Greetings to all Catholics, queers, and other assorted readers. After a long absence I’ve decided to explain why I no longer post here. The short answer is that I’m no longer Catholic. I refrained from talking about this because I didn’t want to invalidate what I’d already written, but maybe some invalidations are in order.
First I want to be abundantly clear that I believe much of what I’ve written on this blog is still valid if you hold to a moderately conservative Catholic worldview. If you believe, as the Vatican does, that gender/sexual identity is an essential God-given trait, and if you hold to the Apostolic Creed as the bedrock of the Christian faith, then there is no reason why trans* people should be excluded from the life of the Church in any way. All rhetoric which banishes queer persons to the margins is nothing but bigotry tressed up as pseudo-orthodoxy.
Now the reasons why I am no longer Catholic are too numerous and far too complex for one blog post (I could point, however, to several big sticking points: the systemic sexual abuse, the consistent hatred against the very people Jesus would have broken bread with, the inability to incorporate scientific advances into a fundamentalist worldview). That’s all neither here nor there; I’m not here to pick a fight. However, I do need to explain why I disagree with some of my past assertions.
First of all, even if I were still Catholic the tone of this blog would have changed regarding gender identity in its very many manifestations. My biggest regret regarding this blog is the disservice I did to non-binary persons. In all good faith I was trying to reconcile Catholic views of gender with my own predicament as a transgender woman. As someone who feels as a woman and not as caught in between the binary, it was relatively easy for me to simplify gender down to a core inherent identity. This jives pretty well with the Catholic worldview, even though many of us in the trans* community know first-hand that gender is not that simple. I think I got closest to the truth here in my series on the various uses for the word gender. There are three predominant theories about gender: (1) it is a social construct, (2) it is a psychological reality, and (3) it is a biological fact. Most people ascribe to one of these. Throughout most of this blog I ascribed to a combination of 2 and 3. As I expressed in the gender series, I still believe it to be a combination of all three, and that much of our confusion comes from using a single nebulous word to encapsulate a great many realities.
Before I leave this blog for good, I want to clear the air about a few terms I used in the past, and why I no longer use them.
Transsexual. In the past I used the word transsexual to describe myself. Transsexual is a predomiantly medical term used to indicate someone who undergoes a medical process to transition from one gender to another. Some trans people still identify as transsexuals, however the majority of us, myself included, find the term grating and outdated. I used the word in this blog because at the time I partially ascribed to a theory called trans medicalism. Trans medicalism is the idea that the identity and experience of trans people is ultimately validated (and shown to be logical and worthy) through the affirmation of doctors and medical professionals. Given that most conservative Catholic dialog on trans issues has been from this viewpoint, I did not bother to contradict it but used it as a springboard for further discussion. In retrospect I feel that I was compromising with an ultimately harmful paradigm that does not do justice to the reality of life as a trans person.
Gender ideology. In the past I was willing to use the pejorative term “gender ideology” in the same way as it has been used by the Popes, as a catch-all invalidation of any theory (usually feminist, hey sisters!) that seeks to deconstruct gender, or to show that gender is a social construct. While I have always been wary of reductive theories of any kind, including the idea that my gender experience is entirely a matrix of social constructs, I am not willing to denigrate intelligent theories that have a lot of truth to them just to earn brownie points. Which leads me to my next locus of problematic-ness.
Gender essentialism. In addition to the aforementioned trinity of gender theories (social, psychological, or biological), there exists a general dichotomy between those who are gender essentialists and gender existentialists. Gender essentialists believe that gender, whatever it is, is innate, inborn, God-given, ideal, spiritual, or part of the very core of who we are. Gender existentialists believe that it is a secondary trait arising from some bare facticity of our life, perhaps from how society interacts with us based on how they view our body. As a Catholic writer I was willing to ascribe to a sort of idealized spiritual gender essentialism, to simplify the trans experience to I have a woman’s soul. Again, if you hold to a conservative Christian worldview, then this is a valid way to make sense of trans* identity. However, this same worldview also carries a lot of baggage. It has often been weaponized to denigrate women and keep all sexual minorities in a subserviant position. My point is that while gender essentialism is incredibly convenient, both for cisgender Catholics to maintain a strict and often repressive gender binary, and for transgender Catholics to argue their way back into that space, it is also problematic. I’m not here to argue the logic of that viewpoint, only to suggest that if we are to judge a tree by its fruits, then the fruit of this tree has often grown shrunken and rotting. While the first job of Catholic queer people may be to simply secure a seat at the table (survival comes first on the Maslow hierarchy of needs), any further discussion needs to take theology head-on especially where it conforms dogmatically to philosophical positions that have nothing to do with the Christian creed but are instead a pastiche of ancient Greek metaphysics.
Transwoman. Transwoman or trans woman? Seems like splitting hairs, and to some degree it is. However, my use of the word “transwoman” was an acquiesence, not so much to Catholics, but to trans-exclusive radical feminists. A TERF, or gender-crit, is a term denoting feminists who see transgender women as men trying (unsucessfully) to be women. In deference to this view, some use the term “transwoman” as opposed to “woman,” to express a kinship but essential difference. In other words, a transwoman is not a woman, nor a man, but a third thing: a transwoman. I cannot be clear enough that I believe transgender women are women, as cisgender women are women. At the very least, barring any lengthy philosophical discussion, it can be agreed that for all intents and purposes and in every practical way I live my life as a woman, am seen as a woman, interact as a woman. My post on spiritual adoption hints at a possible way forward from that basic agreement: maybe trans women can at the very least be adopted into Church womanhood. However, the key is that they be adopted as women and not as some “exception to manhood” or other such marginalization.
Some posts that I now believe to be outright harmful or immature have been taken down. The majority, however, will be left here for whoever wants to use them, with the caviot that I do not outright endorse anything I’ve written in the past. This post seeks to at least touch on what might be cringy in what remains of my writing.
Lacking a clever way to wrap things up, I wish you all lots of love and good fortune. Stay safe, love yourselves, and keep striving toward a more compassionate world! XOXO
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Thanks for your post. You probably did it only purpose, but I’m guessing through lots of reflection, and wisdom, what religion is your conclusion now?
I am agnostic-ish, philosophically Mahayana Buddhist, spiritually in constant evolution. I’m still very drawn to Christian mysticism, but I’m keeping as far away as possible from institutional Christianity.
Hmm. I wonder if you follow some of the same blogs and twitter accounts as I do then…
Well I’ve been off the grid so not following much at the moment. But open to suggestions!
Well, theologically I’m firmly rooting myself in Nicene Christianity. As far as theology is concerned, I’m trying to cut down to the essentials.
Which frees me up to read stuff from people who are, for want of a better word, heretics.
Like Bruce Charlton (non-LDS Mormon – http://charltonteaching.blogspot.com/) and, way out on the other side of the spectrum (I don’t think Charlton is a fan of transgender people…), Anya (https://twitter.com/atranquilnight). Then, for someone who is still orthodox and who I’ve been reading for the last seven years, Micah Redding (http://micahredding.com/blog).
I’m really interested in Orthodoxy, but I probably won’t become Orthodox.
Bless you. I wish you well and hope to discover your writing in other forums. I reconciled the quandry of a female body housing a soul clearly made male by God in pretty much the same way as you describe as ‘essentiallism’ above. I had to–I experience(d) a spiritual call to the priesthood and need(ed) to justify a strong avocation that my body does(did) not permit. I remain nominally Catholic, feeling God needs to explain himself/herself regarding this life-long call. The world is fallen. The body as nature creates is as well. Its form and functions are not to be assumed to be one’s destiny else we would all be damned. I’ve noticed an upsurge of feminist extremist vilification directed specifically at [trans]women (I bracket that only for clarity. My personal identity is “male”… not “transmale.” I therefore see [trans]women as simply “women.” I apologize for such binary thinking. I’m 50 and personally have a rigid identity. I accept that that is merely my own personality–life isn’t either/or. But I always felt it was better to embrace a woman as “a woman” rather than deny anyone their authentic selfhood). I have to tell you, however, that those extremist feminists have an exceptionally narrow view of “women.” They vilify anyone who does not adhere to their views. I am old enough to clearly remember the 1970’s and the rise of a reactive feminist ideology that expected all women to walk in lockstep on a number of very rigid social views. I was deeply closeted at the time. Having a female body did not protect me from scorn and vilifcation when I questioned the gender constructs in a number of literary texts (the work of Atwood, for example). I was called names usually assigned to cismen and questioned whether I was “actually” a woman. You have my heartfelt sympathy.
Sorry to see you leaving, but it sounds like you’re on a path that works best for you, and I can’t wish a person better than that. If you write anything later on, like on transness and your evolving spirituality or whatnot, I’d love to read it!
Also, on a slightly less high-brow note, as a fellow possibly MtF person, you are absolutely slaying it with your look in the profile pic and I’m hoping to maybe look *half* that good in girlmode, haha.
First, thank you so very much for letting us know you’re okay and safe. I’ve thought of you often (and worried about you too, truth be told) since you disappeared from posting on this site.
Second. I don’t care that you’re no longer Catholic, and honestly I don’t think God/Christ does either. If other paths speak clearer messages of love to the inner, hidden parts of you (soul, spirit, whatever you wanna call it) by all means run with it. All love is from Love. That seems like a pretty self-evident truth, but I too know the Church has a hard time swallowing it. I think if Jesus came back today he’d be pretty disgusted with the institutional church too. So no worries. You’re still my sister, whatever path you follow.
Third, thank you for leaving the best of your posts up, especially the one about adoption. It’s always been my favorite. The new (well new to me) paradigm it expresses captured my imagination when first read it and still does today.
Finally, I wish you all the best on whatever life journey you’re on. I just know it’ll be a fantastic ride for you! If you’ll permit me to ask, do you still blog? If so, where? I’d love to still read your thoughts and keep in touch.
It is good to hear from you again. I think your reasoning for leaving the Catholic church is valid. It is an institution I find appalling but I still hold my hand up as being Catholic albeit disillusioned. Why? Because there is still something of value in its basic interpretation of god in us and us in god. Its present bigotry and blindness wounds and offends and must be purged.
I offer the following model, not to be crude but because it makes sense to me and to be disrespectful, not to you, but to the institution. There are two well known positions in response to an institution: inside the tent pissing out and alternatively outside the tent pissing in. There is a third. Inside pissing in. I elect to follow that path. It aims to hold the institution to account, to be intolerant of intolerance, to share any insight I may have, humbly and to work for the enormous change the institution must go through. But having faith that such change is possible or that I must do what I can to attempt to be part of that change.
So I keep pissing in good faith.
Someone like you who has so much insight has much to teach the institution. I hope you find the correct position be that inside or outside.
I wish you nothing but peace in your life and I thank you for your writings over the years. And next time I find myself forced to piss from the inside, know I will be including you among those that drive me to so do.
I just want to say thank you for the important contribution you’ve made in sharing your thoughts over time.
As someone who has had a lifelong struggle with my own identity and strives to reconcile such with my sense of faith, it has been helpful; reflecting upon matters of importance to me in a deeper way and with sincere/honest perspective from another person who has experienced something similiar.
Too often, these concerns are either not addressed at all with relation to religion, or they are dealt with dismissively and derisively by both religious leaders and practitioners. The thoughtfulness and insight which you have brought to the table is something which can continue to inspire hope, while guiding discussion for any who wish to delve deeper into these mysteries of life and love, both human and divine.
Thank you so much for your blog and sharing so much of your thoughts. I’m more sad about not getting to read your writing tbh but I am very happy you are finding spiritual paths that help you better (typical anglo-catholic spiel I realise!).
If you ever start another blog/social media account, please know there’s plenty of folks who’d be happy to follow 😀
Your absence has been and will be greatly missed by me and all those transgender people who are affected by the Catholic Church. Your reasons are completely valid and I want you to know I support your decision in every way. I wish you peace and every blessing in the path you are on. I remain committed to maintaining the dialog with the institutional church to help it to be relevant in the 21st century as society’s understanding of gender identity becomes more nuanced by science, medicine, and law. Should you want a place for your excellent writings to reside they are welcome at TransCatholic.org.
For a spiritual path comparatively free from dogma, you could try Quakers. They at least try to be trans-accepting, though when we show any characteristic they don’t expect they can be shocked, and blame us. The spiritual path and practices, though, are worthwhile.