Faith, Self Esteem, and Beauty for transgender women

TogetherStyle:

We pray that dignity from the church in our deaths will lead to dignity in our lives one day soon.

Originally posted on Bondings 2.0:

” ‘We don’t eat without praying first. We don’t sleep without saying a prayer. Where were you [God] when this happened?…She had so many dreams and that killer destroyed them all’ ”

These are the laments of Julita Laude, mother of Jennifer Laude, a transgender woman allegedly murdered by a US Marine in the Philippines. The killing has made headlines for increasing tensions between the countries and raising questions about an ongoing American military presence in the Philippines.

Less noted has been the Catholic community’s response in helping Julita mourn her daughter’s death and showing respect to LGBT people in the heavily religious nation. According to PhilStar, Jennifer was “a devout Catholic,” but as an openly transgender woman it is not a given she would be granted a Catholic burial in the highly conservative Filipino church.

Jennifer Laude

Thankfully, compassionate (and Christ-like) principles guided Laude’s funeral and her life was celebrated in a…

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A Year’s Worth of Heady Reflection on WHAT IT MEANS TO BE A (transgender) WOMAN.

Anna had not posted for some time and now we know why. It’s been a wonderful character arc over the past year as she discovered and explained and battled and progressed. Now she has figured it out the ultimate question and no longer felt the need to explain it all. Thankfully she now shares what it means to simply BE. enjoy.

Life, Salvation History, and NBC’s The Office.

In this Anna discovers the beauty of ordinary life which should come as no surprise. Before transition our lives are anything but ordinary and the pressure to act as a gender we are not is so overwhelming it is impossible to see the joy in the ordinary. Living authentic lives after transition allows us to always see the joy in simply being.

Transgender Trinity

We Catholics celebrate Trinity Sunday today and it is Fathers Day. The trinity is the concept that God is the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It has a parallel in pagan worship in the Mother, Maiden, and Crone. Avoiding gender we could say Creator, Being, and Wisdom. In this world where people want everything to be diametrically opposed: red or blue state, black or white race, good or bad decision, boy or girl baby – I think having our concept of deity challenged to think beyond simple binary is a very good idea.
I didn’t have an understanding of God when I was challenged with my own black and white thinking back in 1995. I became clear to me at 40 that I was a woman, it was my identity and there was no way to avoid facing that any longer. But I had two other identities and they were very strongly entrenched at that time. I had been a husband for 18 years and a father for 13. I slipped in to a deep depression trying to understand how in this world I could be a woman, a father and a husband.
A single mother friend opened the door to an answer when she said “I have to be a dad to my son sometimes as well as being a mom so I don’t see why a woman can’t be a dad” So with her pragmatic approach to a common problem we as a family just started to work on it.
We found a therapist who could see the love we had for each other beyond ‘normal’ family roles. She showed us how actually it was important for me to be a good spouse and parent to the people I love. Being honest with them and being a whole person to them was the most basic of a truly deep and loving relationship regardless of gender. Ultimately it was their unconditional love for me that made it possible for us to live as an authentic (if a bit unconventional) family.
So while I am a sister to my brothers, a daughter to my mother, a wife to my wife, and a woman to my church, community, work and world I am (at times) still a father to my daughter. It doesn’t challenge my identity as a woman because I am proud of my role in creating the wonder that is my daughter. Proud that she is strong enough in her own identity to wish me a Happy Father’s Day.

Our faith calls us to follow our consciences, accept mystery, and love one another without exception. Reaching out to my marginalized, extreme minority is not only possible, but also enriches the faith communities who do so. Reconstructionist Judaism, Reform Judaism, and various Quaker groups openly allow transgender worshippers in their congregations. Certain Christian denominations, including the Presbyterian Church (USA), the Ecumenical Catholic Church, the United Church of Christ, the Metropolitan Community Church, and the Unitarian Church, openly accept transgender individuals. I hope that having no public Catholic policy in this rapidly evolving field may make it possible for the Catholic church to avoid the kinds of mistakes it has made with the teachings concerning sexual orientation and contraception that have divided its members so deeply.

This year, I joined a group of transgender ministers and theology students to develop a curriculum for a school of religion. We were challenged to create our own mission statement and goals. We spent the first day discussing the background of our being called together, testing a workshop by two of our members on gender in a faith group setting, and getting to know each other. The next day we would need to do the “real work” of determining just what our organization was going to do. I went to sleep that night wondering what we could do that would be any different from the many programs of “radical inclusion” that ask churchgoers to accept the marginalized LGBT community. The next morning I awoke and dashed this off:

The mission of the Trans Roundtable is to testify to the transfigurational power of spirituality and religion to nurture dignity for people of all genders.

It felt as though God had written through my hand, and I feared that I would have to fight to be sure the statement remained intact. I was frightened and felt unworthy. Very uncharacteristically, I knelt down and prayed first to be spared this task, then for the eloquence to do it. 

When I read the statement to the group, everybody immediately supported it. Anyone who has done committee work of any kind will understand what a miracle this was. All of us, we discovered, believed that transgender people have a spiritual story, a story that, when shared, can help heal what is broken about gender for the church and what is broken about the church for queer people. By framing our mission and educational work in this way, transgender believers can choose to use the power of our powerlessness to build our faith communities from the margins.

While the Roman Catholic hierarchy has taken no public position concerning transsexual or transgendered persons, there is hope that ordinary Catholics will be accepting. A 2011 survey by the Public Religion Research Institute found that 93 percent of American Catholics believed that transgender people deserve the same legal rights and protections as other Americans.

 Even the confidential Vatican document on transsexual persons, according to the Catholic News Service article I mentioned previously, accepts that life goes on for those who transition. It provides that:

  • Priests who undergo a sex change may continue to exercise their ministry privately if it does not cause scandal. (This makes it abundantly clear that the Vatican’s real concern is, not morality, but being caught in their unsupportable exclusion of women from the priesthood.)
  • Surgery could be morally acceptable in certain extreme cases if a medical probability exists that it will “cure” the patient’s internal turmoil. (Far from extreme, transition is the only medically approved treatment for people diagnosed as transsexual. Reassignment surgery can be the final step in the process that provides for a person’s social integration and personal safety.)
  • Marriages in which one partner later transitions may be affirmed as valid. (Marriages like mine are also affirmed by United States courts as well)

I hope that Catholics would look at the body of scientific and medical evidence to develop a loving acceptance of those of us who are gender-variant. The intentional Eucharistic community I belong to has done this. My priest has noted how the unique perspective I have on gender issues that comes from seeing life from both sides now, and how my path to my true gender has parallels in the process of Ignatian discernment, which helps us to understand God’s desire for us.

I understand that my journey, though personal, touches that which is universal about gender and change for everyone. Perhaps your notions of father, mother, brother, sister, husband, and wife will be opened a little by meeting someone who has been all of those at different times in her life. Maybe you can take it from someone who has been there that looking at everything in oppositional terms–“us and them”, “black and white”, “male or female”–is limiting and dangerous. Ultimately, welcoming the mystery of diversity in God’s plan is a starting point for healing in our church, and that for which I most hope.

Excerpt from:Mother, Father, Brother, Sister, Husband, and Wife by Hilary Howes

 

an article in-

More than a Monologue Sexual Diversity and the Catholic Church:
Volume I: Voices of Our Times
Christine Firer Hinze and  J. Patrick Hornbeck, editors

Volume I: Voices of Our Times Christine Firer Hinze and J. Patrick Hornbeck, editors

As real as the blessings of my spiritual journey in the the Catholic faith have been, most Catholic transsexual persons experience the institutional church less as a blessing than as a stumbling block. The problem with a secret position on transgender people, such as the Roman Catholic Church seems to have, is that members of the church hierarchy are empowered to follow the most reactionary course in their words and deeds on the subject, all without public justification, debate, or challenge.

According to a 2003 Catholic News Service articlethe  Vatican’s doctrinal congregation has sent church leaders a confidential document concluding that ‘sex-change’ operations do not change a person’s gender.

Consequently the document instructs bishops never to alter the sex listed in parish baptismal records and says Catholics who have undergone “sex-change” procedures are not eligible to marry, be ordained to the priesthood or enter religious life, according to a source familiar with the text . . . .

“The key point is that the (transsexual) surgical operation is so superficial and external that it does not change the personality. If the person was male, he remains male. If she was female, she remains female,” said the source.

Those familiar with transsexuals will see the irony of the “key point” since, in fact, the truth is the reverse. Transitioning allows us to share with society the gender personality that we have had from birth, and to leave behind the false-selves we developed to live as others expected us to live based on our external bodies. In the United States, a transsexual can have a surgical procedure only after an extensive psychological evaluation, much soul-searching and living for at least two years in their perceived gender. The vast majority of transsexuals never have surgery because the cost (up to $50,000) is covered by only a handful of healthcare policies. Interestingly, surgery does not define one’s gender for passports or many state drivers’ licenses; rather, a doctor’s psychological evaluation does. Still, the assertion that one’s genitals are superficial could only have come from someone committed to celibacy.

Furthermore, focusing on surgery effectively negates the spiritual path that most transsexuals report their journey to be. Having had no religious upbringing, I used psychological terms to describe my progress to my true self. But now having lived for twelve years now in a community where we seek to follow Christ, I understand that this was always my path of transfiguration, of revealing my true self to my community. Hearing and saying the Nicene Creed each week, I came to understand that my path followed that of Christ, when we would say, “He suffered, died, and was buried.” As a transgender person, I suffered alienation, died of shame, and was buried in guilt. Though transition, I rose again in accordance with God’s will for me and am now leading a heavenly life.

Unfortunately, according to reliable reports, those armed with this confidential Vatican document regarding transsexual persons have expelled a music minister, a priest, a nun, a lay counselor, a college student, a parochial school student and even a substitute teacher

. They have also torn families apart by teaching that transsexualism is a psychological disorder: parents are counseled to suppress transgender children and to reject transitioning adult children; transsexuals are forbidden the sacraments of marriage (i.e., forbidden to marry anybody) and holy orders, and are barred from religious life. Some bishops even wrote to Congress to oppose the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), which would add gender identity to the list of protected classes in employment law.

Excerpt from:Mother, Father, Brother, Sister, Husband, and Wife by Hilary Howes
an article in-

More than a Monologue Sexual Diversity and the Catholic Church:
Volume I: Voices of Our Times
Christine Firer Hinze and  J. Patrick Hornbeck, editors

Volume I: Voices of Our Times Christine Firer Hinze and J. Patrick Hornbeck, editors

I was raised with no religion and identified as an atheist or agnostic the entire time I was male. But over the course of my life, Catholic teaching and Catholic people have touched me deeply. As a design student, Jungian art therapy opened windows to my soul that I had shuttered in my attempts to be the man people expected me to be. Over time I came to understand how much Jung’s lessons are supported by his understanding of Catholicism as a universal faith. Seeing every Bible character as an expression of the masculine and feminine in me helped me to get past what some see as sexist or gender-oppressive in those stories.

At the age of 22, I married a thinking Catholic whose father had been a Jesuit seminarian for 10 years and who had raised her with a well-reasoned faith. I came to see her as a conduit of God’s unconditional love as we raised a child, and later, as she supported me through my gender change. Her strong grasp of the core principles of Catholic teaching, rather than superficial dogma, allowed us to remain faithful to God, ourselves and one another through the mysterious and complicated spiritual journey of gender change.

That journey was broken open when, in 1994, I read Healing the Shame That Binds You by John Bradshaw. Bradshaw attended a Catholic seminary and has advanced degrees in theology, religion, and psychology. He writes about the concept of the false-self that we create out of the shame and guilt we feel by believing that our real-self is unacceptable to society. This has resonance for many with addiction issues, but it is the elephant in the room for the gender variant. Bradshaw’s work provided me with a lens and a vocabulary that illumined and helped make sense of my experience. At a young age my effeminate nature was discouraged so I learned to suppress anything that might be seen as feminine, like emotions. I did allow my self to express anger and tried to harden myself into what I believed would be acceptably masculine. Imagine examining everything you say or do to hide who you really are and play a role constantly. Completely separated from your true self and true emotion with no inkling spirit you slip into a functional depression that keeps you distanced from friends, family and any true identity. In my case, once I had female hormones in my body, I discovered an access to emotions and spiritual awareness that was unimaginable when I lived a false-self life of a man. I’ve had menopausal women credit hormone therapy for restoring their emotions too. Bringing my mind, emotions and public persona into alignment was the starting point for my spiritual growth.

During this new stage of my life, my wife and I have also discovered new and meaningful ways to be Catholic. In particular, five years after my transition (and after some spiritual searching), I was blessed to find a Catholic Intentional Eucharistic Community. This lay-organized but priest-led group features a shared homily during which people reflect on how they live the gospels in their daily lives. It was though this group that I was able to get past the false religiosity of some Catholics and truly appreciate the miracles of shared Eucharist. After 3 years of attending I was baptized and confirmed as a catholic woman, 25 years after marrying one. 5 years later during a retreat focused on Tomas Merton his ideas about the false self came up “In order to become oneself, one must die. That is to say, in order to become one’s true self, the false self must die… [This involves] a deepening of new life, a continuous rebirth, in which the exterior and superficial life of the ego-self is discarded like an old snakeskin and the mysterious, invisible self of the Spirit becomes more present and more active…” (Merton, “The Inner Experience: Notes on Contemplation (1) CSQ 18 (1983), p. 7). It was at that time I came out to my community as transgendered to explain how my path of discarding the exterior and superficial life as a false-man allowed my formerly invisible female true-self to be reborn, present and ever deepening in my relationship to God. Making my life a parable about the spiritual path we all walk has enriched my community and others I speak to.

Excerpt from:Mother, Father, Brother, Sister, Husband, and Wife by Hilary Howes
an article in-

More than a Monologue Sexual Diversity and the Catholic Church:
Volume I: Voices of Our Times
Christine Firer Hinze and  J. Patrick Hornbeck, editors

Volume I: Voices of Our Times Christine Firer Hinze and J. Patrick Hornbeck, editors

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