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


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


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