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