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.
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.
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