:00pm GMT/ 5:00am Oct 25 AUS 

The True LGBT Family of Jesus.

This is a copy of my remarks to the Interfaith Pride Service, organized by the Interfaith Coalition for Fairness of Maryland held at Grace United Methodist Church 5407 North Charles Street Baltimore MD 21212 on Tuesday, July 21, 2015. It was deeply honored to be asked and it was very well received by those assembled.

I’m here tonight representing the Catholic church to bring you a message of welcome and to embrace you as your authentic selves. And to do that you may need to forget everything you thought you knew about the catholic church and forgive the ways you have been personally hurt by catholics and open your heart to the largest organization dedicated to social justice in the world.

The mystery and conflict starts with the meaning of the words Roman Catholic Church. Roman because it is the last vestige of the roman empire and with that it has had the power to stand for 2 millennia but also shares the shame of oppression, patriarchy and violence. Catholic on the other hand means universal and it’s faith tradition is a history of growing from the margins and changing (slowly) as demanded by its people. And then you have to change what you think Church means. When catholics say church we are not talking about a building or the rules or the leaders. We mean the PEOPLE of faith. So let me represent the Ancient heritage of universal people of faith.

So as that I am a logical choice to be the representative. I’m not a nun, priest, or bishop but I am called by my baptism, my discernment, and my community to be a Queer Faith Leader. I am marginalized by my church hierarchy first as a woman, in a same-sex marriage, who is transgender. And from that margin I call my church to embrace people from all the margins. And the people of faith do. Recent polls found more support for same-sex marriage strongest in Catholics of all the mainline american religions. Polls show support for transgender equality highest among american catholics of all christian denominations. Yet the church hierarchy has been visible in their opposition to both central issues of dignity to LGBT people.

You may be by now justifiably confused, mystified, and conflicted by these revelations about the church and that is fantastic. This religion exists in mystery, in evolving revelations of ancient symbols and through individual conscience. Who better to call you into that spiritual question that is Catholicism than someone uniquly blessed by birth to understand incongruence, contrast, ambiguity, quandary, the conundrum of living life as a trans woman.
So let me give you the 2 minute mass with my remaining time to welcome you into this mystery. We look for inspiration to the readings for today and since we celebrate today Marriage Equality as the law of the land now it is miraculous to find that the gospel is

The True Family of Jesus.
MT 12:46-50
While Jesus was speaking to the crowds,
his mother and his brothers appeared outside,
wishing to speak with him.
Someone told him, “Your mother and your brothers are standing outside,
asking to speak with you.”
But he said in reply to the one who told him,
“Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?”
And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said,
“Here are my mother and my brothers.
For whoever does the will of my heavenly Father
is my brother, and sister, and mother.”

In my intentional eucharist community we would next have a shared homily where each of us would reflect on the meaning this passage had to our daily lives. We are short on time so let me tell you about our true queer family.

In 1992 I was in the early stages of what would become my transition. I belonged to a support group of transvestites, crossdressers, Drag Queens, Drag Kings, transexuals, and androgynes. In my first San Francisco Pride Parade, I walked with them the length of Market street to cheers of the crowd dressed for one of the first times in the daylight as a woman. Not in the flamboyant way pride parades are known for but more like your mother at the state fair with a visor, sunscreen, shorts, fanny pack and sensible shoes but also a little beard shadow. It was after the parade making my way home that I encountered a group of young gay men who i could overhear had read me as a transvestite and I stiffened myself for the hopefully only verbal assault on my dignity. One of them suddenly, throws up his arms running across the street and shouts “Mom! I didn’t think you were going to make it!”
In our warm and genuine embrace I felt the connection to all of us who had come together to celebrate living as our authentic selves. Back then it was just accepted as likely that coming out queer meant loosing your birth family. This young man used a bit of theater to not only diffuse a possibly painful confrontation but also to sum up what Pride day was really about then, affirmation of each other in the face of a society that rejected us. We built our own families of choice because love makes a family. Our own churches when we couldn’t imagine being accepted by mainstream institutions.
Much has changed in 20 years, Pride is now more about how mainstream organizations empower diversity. We gather to celebrate the advances of law, religion, and society. We express our commitment to each other and with our birth families, our religious traditions and our free society. But our journey is not over yet so let me close with a prayer:

Dear Creator,
You created balance.
The night to follow the day.
The sea to touch the earth.
All the wonderful animals, fish and birds.
You are the great creator of variety and diversity. 
Thank you that you made us all to be unique and reflect your love.
Come draw our family together in all it’s wonder and beauty.
Help us to love and respect each other.
Show us how to support and encourage one another.
Inspire us to work together to become a picture full of your perfect love.

for this may we be blessed,
Creator, Being and Holy Spirit

Togetherstyle goes Not-for-Profit

I have to admit that I started this place when I was out of work and looking for any avenue to add income to to my freelance life. Since then, I have become both fully employed in my creative field and deeply involved in non-profits as a political and religious activist. Togetherstyle has always been about the empowerment of transgender women though image consultation for greater success in this increasingly visual world. So today I want to make it clear that for individuals I provide image consulting on a sliding scale based on your ability to pay and for free to those who are working as activists for gender rights. I believe that our community is best represented by people with confidence and professionalism in their presentation and personal branding.

If I can be of service, please let me know.

Otherwise this will also be a place where I will keep you posted on my involvement in gender social rights and transgender spiritual well being.

To be or not to be: A Catholic Transexual Speaks Out

I have been asked to put the full article I wrote for Conscience magazine a publication of Catholics for Choice for view on the web rather than download.

“Blessed” by our creator with male genitalia and a female brain I struggled to relate to a society that saw me as male until age 40 when I transitioned to live as a woman. It was a authentic mid-life transition to integrate my mind and body that many who knew me supported and even called courageous, inspiring, and ethical. But this uniquely personal act though the eyes of the 99.5% of people who are blessed to have their gender and sex match has been seen as a political act, psychological disorder, character flaw, weakness, perversion and sin.
In the Catholic Church, as a transsexual woman, I don’t exist officially. Officially the Catholic church does not have a policy on the range of gender expression and considering their policy on gay men, lesbian women, divorced women, women priests, and women who abort I should count myself as lucky. But the popular assumption that I will be treated poorly by the institutional church hierarchy is born out in news reports of a secret document to bishops, and the Pope’s own words. As Jeff Israely reports in Time Magazine December 23,2008 article: The Pope’s Christmas Condemnation of Transsexuals

‘Without actually using the word, Benedict took a subtle swipe at those who might undergo sex-change operations or otherwise attempt to alter their God-given gender. Defend “the nature of man against its manipulation,” “The Church speaks of the human being as man and woman, and asks that this order is respected.” The Pope again denounced the contemporary idea that gender is a malleable definition. That path, he said, leads to a “self-emancipation of man from creation and the Creator.”

Respecting the order of men and women is very important to an organization that is controlled solely by one gender. But the Creator does make transsexuals (mind/body incongruity) and inter-sexed (anatomic incongruity) people and the manipulation of medical science allows us to lead more normal lives with the 99.5% that have such trouble understanding this variation. Beyond anatomy, rigid gender stereotyping is important to a controlling patriarchy and so accepting any transgender expression, (cross-dressers, transvestites, Drag queens, drag kings, androgynous, bi-gendered, and gender queer) is unacceptable for organizational reasons, not morality.

The problem with a secret position on transgender people is that the church hierarchy are empowered to follow the most reactionary course in their words and deeds on the subject. According to John Norton of the Catholic News Service in his Jan-14-2003 article titled
“Vatican says ‘sex-change’ operation does not change person’s gender”

… the document instructs bishops never to alter the sex listed in parish baptismal records and says Catholics who have undergone “sex-change” procedures are not eligible to marry, be ordained to the priesthood or enter religious life, according to a source familiar with the text.’
“The key point is that the (transsexual) surgical operation is so superficial and external that it does not change the personality. If the person was male, he remains male. If she was female, she remains female,” said the source.

Those familiar with transsexuals will see the irony of truth in the ‘key point’ except in reverse. Transitioning allows us to share with society the gender personality that we have been from the start and avoid the false-selves developed to live as others expected us to based on our external bodies. Any United States transsexual that gets a surgical procedure does so after psychological evaluation, much soul searching and living at least 2 years in their perceived gender. The vast majority of transsexuals never have surgery because of its expense that is only covered by a handful of healthcare policies. Surgery does not define ones gender for passports or many states drivers licenses but a doctors psychological evaluation does. However, the sources assertion that one’s genitals are superficial could only have come from someone committed to celibacy.

Those armed with the secret document and their own transphobia have: expelled a music minister, a priest, a nun, a lay counselor, a college student, a parochial school student and even a church cleaning lady. They have also torn families apart by teaching that transsexualism is a psychic disorder. Parents are counseled to suppress transgender children and to reject transitioning adult children. Transexuals are forbidden the sacrament of marriage (to anybody), religious life, and priesthood. Some bishops even wrote congress to oppose the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) that would add gender identity and sexual attraction to the protected classes in employment law. This secret position emboldens the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishop’s Office for Film and Broadcasting in their review of the film TransAmerica to state:

“Director Duncan Tucker soberly handles the sensitive subject matter with humanity and a fair degree of delicacy and humor. But the film’s affirmative depiction of transsexualism is unequivocally incompatible with church teachings on human sexuality and gender identity. Furthermore, Stanley’s sex-switching procedure conflicts with Catholic proscriptions against “directly intended amputations, mutilations or sterilizations” spelled out in the Catechism of the Catholic Church.”

It is a hateful position that can twist this AMA approved surgical intervention for a birth incongruity into a “mutilation”. Like all the church policy that flows from the precept of ‘Natural Law’ (sex exists only for procreation) we find that this policy follows neither nature (as science shows) or law (as an equal protection).

It doesn’t have to be this way. As readers of this magazine would know, our theology calls us to follow our conscience, accept mystery, and love one another without exception. Reaching out to my marginalized extreme minority is not only possible but enriches your spiritual life.  Re-constructionist Judaism, Reform Judaism, and various Quaker groups openly allow transgender worshippers in their congregations. Certain Christian denominations, including the Presbyterian Church (USA), Ecumenical Catholic Church, United Church of Christ, Metropolitan Community Church, and the Unitarian Church openly accept transgender individuals.
Even the “secret Vatican document” (according to the 2003 CNS article referenced above) provides for:

  • Priests who undergo a sex change may continue to exercise their ministry privately if it does not cause scandal. (Women priests? Sounds scandalous.)
  • 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 is the final step in the process and provides for a patient’s social integration and personal safety.)
  • An affirmation of the validity of marriages in which one partner later transitions. (A Catholic affirmation of a same sex marriage?)

I hope that Catholics would look at the body of scientific and medical evidence to develop a loving acceptance of those of us with this variation. The intentional eucharistic community I belong to has. My priest has noted the unique perspective I have on gender issues that come from seeing life from both sides now. He has noted how my path to my true gender has parallels in Ignatian discernment to understand God’s desire for us.

I understand that my journey, though personal, touches that which is universal about gender for everyone. Perhaps your notions of father, mother, brother, sister, husband, and wife get 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 us & them, black & white, male or female is limiting and dangerous. Ultimately, welcoming the mystery of diversity in God’s plan is the healing for our church  that I most hope for.

Your comments are appreciated.

A Catholic Transsexual Speaks

Only my second post and I am just a little off topic. I wanted to share with you an article I wrote for Conscience magazine a publication of Catholics for Choice.
It came about from serving on a strategy group for the Arcus Foundation that seeks to build a pro-LGBT movement within the Catholic church. The strategy is formed now and grants are being considered for non-profits who can join us in this mission.
To Be or Not To Be: A Catholic Transsexual Speaks (download)
Is part of a series of articles on how the institutional catholic church affects many marginalized people today. The Catholic bishops have been very active opponents of LGBT equality of late but a majority of lay Catholics (exercising their conscience) have no moral objection to homosexuality despite the teachings of the institutional church according to a Pew Research Center survey.

Your comments are appreciated.

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