Sister Luisa DeRouen, OP, a longtime advocate for transgender ministry, recently wrote an essay for the Global Sisters Report highlighting personal stories shared by many of the people she ministers to and journeys with in her work. Their messages are about calling and naming–a major part of personal affirmation for people who are not always given the dignity of having their identities recognized or respected.
Sister Luisa opens her piece with a memory of her friend, a transgender woman, being stared at in a restaurant while they were dining together. She reflects on the ways that being looked at and seen resonates both scripturally and in our daily lives, noting that “what we see depends a lot on how we look.” For Sister Luisa, this need “to see people for who they are” is at the core of nearly two decades of work she has spent in ministry with transgender people across the country. She shares with readers a glimpse into this work, profiling the challenges and successes of those she now calls her friends, as well as the joy that this ministry has brought to her personally, calling the experience “a gift.”
Yet while she speaks of her own experiences, for the bulk of her essay, Sister Luisa gives space for the transgender people she knows to tell their own stories and name themselves as they wish the world to see them.
From Tonya, readers hear a push back on the idea of being called a ‘sinner,’ looking instead to focus on church participation as a sign of dedication to a parish community:
“I have served at our liturgy as an usher and was a member of the parish school board. I have taught CCD and I have chaperoned many youth events. And I am your good neighbor.”
From Sean comes a moving remembrance of naming that stretches back to his childhood:
“Call me Sean. That has been my name since I was 6 years old. But no one knew that except God and me…God knew me before I was born, and knows me now, a simple man called Sean.”
Readers hear a broader discourse on naming from Maxx, who self-describes as someone who does not “fit into a gender box,” and requests that people ask about preferred pronouns but not to expect a full explanation on gender education at all times, requesting instead the right to “walk through the world with the same respect others take for granted.”
It is this sense of respect that Sara explains has led to a preference of not being called by some former friends:
“My once beloved friend, please, don’t call me. I asked you, ‘Don’t call me David, please call me Sara.’ But you could not. God led me through that difficult journey into my own truth without once letting go of my hand. But you, my friend, you vanished.”
Sister Luisa also remembered a moving experience of witness several years ago during a national Catholic conference. She had been invited to speak and chose to share the session with a Catholic trans woman she knew. After the session, both were surprised when a priest came forward, knelt in front of Sister Luisa’s friend, and asked her to bless him:
“After a moment of silence, my friend placed her hands on his shoulders and prayed. It was an unexpected powerful experience of God’s gracious and healing presence — for the priest, for her, and for all of us present.”
We are in great need of such grace, and truth-telling, and of seeing each other as we really are. In the wake of proposed policy changes in the U.S. that would restrict legal definitions of gender to biological sex, it is essential to follow Sister Luisa’s enduring example. The erasure of transgender and non-binary people stands in stark opposition to truth-telling in all forms. May we all make space for others to tell their own stories and name themselves regardless of gender. May we all find the space for empathy inside ourselves first.
—Catherine Buck, New Ways Ministry, November 9, 2018