Today is the Transgender Day of Visibility, which is dedicated to celebrating trans and non-binary people while raising awareness about continuing oppressions they face. To mark this occasion, today’s post is a reflection from Bondings 2.0 contributor Michael Sennett. For Michael’s bio, click here.
“Bless me Father, for I have sinned,” I nervously spoke to the priest sitting next to me. He nodded and waited for me to continue, but suddenly my tongue felt foreign in my mouth. We sat in deafening silence for what felt like an eternity until the priest asked what brought me to confession. Stuttering, I tried to explain why I needed absolution. “Wait, I have a list,” I said and fumbled through my jacket for the piece of paper. He gently suggested we talk without the list, crossed his legs, and folded his hands patiently in his lap. That small gesture calmed my nerves and I blurted out: “I’m transgender!”
At 17 years old, this anxious attempt at reconciliation was my first assertion of visibility as a Catholic trans person. Nearly ten years later, visibility has been both a source of joy, and at times, sorrow. For trans Catholics, living unapologetically as God wonderfully created us is liberating. But vulnerability can also invite discrimination or even violence in the worst situations.
During the conversation in the confessional, I experienced the grace and love of God from the priest’s compassion. Authenticity, he told me, is not evil. Repressing my identity, believing I need to change and hating myself would be the real tragedy. Father had me vow to always live authentically and demand the love and respect I deserve as a child of God, and to make a space for myself at the table when no one else would.
As far as having an informed conscience, I was no expert, but this encounter sowed the seeds for eventual growth. Unfortunately, in recent years, this priest had a change of heart and his views shifted to be non-affirming and rejecting of transgender people. While losing this relationship was disappointing, I still find his previous advice empowering. Allowing myself to be visible has opened the door for once unimaginable opportunities, most importantly to love and be loved in return.
Although the Catholic Church certainly has a lot to learn about listening to the marginalized, there have been strides of progress. Sr. Luisa Derouen’s ministry to the transgender community of over 20 years has provided comfort and hope to many individuals. Her programs and panels have been a source of education for clergy who wish to encounter and learn from transgender Catholics. Sr. Luisa has also been intentional about centering the voices of trans folks who often go unheard, even when we are screaming.
Bishop Thomas Zinkula of the Archdiocese of Davenport, Iowa, instituted a Gender Committee for the purpose of guiding parishes and schools in the diocese. This past fall, I was thrilled to dialogue with Bishop Zinkula and the committee. These conversations are crucial to supporting and normalizing trans visibility. Opportunities for dialogue should be promoted in all dioceses, and there is no better time than while navigating the Synod on Synodality.
Authenticity within ourselves leads to a deeper relationship with our Creator. But, to achieve this authenticity, we must first aim to recognize and celebrate the visibility of transgender Catholics. Listening and journeying with the trans community encourages us to build the kindom, not just kingdom, of God. It is my hope that on this International Trans Day of Visibility, this kindom shines bright with the light of transgender visibility.
—Michael Sennett (he/him), New Ways Ministry, March 31, 2022