“When I came out to my Catholic mom as transgender, she told me that being trans is a sin. She thinks that even by using my name and pronouns she is helping to send me to hell. Can you tell me about some resources to help her better understand me and our faith?”
Question Submitted Anonymously
Answered by Fr. Shannon T.L. Kearns
Father Shannon Says:
Let me just say that I am sorry you’re having a tough time with your mom. I know how hard that is, and I empathize. Dealing with non-affirming parents is difficult and emotionally taxing. Please know that you are not alone, and thank you for asking this question. Here’s a letter from me that you can give to your mom:
My name is Fr. Shay Kearns. I live in Minneapolis but my ministry is worldwide through my own website and through the organization I run with my colleague Brian at www.queertheology.com. We provide resources for LGBTQ Christians and their allies to move them toward a faith that is life-giving and holistic.
Affirming and even celebrating LGBTQ identities is not antithetical to Scripture or religious devotion. There are many faith leaders (including many Catholic ones) who do not believe that being transgender is a sin. There are even some churches where transgender people are allowed to be ordained and to serve openly (though not any Roman Catholic churches). I am part of a Catholic tradition (The Old Catholic Church) that is not in communion with Rome and that allows transgender people (men, women, and non-binary) to be ordained as priests and serve in every capacity in churches.
A variety of resources are available to help you take a second look at The Bible and see that there is a lot of room to read trans* experiences into scripture. You can see the work I’ve done with this by reading my transgender Passion narrative. You should also check out Trans-gendered: Theology, Ministry, and Communities of Faith by Justin Tanis, which is thebest resource I can recommend for you on Christianity and transgender issues. This book will hopefully give you some education about transgender identity and what the Bible says (and doesn’t say) about it. You can also check out the documentary Call Me Malcolm, which is available for free on YouTube.
It’s important to remember that as we read throughout scripture, we find a large number of affirming passages for trans* and gender non-conforming people. We find righteous women warriors, a wonderful passage in Isaiah about Eunuchs being given a name and a family, Jesus’ words of affirmation towards Eunuchs, the man carrying a jar of water in the Passion narrative, the Ethiopian Eunuch in Acts, and much more. There is ample evidence that people who don’t conform to gender norms are not only accepted, but celebrated throughout the Scriptures.
In fact, there is only one passage in the Bible that seems to point to displeasure with transgender people, and it has to do with clothing. Deutoronomy 22:5 reads “Women must not wear men’s clothes, and men must not wear women’s clothes. Everyone who does such things is detestable to the Lord your God.”
This passage is found in a section of purity codes. These codes were designed to create community coherence, keep people healthy in a time of limited hygiene and refrigeration, and differentiate them from the surrounding nations. These codes are important, but also must be read in the context and time in which they were written. One could also make the argument that in our modern times, the line between “men’s” and “women’s” clothing is so blurred as to be pretty much meaningless. You could also make the argument that as a transgender man, it would be against my nature to wear women’s clothing and so therefore I am abiding by the command. You could also say that whatever gender you are, wearing clothing makes that clothing belong to your gender (hence a man who chooses to wear a skirt is wearing men’s clothing because he is a man). You can do a lot with this one passage.
For trans* folks, like your child, our intrinsic gender identityis who we know ourselves to be. It’s something in the core of us. We each have a gender identity that is unique and is expressed in a variety of ways; through the clothing we wear, through how we move through the world, and even in how we interact with other people. Our gender identity is something that we know deep in our very core. For people whose gender identity aligns with the sex they were assigned at birth, they might not even notice that they have a core identity, but for those of us whose gender doesn’t match the sex we were assigned at birth, we need to do the hard work of figuring out who we are. This is holy work and should be respected and honored.
As for your child’s name and pronouns, your child has the right to demand what they need to feel safe and secure in their own identity. They also have the right to set boundaries around interactions with people who don’t respect their desires. Your child is a beautiful and beloved child of God, worthy of understanding and respect. I urge you to keep moving forward and expanding your understanding of your faith and the world around you, and never lose sight of what your child needs.
Father Shannon T.L. Kearns is a writer, speaker, and theologian. He is the co-founder of Queer Theology and the founder of Uprising Theatre Company. He graduated from Union Theological Seminary with a Master of Divinity and is an ordained priest in the Apostolic Catholic Church of America. Fr. Shay is a sought after speaker on queer theology, transgender issues, and the intersections of identity and faith. He’s been published in Geez Magazine, Lavender Magazine, Believe Out Loud, and the Huffington Post, and featured in The Advocate and the Star Tribune. You can find him on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram, and his website.
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