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Despite what many people assume, the Catholic Church does not have an official teaching on transgenderism or transsexuality. The internet is rife with very definite opinions from every corner of Catholicism denouncing a certain mythical conception of what transgenderism is, but on the Magisterial level the Church is frustratingly silent. (The Church is also silent about intersexed individuals).
There are three instances where the Church supposedly taught on the issue, and skeptical Catholics put these forward again and again as evidence for what they view as the incompatibility between transsexed individuals and Catholicism. I’ll address each instance separately. They are:
Instance #1: Pope Benedict and Gender Theory
On the 21 December 2012, Pope Benedict XVI delivered a “Christmas Greeting” to the Curia of the Church. Halfway through the greeting he addressed the issue of gender theory. He introduces what he sees as the dangerous theory with the words of Simone de Beauvoir:
“one is not born a woman, one becomes so.”
These words lay the foundation for what is put forward today under the term “gender” as a new philosophy of sexuality.
Simone’s words can be taken in a fairly harmless light – indeed, this is one of my favorite quotes – but Benedict applies them and the idea of gender theory in their most radical form:
According to this philosophy, sex is no longer a given element of nature, that man has to accept and personally make sense of: it is a social role that we choose for ourselves, while in the past it was chosen for us by society. The profound falsehood of this theory and of the anthropological revolution contained within it is obvious. People dispute the idea that they have a nature, given by their bodily identity, that serves as a defining element of the human being. They deny their nature and decide that it is not something previously given to them, but that they make it for themselves.
Benedict’s speech continues to establish what he sees as the permanent dualism of male and female in the world.
According to the biblical creation account, being created by God as male and female pertains to the essence of the human creature. This duality is an essential aspect of what being human is all about, as ordained by God. This very duality as something previously given is what is now disputed. The words of the creation account: “male and female he created them” (Gen 1:27) no longer apply. No, what applies now is this: it was not God who created them male and female – hitherto society did this, now we decide for ourselves.
First off, admitting the exceptions to the rule does not disprove the rule. In other words, transgender people don’t necessarily tear down the male-female mystery; they just participate in it in a different way.
Secondly, it is a scientific fact that not everyone is 100% biologically male or female (cf. intersexed persons). The Church has always been uncomfortably silent about intersexed individuals, likely because most Catholics are afraid that the existence of such people challenges Genesis. Intersexed and transexed people DO challenge our understanding of Genesis, but so did the Copernican revolution (the discovery that the Earth revolves around the Sun). These challenges don’t disprove Scripture or invalidate Dogma; they just prod us to modify the depth of our understanding.
Thirdly, the Pope’s words are meant to combat an extreme version of the gender theory which essentially says “gender is a meaningless social construction.” Obviously denying that male and female have any meaning is very destructive to the Catholic worldview. However, this extreme form is not the essence of gender theory. At its most basic level gender theory is simply the assertion that “sex” and “gender” are distinct from each other, sex being one’s chromosomal makeup and gender being one’s internal psychological or spiritual identity. The point of gender theory is simply that the ideas of male and female are complicated and have many elements, including but not limited to external appearance. This isn’t necessarily an up-heaving worldview; in fact, well-respected Catholic philosopher and apologist Peter Kreeft formulates ideas from Pope John Paul II’s Theology of the Body in a way that might be considered a Catholic version of gender theory.
The assumption in Pope Benedict’s speech is that transsexuality is a rejection of how God made us and a decision to “decide for ourselves” how to live. From personal experience I can say that (a) God made the inner person as well as the outer person, and transsexuality is an acceptance of how God fashioned our inner person, and (b) transsexuals don’t “decide” their internal gender identity. Who would want to have a female gender identity and a male body or vice versa? It’s not a decision; it’s a tough reality.
Fourthly, a transsexed person does not necessarily violate the injunction that people “have a nature, given by their bodily identity.” If the physiological theory of transgenderism continues to be proven, then there is a physical reality to transgenderism. The brain is just as much a physical part of the body as genitalia. If a person’s brain structure is informing their self-awareness, it needs to be taken into account as part of their “bodily identity.”
Also, a papal address such as this is not morally or doctrinally binding. Catholics should listen to Benedict’s homilies with the respect owed to the Pope, but our application of his personal opinions must be interpreted according to our individual conscience. A Pope is only infallible if speaking on matters of faith and morals specifically ex cathedra – “from the chair of Peter” – which has only happened twice in recent history. Otherwise his words are valuable and (hopefully) prophetic, but still subject to human error.
Instance #2: The Catechism and SRS
Another way some Catholics attack transsexed individuals is with section 2297 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The soundbyte thrown at trans people says:
Except when performed for strictly therapeutic medical reasons, directly intended amputations, mutilations, and sterilizations performed on innocent persons are against the moral law.
This is used to demonstrate the immorality of sex reassignment surgery, which is seen as all three of the above violations.
First of all, the passage allows for these procedures if “for strictly therapeutic medical reasons.” SRS is in fact largely considered a medical procedure (hence the gate-keeping on the part of the psychological community which heavily screens trans people prior to SRS in order to ensure they medically qualify). Even if the Church views some gender reassignment surgeries as mutilation, the passage certainly allows for some ‘wiggle room’.
Secondly, the passage is taken from the section of the Catechism devoted to kidnapping and torture! The whole passage in context says:
2297 Kidnapping and hostage taking bring on a reign of terror; by means of threats they subject their victims to intolerable pressures. They are morally wrong. Terrorism threatens, wounds, and kills indiscriminately; it is gravely against justice and charity. Torture which uses physical or moral violence to extract confessions, punish the guilty, frighten opponents, or satisfy hatred is contrary to respect for the person and for human dignity. Except when performed for strictly therapeutic medical reasons, directly intended amputations, mutilations, and sterilizations performed on innocent persons are against the moral law.
The passage isn’t talking about SRS; it’s talking about torture! Maybe one day the Church will formally extend this teaching to transsexualism, but in the meantime all we have is a misused and abused soundbyte that’s been thrown around without any thought for the context.
Instance #3: The “Secret Teaching” Conspiracy
In January of 2003, John Norton of the Catholic News Service released an article titled “Vatican says ‘sex-change’ operation does not change person’s gender.” It has since been taken down, but is archived elsewhere for posterity. The article claims that a “sub secretum” (top secret) document was shipped from the Vatican to Papal representatives in each country. The document was supposed to inform local bishops on how to deal with transsexuals on a case-by-case basis. It instructed bishops not to recognize transsexuals’ gender identity and to keep them from the Sacraments of marriage, ordination, and religious life. Sex reassignment surgery does not change a person’s gender.
Norton’s article has circled around the web since publication, being cited in just about every anti-trans polemic out there. Never mind that no one seems to have a copy of the original document. Never mind that the trail ends at John Norton, a journalist.
Personally I doubt the existence of the document. The whole thing smells too much of conspiracy theory. One wonders at Norton’s motivation for exposing the “secret.”
Even if the document is real, it does not represent Church teaching. The Catholic Church does not have “secret teachings.” A “secret teaching” is an obvious oxymoron for an institution in which “teaching” means “official guidance for the People of God.” You can’t instruct people or hold them accountable to something if they don’t know the teaching.
Also, even if a secret teaching were possible, it would be extremely irresponsible – maybe even immoral – for the Church to have a clear stance on transgenderism and yet not offer it as guidance to its transgender followers.
Also, it goes without saying that even if this document exists, Norton was obviously not authorized to release it to the public. The Church doesn’t use journalists to put forth its teachings.
Finally, even if the document is real, it supposedly says among other things “… that the [gender reassignment surgery or GRS] procedure could be morally acceptable in certain extreme cases if a medical probability exists that it will ‘cure’ the patient’s internal turmoil.” This seems to open up SRS as an option to pretty much the same people permitted by the medical community to undergo the procedure.
The Dialog Ahead
It’s obvious that there’s a long dialog before us. No one in the Church knows quite what to make of transsexed individuals, and the jury is still out regarding how the Magesterium’s views will develop.
According to the Catholic World Report, the Catholic Church “allows for the acknowledgment that there can be a biological reason for gender-identity disorder.” Rumor has it that the Church is waiting for science to further study the causes of transsexualism before it will make a decision. If this is true, it proves very hopeful for transsexed people since every year the biological/brain-sex theory of transsexualism seems to gain more support.
In the meantime transsexed Catholics must follow their consciences while navigating a social world in which almost no one has a place for them. Solid Catholic blogger Elizabeth Scalia sums it up in a beautiful reflection on her transgender friend Sarah.
… she [Sarah] loved the Rosary and prayed the beads every night along with a podcast recording I had made of each mystery. She read, and loved, St. Teresa of Avila, St. Edith Stein, and also Pope Benedict XVI, with whom she identified, calling him “undervalued.” Still, she declared she could never convert because “the church wouldn’t have me, as I am.”
By which she meant, as a post-operative, transgendered woman.
It broke my heart that Sarah believed this. I urged inquiry with a priest, but this child of God was convinced that there was no room for transgendered persons in the Catholic church. I thought there might be, and made a few discreet inquiries of my own; what I encountered was a general sense of dis-ease among the clerics and theologians I asked. None of them said “No, there is no room” but none of them would definitively say “yes” either. The dialogues on Sarah always held a built-in tension—that breath-holding, again—as the questions of sin and disorder were haggled out. One theology student asked me, as if I would know, whether sexual reassignment surgery didn’t indicate a “permanent rejection of God’s plan that might make reconciliation impossible.”
I understood the direction of his thinking: Must Sarah confess as a sin the surgery through which an identity had been formed that put a lifetime of suicidal thoughts to rest and brought a measure of peace? Must Sarah (whose baptismal name I never knew) do what was possible, within constraints of health and finances, to henceforth present as a man in order to come to church?
I was merely, in the parlance of the pope, doing simple triage by asking, “can this wounded soul be seen? May Sarah be admitted into this field hospital for sinners?” I considered my job, and the job of the church, as being first of all to love the person before me; to see Sarah, as Pope Benedict XVI wrote in Deus Caritas Est, “not simply with my eyes and feelings, but from the perspective of Jesus Christ”; to respect the dignity of this human person seeking a relationship with Christ and then offer an arm of support for the journey. This might mean challenges down the road, certainly, but first and foremost it would require an unambiguous welcome.
From my own experience I’ve come to believe there are many people out there like Sarah, souls full of mystical devotion to Christ but who instinctively feel rejection of their personhood by other Catholics.
Thankfully, the younger generation increasingly understands the nuance of the problem and is willing to open their hearts to a deeper understanding of transsexed issues. For example, a 2008 conversation on the Catholic Answers forum shows a measured awareness of the topic.
(On a personal note, the only Catholics who seem to have a problem with my own transgenderism are (mostly males) over the age of 45. All the younger Catholics I’ve talked to, no matter how conservative, traditional, orthodox, pious, and holy, have been understanding at the least, and often all-out accepting. When I expressed my fear that my parish would utterly reject me if I transitioned, a holy friend of mine pointed out that since all the Catholics in my generation seem willing to love me for who I am, chances are time will quickly heal any schism).
Under the papacy of Pope Francis, the Church is at the perfect place to really engage trans issues. While Francis hasn’t changed any doctrine or dogma of the Church (and really holds the same views as Benedict), his tone shift is absolutely revolutionary. People on the left are calling the shift one of tolerance; I call it one of listening. Pope Francis is the listening pope, willing to lend his ear to the cry of the world’s lost voices. The trans voice is certainly silenced, even if it now enjoys a better audience than any other time in Western history. Thank you, Pope Francis, for being Christ’s listener.
Pope Francis is willing to learn. As he has said to the shock of many people:
“St. Vincent of Lerins makes a comparison between the biological development of man and the transmission from one era to another of the deposit of faith, which grows and is strengthened with time. Here, human self-understanding changes with time and so also human consciousness deepens. Let us think of when slavery was accepted or the death penalty was allowed without any problem. So we grow in the understanding of the truth. Exegetes and theologians help the church to mature in her own judgment. Even the other sciences and their development help the church in its growth in understanding. There are ecclesiastical rules and precepts that were once effective, but now they have lost value or meaning. The view of the church’s teaching as a monolith to defend without nuance or different understandings is wrong.”
(Quoted in TogetherStyle. Read the interview here.)
Pope Francis isn’t saying that dogma will change or creeds will topple. What he’s saying is that certain understandings, and therefore certain teachings, are subject to fallible human understanding and can change or grow as humanity expands its knowledge. Transgenderism is a perfect example of such an issue – it was barely acknowledged until the middle of the 20th century, and only now is being studied and better known by science.
If progress will be made, lay and religious Catholics need to understand that transgenderism is not cut-and-dry and that the Church is still in the process of learning about it. Taking their Mother Church as a model, Catholics must strive to slow their judgments and listen for a moment to the voices begging to be heard.
I really enjoy reading this post even though I am not a Catholic. I like how you presented your view and presented your argument. Especially linking to source material so I could understand better how you made your conclusion.
I agree with your assertion that a person doesn’t decide their gender identity. They may suppress it as it may too hard to deal with or become aware of it at some time. But a person doesn’t decide to have a gender different than their sex. It is just part of the makeup of a person and should be consider part of God’s design for that person.
What stood out for me in Section 2297 is the words innocent person. If a person elects to have SRS then they are not innocent since they are making decision about what is done to them. Therefore based on just that I couldn’t see how SRS would be a violation of that section.
The secret teaching conspiracy does sound like that to me. How could the church expect people to be accountable for something if they don’t know what they it is that they being held accountable to in the first place. Like you said, I think if the church did have a clear stance on the issue they would make it open so there was no confusion as their is now.
I applaud Pope Francis and his idea of listening and considering what he hears. Its the same as us in that we as persons listen to the world around us and change our views based on our experience and what is shown to us. From that we do grow and understand the world better.
I can understand why the church may be silent on the issue. They are not sure and what they see goes against what they understand. Like you said transgenderism has only been recently acknowledged so its understandable there is resistance but also good to see that Pope Francis is willing to listen to sources such as science to help to come to understanding.
Yeah, even my mom, who could understand or accept very little of what I told her when I came out to her, recognized that no one would choose to be transgender given how complicated (and often painful) it makes life. And to people who want to “fix” my brain to be in line with my body, all I can say is that it seems pretty horrible to say “we’d rather change who you are on the inside than how you look.”
It is understandable in my opinion that there is so much misconception about trans* issues out there. It’s confusing even for us who experience it! I’m glad the Church is trying to take its time to better understand things. I’m just afraid they won’t ever come to a good understanding because of all the misinformation out there.
That’s a good point about the word “innocent”! The passage is obviously talking about a person being victimized by someone else, not a person making a conscious choice on their own.
You mention the Copernican Revolution. Took two hundred years before it was accepted despite the scientific evidence that showed it was right. The Church may not come to a good understanding at first because it is hard with all the misinformation, traditional thinking and people afraid of change. That should be accepted but I’m confident that with people like yourself presenting your point of view and backing it with solid evidence that the Church may accept transgenders in the church without reservation. May not happen in your lifetime but one day it will happen if we keep trying 🙂
Reblogged this on HelloworldI'mtransgender and commented:
Wow, man. This is awesome. I truly believe that this opened my eyes .
Once again you see to the heart of the matter. An interesting thing that I’ve been looking into myself, to be honest.
However, there is something I am curious of and I’d like your take on it — bionically speaking, ‘man wearing a woman’s clothes’ is painted as wrong in the Old Testament… how does this relate to Christ making a ‘New and Everlasting Covenant’ in the New Testament?
I am trying to find out where that future conversation would go before I have it 😉
I just wrote out a massive response to this comment and then wordpress pooped out and I lost it. D:
So ya know what, I’m just gonna do a post on this issue. Why not!?
Superb. I’m cis, but identify as queer and a trans ally. As a gay Catholic activist, I’m involved in several LGBT faith groups in the UK, and write about all matters relevant to the intersection of faith and sexuality at my blogsite, “Queering the Church”.
I will be reblogging this useful analysis to my own site, and to that of Quest, a British association for lesbian and gay Catholics that would like to be more trans inclusive. I will also be promoting this piece, and the rest of your site, as widely as I can on my social networks,
In addition, I would very much like to see it published in print, in the newsletter of another group I’m involved with, the “Centre for the Study of Christianity and Sexuality” (which devoted its 2013 conference to transgender and faith). If you are willing to give permission, I am certain that the editor would be delighted to publish. May we do so, please?
This makes me so happy! 😀 OF COURSE YOU CAN!!! Like many trans people, I’m obsessed with visibility and disseminating information since there’s so little of it out there and we’re possibly (not to play a violin) one of the more invisible groups in society.
Thank you so much for your support! I’m so happy you like my article so much, and I’ll be sure to promote your sites in return. 🙂
Thanks. I’ll refer this to our editor.
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Thanks for a great post.
The Jewish Talmud has some extensive discussion on intersex issues – how to apply Torah law to people who are neither exclusively male or female. It’s acceptance of such individuals is an important part of our tradition.
Oh really!? I’m in love with everything Jewish and Hebrew, so please tell me more! What sections of the Talmud?
Sorry, I don’t have the references immediately at hand but googling “talmud intersex” brings up a lot of references.
Reblogged this on LauraGirl.
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Wow. I just happened upon your blog from a comment you made on Spiritual friendship.org. I am currently working to navigate my own head/heart around this question for the purpose of being an effective catechist when it comes to sexuality within the Catholic Church. As I am sure you are well aware, we are lacking a good theological understanding, which really makes ‘teaching’ terribly difficult. BUT, people are seeking answers and so I am seeking language/understanding/challenges/etc… I am sure your blog is going to be of great value to me as I work to form my own conscience on this issue. Thanks!
Well good luck and God bless with your catechesis! If you have any specific questions, don’t hesitate to drop a line through the email form or leave a comment.
I’m very encouraged by the dialog that is beginning among the faithful on this issue. I’ve been reading through John Paul II’s Theology of the Body lately, which has made me realize how much richer and more nuanced the Catholic view of sexuality is than the watered-down Christopher West version of it (at least as I’ve been exposed to it). If anything Theology of the Body affirms the transgender experience, since it makes the point that the outer vestiges of sexuality (like genitalia) are the language/expression/incarnation of a deeper, more basic sexuality that exists in the person’s soul. Ideally a person’s body perfectly expresses their soul, but in a fallen world sometimes this doesn’t happen for various reasons.
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Thank you for this article.
I work in a Catholic school, and have a student who is about to start their transition. It’s good to read this, as I try and support the community in their understanding of what our Church teaches (and doesn’t teach) about being transgender. I hope to be able to help people respond with love and support for him.
Thank YOU for being there for a trans* child of God. Lord knows all we need in this fight are hearts open to give of themselves and meet people in their need.
Hello, Anna Magdalena! I like your name.
First of all, a very challenging and thoughtful article. I’ve been studying Catholicism and have been investigating Theology of the Body a lot.
I also greatly admire that you have a bibliography.
I’m not convinced, though, by your arguments for why transgenderism should be okay. That doesn’t mean it isn’t an acceptable practice or fact of a person, but I don’t think the arguments you put forth actually prove anything in favor of transgenderism.
“The assumption in Pope Benedict’s speech is that transsexuality is a rejection of how God made us and a decision to ‘decide for ourselves’ how to live. From personal experience I can say that (a) God made the inner person as well as the outer person, and transsexuality is an acceptance of how God fashioned our inner person, and (b) transsexuals don’t ‘decide’ their internal gender identity. Who would want to have a female gender identity and a male body or vice versa? It’s not a decision; it’s a tough reality.”
I agree entirely with point (b). We don’t choose our internal nature as transsexual or whatever we happen to be. I myself am physically female though I rarely “feel” like a female, rather I act and feel more like a male despite being attracted to males.
I also agree that God fashions the inner person to a certain extent (there is cooperation involved, per Philippians 2:12-13). But, I don’t think the inner person is a fixed reality. We may be born with certain predispositions, and environmental and genetic factors affect our inclinations and desires and feelings etc. But, that doesn’t justify every facet of the inner person.
For example, I have in my inner person sometimes noticed sexually perverted desires (e.g., a desire to mutilate people for sexual gratification). Also, though I do not myself experience this, there are people who have suffer from alcoholism and other unhealthy addictions.
These are all aspects of the inner person: sexual perversion, alcoholism, drug addiction, anger issues, depression, etc.
The fact that these are part of our inner person does not make them acceptable. Furthermore, having to struggle with such issues as alcoholism, depression, etc., is not easy but it is not necessary to succumb to them. There are a plethora of methods out there to counter internal chaos and disease. It is up to us to take advantage of them–I think of what Jesus said to the invalid: “Do you want to be healed?”
So, while I don’t believe your arguments work, perhaps they would work if you added this: aspects of the internal person that do not harm other people/the person who has the internal trait are acceptable. So, if being transsexual doesn’t harm other people or you, and it’s an aspect of the inner person, then being transsexual is okay.
And a sexual desire to mutilate people is not okay, because it harms other people.
You might make that sort of argument.
But, then, I question the assumption that God only commands against what is harmful to other people or the individual; after all, He/Jesus commands against lust which is an internal behavior that does not necessarily, outwardly harm anyone. That assumption that only what is harmful is bad is not from God, if He is the Christian God and exists and revealed Himself through the Catholic Church and Scripture. Rather, that is an assumption we have taken from philosophers. Not that philosophers are unwise, but I think that to follow them over Scripture/RCC is perhaps a mistake we don’t have to make–if Scripture/RCC contains the “moral” truth.
Although, as you have said, neither Scripture nor the RCC speak explicitly and authoritatively regarding the issue of transsexuality/transgenderism (except perhaps that bit about not wearing the opposite sex’s clothing, which might be subject to the same treatment as verses about not eating pork). In which case, perhaps we have no choice but to turn to philosophers for guidance.
Yet Catholics are to submit to the pope, I have heard, even if he says what is incorrect–at least for a time, until he is proven wrong.
Re: the “sub secretum” document: I have spoken to two religious superiors who remember seeing the document when it was originally sent out to bishops and major superiors. When I spoke with them, they were not able to locate their copies, since they were sent over a decade ago (and at the time, they did not know anyone to whom the document applied); however, they vouched for the document’s existence. Interestingly enough, both superiors have since been approached by multiple trans* people (including myself) seeking to respond to a perceived vocation to religious life.
In my case, the province’s vocations director spoke to the order’s head canon lawyer in Rome, who wrote back that, under current interpretations of currently-existing canon law, I would almost certainly not be accepted as a candidate. However, the order had no official precedent. The local provincial could present my case to the Curia, and receive an official response – almost certainly a “No” – which would set an official precedent (almost certainly of rejection). Or, we could choose not to pursue it, and leave the option open – hoping that, after a period of time, the Church’s understanding of transgenderism would improve, and either I or another candidate might then be able to be accepted as a candidate. Having no negative precedent would make future acceptance easier.
I left the decision with the provincial, who has not chosen to pursue my case. This leaves me without closure, but with a window of hope for the future. God only knows what that future will bring, and how soon – I’m only a decade or so away from the age at which most religious orders will not accept candidates.
And by the way, this is an EXCELLENT presentation of the issues involved.
It’s hard to find educated people in this particular subject, however, you seem like you know what you’re talking about!
I am a man who lives as a woman, and have never tried to pas myself as a biological female having been baptized converted to Ctholicism, Baptized by a Priest, confirmed at the Cathedral in NYC and naturally am interested in this article about what is the Church teaching on gender confusion, SRS and the moral biblical and practical aspects of dealing with Transexualism Rev.Antoinette Pezet
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I love your selection and conversation of the information presented. I was raised Catholic now practice as Protestant. I still hold the Roman Church with high regards
and appreciate the church and all its followers. Your thoughts are spot on, bringing todays current issues to the forefront with clarity. Continue you work may God be with you.
Vios con Dios
Gary Rossi de Guevara
Thank you for your entry you wrote in an equable manner. I’m trying to establish a more clarified view on the issues you describe and your contribution helps a lot. I’m a devoted Christian (RCC) myself and I send your sincere greetings from Poland – a country I come from. God bless you!
Thanks Anna, and God Bless! Long live Poland! (I’m currently reading Henryk Sienkiewicz’s trilogy. I love your country’s history and spirit!)
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Incredible insightful Anna! I can’t agree completely yet, simply because this is one of the first things I’ve read, but I am so impressed and comforted by you and your piece. That you have this struggle, and yet still seek God whilst being 100% faithful is incredible – the balance of all these aspects in your writing is so comforting. And above all, well done for having the courage to share all your research, and to accept that you are wanted in this Church, and desired by God. I’m seriously so impressed and inspired by you.
God bless you always, I will keep you in my prayers ❤
Thank you so much Olivia! I’m glad you found comfort in this piece. The prayers will be coming right back at you 😉
Beautifully written and argued, I particularly love your argument for a nuanced and adaptable understanding of scripture and dogma. Though it is disheartening that there still seem to be so many Christians (and Muslims, to be fair) who assume that science can’t possibly have anything new to teach us if it happens to conflict with some lazily simplistic interpretation of how they feel God’s plan ought to work (as if we are in any position to be telling God how to run a universe):
“Intersexed and transexed people DO challenge our understanding of Genesis, but so did the Copernican revolution (the discovery that the Earth revolves around the Sun). These challenges don’t disprove Scripture or invalidate Dogma; they just prod us to modify the depth of our understanding.”
Thanks, I’m glad you like it! It’s especially frustrating since Catholics go on and on about “natural law,” which is SUPPOSED to be a theory of ethics grounded in nature and embodiment, but usually turns into “well I feel such and such is immoral, and this feeling is just my natural gut reaction, so I must be right.”
Thankyou for your comments and explanations. I have discovered that i have been a male on the outside whilst being female on the inside for most of my conscious life. It has been / is a living nightmare. One of your writers claimed things are improving with a more tolerant younger generation. I have to disagree. Being male on the outside is a distinct disadvatage. Especially being older. I did experience young women in China have much more respect for those older and were prepared to talk casually with interest. I spent many wonderful , comforting hours with younger women as two human beings conversing without the hangups of ‘who is hitting on who’ . A much enlightened society i found. At least with the women. Maybe, i felt one of them or related to their thoughts. Re gender and who we are, who decides? Apparently the shrinks, themselves full of hangups. If you really want to discover insanity, take a trip to see one. It’ s interesting to read about crossdressing when many female clothes today were once considered male. Even the habit/cassock is unisex. I wear clothes to suit my inside nature but find clothes asexual. I actually find skirts more aesthetically pleasing, practical , functional and comfortable. Sadly, most criticism re clothing i have experienced, comes from younger western females. Travelling the world, i have found mostly westerners have hangups re clothing. In fact, many places i have discovered, a sarong or doti is the required attire. We are who we are yet people try to mould us differently to fit their model. It certainly is a mad world and to be a part of it one has to comply with its dysfunctional models. Sadly, i dress to avoid others embarrasement, when i leave my habitat to avoid others unease. I acknowledge their social dysfunctions, eg drunkeness, debouchery, criminality, intolerance etc with understanding. It seems to make them happy being who they are. Yet they ridicule me for being sensitive, caring, a vegetarian and even Buddhist. In one westernised country i was told i was a social threat, a fourth dimension, that i would be reported etc. I did approach the union but the redneck upheld their view. I am really happy to hear Pope Francis’s thoughts on transgender issues. Maybe the old guard did well to appoint him.
Weeping with joy. I want to use this as a handout, a tract to help appropriate questioning people.
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I am very thankful for you and for this space that you’ve created in which you rationally and eloquently explain this issue. Even though I am not transgendered, I feel like it’s an often lonely stance to support transgendered people in our Church. I can’t even begin to imagine how you and others like you feel. I’ve had quite a long and spiritual journey in understanding transsexuality and being transgendered. From studying it as an anthropology major in college, to having close transgendered, and transexual coworkers and friends in a Catholic organization. My heart hurts for how much ignorance and judgement exists on this issue in society, but specifically among other Catholics. I do what I can to speak up and share some of my knowledge and understanding, but it’s been hard and isolating.
Oh, and my theory as to why the Magisterium has been so silent on this topic is that our body of knowledge on this issue is ever growing and developing, so until absolutely proven in some way, they won’t take an official stance. Which is kind of good because it means they are watching the science and staying open to what will come of it. I believe it’s the same reason the Church has no official stance on evolution. Anyhow, I look forward to reading more here. Thank you again and many prayers and blessings to you!
I am Roman Catholic and I am securely confident that my SRS was in furtherance of God’s will for my life. That confidence will not be affected by anything that the Church might declare.
Great article! I am married to a FTM for 10 years, we have 4 kids. We were raised catholic but have found some comfort in other, more liberal churches but missed the catholic mass. We just came back and this has been nagging at me. We “pass” so this is only a problem at confession and on conscience, but it is something that does weigh on me. Thank you for such a well researched article. It was exactly what I was looking for.
You’re welcome! I’m glad you found it helpful
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Actually, infallible doctrines are not the only Papal statements that Catholics have to accept. There is another level below infallible called “binding,” to which we must give the religious assent, which is different from the assent of faith. I don’t know if a homily would fall under this, though. I kind of doubt that it would.
I am a transgender woman and I have a deep spirituality. I was raised a catholic but and I have gone astray from that religion for numerous reasons, one of them is their treatment of lgbt people. personally, if being transgender is considered a sin I will never come back in this church ever again. Even if the people in the church offers me a good welcome. If they say ”she is a good person and we love her and welcome her in the Church but God will judge her for being a transgender”, I would never want to do anything with that church. The same is the same with any religions. If God doesn’t reconize as the woman that I am, than he is an impostor. I have my dignity and I am tired of being pushed around. Since my coming out, I began to feel more love for myself and for others. It’s a proof I’m going in the right track. I got so much I could give to the world by becoming fully my true self instead following the advice of people living in fear, judgement and who don’t know anything about my true self.
Bless you. Please forgive this long Necro-response. I only encounteted your post recently. I am a cradle Catholic and equally cradle trans. I grew up, however, in an area of progressive Catholicism which actively encouraged female altar servers. I was drawn to altar service and my progressive Catholic parents actively approved of my expressed desire to eventually enter the priesthood. They knew I loved the Mass. I did well, too, as an acolyte. I knew by heart the whole of the liturgy for each season. A young priest taught me the correct way to tie my belt, the way that he learned at seminary. My story, however, as far as vocations go, ended there. Though my heart, as far back as I could remember, was impelled just as relentlessly towards the priesthood as I have ever heard or read from any seminarian, it was made clear to me as I reached adolescence that there was a limit to progressive catholicism. The problem? Female genitalia. I perceived myself then as male. And it has been with a continual sense of disbelief that my body is not actually what my perception assures me it must be. But my internal awareness did not/does not matter. The body, only, is important. This is an odd viewpoint, given that Christ’s resurrection is defined as a Triumph over the limits of the corporal body. That the nature of God’s salvation defies our assignment of death via our fallen natural body. If it was not so, why do we insist on Baptism? Corporal nature… The “body” to which we are born… Must be secondary. Anyway, even as a child, I was intelligent enough to recognize that bodies are difficult to replicate through human means. I did not believe that doctors could replicate male genitalia. Thus, I reluctantly decided to bear up under the burden of my physical disjunction the same way I would if I’d been born with an unfixable cleft palate. I would wait for a female priesthood. That seemed more attainable, especially since celibacy effectively negates the unique generative purpose that bodies have. Surprisingly, I was mistaken. I have been truly amazed by my birth faith’s apparently intractable misogyny. Why might the Church be more willing to accept a post-operative body than acknowledge that ministry should not be defined solely by bodies?Bodies which they acknowledge are affected by the limitations of sin and, thus, should not be permitted to define how we behave? I agree with the above comments that state the disjunction of internal sense of self and body reality is not something anyone would willingly choose. I would not have wanted the lifetime of rejection on the basis of my mismatch and the suicidal thoughts that were the sequelae. My peers and my family members seem to have known without being told that my internal self was definitively male. I was different from girls. Accepted much more readily by tech-minded boys, who told me I was one of them. I didn’t choose this disjunction. I do not even regard it as psychological. I personally believe prenatal exposure to androgens prevented my brain from developing normally. I believe my brain, unable to be objective in its perceptions, believes itself to have a structure akin to male because traits necessary for it to perceive itself as female are undeveloped or absent. Brains lack nerves, thus cannot feel pain during brain surgery. My brain, I think, lacks feminine traits. Therefore, it cannot perceive them. That I am judged for what logically seems a birth defect has driven me to the fringes of the catholic community. No theologian would say it was a sin to correct a physical deformity. Or to remove the extra finger or toe or, even, a tail, if genetic mistakes had made me polydactyle or given me a prehensile appendage proper to an animal! That 6th finger or toe or spinal extension might be perfectly formed and function well. Nevertheless, it is not regarded as necessary to honor God’s will by requiring an individual born with a tail to live with it. I am heartened by your post that the Catholic dogma is silent on the matter of transgender disjunction. But my distance from a community that defines my role within by a body that they assert is both flawed and no longer the perfect form created by God in Eden. I cannot act as a priest. I am not permitted to be married to my girlfriend even though she (who is a heterosexual cisfemale) and I (who she has repeatedly confirmed to be no less masculine than other men she knows) are drawn quite naturally to a traditional marriage. I have not converted to another religion. i have remained nominally Catholic. I have not had Eucharist in over a decade and do not expect that yo change.