Sunday, August 08, 2010

Transgenderism and Catholicism

There has been an interesting thread on my local transgender support group's discussion board about Catholicism and how someone who is transgender or transsexual can support a Church that is not at all friendly to transgender folk. This whole thing started because on of the group's other members (call her C) has recently gone back to the Church and has been sharing some of the Church's events, for instance a recent fiesta on the support group's list.

The list owner, B is a dear friend of mine and she raised a number of standard objection's to the Church's position about transgender and more specifically transsexuals. She wrote in response to a post by C:

"If you believe the Vatican is right, then you're between the rock of TS inner identity, and the hard place of a church that would, if they knew you to be TS, consider you to be a grotesque, mutant, sinner. That can't be a good feeling."

And B cited a grotesque analysis of the Church's position by a Father Saunders discussed here:

Father Sauders drawing on Church documents and the Catechism concludes that sexual reassignment surgery is:

"... a radical and grotesque mutilation of the body....To destroy organs purposefully that are healthy and functioning, and to try to create imitation organs which will never have the genuineness and functioning of authentic organs is gross and lacks charity. Such surgery which purposefully destroys the bodily integrity of the person must be condemned."

Pretty heavy stuff and B rightfully wonders if this doesn't leave C in a really hard place between her faith and her desire for SRS. Fair question but C has been quiet about it. Maybe she's just decided to let sleeping dogs and bad theology lie, but being Catholic and really interested in these sorts of issues because of my own gender issues I had to step in it so to speak.

My initial response was to point out that the Church's position is a bit more complex than that and does allow some wiggle room for transgender folk. In particular I noted:

"The most recent Church documents-Fr, Saunders and even the Pope are merely giving their personal opinions not official Church teaching. The Church actually studied the issue of transsexualism and released a
document to instruct the Bishops back in 2000.

A report about the document is on Lynn Conway's site..scroll down a bit to find

The document is certainly not friendly to TS people but interestingly has the
following according to the report:

-- An analysis of the moral licitness of "sex-change" operations. It
concludes that the procedure could be morally acceptable in certain
extreme cases if a medical probability exists that it will "cure" the
patient's internal turmoil.

-- A recommendation of psychiatric treatment and spiritual counseling
for transsexual priests. It suggests they can continue to exercise
their ministry privately if it does not cause scandal.

So the issue is not so clear cut as one might think even though the Church is
relying on faulty information about transsexuals and transgender people.


"Am I happy with the general attitude toward transgender folk in the Church? Of
course not and I don't have any illusions about the sorts of hurt than can
happen to transgender Catholics who are outed. But the Church is a lot more than
the silly old men who are running it today and their lame justifications for
certain outmoded Church doctrines and practices."

Well I guess B isn't happy with my nuanced response since she has since written:

"I'm not Catholic. After reading this article, which would say I'm too unstable to marry ANYONE, and that they can tell if I have/had a "transsexual disposition" now or in the past, prior to marriage, well, I'm not a happy camper.
"No offense meant, to Catholic members, dears. I'm not upset with you. Just a theology which throws the first and second stone at me."

Obviously I have struck a nerve here- Be that as it may, the issue she implies does remain-how can a transgender person be Catholic? Here is my quick response to B slightly edited to protect the innocent:


Of course no offense taken and what you say deserves a much longer response than
is possible here. Now I can't speak for the other Catholics here, just myself,
but you are not saying anything that I haven't wrestled with and other
progressive Catholics regardless of their gender identity don't wrestle with at
various levels. And this is perhaps particularly true with the current pope
whose election was met with groans from many of my friends.

The short answer is to why I persist as Catholic has to do with the central
institution of the Church which is NOT the Pope but rather the sacrament of
communion, and the Church's rituals and sacred traditions all point to the
central tenet of the Incarnation and Resurrection. The emotional impact of the
Church's rituals and liturgy are hard to explain intellectually, especially to
those more familiar with my generally empirical stance.

J (another member) is right the Catholic Church is frustratingly slow to change; also the
Church really really has not absorbed the theological implications of modern
science and our understanding of human evolution. But of course this is not
unique to my Church!

I have a lot more I could say, but will probably defer that to a post on my
academic blog since it will allow me to pick up a thread of discussion which has
lain fallow for several years.

As always your friend!

P "

Oh so now I have to put together a more detailed response...but here are some of my other writings related to the Catholic Church:

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