Deacon Ray Dever is a devout Catholic, a permanent deacon, a husband, and above all, a dad to three daughters. In a recent US Catholic article, he writes on his experience as both a Catholic deacon and a proud dad to a transgender daughter.
His daughter Lexi’s process of accepting herself, and her family’s process of accepting her gender identity, were not smooth. Lexi’s self-acceptance were preceded by a long battle with depression and a suicide attempt. Like many trans youth, Lexi’s struggle with depression was complicated by the fact that her faith tradition did not accept her. Dever writes:
“My daughter’s depression would eventually lead to her questioning of gender identity. This was intimately connected with her mental health struggles. We now understand that, like many LGBT individuals struggling with the decision to come out, she was faced with what seemed like an unsolvable dilemma: Either continue to deny who she really was or come out and risk losing her entire world of family, friends, and faith. This inner battle drove her to consider suicide. The overly simplistic, often negative message about LGBT individuals from the church that was so important to her upbringing only served to aggravate that situation.”
Dever’s first thoughts were for the well-being of his child, but he also acknowledges the struggle that he and his wife endured processing their daughter’s transition.. Their experience was especially tinged by Catholic teachings on sexuality and gender:
“As for my wife and me, we experienced the full range of thoughts and emotions that any parent does when a son or daughter comes out. There was shock at the news, a lack of understanding of gender issues, internal conflict about what the church teaches about human sexuality, confusion and guilt about what we should do as parents, profound sadness at what felt like the loss of the person who had been our son, and fear and worry for what the future would hold for her. There were arguments, tears, sleepless nights, and prayers—lots of prayers.”
Eventually, Dever and his wife were able to accept their daughter for exactly who she is. His concerns were first and foremost those of a protective dad. He writes:
“Over time we realized that we hadn’t lost the person who had been our son but, when she embraced her gender identity, we got our child back. She emerged from the depths of depression. All of the creativity, humor, empathy, and intelligence that had made her an exceptional person was still there and shining stronger than ever. I share the concerns of all parents for the well-being of their children, including their adult children, concerns that are amplified when an LGBT individual is involved. Our prayers and hopes for our daughter are colored by the reality of the discrimination she will likely face for the rest of her life.”
Deacon Dever rejects the idea that transgender men and women are not living how God intended them to be. His experience with his daughter has made him pause when he heard certain negative messages from church leaders on gender and sexuality. In the process, he became a more compassionate, pastoral deacon for those around him:
“So when I hear pronouncements about an ‘ideology of gender,’ they simply do not ring true for me. My pastoral perspective is informed by the call that all permanent deacons share: to bring the church into the world with all its problems and to bring the problems of the world back to the church. I have found that at the end of the day, what transgender individuals want more than anything else is simply to be able to live their lives as who they are, with the same rights, freedom, and dignity that the rest of us enjoy.”
He stresses that transgender people are exactly as God has intended them to be, and that they are not flouting God, but instead are working to live authentic lives, in tandem with how they were born. Dever recognizes that the presence and experiences of transgender people call the rest of the church to examine how they think about God and also about who we are as a faith community:
“The community of faith includes transgender people who are marginalized, unjustly condemned, and suffering simply because of who they are. We as a church need to do some serious self-examination and to take responsibility. I simply cannot believe that our compassionate, loving God wants his children to suffer. . . .
“I’ve heard warnings about falling into the sin of trying to replace the creator. Are we guilty of that sin when we look at a transgender person and have the hubris to deny who 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 who God has created.
Deacon Dever is no stranger to New Ways Ministry. He has written about his family’s unique intersection of church life and transgender issues for Bondings 2.0 several times. You can read his posts here, here, and here. Additionally, he and his daughter, Lexi, spoke at the 2017 New Ways Ministry Symposium in Chicago. Lexi graduated from Georgetown University in 2016, and is now working as a graphic designer in the Washington DC area.
Catholic parents of LGBT people are often the best advocates for justice and equality in the Church. In Deacon Dever’s case, he brings not only his parental love, but his ministerial calling. The combination produces a new, different, and powerful expression of God’s love for all.
–Kaitlin Brown, New Ways Ministry, May 31, 2018