The following letter was sent to Bishop Bambera of Scranton, PA, Archbishop Chaput of Philadelphia, PA, Archbishop Kurtz of Louisville, KY, and Bishop Conley of Lincoln, NE in January 2018. Each of these bishops was a co-signer on a letter that directed parents not to support transgender children in living as their true selves. It is a powerful example of “speaking true to power” in the spirit of love.
Dear Archbishops and Bishops:
This letter is in response to the statement titled “CREATED MALE AND FEMALE – An Open Letter from Religious Leaders” dated December 15, 2017 to which each of you was a signatory. Written as a commitment to “natural marriage” between “one man and one woman”, it is fundamentally an attack on “gender ideology” (as that term has been codified in recent years) as a “false idea” that “harms individuals and societies by sowing confusion and self-doubt”. You are probably aware of several responses to this letter that strongly oppose its content and, in fact, urge its removal from the website of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB). However, I felt that you should also hear directly from a transgender Catholic person about your statements and the personal intersection of my gender identity and faith.
I am a transgender woman (she, her, hers), age 68, who is a “cradle” Catholic and aware of and accepting of both my gender identity and my devotion to my Catholic faith. I completed my transition to the person I am today about two years ago, concluding a long and sometimes very painful and sacrificial journey of self-awareness. I would like to speak directly to components of your letter.
First of all I respect your dedication to the scriptures of the Old Testament. I believe there are also passages in both the Old and New Testaments that can be viewed as affirming passages that speak to the diversity of gender identity in Biblical culture, however, this is not the focus of my letter. Rather I feel a need to respond to your statements that “gender ideology harms individuals and societies” and that refer to the “scientific fact of human biology”. I first became aware that something was different about my gender identity at an early age when I began to put on my older sister’s dresses and lipstick. Back then, in the 1950s and early 1960s, the term “transgender” did not exist nor did the internet, social media or any other informational source to help me understand the feelings that I was experiencing. Assuming that it was not “acceptable” in society (or only featured in a comical way) I was extremely fearful of being “caught” expressing my feelings and never considered discussing it with anyone. As I aged these intrinsic feelings never disappeared but subconsciously grew stronger. After my sister left home, I dressed in my mother’s clothes. I continued my “secret” life through high school (Catholic) and college, dressing female whenever I had the time and opportunity with clothes that I embarrassingly purchased. I developed a relationship with a girl and we married after college and five years of courtship. Marriage did not cause my desires to dress as a woman to disappear, although my responsibilities to my spouse, children (three) and career limited my opportunities for expression. These innate desires only grew more intense as my children left home and my career had passed its peak. I finally confessed to my ex-spouse in late 2004 and we abruptly separated in 2005 and later divorced as a result. I take no pride in my not being honest with her throughout our courtship and long marriage (over 32 years before I disclosed my true identity) but was always fearful of breaking up our family and other consequences of this disclosure. My “story” is unfortunately all too typical. (Note: My full transition was delayed for over ten years after my separation as I feared it would lead to termination of my employment – I was a senior finance executive – and to give considerable time for my family to understand and accept my gender awareness and identity).
What you should know is that “gender ideology” does not, in fact, harm individuals and societies but what does is the stigma attached to those who experience “gender dysphoria” but are reluctant to admit and accept who they are for fear of the consequences. You say that gender ideology “compels people to either go against reason…or face ridicule, marginalization, and other forms of retaliation”. But, in fact, the exact opposite is true. It is by acknowledging and living in our true gender identity that we face ridicule, marginalization, retaliation, taunts, discrimination, rejection, and violence. You should be aware that there exists a psychological condition, “gender dysphoria”, that is the defining element of those who identity as transgender. It is a documented condition in the Diagnostic Scientific Manual. Those afflicted with the condition are diagnosed (as I have) by a clinical psychologist who administers an evaluation to determine if the condition is present. Gender dysphoria is defined as an incongruity between one’s gender assigned at birth (based typically on physical characteristics) and the gender with which one identifies. It results in anxiety and stress from the inability to live in one’s identified gender, often leading to depression and suicide (over 40% of transgender persons admit to attempting suicide – nearly nine times the rate for the U.S. population as a whole). When you assert that “choosing” one’s gender is a “false idea”, you misunderstand and minimize the concept of choice. Our “choice” is either to admit to and accept our gender identity and to live in that gender (and thus alleviate our anxiety) or, alternatively, to choose to remain living in our birth-assigned gender with the concomitant anxiety, stress, depression and other consequences attached thereto.
You should understand that those of us who transition make significant sacrifices to live authentic lives. My children have gone through years of “transitioning” with me, my former spouse has declared that “I am dead to her” and my older brother has ceased all communication with me. Do you for a moment think that we would make these sacrifices and endure these challenges for some frivolous or fetishistic desire to dress as a woman? I agree that young children should not undergo transitional treatment until they have been carefully evaluated by clinical professionals for an extended period of time during which their identity can be confirmed with considerable certainty. It is never a decision to be made lightly or impulsively. Former President John F. Kennedy once famously said, in discussing the need for equal rights for black and Hispanic citizens, that “Who among us would be content to have the color of their skin changed” (i.e. from white to black). Do you think that I, born as a privileged white male, would willingly change my gender to a segment of society that is so marginalized, discriminated against and ridiculed if not for the presence of gender dysphoria?
I would also like to comment on the statement in the letter in which you instruct that “it is our responsibility to respond to their concerns with compassion, mercy and honesty”. I agree with this statement but do not feel that you are loyal to your own message. “Compassion” means to share a mutual understanding of the feelings of another person – and “mercy” suggests an attempt to alleviate the distress of another. Your letter fails on both points and, in fact, is contradictory to those sentiments.
I would also suggest that discovering one’s intrinsic gender identity should not be viewed as a threat to the institution of marriage. I know of transgender women who have maintained their marriages to genetic women after transition, in some cases after undergoing gender-confirming surgery. This is particularly meaningful if you believe that marriage is foremost about love, affection and intimacy and not primarily about procreation.
As I indicated at the top of this letter, I am a devout Catholic whose foundation in the faith was rooted from Catholic elementary and high school education and instruction, as well as the model of certain family members. I am a Board member and Treasurer of DignityUSA, a national LGBTQI Catholic organization, and a member of the local chapter, Dignity/Washington. I have a deep and abiding Catholic faith ( “faith” being the greatest of the virtues in my opinion as it is the hardest to maintain). I speak to and listen to God often (I believe my service to DignityUSA resulted from His calling) and He listens to me (I feel that when I see the hearts and minds of people in society changed as a result of my interacting with them as myself, whether as part of my volunteering globally and locally, social interplay or other humanitarian efforts such as supporting my two sponsored children in India and my donations to several dozen charitable organizations annually). I have faith and hope that you, the bishops, and the broader Catholic Church hierarchy, will understand and accept that gender identity is intrinsic, clinical, undeniable and, rather than endangering the Church, or marriage, speaks to the diversity of the human condition and acknowledges that there are persons who can live as I do and be devout Catholics and compassionate persons.
Respectfully yours in Christ,