“The Scars Embody Liberation”: A Transgender Catholic’s Call for Self-Care

Today’s reflection is by Bondings 2.0 contributor Michael Sennett, whose bio can be found by clicking here.

Today’s liturgical readings for the 11th Sunday of Ordinary Time can be found here.

Transitioning to Ordinary Time after liturgical seasons like Easter or Advent usually inspires calmness within me. I relish the anticipation, reflection, joy, and mystery seasons like Lent and Christmas awaken. Ordinary Time, however, brings a period of rest, and because of this stillness, I gravitate toward it. However, after reading today’s gospel, on the first Sunday since before the beginning of Lent, I felt drained—and I am reminded of the importance of caring for one’s self and being cared for by others.

In the gospel passage, Jesus observes that there are too few laborers for God’s harvest and calls his disciples to action. They are granted authority over unclean spirits and sent out to proclaim the Word of the Lord. Jesus instructs them as they depart for their mission: “Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, drive out demons. Without cost you have received; without cost you are to give.”

What a lot of work! Such manifold responsibilities seem overwhelming, and following Christ can be exhausting. As Christians we are asked to give freely our love, our attention, our time, and our treasure. Ministry requires a lot of energy, and burnout is all too common in it.

Queer Catholics are feeling this pressure perhaps now more than ever before. We strive to educate and to advocate, while removing the barriers that prevent us from living authentically. But at what cost? There is much progress to celebrate, but it doesn’t erase the marginalization LGBTQ+ people still experience. In the face of injustice, self-care is crucial.

Scrolling through my Facebook memories last month, I was greeted with a photo reminding me of my top surgery anniversary. (If you’re not familiar with top surgery, you can learn more about it here.) I couldn’t help but beam looking at my then-newly reconstructed chest. Undergoing this operation was the ultimate act of self-care for myself at the time. The scars evident in the photo do not symbolize pain. The scars embody liberation.

Unfortunately, not all transgender folks seeking medical transition will receive care. Access to gender-affirming care in many states is becoming a hurdle or even an impossibility. State after state is limiting access to hormone replacement therapy, surgery, puberty blockers, and other aspects of transgender health care. Not every trans, nonbinary, or intersex person desires surgery or hormones, but for those who do, obtaining care is becoming a real battle, if possible at all.

Some bishops empower politicians imposing such unjust laws. The U.S Conference of Catholic Bishops’ doctrinal note from last March does exactly this when its Committee on Doctrine conflates gender-affirming care with mutilation. Catholic institutions are now discouraged from providing trans health care under the pretense this is what is best for patients. But that discouragement may become an outright ban as the bishops’ conference voted last week to begin revising its medical guidelines for Catholic hospitals, including on gender transitions. But continuing to restrict or eliminate trans healthcare will only increase the likelihood that trans people turn to self-harm and suicide. Numerous scientific studies confirm this bleak fact.

Since the doctrinal note’s release, multiple theologians, women and men religious, lay Catholics, and allies have pointed out the many flaws in the bishops’ logic. Many LGBTQ+ Catholics and allies proclaimed the simple truth that gender-affirming care is self-care.

As I mentioned, the demands of following Christ are many and taxing, even if ultimately liberating. LGBTQ+ Catholics and allies will continue this work in educating others about gender and advocating for just laws and policies. We must recognize self-care as a necessary step in this work to improve mental and physical health.

We all yearn for self-care, as well as the care of others, in some shape or form, including those of us in the trans community. What does such care mean for Catholic transgender people specifically? We deserve to experience self-care and the care of others on our terms. For trans and nonbinary people, I repeat: gender-affirming care is self-care.

Before Jesus sends us out on mission to care for others, we need to care for ourselves, too. Ordinary Time’s stillness is a perfect moment to do so.

Michael Sennett, June 18, 2023

1 reply
  1. Diane Krantz
    Diane Krantz says:

    Will no one with authority in the church call the USCCB to task for misuse of doctrine and power? I know members of said body have publicly criticized Pope Francis, but surely there are Cardinals and other bishops, even within its own ranks, who object to the statements made by the USCCB.


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