When Emily Garvey learned that her daughter was transitioning from female to male, it was not an easy journey for the Catholic mom. A graduate of St. Mary’s College, South Bend, Indiana, Garvey recently returned to the school to share her journey with students, faculty, and administrators.
The Observer, a campus newspaper, reported on Garvey’s talk, pointing out the initial struggle she experienced:
” ‘If I’m being honest here, and it’s humbling to admit this, it made me uncomfortable,’ Garvey said. ‘Just all of it made me uncomfortable. And because I was trying to fit it all within a Catholic understanding at the time of gender. How can it be that you formed within me and you were a girl, and now you’re a boy? How?’ “
But, she noted, it was that same Catholic faith and identity which helped her grow to accept her son. In addition to her understanding of Catholic Social Teaching’s call for respect and acceptance of difference, Garvey relied on other spiritual gifts, too:
” ‘I started with the messages of mercy, love, radical inclusivity that we see in the gospels,’ she said. ‘And, I believe my child’s desire to be whole was and continues to be holy.’ “
The experience of coming to understanding and accepting her child, who was 18 when he let his mother know about his identity, was a journey not only of understanding a new way to look at gender, but also a new way to look at God:
‘ ‘Born in the image and likeness of God does not mean gender, for God is not gendered,’ Garvey said. ‘But where we may image God is in our capacity to love, feel compassion, forgiveness and mercy.’ “
Mercy was key to Garvey’s response to her son’s news. She described the moment when her son told her about his identity in a counseling session [Editor’s note: In this part of the news story, Garvey used female pronouns for her child.]:
“” ‘I said, “Honey, thank you for telling me. That took a lot of courage. I don’t know what this means, and I am totally confused, but I know we can get through it together. Let’s walk this together,” ‘ Garvey said. ‘So my first-born grabbed my hand, and she started crying, and the counselor teared up, and then I felt like I was trying to swallow an encyclopedia stuck in my throat … and I can say that in that moment, I realized that it was a moment filled with mercy.’ “
And she has come to realize that her son’s transition, and her adjustment to that reality, helped her to develop her faith:
” ‘I now see that prolonged period of bewilderment as a grace, because it was ultimately a portal for humility and subsequent growth,’ Garvey said.’
This growth helped her to expand her horizons beyond the arena of her own family?
” ‘Both of these realities, I have a transgender son, I am Catholic, can be held together,’ Garvey said. ‘Moreover, I believe that because I am Catholic I am able to accompany my son as he flourishes. And because I am Catholic, the past two years have led me to experience God’s mercy in new ways, and thereby have a more conscious connection with my brothers and sisters on the path of life.’ “
While Catholic identity sometimes is an obstacle for people to accept transgender people, it is so beautiful to read about how our faith can help people look beyond their ordinary ways of categorizing reality. For Garvey, her model in this journey was Jesus:
” ‘It’s this relational aspect of the Catholic faith that I have always found nourishing,’ Garvey said. ‘Particularly in the last few years I have been drawn to the accounts of how Jesus related to other people in ways that were thought to be unconventional, or irregular or unusual.’ “
In many areas of Catholic LGBTQ topics, it is Catholic parents who are leading the way, showing the rest of the Church the journey of acceptance that it must go on. Parents have a natural love for their children, and, as Catholic theology has long explained, grace builds on nature. If other church leaders and member would open themselves up to the natural love that humans have for one another, God will provide the grace to build on that love. Such love may not be as strong or big as a parent’s love for a child, but the Gospels tell us that God can work something even as small as a mustard seed.
—Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, November 30, 2017