Today’s post is from guest blogger Christopher G. Frechette, LCSW, who is a childhood trauma therapist as well as a writer & lecturer in biblical studies and spirituality. Formerly a Roman Catholic priest, and a member of the Jesuits from 1992-2015, he earned his MSW at Salem State University and his doctorate in Old Testament at Harvard University. He has served on the faculties of the Boston College School of Theology and Ministry and St. Mary’s University (San Antonio). His website is https://www.christopherfrechette.com/ .
Reading This Body I Wore, the recently published memoir by Diana Goetsch, a woman of transgender experience, I felt in love.
In a workshop for gay men on writing about our lives, novelist Jonathan Vatner had us participants read the book’s preface aloud and helped us appreciate the virtuosity of its craft as inspiration for our writing. Honest, poignant, vivid, and captivating, those few pages allowed me to experience, with all my senses, the author’s pain, confusion, exhilaration, and determination as a fellow human fully, exquisitely, beautifully alive. I later downloaded the audio book (read by the author) and devoured it in two days.
I recommend this gem to anyone but especially to two groups of people: 1) those who are curious and open to learning about transgender persons; 2) those who are not, but should be. By the latter, I have in mind anyone in a position of teaching authority in any Christian (Roman Catholic or otherwise) community.
For many of us who are committed to advancing the transformative gospel of Christ, it is painful and infuriating that in so many instances current Catholic moral teaching invalidates the very idea that someone can be transgender, failing to appreciate both developing science about what it is to be human and the actual experience of countless people. Such teaching easily fuels disgust and hatred aimed at trans people, leading to bullying and other violence.
While some Roman Catholic bishops, notably among them Cardinal-designate Robert McElroy, Bishop of San Diego, have offered public support for LGBTQ persons and condemned bullying LGBTQ youth, I am not aware of their affirming the moral legitimacy of trans identity.
And some members of the Roman Catholic hierarchy have become increasingly visible in their moral opposition to validating and supporting trans people by issuing diocesan policies for strict binary gender roles in Catholic schools and parishes. Jesus commands that his disciples love one another (John 13:34; 15:12–17). How can we love those whom we do not know? How can we love those whose experience we invalidate and for whom we feel disgust?
No one life can speak for all trans people, and Goetsch’s memoir is careful not to overgeneralize when noting shared trans experiences. At the same time, by focusing on one person the book brings readers into the middle of the messy, deeply human journey of someone whose perspectives about being trans they might more readily consider, and perhaps someone they could come to love.
By its sensitivity and respectfulness, Goetsch’s memoir made me feel welcomed into intimacy with her. In some of her struggles, I found echoes of my own experiences with childhood trauma and with not fitting in socially as a queer man. Even when she describes many experiences unfamiliar to me, such as what it was like for her to authentically express her gender-identity with clothing for the first time, it furthered my depth of human connection with and my love for the person her memoir brings to life.
St. Irenaeus of Lyons (c. 130–202 CE) declared that the glory of God is the human person fully alive, and in Goetsch’s story I see the glory of God, albeit in a complex way. On one hand, she persisted in an often-painful journey against many hardships and continually strove to be true to herself and to treat others with dignity and respect. On the other hand, the cultures in which she was immersed diminished her aliveness. In childhood and adolescence, those cultures allowed her to be bullied, sexually abused, and emotionally neglected. In adulthood they parlayed the shame instilled in her by an abusive childhood into the shame of feeling that there was no space for someone like her among people. Her story advances the glory of God by challenging readers to change such cultures.
Goetsch’s memoir makes it easy for readers to love her, and cisgender readers who take seriously Jesus’ command to love one another may find that reading it inspires them to expand that love into action. Her story lets us empathize with her struggles and celebrate her successes.
Feeling a human connection with her can move our imaginations toward envisioning loving solidarity with transgender persons whose stories we will never hear. From there, we can more readily enact our love through deeds like the confronting of bullies, the changing of church teachings and public policies, and the fashioning of local cultures—especially Catholic faith communities—characterized by equity and inclusion.
—Christopher Frechette, July 26, 2022