When I was at school, a lovely boy with a mop of dark hair called me a pansy when we were playing kiss chase; I was running away from the boys in an apparent game of one. I heard him definitely call me Pansy though and, ecstatic that at the age of 8 someone had finally seen me as me,
I adopted the name with huge pride and wore it like an enormous, enamelled brooch. My name was Pansy.I convinced most of my classmates to call me Pansy – I didn’t notice or care about their sniggers or sneers, and after some persuasion my teacher, Miss Honey (not a word of a lie), agreed to call me Pansy during story-carpet time. One foot off dead name, one foot on Pansy. Home.
In 1989, when the Gender Identity Development Service (Gids) at London’s Tavistock Clinic opened, it received two referrals in its first year of operation. As Dr Polly Carmichael, current director of the service, observes, it was considered a career-limiting option for a clinical psychologist to specialise in the field of gender identity in young people – there weren’t enough patients. That is not how it has turned out. Last year, 1,400 children under 18 were referred to Gids, double the number the year before. Of these 1,400, nearly 300 were under the age of 12, with some as young as three years old.
The reasons for this exponential increase are obviously complex. One factor seems to be a huge shift in awareness of transgender individuals in wider culture. The attention paid to Caitlyn Jenner in America, and Kellie Maloney here; a transgender actor, Riley Carter Millington, playing a transgender role in EastEnders; the historic tragedy of the story told in The Danish Girl and the many public controversies about respect for trans rights have all informed this awareness.
Catholic teaching is unequivocal on lesbian and gay Catholics is clear: they should be treated with “respect, compassion and sensitivity”, and should be protected from unjust discrimination, and from any form of malice or violence Teaching on transgender people is not explicitly spelled out, but the same principles apply. In matters of employment, protection from discrimination and injustice is further entrenched in a series of solidly magisterial social justice encyclicals. In spite of that, recent years have seen an alarming number of reports of lgbt Catholics who have lost employment, excluded from ministry, or suffered other forms of discrimination, on the basis of their orientation or gender identity.
On the other hand, we should always remember that the stories that make the news, do so precisely because they are unusual. There are many more examples of people who do not suffer discrimination, and are fully accepted in their parishes, or places of Catholic employment – but because their situations are so ordinary, they are just not reported.
Occasionally, there are exceptions. One such is the example of a school in San Francisco, where the Mercy Sisters have written to parents of their decision to continue employment of a transgender man. This decision has been welcomed by New Ways Ministry as “Gospel based”. So it is – and also solidly based in authentic Catholic doctrine.
Francis DeBenardo, executive director of New Ways, writes in a press statement:
Catholic Ministry Thanks Mercy Sisters For Equal Employment of Transgender Teacher
MOUNT RAINIER, Maryland– New Ways Ministry congratulates and thanks the Sisters of Mercy and the administrators of Mercy H.S., San Francisco, for their Gospel-based decision to continue employment of one of their teachers who identifies as a transgender man. This decision stands as a beacon of hope in the midst of the terrible darkness of the recent trend of firing LGBT employees from Catholic institutions. The decision was announced in a letter to parents of students, which, after describing the teacher’s situation, stated:
“This afternoon, we informed students, faculty and staff about our resolve to support the dignity of each person—regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation or gender identification.”
We applaud, too, the courage of English Department chair and teacher Gabriel Stein-Bodenheimer for honoring his gender identity, as well to his commitment to educate students in the Mercy tradition. His personal example will be a most powerful lesson to all in the school’s community, especially because his decision involved a large degree of risk.
This story reflects a true Catholic commitment to respecting the dignity of LGBT people—a principle which is shared by millions of Catholics across the U.S. The experience of this school will help our Church to heal from the pain of too many past negative decisions regarding LGBT people. Our Catholic Church will only be strengthened by this decision.
The Sisters of Mercy offer a courageous example of inclusion and equality that could be replicated by so many other Catholic schools, parishes, and social service agencies when they learn of an employee’s gender identity, sexual orientation, or marital status. This example can be a turning point in what has been a dark chapter of the U.S. Catholic Church, when over 60 faithful employees have lost their church jobs because of LGBT issues.
Their process included wide consultation, reflection, and prayer. As the letter described:
“. . . we collaborated with the Board Chair Diane Lawrence and a team of key administrators while we studied how to respond in a manner consistent with Mercy and Gospel values and your School’s Catholic Identity. We prayed for guidance. We also consulted trusted advisors as we applied these principles to this circumstance.”
Furthermore, the Sisters showed their commitment to caring for the entire school community by having counselors available for anyone–student, parent, staff–to discuss their questions and concerns.
The Sisters of Mercy grounded their decision in the principles of Mercy which form the charism of their community. These same principles of mercy are promoted by Pope Francis, particularly in this year which he declared as a Jubilee of Mercy. Pope Francis’ message of acceptance and encounter with the LGBT community have been given flesh and blood by the Sisters’ decision to continue the teacher’s employment.
New Ways Ministry calls on other Catholic religious communities of Fathers, Brothers, and Sisters–and indeed, all Catholic administrators—to rejoice in the Sisters of Mercy’s example, and to honor it by following it as a way to end employment discrimination against LGBT church employees.
Transgender children who are allowed to present their gender identity and change their names have good mental health outcomes, according to a study released on Friday and hailed as “crucially important”.
The study, published in the March issue of the journal Pediatrics, shows the positive impact family support can have on the lives of transgender children, a group long hidden from public view.
Researchers found normal levels of depression and only slightly elevated anxiety levels in transgender children who were supported by their families.
Such support included the use of pronouns that matched the child’s gender identity, calling them by the name of their choosing and, often, and allowing them to change their hairstyle and clothing to reflect their identity. Such children are also known as “socially transitioned” children.
Ever since the 2014 Family Synod, some Catholic bishops (and Pope Francis himself) have expressed criticism of what they refer to as “gender ideology”, by which they seem to mean gender theory. Gender theory, however, is not by any stretch an “ideology”, but a sound academic attempt to understand the complexities of gender as encountered in the real world. The only “ideology” I’m aware of about gender, is that espoused in Vatican doctrine, which reduces everything to a simplistic binary; everyone is either male or female, with distinctive roles appropriate to each; and that our primary social purpose is to find a suitable mate of the opposite gender, marry, and produce offspring. This is simplistic, patent nonsense, which should be obvious to anyone who simply observes the reality outside the lens of what is fondly believed to be the “traditional” family structure. There are many societies around the world in which traditional family structures recognized more than two genders. The hijra of South Asia are one example of a socially recognised third gender, now being recognised in government documents in some countries. Some Native American societies recognized even more than three genders.
We tend to speak freely about LGBT issues, but in practice, most of the time, we’re really thinking LG(bt), with both bi- and trans afterthoughts – if we think about them at all. I would imagine that most of us like to think about ourselves as trans allies, but it’s difficult for us actively to promote issues we don’t really understand. Ideally, we need to allow trans activists to speak for themselves.
At “A Catholic Transgender” (Blogging about being transsexual at the intersection of Calvary and Rome), there’s a useful, systematic assessment of what the magisterium says about transgender (i.e., nothing), together with well argued rebuttals of the usual claims that the Church cannot approve or recognize gender transition.
Here’s the opening: Continue reading Catholic Magisterial Teaching on Transgenderism
Among all the multitude of queer saints, Joan of Arc is one of the most important. In her notorious martyrdom for heresy (a charge which in historical context included reference to her cross-dressing and defiance of socially approved gender roles), she is a reminder of the great persecution of sexual and gender minorities by the Inquisition, directly or at their instigation. In LGBT Christian history, “martyrs” applies not only to those martyred by the church, but also to those martyred by the church. In her rehabilitation and canonization, she is a reminder that the leaders and theologians of the church, those who were responsible for her prosecution and conviction, can be wrong, can be pronounced to be wrong, and can in time have their judgements overturned.(This is not just a personal view. Pope Benedict has made some very pointed remarks of his own to this effect, while speaking about Joan of Arc). In the same way, it is entirely possible (I believe likely) that the current dogmatic verdict of Vatican orthodoxy which condemns our relationships will also in time be rejected. We may even come to see some of the pioneers of gay theology, who have in effect endured a kind of professional martyrdom for their honesty and courage, rehabilitated and honoured by the Church, just as St Joan has been.
|Joan of Arc: Interrogation by the Bishop of Winchester (Paul Delaroche, 1797 -1856)|
In the tragic history of executions for “sodomy”, most trials and executions were of men. In the popular mind, the word today is associated primarily with male anal sex, but this has not always been so. In the original biblical texts, the “sin of Sodom” had nothing to do with sex at all, but referred rather to excessive fondness for luxury, over-indulgence, and a failure to care for travelers and the poor. When in the Middle Ages it began to be associated with sexual sin, it applied to any form of sexual actions that were considered unnatural, including homosexual acts, masturbation, oral sex, heterosexual anal intercourse, even heterosexual intercourse not in the missionary position – and lesbian sex.
Many courts and legislative bodies since then have debated whether sodomy laws do in fact apply to women, with widely differing conclusions. In some cases, the conclusion was that they did – especially in those cases where one of the woman dresses and lived as a man, which provoked particular popular hostility.
At Jesus in Love, Kittredge Cherry has included in her post for Ash Wednesday some notes about the last lesbian executed for Sodomy in Europe, Catherine Linck.
In the image at the top of this post, German artist Elke R. Steinerillustrates the last known execution for lesbianism in Europe. Born in 1694, Catharina Margaretha Linck lived her life as a man under the name Anastasius. She was beheaded for sodomy on Nov. 8, 1721 in Halberstadt in present-day Germany. Linck worked at various times as a soldier, textile worker and a wandering prophet with the Pietists. She married a woman in 1717. Her mother-in-law reported her to authorities, who convicted her of sodomy with a “lifeless instrument,” wearing men’s clothes and multiple baptisms. The subject is grim, but Steiner adds an empowering statement: “But even were I to be done away with, those who are like me would remain.”
Steiner’s work is based on Angela Steidele’s book “In Männerkleidern. Das verwegene Leben der Catharina Margaretha Linck alias Anastasius Lagrantinus Rosenstengel, hingerichtet 1721.” Biographie und Dokumentation. Cologne: Böhlau, 2004. (“In Men’s Clothes: The Remarkable Life of Catharina Margaretha Linck alias Anastasius Rosenstengel, Executed 1721.”)
- Ash Wednesday: Recalling sodomy executions, repenting the church’s sins against LGBTQ people (jesusinlove.blogspot.com)