Geraldine Roman, the Philippines’ first elected transgender representative to that nation’s congress, spoke revealingly about her Catholic faith in a recent interview with CNN.
Asked how her identity as a trans woman has affected her work as a Filipino congresswoman, Roman answered in the interview:
“What really hurt me the most was when they judged my relationship with God, because my entire life, I have tried my best to maintain a relationship with God and to be a good person. And for people who do not know me, who do not know my heart, to judge me, especially in public, it was painful.”
Roman said that she did not mind the questions and even criticism she faced for her gender identity and decision to undergo gender-confirming surgery. By doing her work and doing it well, Roman hopes to convince critics that “we’re just ordinary people and we deserve respect.”
Roman noted that she “[had] not heard any kind of condemnation from the Church,” whose bishops retain influence in the Philippines and frequently weigh in on political affairs. Indeed, the congresswoman cited the church as a “source of consolation” as she came to know and embrace herself:
“One is born a transgender person, so he or she has no choice. And when you have no choice about something, I don’t know why there should be moral judgment attached to that condition. Even before undergoing my sex realignment surgery, I’ve been a practicing Catholic, so just to be sure, I had to consult the Jesuits at Ateneo de Manila University, where I was educated. And they told me this: ‘Geraldine, the body is just a shell. If you think by modifying the outside, you can become a more loving, more generous, and happier person, go ahead, because what is important is the heart, and God looks at the heart and not what you have in between your legs.’
“So for me, the Church I belong to has not treated me with rejection. In fact it has been a source of consolation for me, even during my growing years, when the internal struggle was very intense and I would often get depressed. The incidence of depression among transgender people is very high, until they have that definitive moment when finally, their body is aligned with their psyche, with their mind, with their heart. So the Church was a source of consolation for me.”
In a separate interview with PhilStar, she cited two other incidents of church ministers offering support. At her 10th high school reunion in 1994, the current principal introduced Roman to teachers as “the first alumna” of their all-male high school. In addition, Jesuits at Fordham University prayed for and ministered to her when Roman underwent gender-confirming surgery in New York.
Roman shared, too, about being raised in a “very Catholic” family which frequently discussed the meaning of their lives and God’s will for them. She credited her parents, both politicians themselves, with heavily influencing her involvement in politics. Her father taught her that every person has dignity as a child of God with “a special purpose in life.”
Roman concluded the interview with the hope she would not merely be “the transgender politician,” but Geraldine Roman the good legislator who helped people. Still, she remains committed to legislation that helps LGBT people because she understands firsthand the discrimination and difficulties such communities face. She identified civil unions as a goal, saying that while it is not marriage it is a starting point to ensure same-gender couples can access equal rights.
Roman’s words reveal how seamlessly one’s Catholic faith and desire to serve others pair with LGBT advocacy for the benefit of all, a revolutionary message for a very Catholic nation.
–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry