Transgender Woman Prepares to Enter Carmelite Convent

One of the places where Catholicism and gender are most strongly inscribed together is the area of vowed religious life.  There are communities for only men and other communities for only women.  What if your gender doesn’t fit into this binary?

Tia Michelle Pesando

That question is being answered in London, Ontario, where a transgender woman is preparing to enter a community of Carmelite women.  When Canada’s Tia Michelle Pesando, who is already living as a consecrated virgin, is accepted into the community, it is being said that she will be the world’s first transgender nun.

CTV News reported that Pesando, who is a hermaphrodite* (born with physical characteristics of both male and female) has already begun a process of taking hormones to live as a woman.  But the process of becoming a nun is more a spiritual, than a physical, notion for her.  As CTV News stated:

“Two years ago Pesando heard God calling her and she knew she had to take her transformation farther.

“ ‘I’m very convinced of the reality of God and the importance of such a calling,’ she says.

“When Pesando decided to become a nun, she received her priest’s blessing and is now going through the process to become a Carolinian sister and the first ever Roman Catholic transgender nun.

“ ‘I’m in the training process which is starting this August, so it’s a positive start that I’ve undergone.’ “

While there is always the possibility of hierarchical intervention in the admissions process,  Pesando remains positive:

“ ‘Forgiveness needs to begin somewhere,” she says. “It needs to begin with us, all of us, those in the LGBT community and those of the Christian faith.’

“Pope Francis has made huge strides with the gay community, preaching for greater inclusion and acceptance of homosexuals. This in part has helped to fuel her decision. She says the time is right for a transgender nun.”

Pesando recently published a book, Why God Doesn’t Hate Youin which she develops the theme of God’s unconditional acceptance and love of everyone, regardless of gender identity and sexual orientation.  In a wide-ranging interview with London Community News  where she describes her spiritual development and challenges,  she also explained the need for the book’s message:

“ ‘From a theological perspective, I think I have a solid argument,’ Pesando said. ‘People are leaving the church because they feel the God of love has betrayed them, and betrayal is one of the worst feelings you can imagine. So I am reaching out to people saying this is what the Bible actually says.’

“Her purpose in writing Why God Doesn’t Hate You is to reach out to everyone ‘who feels like they are rejected by God, who feels like they are a second-class citizen in God’s eyes.’ ”

And she notes an interesting detail about the Bible:

“ ‘There is actually nothing in the Bible to condemn the trans community because they were simply not aware of it,’ Pesando said. ‘Just like there is nothing in the Bible that talks about aerospace engineering, both of these things were discovered about 1,500 years after the it was written.’ ”

(EDITOR’S NOTE:  The same is true about constitutional homosexuality.  Biblical authors did not have the awareness that some people are naturally homosexually oriented.  Therefore, in the places where homosexual acts are Biblically condemned, the authors are not condemning what is now known to be a natural, normal way of loving.  More often, they are condemning homosexual rape, pagan rituals, or sexual novelty.)

My only minor gripe with this story is not about Pesando’s eligibility to become a nun, but the claim that some have made that she will be “the world’s first transgender nun.”  I would probably want to modify that to “the world’s first OPENLY transgender nun.”   Though I have no historical evidence, I imagine that over the centuries, other transgender women have joined convents, though probably being secretive about their identities.   We do know that transgender characteristics have often been very accepted in Catholic spirituality and practice (St. Joan of Arc).  And it was always common practice for nuns to take male religious names, and for religious men to often add “Mary” or “Marie” to their religious names.

If you know of other examples of Catholic transgender history or cultural details, please add them in the “Comments” section of this post.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

*There has been some discussion in the “Comments” section of this blog as to whether “intersex” or “hermaphrodite” is the correct word to use.  There has also been some discussion as to whether Tia Michelle Pesando is actually transgender.  I recognize that language is a sensitive and powerful arena, and I am open to correction.  Upon reflection, I have decided to keep the original terms I used.

To answer the first issue, I have used “hermaphrodite” because that is the term that Tia Michelle Pesando uses to describe herself on her website: http://www.whygoddoesnthateyou.com/.   It is also the term used in the original article upon which this post is based, so I have assumed that it was the term she used while being interviewed.

To answer the second issue,  because Tia Michelle Pesando lived the first thirty years as a man and has now decided to live as a woman, including taking hormones, I think it is accurate to describe the process she went through as “transitioning,” and thus “transgender” seems to be an accurate description.  Again, I assume, based on the fact that news articles about her use the term “transgender” that this is a label of which she approves.

 

 

 

 

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27 Responses to Transgender Woman Prepares to Enter Carmelite Convent

  1. I think there is some confusion here between TRANSGENDER, where one transitions from the gender assigned at birth to another gender, and INTERSEX, where one has a range of physical characteristics of both genders. The recent conference here in the UK, Embodied Ministry: gender, sexuality, and formation, considered intersex realities in some depth. INTERSEX & FORMATION, a presentation by Susannah Cornwall, Advanced Research Fellow in Theology & Religion at the University of Exeter, will appear on this website shortly: http://christianityandsexuality.org . She has also published INTERSEX CONDITIONS & CHRISTIAN THEOLOGY (Equinox 2010).

    • Thanks for your information. Because. Tia Michelle lived her first 30 years as a man, the gender assigned at birth, it is accurate to refer to her as transgender, since she ha now transitioned to living as a woman.

      • I think many intersex people might challenge this essentially binary definition of gender. Having a gender assigned to you, or being called male/femail, doesn’t make you so, particularly if physiologically – chromosomes, hormones, genital organisation etc – a person has multiple aspects.

      • Terence says:

        I woule support lgbt Catholics Westminsiter in this. There’s a huge difference between being born biologically male and then transitioning, or being born intersex but assigned male at birth, and then choosing to live as female.That’s not “transitioning”, but making a choice between two possibilities, neither of which exactly fits with biology.

    • Terence says:

      Susannah Cornwall’s presentation has now been published – http://christianityandsexuality.org/?p=1827

  2. Leslie Beard says:

    Thank you for the article.
    I’ve been told that ‘intersex’ (rather than ‘hermaphrodite’) is the more correct and more acceptable term.

    • Thank you. “Hermaphrodite ” is the term used in the news article, so I assumed it was the one that Tia Michelle used and preferred. I will make the change later this morning, after a little more research into the case.

    • Terence says:

      Agreed. “Intersex” is definitely more appropriate. “Hermaphrodite” fell into disuse, except as a term of abuse or in ignorance, years ago

  3. Jane Paris says:

    Frank, great editor’s note. I agree with you 100%. I personally know of “transgender” but not trans-sexual nuns. And earlier comments about intersex are very correct too. I’m not certain a transsexual (born male and medically became a woman) person would be so welcome. As an L of LGBT. I need to be more knowledgable if the T community.

  4. Trans* Today says:

    […] Transgender Woman Prepares to Enter Carmelite Convent […]

  5. There has been some discussion in the “Comments” section as to whether “intersex” or “hermaphrodite” is the correct word to use. There has also been some discussion as to whether Tia Michelle Pesando is actually transgender. I recognize that language is a sensitive and powerful arena, and I am open to correction. Upon reflection, I have decided to keep the original terms I used.

    To answer the first issue, I have used “hermaphrodite” because that is the term that Tia Michelle Pesando uses to describe herself on her website: http://www.whygoddoesnthateyou.com/. It is also the term used in the original article upon which this post is based, so I have assumed that it was the term she used while being interviewed.

    To answer the second issue, because Tia Michelle Pesando lived the first thirty years as a man and has now decided to live as a woman, including taking hormones, I think it is accurate to describe the process she went through as “transitioning,” and thus “transgender” seems to be an accurate description. Again, I assume, based on the fact that news articles about her use the term “transgender” that this is a label of which she approves.

  6. Terence says:

    Aside from the disagreements above on terminology, this is great news. However, she is most certainly not the first transgender nun. That could be so for the modern Catholic Church, but there has certainly been at least one trans Anglican / Episcopal nun.

    And let us not forget the number of transgender (by your definition) MEN in the early church, some of whom were recognized as saints – those who were raised as women, then lived as men to enter male monasteries.

  7. frtoddscull says:

    I pray that some day the rhetoric of the Catholic Church will transition from God love you to I love you through the Church’s law and practice.

  8. James says:

    Is this still her accurate twitter profile? https://twitter.com/TiamatReborn

  9. ellefersan says:

    Reblogged this on Eliane Fersan and commented:
    The world is in a constant mode of transformation. The Catholic Church is now embracing one of its own Transgender disciples to enter the clergy. A big first step and more to expect from the Church of Pope Francis

  10. Bea Tilanus says:

    As a Catholic male to female transsexual, I think this is a very nice story. And wish MIchelel a lot of good luck. That the Bible and the early Christian culture would not talk about transsexuality is partially incorrect. The current concept of an entire surgical sex change is relatively new.
    Many sex changes in the course of history swept under the table, consciously or unconsciously. In the earliest Dutch Bible translation (de Statenvertaling) is Eve in Genesis 2 verse 23 called “Manninne”. That means literally translated in English ‘male-she’.
    “The eunuch’ in Jasaja 56 verse 4 is the Netherlands both translated in “gesnedene” (those who have been cut, operated) and “emasculated”. “Gesnedene” is used in Matthew 19 verse 12. One who has cuted themelves.
    This was the highest level of gender reassignment surgery at that time. Somethimes you will find references back in different images. In my parish, the patron saint St. Lambert depicted with a rod which was formerly castrated male pigs. See: http://www.kerkgebouwen-in-limburg.nl/foto.jsp?foto=files/usr_leon/Mheer/november%202011/raam%20schip1.jpg A castration scene that the old hidjra in India would not go amiss. Another example is St. John. Which is not depicted in the ancient iconography with a beard. A beard was a sign of mascilinity. Which inspired Dan Brown in the Da Vinci Code to change JOhn into Mary Magdalene. But such a ‘sexchange’has done much earlier. In this way in the past myths arise for example Pope Johanna (the female name of John). In this way, you’ll find a lot of nearly forgotten references to transgendered saints.

  11. alfred caulkin says:

    st brigid of kildare (451–525) was consecrated as a bishop.

  12. “We do know that transgender characteristics have often been very accepted in Catholic spirituality and practice (St. Joan of Arc).”
    Hey, I only wrote ONE letter to the President of France advising him in military matters!

    I do have a fair bit about Joan of Arc in Why God Doesn’t Hate You, though. I answer once and for all the question of whether or not she was transgender and even offer the hypothetical situation of what her life might have been like had she been born in a male body!

    (By the way, thank you for such a wonderful article about myself and my (the LORD’s) work!

  13. Virgil says:

    Ten years ago, there was another transgender nun, in LaCrosse Wisconsin. Concecrated by none other than Cardinal Burke. . .

    http://www.riverfronttimes.com/2004-08-25/news/bishop-takes-queen/

    • Ah yes, I believe I read that article; I know that I actually spoke about that to my CTV interviewers (the interview was considerably longer than shown on the telly). What exactly I am the first of is more complex than the media lets on. For example:
      1) Being somewhat intersexed/hermaphrodital, I have undergone no “sex-reassignment surgery”, and
      2) I am in the process of joining a proper Order; specifically the Carmelites, because of Ste. Therese de Lisieux.
      To be frank (no pun intended), I was somewhat annoyed that CTV focused on that whole “world’s first whatever” thing more than on Why God Doesn’t Hate You!

    • Friends says:

      THAT is just too funny! Search the New Ways Ministry blog archive to see the photos of Cardinal Burke in full regalia — looking in one photo exactly like the “lost twin” of England’s Queen Elizabeth, complete with Her Majesty’s royal bonnet!

  14. Reblogged this on The Catholic Transgender and commented:
    I tweeted this a while ago, and I thought I’d also post it here.

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