A Catholic defense of using preferred gender pronouns and names was penned by a theologian in theNational Catholic Reporter last week, who said the significance of naming has great power.
Fr. Daniel Horan, OFM, a professor and the director of the Center for Spirituality at St. Mary’s College, Indiana, lays out the biblical tradition of changing one’s name following divine encounters:
“The significance of names, the changing of names and the importance of being identified by a preferred name is also present throughout the entirety of the Bible. From Abram to Abraham and Sara to Sarah, to the angelic revelations about the names John and Jesus in the Gospels and the change from Saul to Paul in the Acts of the Apostles, embracing a new identity tied to a new nominal expression is commonplace and rooted in our faith tradition.”
Horan continues by sharing about an LGBTQ workshop he recently attended that focused on “how Catholic institutions of higher education can better support their LGBTQ students, staff and faculty.” Of this experience, he writes
“At one point during the discussion, another workshop participant made the simple yet profound point that an overwhelming number of people request that they be addressed in some form that differs from the plain reading of their given or family names. . .
“This fellow workshop participant rightly noted that insisting on calling individuals by a name not of their choosing, let alone intentionally refusing to reference or address them by their preferred name or pronoun, is rude and hostile.
“I would add that such behavior is also unchristian and sinful.”
“Names have power,” Horan explains, “and the significance of naming oneself and others is not to be taken lightly.” Claiming gender-affirming pronouns and names is an exercise in personal agency, a declaration of self-knowledge and a radical act of self-love.
By exploring historical instances of cultural and identity erasure, such as the slave trade and the Uyghur Muslim population in China, Horan illustrates the way a refusal to acknowledge people’s names “was used to deploy subjugating power and resulted in dehumanizaton.”
After laying the biblical foundations and citing these instances of oppression via forced naming, Horan challenges the resistance to preferred gender pronouns and gender-affirming names by Catholic leaders. More than denying the existence of new pronouns or names, “in the case of many Christians who refuse this basic act of decency, it is because they deny the very existence and experience of transgender or nonbinary persons.”
Catholic Social Teaching emphasizes the inherent dignity and worth of all persons, just as they are, created in the image of God. The right to a name and pronouns that reflect one’s full dignity is not just a human right, Horan concludes, it is one rooted deeply in the Christian tradition:
“[T]he overt transphobia reflected in such behaviors as denying others the fundamental human rights to personal agency and self-identification is not compatible with the message of the Gospel nor with the long-standing history of name changes within the Catholic tradition that are associated with one’s religious discernment and deepening sense of identity before God and others.”
That is, one’s courage in claiming gender-affirming pronouns and a chosen name reflects the imago Dei of who we are created by God to be. And if using these identifiers upholds our dignity and emphasizes our worth, then church leaders who refuse to do so are straying from not only the golden rule, but from Catholic precedent as well.
To read Fr. Horan’s full commentary, click here.
—Angela Howard McParland, New Ways Ministry, October 23, 2021