As the rights and visibility of transgender people in the U.S. come under fire by the federal government, trans advocates, allies, and educators have stepped up their work to defend and extend transgender equality. Among these leaders is transgender theologian Austen Hartke, whose recent book Transforming: The Bible and the Lives of Transgender Christians examines gender through a Christian lens.
“I’ve been working toward a more inclusive society for transgender people for 25 years, and specifically with faith communities for the past 10 years. Hartke’s accessible storytelling about both Scripture and transgender lives is impressive. . .
“In Chapter 2, Harke starts teaching theology how I have always wanted to teach, but have never been sure I got right: teaching like Jesus. Hartke deftly weaves biblical stories with the life stories of real transgender people, including himself. It was here that I came to believe Transforming would be as outstanding a tool for cisgender parents and pastors as it would be for transgender Christians like me, who can use some tools to find their way in the Christian community. Through the next nine chapters, Hartke shows many ways the Bible urges us to embrace those who are not like us, just as Jesus did. That is, telling the parable and letting us find our own conclusion.”
“One of the effects of seeing biblical teachings revealed in these transgender lives is that you begin to understand the riches that transgender people can bring to a faith community.”
Hartke, who created the “Transgender and Christian” series on YouTube, writes of this dynamic, “At the messy, lovable, chaotic potluck that is life in the church, transgender Christians have a lot to bring to the table.” Hartke continues:
“We can help the church see Scripture through different lenses; we can help other Christians understand their own gender identities; we can help breakdown the barriers created by sexism and misogyny; we can remind people of the diversity of God’s creation and of God’s unlimited nature; we can stand in the gaps and bridge middle spaces where others may be uncomfortable or uniformed; we can help make connections between the sacred and the secular, making the church more relevant for the world; and we can provoke people into asking questions about themselves and about God that they may never have thought to ask before.”
In a related note, Hartke’s commentary on what impact findings from the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey could have for Christian communities is still relevant, and can be adopted as a pastoral examination for Catholics.
Unfortunately, despite positive examples like one Catholic college’s decision to offer chest binders to students or the ministries of Hilary Howes, Sr. Luisa Derouen, O.P., and many others, much work remains for Catholic communities to become trans-inclusive. Controversies in Church-affiliated healthcare and educational institutions appear periodically. Some pastoral ministers, like one priest who referred to gender-neutral clothing as “demonic,” only add to the harm done to trans people. But thankfully the advocacy of people like Hartke and Howes (who converted to Catholicism after her transition) is bringing the Church closer to healing around the issue of gender and closer to reconciling with transgender people.
To read Bondings 2.0’s full coverage on gender identity issues, click the “Transgender” category on the right-hand side of this page.
For more resources on gender identity such as what the Catholic Church does (and does not) teach on it, how to make faith communities more trans-inclusive, and more, visit www.newwaysministry.org/transgender. If you would like to host a workshop on gender identity in the Catholic Church for your local Catholic institution, click here for more information.
—Katie Smith, March 13, 2019