Love Trans-Formed Over the Weekend

November 25, 2013
IMG_0701

Participants at New Ways Ministry’s “Trans-forming Love” workshop.

Love was trans-formed near Baltimore on Saturday, November 23rd, as Catholics gathered for New Ways Ministry’s workshop “Trans-forming Love”  which addressed transgender issues from a variety of perspectives. Participants from as far as Chicago and New England gathered for prayer, reflection, and education during the daylong workshop. They were parents, friends, spouses,pastoral ministers, allies, and transgender people themselves.  The workshop was held at the Mission Helpers of the Sacred Heart convent.

The morning began with prayer, followed by a presentation from Dr. Edgardo Menvielle, MD of Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, DC. Dr. Menvielle shared his story of how his psychiatric career migrated into the care of gender variant children. He helped participants understand terminology and concepts particular to discussions of gender identity and diversity, as well as sharing clinical insights.

Dr. Edgardo Menvielle

Dr. Edgardo Menvielle

Most pointedly, he spoke of the particular needs of gender variant children, who may or may not ultimately be transgender. Transgender youth are at increased risk of violence, depression and suicide, risky sexual behaviors, and homelessness. Peer victimization at young ages leads to lifelong problems with social acceptance and self-worth, and he continued:

“If you’ve been bullied as a child, you don’t get over it. It tends to affect people in profound ways.”

Dr. Menvielle attributes many of the challenges transgender people face to social factors, such as how one’s family, friends or co-workers might respond or how culture, philosophical, and religious factors could affect their well-being. Given these realities, it was easy for participants to extrapolate how pastoral care of transgender people in the Catholic Church is a necessary, needed step.

After a lunch break, participants heard from Hilary Howes, a transgender Catholic woman who spoke to the personal, spiritual, and religious aspects of transgender people’s lives. Howes shared her story of transitioning eighteen years ago, and then about her efforts to advocate for transgender rights. She noted that each person’s life, especially those on the margins, is a parable that instructs.

IMG_0689

Hilary Howes

Howes also discussed her participation in the Transgender Religious Roundtable which hopes to go beyond just welcoming transgender people into faith communities. Howes said of this effort:

“Our idea was: what do we bring to the party? What is it that we [transgender people] do that is unique to religious institutions? In other traditions, transgender people hold a very special place and in Western culture we needed to define that.”

Specific to the Catholic community, Howes was asked why transgender people would stay Catholic and she replied:

“I’ll have to admit that for a lot of transgender people raised in the Catholic Church they have been so harmed by the Catholic community that they have left church. I know a number of Lutherans and Episcopalians that were raised Catholic.

“The reality is that there is no teaching by the Roman Catholic Church on transgender people. There are those who make claims; there is nothing that has been substantiated. Every priest I’ve talked to and a couple of bishops have been very supportive and understanding. They have not found any incompatibility with being transgender and Catholic.

“For me, one reason I stay Catholic is the ritual. I’m deeply called to that. It’s highly symbolic to me as an artist and a creative person. There’s a convenience factor too with my wife being Catholic.”

You can read more on Howes’ blog, TogetherStyle, where she also provides resources for transgender people. There are also resources available for promoting inclusive faith communities from the Institute for Welcoming Resources.

The day concluded with a closing prayer, part of which is included below for the reflection of Bondings 2.0 readers:

“We give you thanks, O God our Creator, because you have given us life. You have made us in your image and breathed your Spirit into us. We are alive with the divinity that you manifest in us. We have been touched by you, O God.”

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Catholic Workshop on “Trans-forming Love”

November 10, 2013

While we know from poll after poll that Catholic lay people overwhelmingly support lesbian and gay people, I think there is probably not yet as strong support for transgender people among those in the pews.   The reason for the difference is probably because Catholic people have had less familiarity with transgender people, and probably rely more on myths or stereotypes than on factual evidence and personal testimony.

To help Catholics get a better understanding of transgender people and issues from the perspectives of both science and faith, New Ways Ministry is hosting a workshop day entitled “Trans-forming Love,” on Saturday November 23, 2013, 9:00 am – 3:30 pm, at the Mission Helpers of the Sacred Heart, 1001 West Joppa Road, Towson, Maryland, 21204,

The goal of the day is to dispel myths and stereotypes about transgender people by gaining sound information from the scientific community and from the life story of a transgender person. The transgender experience will also be explored in the light of faith and spirituality.  The day includes presentations on gender identity development, personal perspectives, legal considerations, and spiritual dimensions. There will be Q & A sessions, small group discussions, and informational handouts.

Edgardo Menvielle, MD

Two speakers will be making presentations.  In the morning, participants will hear from Dr. Edgardo Menvielle, MD, an attending psychiatrist at Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, DC. He co-founded the Gender and Sexuality Development Program and serves as its medical director. Dr. Menvielle provides clinical services and training for child psychiatry, psychology, pediatrics trainees, and students.

Hilary Howes

Hilary Howes

In the afternoon, the speaker will be Hilary Howes, a Catholic transgender woman, who has been married for 34 years. She authored the article, “To Be or Not to Be: A Catholic Transsexual Speaks,” which describes her conversion to Catholicism and her gender transition. Hilary is involved with several transgender rights organizations, including the National Transgender Religious Leadership Roundtable.

Space for this workshop is limited, so please register soon if you would like to attend.  Registration is required. Suggested donation is $25 (more if you can, less if you can’t) and includes lunch.

For more information and to register for this program online, please visit New Ways Ministry’s website.  If you have questions, please call (301) 277-5674 or send email to: info@NewWaysMinistry.org.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Diocesan Newspaper Shows Signs of Hope in Transgender Coverage

October 23, 2013

The Archdiocese of Baltimore’s Catholic Review newspaper prints articles largely re-stating the hierarchy’s positions. However, a recent article analyzed transgender issues from Catholic perspectives and, while still negative overall, included a trans-positive voice and showed other hopeful signs.

The article is the fifth in a series called “Playing God,” which examines bioethics in light of modern knowledge and focuses particularly on sex reassignment surgeries that many transgender people undergo. While focusing on an anti-transgender activist, it also highlights Hilary Howes, a transgender Catholic woman and advocate, who recently wrote about what Pope Francis could mean for gender issues in the Church.  The Review reports about Howes’ experience:

“Born male, she transitioned to living as a woman 18 years ago. Howes remembers wanting to be a girl as a child, and experimented with cross-dressing as an adult before becoming a transsexual…

“A few years ago, Howes described herself as having ‘male genitalia and a female brain.’ Now she thinks of gender as a spectrum, and her gender expression falling outside of standard ‘male’ and ‘female’ categories. Howes speculates that her situation may be a form of intersex, resulting from a natural genetic variance or hormonal imbalances when she was in the womb. She believes that identity shouldn’t be tied to anatomy.”

Hilary Howes

Hilary Howes

Citing anti-transgender voices, the article muddles through the philosophical and theological concepts involved with transgender identities and sex reassignment surgery. Of these, Howes responds:

“As a transsexual, Howes doesn’t see sex-reassignment surgery as a mutilation, but rather a medical correction of a physical malformation – a procedure that allows a person to become his or her ‘authentic self.’

“It’s an argument commonly made by transgender advocates: Transgenderism is a physical, not mental, condition, and it’s the body that’s in the wrong.”

Howes’ comments are not the article’s only signs of hope. It is notable that the diocesan newspaper used female pronouns for Howes, as other Catholic institutions have used one’s sex at birth instead of their gender identity when referring to transgender people. The Catholic Review also notes:

“The church has not spoken definitively on the matter’s morality. In 2003, Catholic News Service reported that the Vatican released a document to bishops on sex-reassignment surgery’s implications for canon law. According to CNS, the document included ‘an analysis of the moral licitness’ of sex reassignment surgery, concluding ‘that the procedure could be morally acceptable in certain extreme cases if a medical probability exists that it will “cure” the patient’s internal turmoil.’ “

That same document reportedly banned changing the sex on baptismal certificates and rejected transgender people from religious life if they have undergone sex reassignment surgery.

Want to learn more about the issues presented in this post? Hilary Howes will be a presenter at New Ways Ministry’s upcoming workshop, “Trans-forming Love,” on November 23rd. Catholics will dialogue and pray about a trans-positive Catholic approach. Visit New Ways Ministry’s website for more information and to register for the event.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Weighing Pope Francis’ Impact on Transgender Issues

October 14, 2013

Hilary Howes

Many have embraced Pope Francis for his welcoming remarks and actions towards gay and lesbian people, but what about transgender people? Two commentaries reveal both the positive effect the pope is having on issues of gender identity and the tremendous work remaining to make Catholic communities more inclusive for all.

Hilary Howes writes from the perspective of a trans Catholic woman in a post titled, “Oh What a Difference a Pope Makes…” She recalls comments by former Pope Benedict XVI who once condemned sex reassignment and shifting gender identities, contrasting this with Pope Francis in the America magazine interview:

“The pope comments: ‘St. Vincent of Lerins makes a comparison between the biological development of man and the transmission from one era to another of the deposit of faith, which grows and is strengthened with time. Here, human self-understanding changes with time and so also human consciousness deepens. Let us think of when slavery was accepted or the death penalty was allowed without any problem. So we grow in the understanding of the truth…The view of the church’s teaching as a monolith to defend without nuance or different understandings is wrong.’ “

In light of the pope’s dynamic viewpoint on Catholic teaching, Hilary asks what this could mean for transgender people if the Church can change:

“Could our new pope be speaking to transgender people (among others)? He sites slavery and the death penalty that were once supported by the church to show that the church can be wrong and can change. It’s a reading that looks for the loving embrace of god to deepen with the maturity that comes with science and social development. Not the retreat from science and social development that is fundamentalism. The mistreatment of transgender people by the church comes from out of date science and the most fundamental interpretation of church dogma, not even theology. This can end now, with this Pope’s leadership and given the overwhelming support of socially conscious American Catholics.”

Too many Catholics feel excluded from local churches because of their gender identity. With this exclusion in mind, Pope Francis’ interview spurred even conservative blogger Elizabeth Scalia to ask whether the Catholic Church has room for transgender people.

Elizabeth Scalia

Writing in First Things, Scalia speaks about a friend, Sarah, who was a trans woman attracted to the Catholic faith, but who declared “she could never convert because ‘the church wouldn’t have me, as I am.’ ” Of this Scalia writes:

“It broke my heart that Sarah believed this. I urged inquiry with a priest, but this child of God was convinced that there was no room for transgendered persons in the Catholic church. I thought there might be, and made a few discreet inquiries of my own; what I encountered was a general sense of dis-ease among the clerics and theologians I asked. None of them said ‘No, there is no room’ but none of them would definitively say ‘yes’ either…

“May Sarah be admitted into this field hospital for sinners? I considered my job, and the job of the church, as being first of all to love the person before me; to see Sarah, as Pope Benedict XVI wrote in Deus Caritas Est, ‘not simply with my eyes and feelings, but from the perspective of Jesus Christ'; to respect the dignity of this human person seeking a relationship with Christ and then offer an arm of support for the journey. This might mean challenges down the road, certainly, but first and foremost it would require an unambiguous welcome.”

Scalia’s full post is flawed in its welcome because it perpetuates a negative belief that transgender people are in some way sinful or should be counseled out of their true identity. Yet, this questioning by even defenders of the hierarchy’s strict sexual ethics suggests that Pope Francis is having a positive effect on LGBT issues. In past years, such questions would have been dead on arrival, if they ever emerged at all.

Hilary’s faith comes through at the end of her post, and is a call for all Catholics:

“My god is the Creator. I believe our highest calling is to create. Our humble attempts at art, engineering, commerce, and social inventions honor our creator…Understanding creation as opposed to procreation as a central theme of faith helps us to appreciate the spectacular diversity of nature and humans and gender expression.”

By educating themselves, Catholics can overcome existing prejudices and misinformation about transgender people and participate in creating parishes, dioceses, and eventually a broader Church that is, in the words of Pope Francis, a “home for all.”

One start could be attending New Ways Ministry’s upcoming workshop, “Trans-forming Love.” You can find more information about the event here.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Remembering the Victims of Violence Against Transgender People

November 20, 2012

Today is the International Transgender Day of Remembrance, a day set aside every year to recall the too many transgender people who have been killed for who they are.  Full details of vigils and gatherings can be found on the International Transgender Day of Remembrance website.

At least one of the vigils will be held at a Catholic site: San Benedetto al Porto Community in Genoa, Italy.

On the Women’s Ordination Conference website, be sure to read the Prayer to St. Joan of Arc, a person that many transgender Catholics look up to as a spiritual hero.

In a National Catholic Reporter commentary on the day, famed sexuality authors James and Evelyn Whitehead note that it is fitting for Catholics to mark this day because it occurs in November, the month of All Saints and All Souls.  But Catholics need to mark this day for a deeper reason, too, they note:

“Another claim on the Catholic community is the church’s commitment to social justice. The violence against transgender persons — including bullying of children, the adult experiences of discrimination at work, physical intimidation and even murder — cries out for protest from a faith community that would witness to peace and justice. But there are obstacles as well. On many sexual and gender issues, official church statements do not always contribute to social healing.”

The Whiteheads note the spiritual dimension present in understanding gender and gender diversity:

“. . . human experience records a dazzling diversity in God’s creation, registered in humanity as well. When we find ourselves confused or even bewildered by the questions surrounding gender diversity, it is useful to recall that bewilderment sometimes serves virtuous purposes. As one historian of religion writes, bewilderment may ‘correct the inclination to unwarranted certainty.’ Our bewilderment, at first so unsettling, may serve as a portal to humility and open us to God’s extravagance so generously on display throughout the world.”

But they also touch on the biological and psychological dimensions of gender diversity, too, and links these to the spiritual dimension:

“We are more aware today that gender and anatomy are not the same. The first formation of gender takes place before we are born, under the influence of prenatal hormones that influence the fetal brain. While we are afloat in our mother’s womb, our tiny bodies and brains are awash in these hormones. Powerful chemicals prompt the gradual development of male or female genitalia, as well as inscribing a sense of gender identity in the brain. Most often, the baby’s anatomy will match the brain’s sense of gender identity. But not always. Most transsexuals as early as childhood experience a powerful and enduring dissonance between the gender their bodies display and their interior sense of themselves as woman or man. For many, the search for gender integrity will entail a long and painful struggle. Spiritual health depends on a sorting out of this disconnect and moving toward a harmony in their experience of gender identity.”

In surveying the positive Christian responses to transgender people, the Whiteheads note two Catholic interventions:

“A Catholic sister has developed Trans Awareness Evening to introduce more of the faithful to the challenges and hopes of transgender members of the body of Christ. She also offers simple ceremonies of blessing for persons preparing for gender-confirming surgery. In her spiritual direction with transgender persons themselves, she invites them to pray Psalm 139:  ‘It is you who formed my inmost parts. You knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.’ In the midst of such prayers, transgender hearts, long abused by social and religious rejection, begin to heal.”

And:

“Hilary Howes, a Catholic transsexual, writes in Conscience magazine: ‘I hope that Catholics would look at the body of scientific and medical evidence to develop a loving acceptance of those of us with this variation.’ She adds, ‘I understand that my journey, though personal, touches that which is universal about gender for everyone … looking at everything as us and them, black and white, male or female, is limiting and dangerous. Ultimately, welcoming the mystery of diversity in God’s plan is the healing for our church for which I most hope.’ “

Please keep all the victims of transgender hate crimes in your thoughts and prayers today.  Let us pray that Catholics, who have been so supportive of lesbian, gay, and bisexual issues, will continue to open their minds and hearts to the experiences and gifts of transgender people in our communities, too.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Radio Series Explores LGBT Issues from a Range of Religious Traditions

August 19, 2012

A unique and comprehensive series on a public radio program is exploring LGBT issues from a variety of faith traditions.

Interfaith Voiceshosted by Loretto Sister Maureen Fiedler, is offering “Gay in the Eyes of God:  How 12 Traditions View Gay and Lesbian People,”  a 12-part look at theology, spirituality, and lived reality of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people and issues.

Sister Fiedler describes the program on a National Catholic Reporter  blog:

Sister Maureen Fiedler

“Public opinion about homosexuality is changing rapidly, and civil law is not far behind. Gays and lesbians are increasingly open about their relationships and accepted. In some states, they now can marry legally and adopt children.

“But among those who are people of faith — with a few exceptions — gay men and lesbians wrestle with how to be faithful to their religious traditions while living fully the human reality in which they discover themselves. . . .

“This series offers much more than scriptural or theological conversations, although those are included. We hear the often poignant stories of gay and lesbian people struggling with who they are as they try to stay faithful to their respective traditions.”

Catholics are represented by four different people and perspectives:

Celestine and Hilary Ranney-Howes

“When we deal with Catholicism, we hear the story of Hilary and Celestine Ranney-Howes. This couple was heterosexually married — one man and one woman. . .  [Hilary, who married as a man, came to understand her] true identity was female, and she became a transsexual woman. Normally, such a change would lead to divorce, but Hilary’s wife, Celestine, realized she loved the person, not the gender, so they stayed together as a lesbian couple. Today, they worship in an “intentional eucharistic community” in the Washington, D.C., area where they feel accepted. [Hilary and Celestine led a focus session at New Ways Ministry's Seventh National Symposium in Baltimore this past March; some of their interview was conducted at that conference.]

Sister Jeannine Gramick

Eve Tushnet

“For our Catholic segment, I also interviewed Loretto Sr. Jeannine Gramick, a founder of New Ways Ministry, and Eve Tushnet, a young lesbian who believes she must remain celibate to be a faithful Catholic. Gramick explained the range of Catholic theological views on this subject, including the official view, and Tushnet said that she turned to works of Catholic mysticism for support in her lifestyle. Gramick noted that change is possible in Catholicism, but she does not expect it any time soon.”

The series also includes segments on evangelicalism (airing this week), the Black Church,Islam, Judaism, origins of the LGBT religious movement, Eastern religions, and other topics.

The series, which was made possible by a grant from the Arcus Foundation, began earlier this summer.  Each installment can be listened to on the radio show’s website.  Additional installments will be added to the archive as the series progresses.

Interfaith Voices is heard on 62 public radio stations across the nation, so check your local listings for when the program airs in your area.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Transgender Catholic Woman Is Featured in “Queer Catholic Faith” Webinar Series

April 10, 2012

Hilary Howes

Transgender Catholic issues will be the subject of the next installment of  DignityUSA’s webinar series, Queer Catholic Faith, on Tuesday, April 17, 2012, 9:00 pm, Eastern Time.  The featured guest will be Hilary Howes, a Catholic transgender woman living in Maryland.

Hilary’s life journey has been an inspiring one, since she not only transitioned from living as a man to living as a woman, but her previously heterosexual marriage to a woman remained intact through that transition.  Additionally, she is an adult convert to Catholicism, having turned to her wife’s faith after the gender transition process.  The couple are active members of the Greenbelt Catholic Community, an intentional Eucharistic community in Greenbelt, Maryland, a suburb of Washington, DC.

Ms. Howes has already shared her unique life-story in a variety of Catholic venues.  She authored the article, “To Be or Not to Be: A Catholic Transexual Speaks,” in the September 2010 issue of Conscience magazine, which she concluded with this paragraph:

“I understand that my journey, though personal, touches that which is universal about gender for everyone. Perhaps your notions of father, mother, brother, sister, husband and wife get 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 as us and them, black and white, male or female is limiting and dangerous. Ultimately, welcoming the mystery of diversity in God’s plan is the healing for our church for which I most hope.”

In September of 2011, she was a featured panelist at the first conference of the “More Than a Monologue” series, held at Fordham University, New York.  A National Catholic Reporter article on the event noted Hilary’s participation, observing that she offered her message of diversity with a strong dose of humor, with lines such as:

“I remain in my Catholic marriage of 33 years, to the most understanding woman in the world — making ours one of the few same-sex marriages affirmed by the Roman Catholic church.”

Most recently, Hilary, along with her wife, Celestine, were focus session leaders at New Ways Ministry’s Seventh National Symposium last month in Baltimore, Maryland.  Their presentation is available on CD; click here for the order form.

The DignityUSA webinar series kicked off last month with a conversation with Jamie Manson, an award-winning columnist for The National Catholic Reporter.  It will continue, Tuesday, May 22, 2012, 9:00 pm, Eastern Time, with Rev. John McNeill, theologian, psychotherapist, and pioneer of LGBT rights in the Catholic church.   The series concludes on Tuesday, June 12, 2012, 9:00 pm, Eastern Time, with Dr. Mary Hunt, theologian and co-founder of WATER (Women’s Alliance for Theology, Ethics, and Ritual).

To register for any of these webinars, go to: http://www.instantpresenter.com/PIID=EA55DC818346 or visit DignityUSA’s webpage for this event.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,036 other followers