In a recent essay for the National Catholic Reporter, artist Jessica Gerhardt argues that Catholic feminism must be inclusive of transgender people.
Writing as the partner of a nonbinary person, Gerhardt shares that a new chapter began when her partner revealed that they were nonbinary, upending her assumption that she was in a straight relationship.
Gerhardt initially worried about how to reconcile her Catholicism with her queer relationship, in particular because of the way that the institutional church often responds negatively to gender diversity. And she found that even Catholic feminists often came up short when it came to trans and nonbinary people.
But as she continued to wrestle with the challenge, she sought a way for trans-affirming Catholic feminism to flourish. Her full essay, which includes more perspectives and theological insights from trans-affirming Catholic writers, is a rich starting point for anyone in search of a more expansive way to think about gender and Catholic faith.
Gerhardt says that she is saddened by Catholic feminists who think that empowering trans women somehow disempowers cisgender women, calling it “antithetical to the call of our faith.” She writes:
“I believe transphobic and trans-exclusionary thinking stems from fear that one’s own gender identity is under attack. . .Many trans-exclusionary feminists feel threatened by [trans women] and trans-inclusive feminism or ‘transfeminism’ and believe that transgender people somehow undermine the movement for women’s liberation and equality.”
This fear comes from a scarcity mindset, she argues, rather than trust in God’s abundance. Adopting a collaborative, intersectional perspective instead makes room for all, cis and trans alike. Gerhardt calls on her readers to open up their imaginations and see the “abundance of space for all genders and gender expressions.” She explains:
“A scarcity mindset is contrary to a kingdom mindset: one in which every person, exactly as they are, has a seat at the table. . .Without faith in God’s abundance, a dualistic/all-or-nothing mindset leads the institutional church to cling to gender essentialism, and therefore to uphold a male-only priesthood, prohibit same-sex marriage and invalidate transgender identities.”
Gerhardt points out that questioning and finding alternative interpretations of church teachings does not mean that one’s faith will fall apart along the way. She asks:
“[I]f the teachings are really catholic, or universal, then why do they fail to account for so many people’s experiences today? If God is mystery, why do we cling to certainty?”
Gerhardt presents a beautiful image of trans and nonbinary people as imago Dei (the image of God), writing:
“Can we lean into the mystery of the resurrected Christ whose appearance was changed, making him unrecognizable to his closest friends, except by the ways their hearts were set aflame when he spoke to them? Can we be open to listening to what our trans and nonbinary siblings say to us and find Christ there?”
In accompany a nonbinary partner, and in her searching for a trans-inclusive Catholic feminism, Gerhardt writes that her heart has opened and her relationship with God has deepened. May those who read Gerhardt’s essay share this experience of encountering God in their trans and nonbinary siblings, and in their own gender identities.
—Grace Doerfler (she/her), New Ways Ministry, October 18, 2022