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Responding as Catholics to the Trans-gendered

downloadQuestion

I do not know what to do or how to think about my sister coming out as trans-gendered. I never suspected her of identifying as a male, given that she was never much of a tomboy.  She always preferred art to sports. My sister will be undergoing hormone treatment.  What will she face now as a Catholic?  Will she still be able to participate in the sacraments?

Since gender within the Catholic Church is considered a gift, I would be most interested in your response. I am very confused, as well as concerned, about any discrimination my sister might face in the future.

Response

First, it is wrong to say as many do that God made a mistake. We live in a broken world wounded by sin. The Church teaches that disharmony, suffering and death entered the world because of the fall. Second, identity should not be utterly defined by disorientation or disabilities. You are much more than your sexual orientation and your physical abilities. Third, it is wrong to equate a disorientation or disability with normalcy or as a value that must be affirmed with the whole person. This third element is often debated because many people with gender confusion and/or same-sex attraction demand affirmation and do not view their status as either a defect or mental illness.

I need to insert that orientation cannot be determined simply by occupations or activities. There are men and women who like art, cooking, sports, music, dancing, camping, science, teaching, etc. I suspect that many activities that we associate with one gender over another are simply the result of social stereotyping. Even playing with dolls finds correlation in both boys and girls, although as a boy my plastic army men were constantly burying my sister’s girlish dolls as the casualties of pretend wars. She would dig them up— zombies!

In all seriousness, what you mention is a dilemma that has only arisen as an issue in recent days. Gender confusion in the past was ether regarded as a perversion or as the subject for comedy. I am unsure as to whether the increased numbers of such disorientations are entirely due to genetic predisposition or whether there are factors in modern culture and society that have precipitated such awareness and the accompanying public revelation.

Frankly, priests and seminarians were never prepared to deal with gender dysphoria. I cannot recall the topic ever coming up in discussions of moral theology. We figured that it was very rare or else just a remote category of the homosexual question. The Church does not accept the transition so a trans-gendered person could worship and pray as a Catholic, but the sacraments become more problematical. I suppose, after the fact, a person might enter the Church and receive Holy Communion and absolution for other sins— however, such a person could not marry in the Church, would have to live a celibate life, and would not be a candidate for the religious life. Despite hormonal treatment and surgery, the Church would regard them as their birth sex. The prohibitions against same-sex intimacy would apply.

The Church values persons but not disorientations. We have a commitment to what we believe is the truth. Just as the Church opposes amputations for those who suffer a disassociation with the body and want legs and arms removed to fit their image of themselves as handicapped; the Church would similarly oppose those who want hormonal treatment and possibly surgery to more closely identify their external physical gender with how they psychologically view themselves.

Answering your question is difficult. We must sometimes make the best of situations that are not ideal. We do not want to needlessly hurt people or make trans-gendered persons feel as if they have been rejected by the Church and orphaned by God. We want them to find Christ in us as well as to witness the Lord in their own lives. The story of Jesus includes sadness, suffering, companionship and joy. Even if disagreement should remain, we should nevertheless listen to the stories of trans-gendered persons. They relate serious struggles with an alternation or lack of correspondence with their natural body gender to their interior sense of sexual identity. Their testimonies are often so powerful that you want to weep with them. When they have pursued hormonal treatment and/or surgery, we might sometimes be too quick to condemn without fully hearing them out. Further, I am told that once synthetic hormones are taken, there is no turning back. Surgical removal of healthy genitalia would traditionally be condemned as mutilation of the body. But I suspect it would be interpreted as final and irreversible. Withholding immediate judgment, believers among trans-gendered persons often speak of this process as a journey of spiritual awakening. They feel that they are embracing a more authentic life for themselves. We might feel just as strongly that it is wrong. We might further believe that they are seeking to flee some measure of the Cross. However, we must grant a certain degree of appreciation or empathy as to how they see themselves within this transition if we desire to make room for them in the Church. Otherwise, we will be showing them to the door. Christ was all about opening doors to conversion, healing and acceptance. He reached out to sinners, the poor, the marginalized, etc. The measure here is love. We might not agree. We might not understand what they are feeling. We might feel hurt and grieving ourselves over the person who was and the person who is emerging. All the same, we have to love them as persons with infinite value— the measure assigned to them by divine love. Life is messy. This is an element to Pope Francis and his notion of accompaniment. There are some matters that cannot be immediately fixed. There are some messes that must even wait for the life-to-come in order to be cleaned up.

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