Here we share faith stories of transgender catholics in their own words.
Kailyn Damm is a male-to-female transsexual and practicing Catholic. As a member of Blessed Trinity Catholic Church of Cleveland, she is a greeter usher at their 11:00 AM Sunday Mass service. In October of 2016, she became the first known openly transgender Eucharistic Minister in the diocese of Cleveland. She is also an active participant in Blessed Trinity’s LGBTQ Faithshare and Gospel reflection group, and actively promoting her church’s open and affirming status with the LGBTQ Community. She has also been a guest speaker at several seminars for teenagers to better understand life, as well as religion, as a transgender Catholic.
The Hands That Guide Me
“Why do you want to be a girl?” This is perhaps the single most frequent, and most loaded, question that I am asked. My reply is quick, “I NEVER wanted to be a girl.” The girl inside my head taunted me with her screams for freedom while I struggled to keep her imprisoned behind bars of shame and guilt. She was a voice that challenged what society says what I should be, a voice that challenged what my traditional Catholic parents perceived me to be, a voice that challenged Church teachings, a voice that led me to first question and then abandon my faith, and a voice that threatened to drive me mad. What follows here is a glimpse into that madness. It is a journey of a soul lost from faith on a sea of self doubt and self loathing, and how after finally accepting what I am, I was able to find my way back to the Church, reaffirm my faith, and embrace a new found dedication to living by and honoring the Word of Christ.
My journey began in 1970, when I first remember hearing the girl in my head. I was five years old, a typical age for most transsexuals, at a time when such things were taboo at best, and damnable at worst. I was so embarrassed, ashamed, and guilt ridden, that I became desperate for God’s help. Like any good Catholic boy, I was taught to say my nightly prayers before going to bed. For three years, I ended every prayer with, “Please, dear Lord, take this voice away from me! I want to be a good boy!” By the age of eight, the voice had gotten so much stronger that I felt God must be punishing me for something. My desperation had turned into severe depression, and my nightly prayer changed. I no longer asked God to take away the girl in my head. Instead, I begged Him to take me in my sleep. Only eight years old, and I had given up on life completely…I was ready for death.
I continued to pray to God to call me home for six very long and painful years. At fourteen, the girl inside of my head was practically screaming for me to let her out. I no longer cared about damnation, as I was already living in hell. I went to the intersection of a main street and stepped into oncoming traffic. I remember the sound of the brakes, and the impact, but I timed it wrong, so that the driver was able to slow down enough to not do much damage. I blacked out only for a moment. I was battered, bruised, scraped up, but very much alive. I was so afraid that my parents would find out what I had done, that I lied to the driver, telling him it was an accident, that I didn’t see him, and that I was fine. Then, I ran away when he asked my name and for my parents phone number. All I had left inside me was shame and misery. I felt that God had completely abandoned me, and if He doesn’t believe in me, why should I believe in Him? I spent the next three years questioning the existence of God, and at the age of seventeen, shortly after a second failed attempt on my life, I left the Church and declared myself as agnostic. I was a depressed, bitter, angry teenager that grew into a depressed, bitter, angry man. I was so miserable, that out of sheer spite, I made everyone around me miserable, too. I alienated my friends and family, and when I did associate with them, I only brought them down with my bitterness. This is what happens when transsexuals do not accept their true selves.
I found that by secretly cross-dressing from time to time, I could keep the depression from reaching suicide levels, but couldn’t take it away. Eventually, I fell in love with a young woman that temporarily distracted me from my misery. After a year and a half together, we had “the talk”. I had hoped that my love for her would help her see past my “eccentricities”. Unfortunately, her reaction went beyond bad, into the depths of pure hatred. She called me a “sick pervert” and “disgusting degenerate” and that she had “no intention of spending one more second with someone that is going to burn in Hell.” After I left her apartment that night, I drove around for hours, trying to decide what to do. I knew that I was too ashamed to ever see her again, and the depression instantly returned to a new low. I could no longer go on. I had to end it. For the sake of preventing shame and embarrassment on my family, I had to end my life. I saw it as my only way out. During the 1980’s, there was a noted spot for a number of west-side suicides in my city, the Lorain Road Bridge, a breath-taking 130 foot drop into the valley below. I remember standing on the bridge, contemplating the miserable 21 years of my pathetic existence.
I don’t remember how I talked myself out of jumping, but I found myself driving home, with a new resolve; to fill my heart with hate. I hated everything and everybody. For the next 15 years, I had very little contact with friends and family, and bounced from one failed relationship to the next. That all changed in 2001, when I met my soulmate. After our second date, I sat her down and explained about being trans-gendered. I told her about the 3 suicide attempts, and about the closeted cross-dressing used to keep the depression from reaching suicide levels again. She was surprisingly supportive. Our relationship continued to develop, and before too long, I couldn’t imagine my life without her in it. Our relationship quickly evolved beyond the physical. We were deeply connected emotionally and spiritually. In spite of my love for her, and her love for me, the depression from rejecting and burying my true self inside continued. I tried to show a happy front, so as to make others think I was happy, but Scherrie knew me too well. We married in 2007, but no matter how far I took the relationship, the depression remained. She knew I was depressed, but was secretly blaming herself. I finally realized that it was the rejection of my true self that was causing the depression. In 2011, I began living as a woman part-time, and in 2013, Kailyn was officially born and out to the family.
The first family members I told were my sister and my mother. My sister, while surprised, was still very supportive. My mom, on the other hand, was devastated. She just sat there with her head in her hands, crying and saying over and over, “I’ve lost my child! I’ve lost my child!” I felt so terrible for hurting her, that I started crying with her. I had to be strong, though, for both me and mom. So, I wiped my tears away, and broke the tension, “Mom, you didn’t lose me! I’m still here!…just with a much better wardrobe.” She stopped crying, and actually chuckled at that one. I asked her to take the time it get to know me,..the new me,…the genuine me. She agreed to give it a chance. I still hadn’t found my way back to God, yet, but I know that I was happier with myself, now. At that time we were sharing a rented bungalow with another couple, who happened to be our friends. They accepted my full-time transition without a problem, but some of the neighbors struggled with it. At this point, I made a few decisions designed to provide us with a happier and better future; 1) I was tired of renting. I wanted to buy a house. 2) I felt that moving might give me an emotional fresh start. 3) I wanted to move to a new neighborhood as a woman, so no neighbors will be calling me by my dead name.
In March of 2015, using online resources, I began my search for a new home. Over the next three months, we searched and inspected sixty houses, and never found the right fit. We were looking at houses all over the county, throughout Cleveland and nine suburbs, and came up empty. There were simply no more houses that met our criteria in the price range we could afford. When I told Scherrie that we were out of luck, she challenged my agnostic convictions. She suggested that I try saying a prayer. I balked at this momentarily, as I hadn’t said a prayer to Christ in 33 years. I was not having much success on my own, so I decided to turn it over to God. It was quite a long conversation that I had with the Lord. I apologized for turning my back on Him. I told Him that, “I know that I said long ago that I don’t believe in You, but if you still believe in me, please help me find a home where I can feel comfortable as my true self.”
After finishing my prayer, I did one last Internet search using the same criteria as before. The search turned up 10 houses; 9 new listings, and 1 house that had been on the market for 18 months, but never came up in any of my previous searches. The 9 new listing were terrible, and we were really disappointed. Then we went to the house that was up for 18 months…As soon as we stepped in the door, Scherrie and I looked at each other, and said one word at the same time, “Home!” The more we looked through the house, the more we knew it was a perfect fit! I submitted a very low bid in the hopes of working out a compromise. They surprised us by accepting our bid without countering. Once we moved into the new house, I began praying again. The first night, I thanked the Lord for still believing in me, and finding us a house, and promised that once we were settled in, I would put effort into finding a church that would accept me, so that I may worship Him properly. We spent the next two months settling in to the house and making friends with our neighbors. Everything was going great! I felt so validated as a human being! All that was missing was my validation as a child of God. I told Scherrie that after the new year starts, I would search for a trans-friendly church, but that she should be prepared that the church I find may not be Roman Catholic. So, the plan was set; in four months, the search would begin…but before that could happen, a tragedy struck our family that was devastating, but this singular event would start a series of coincidences that could only be described as the hand of God at work!…And, it began on September 16th, 2015.
My mother, who lives in Columbus, Ohio, was visiting with her sister in Medina, Ohio. My aunt needed to be at a doctor’s appointment, so my mom agreed to drive her. On the way, my mother’s car was broadsided by a big rig, that sent the car airborne! My dear aunt was killed instantly, and my mother, in critical condition, was flown to a trauma center in Cleveland. The doctors in the hospital told us that they were amazed that she survived, but that mom would need physical therapy in a rehab center. It would take 18 to 24 months to walk, IF she would ever walk again. I volunteered to find a rehab center that I liked for my mom. I inspected five centers, and decided on one that met my approval out in Westlake, Ohio. My 87 year old mother, being the tenacious woman that she is, defied the doctors, and was walking in only two months! The woman is a rock star!…but, I digress.
About a month into her stay, I went out to visit her, and saw a familiar man in the parking lot, Father Ned was a retired priest that served at a church in Medina, back when my mom lived there. I approached him, and reintroduced myself, since the last time he saw me I was still a man. I told him about what had happened to my mom, and he told me that he was there to visit a relative of his that was also in for therapy…and surprise, surprise,…his relative was in the room directly across the hall from my mom’s room! Fr. Ned asked if he could visit mom after he was done visiting his relative. After I let him spend time with my mom, and he excused himself to leave, I asked if I could walk him to his car, so I could speak to him. During the walk, I explained my situation, and that I was wondering if he knew of a Catholic parish that was trans-friendly. He said that he was pretty sure that Cleveland has an open and affirming parish, but did not know for sure. So, I gave him my phone number, and he promised to call me once he had any information.
About a week later, I received a phone call from Fr. Ned. He told me there was a parish on the west side of Cleveland that was LGBTQ-friendly. He gave me the number, and told me to ask for Fr. Doug. I called the number immediately. Fr. Doug seemed quite pleasant, and assured me that, while they currently do not have any out trans, they have many openly gay and lesbian couples, so he was sure that it wouldn’t be a problem. I was very excited about the possibility of finding a welcoming church community! I asked Fr. Doug if I could meet him in person, and see the church. Then, I asked for the address. When he told me, it caught me off guard. “Your church is right near me! I figured it would be further away!” He asked, “Where is your house?” I gave him my address, and he said to me, “My dear, you are in our parish!”
When I hung up the phone, I just sat there in disbelief! We looked at 70 homes throughout the city and surrounding suburbs, covering an easy 30+ parishes, and the one house that fit our needs, that was only found after saying that one prayer, just happens to be in the parish that welcomes me openly…And the only way I found this out, was through a series of coincidences and picture perfect timing that guided me to it! I suddenly realized the obviousness of the truth, God never abandoned me! I had drowned out His voice with my own misery and self-loathing! I went to my first Mass at Blessed Trinity, and had many parishioners come up to me, introduce themselves, and shake my hand,..I even had a few people welcome me with a hug! My heart just felt like it would burst with joy! And, as I sat there listening to Fr. Doug’s homily, I broke down, and silently cried, as I thanked God over and over for not giving up on me, even though I had given up on Him. I promised Him that from this day forward, He has my unwavering, unconditional, and unbreakable love!
As I had left the Church prior to being confirmed, I entered RCIA classes, so I could receive full initiation into the Church. On Holy Saturday, 2016, I was confirmed with the patronage of St. Katherine Drexel. Once confirmed, I started volunteering as a Greeter and an Usher. In October of 2016, I became the first known openly transgender Eucharistic Minister in the Cleveland Diocese, and have been serving as a Minister for the Homebound since Easter Sunday of 2017. I have finally come full circle. I have endured so much, lost so much, and hurt so much, but I found the path that saved me from the abyss, and brought me safely to spiritual peace and contentment, but I did not do it alone. I owe it all to…
The Hands That Guide Me.
by: Kailyn Damm