Gender Ideology, Transgender Reality: A Deacon Parent’s Perspective

Deacon Ray Dever

Today’s post is written by a guest blogger: Deacon Ray Dever of St. Paul Catholic Church, Tampa, Florida

One morning this past spring, I found myself somewhere I honestly never could have imagined I would be: sitting in a dreary courtroom in Washington DC with my firstborn. We were patiently awaiting her turn before a judge.

It was a long way from the familiar, comfortable surroundings of my home and my Catholic parish in sunny Tampa Florida.  And it was an even longer way from a place I was almost ten years ago, a place of almost total ignorance of LGBTQ issues.  The issue that morning was a legal name change for my 23-year old transgender daughter, a recent graduate of Georgetown University.  The name change was another milestone in her challenging journey towards living as her authentic self.  While this milestone was certainly positive for my daughter, it forced me to reflect once again on the enormous and painful disconnect between the reality of the lives of transgender individuals and the rampant misinformation that often dominates discourse about transgender issues in both the Church and the public square.

In his apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia, Pope Francis expressed concern with “an ideology of gender”, which he imagines to be an ideology that seeks to eliminate sexual differences in society, thereby undermining the basis for the family.  (There have been numerous, thoughtful discussions of the confusion around so-called gender ideology, including here on Bondings 2.0.  You can read some here, here, and here. )  Independent of Amoris Laetitia, individuals in the Church hierarchy have issued blanket condemnations of trans individuals, occasionally citing discredited or marginal information sources as “science” to support their positions.  I have nothing but respect for the good intentions that undoubtedly underlie these statements, but my personal experience is that these statements have fueled misunderstanding and bigotry, and not love,  truth, and life that are the essence of Jesus Christ.

These church discussions of “ideology of gender” do not ring true for anyone with any significant first-hand knowledge of trans individuals.  Such people would be baffled by the suggestion that the trans people they know, or the presence of trans individuals in society, are somehow the result of an ideology of gender.  Long before there were gender studies programs in any universities or the phrase “gender ideology” was ever spoken, transgender people were present, recognized, and even valued in many cultures around the world.

Trans individuals are not people who have been indoctrinated into some ideology that convinces them they can simply choose their own gender. They don’t just decide one morning to start dressing differently.  They are transgender by virtue of some combination of biological and psychological factors that scientists are just beginning to understand.  The only choice that trans individuals have in the matter is the challenging choice to embrace who they are and to live their lives openly as their authentic selves, in the face of rejection, discrimination, bigotry, and even violence that they know they will have to endure.

In the public sphere, recent efforts to curtail legal protections for the transgender community, including all the nonsense around bathroom bills, are further evidence of how pervasive the misunderstanding and confusion about gender identity continues to be.  Given the wide availability of information and testimonials,  there really is no excuse for that kind of thinking.  The American Medical Association, the American Psychological Association, the American Psychiatric Association, and the World Professional Association for Transgender Health, who together represent over 300,000 doctors, psychiatrists, and psychologists,  have each affirmed the reality of transgender individuals, and have issued documents opposing all forms of discrimination against them and providing standards of health care for them.  The United Nations has opposed legal discrimination and violence that trans individuals suffer in many parts of the world.  Companies and organizations we all do business with every day–from Apple to Wal-Mart–recognize trans individuals with equal employment opportunity policies and inclusive health insurance.

Since I wear the two hats of parent of a transgender woman and permanent deacon in the Church, my reaction to gender identity controversies is both personal and pastoral.

From the personal perspective, I share the concerns of all parents for the well-being of their children, including their adult children.  These concerns are amplified when an LGBTQ individual is involved.  Our prayers and hopes for our children are colored by the reality of the discrimination they will likely face for the rest of their lives.  The probability of being a victim of violence or committing suicide is greater for the LGBTQ community than for the general populace, and even greater for the transgender community in particular.  My family is always a bit on edge when we go out together, constantly worried that unfriendly stares and remarks might escalate to a confrontation, and that a confrontation could become violent.  Nobody should have to live that way.  All that transgender individuals want is simply to live their lives as who they are, with the same rights and freedoms that the rest of us enjoy.

My pastoral perspective is informed by the call that all permanent deacons share: to bring the Church into the world and to bring the problems of the world back to the Church.  Well, here’s one such problem:  the community of faith includes transgender people who are marginalized, unjustly condemned, and suffering simply because of who they are, and that marginalization and suffering extends to their family and friends.  Every time that a trans (or gay, lesbian, bisexual) kid is rejected by their family in the name of faith and ends up homeless and struggling to survive, we as a people of faith need to take responsibility.  We can’t just sweep it under the rug and hide behind some vague Church document or isolated scripture passage.

In its discussion of gender ideology, Amoris Laetitia warns against falling into the sin of trying to replace the Creator.  I definitely agree.  But I think this warning begs the question:  are we guilty of that sin when we look at a transgender person and we have the hubris to deny what God has made?  I pray that the Church will be open to learning and embracing the truth about transgender individuals, who have the same inherent value and dignity as all human beings.  Perhaps we all need to have a little more humility and a little more faith in what God has created here on earth.

–Deacon Ray Dever, September 18, 2017

Related posts:

To review all Bondings 2.0 posts on gender ideology, click here.

17 replies
  1. Tom Bower
    Tom Bower says:

    The last paragraph says everything one needs to know about the failed view by the Church and society about LGBT individuals and what their contribution has been and can be without the false restraints imposed on us. As the saying goes God didn’t create mistakes.

  2. Jan Schwegmann
    Jan Schwegmann says:

    Of all Bondings’ Posts, I think this means the most to me. First of all, that it’s written by a Deacon whose child is transgendering. (So many of our priests seem to be so removed from real life.) I’m so grateful that this Deacon is speaking out. Also, I appreciate the fact that he included The American Medical Association, the American Psychological Association, American Psychiatric Association and the World Professional Association for Transgender Health, representing 300,000 doctors, psychiatrists, and psychologists.

    This is the type of reading material I will present to the principal of our parish school, and hope that she passes along to her teachers. I know that some of them are still holding onto, “Jesus says to love the sinner but hate the sin”. But, teachers are pretty good at saying, “Okay, if it’s a scientific fact, these doctors must know what they’re talking about.” I feel this article could help them so much, and help the children!

    Thank you, Bondings, for all you do to make the world a better place.
    Jan Schwegmann

  3. Martina Ramirez
    Martina Ramirez says:

    As a transwoman & faculty member at a Jesuit university who sat in a courtroom the day after my birthday in 2014 for exactly the same reason, and whose relationship with the Church has been problematic due to the issues noted above, I’m so happy you posted this!! Hope it is read by those in the Church who may be able to modify its views concerning trans individuals 🙂

    Martina Giselle Ramirez, Ph.D.

  4. Kathy Truman
    Kathy Truman says:

    As a Catholic Lay Leader and grandparent of a transgender granddaughter, I thank you Deacon Ray Dever, for pointing out the error of those who don’t know better. God made my granddaughter in the image and likeness of God. She knew who she was and let us know as soon as she had words to express, “Mommy, I think I have a girl brain.”

  5. Tommie Smith
    Tommie Smith says:

    As a Christian transgender person, I’m so happy to read this. I write a monthly column called “Spiritually Speaking” for an online transgender support forum, and I mention your organization in a positive light. God Bless.

  6. R Czejkowski
    R Czejkowski says:

    While it is not well expressed by those of us Christians who are representatives of the church, this is what the Catechism of the Catholic Church says and teaches. It very much reflects what you say should be our church’s expression.

    (CCC)2358 The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. This inclination, which is objectively disordered(defined in my words- as not ordinary – the ordinary -most people’s expression of sexuality is heterosexual), constitutes for most of them a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God’s will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord’s Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition.

    We all must work hard to live our calling and to not misrepresent Christ

  7. Dave LaFortune
    Dave LaFortune says:

    Thank you Deacon Ray Dever for your post. I am also a Deacon with a niece who is transgendering. She is teaching me what it means to live authentically.

  8. Mike
    Mike says:

    Bravo, Deacon Dever! Your insight, compassion, and love are the most articulate demonstration of why bishops and deacons should be married and first learn from their family how to “oversee” the larger family of church. (1Tim.3.5)

  9. Kama Ogden
    Kama Ogden says:

    Thank you so much! I am Catholic and my oldest child is transgender. I deeply enjoy my faith. But I feel a strong internal struggle because they have rejected my child. She is beautiful and perfect and brave so very brave.

  10. Cheryl B. Evans
    Cheryl B. Evans says:

    Thank you so much for sharing your story and most importantly giving a much needed affirming pastor perspective Deacon Ray Deven. I wish you and your family much happiness along this journey. Sincerely, Cheryl B. Evans (author of What Does God Think? Transgender People and The Bible and Readers’ Favorite award winning book: I Promised Not to Tell: Raising a transgender child)

  11. shelley a
    shelley a says:

    Beautiful, thoughtful, insightful and kind. Like you, I’m the parent of a young transgender person. With his situation once described to us as a “lifestyle choice” my concern for any young trans person trying to navigate the labyrinth of prejudice and misinformation is ongoing – for my child, your, and hundreds of others. I’ve grown to feel enormously grateful that my son has
    allowed us on this intense and challenging journey. I’ve learned more about humanity, humility, and what being a parent means, than I ever imagined. Thank you for your insights and generosity to your child. An example to us all.


Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. […] Deacon Ray Dever is a pastoral associate at St. Paul Catholic Church in Tampa, Florida. He has trouble with talk of the “ideology of gender.” He finds that a lot of what is said about transgender people by various social conservatives — including, unfortunately, Pope Francis at times — just does not square with his lived experience with his transgender daughter. He wrote about this at New Ways Ministry. […]

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