DignityUSA Highlights Transgender Spirituality in Essay Series

James & Evelyn Whitehead

DignityUSA’s fall newsletter focused on transgender spirituality through three essays by James and Evelyn Whitehead, who open the discussion by saying it is “time to talk” about the sometimes forgotten “T” in LGBT.

The first essay, “Forsaking the Normal: Biblical Tales of Transformation,” explores Scripture where paradoxes and exceptions, rather than what is considered normal, are valued. Transformations abound in the examples they cite, leading the Whiteheads to write:

“A life that will not fit comfortably into the binary reality of male or female is not ‘normal.’ But, as we have seen, normalcy carries little weight in the biblical stories that tell of transformations that unseat our confident grasp of reality. Paradox and miracles are the stuff of Scripture. Does not the odyssey of a transgender person fit in this narrative of grace?”

Given that love is overly abundant in a divine economy and nature is wildly diverse, the lives of those identifying as gender diverse must be considered “not as deviance but as splendid variety.”

The second essay, “Graceful Bodies and the Play of Gender,” raises questions about how society forms gender and, relatedly, plays with gender in popular culture before explaining the biological and psychological factors at play with transgender identities.

The dissonance when anatomy and gender identity do not coincide can lead to lengthy interior journeys, often ending when a transgender person transitions, defined as “the courageous effort to integrate one’s inner gender identity with outward gender expressions. For the person undergoing it, their loved ones, and the communities, this can be a very spiritual journey.” The Whiteheads write:

“In a life of discipleship, as we follow the path of Jesus Christ, cultural differences and prejudices begin to fall away. We come to see that human nature is not simply a biologically determined essence; we recognize that ‘the natural is not primarily what we are given, but rather what we are called to become.’ We become more capable of welcoming those who differ from us, even those whom society has rejected. In our support for transgender persons, compassion and justice embrace as we glimpse intimations of the coming Reign of God.”

The third and final essay, “Transgender Lives and Catholic Hospitality,” the Whiteheads examine a faithful response to the problem today where transgender people are still quite invisible to society. While legal advances and some faith outreach are underway in protecting the rights of and promoting welcome to transgender people, much work remains. Catholicism’s long-emphasized virtue of hospitality is one possible source for the church to respond to those who are gender diverse, as it includes both the welcome and compassionate care which all people desire.

James and Evelyn Whitehead, a theologian and developmental psychologist respectively, have written widely on contemporary Christian spirituality, including LGBT issues. Offered here are only brief summaries of what are rich essays helpful for those desiring to know more about transgender issues overall, and those desiring a spiritual reflection on the infinite goodness and diversity of God’s creation. You can find each essay in full by clicking here.

In addition, this is only part one of DignityUSA’s exploration of transgender spirituality and Bondings 2.0 will update as this series emerges. You can read more about DignityUSA itself in a recent write up at Believe Out Loud, available here.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

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