Lessons to Be Learned from Pope’s Meeting With Transgender Man

Diego Neria Lejárraga

The story of Pope Francis meeting with a transgender man and his fiancee at the Vatican a few weeks ago made headlines around the globe. Because the Vatican would neither confirm nor deny the meeting, and since most of the information about the event was based on a single interview that the Spanish regional newspaper Hoy conducted with Diego Neria Lejárraga, only sketchy details emerged.

Additional information from a Crux article provides more insight into the life of this man and his struggle to accept his gender identity.  An additional analysis of the meeting by a U.K. transgender Catholic woman also adds some valuable thoughts about the transgender religious experience.

In the Crux article, Lejárraga explains his journey:

“My jail was my own body. Because it absolutely didn’t correspond with what my soul felt. I didn’t know one happy summer when I could go to the pool with my friends.”

And while he longed to transition, he refrained from doing so to honor his mother’s wishes:

‘He also said he waited until age 40 to undergo the surgery because his mother, ‘the soul of my life,’ asked him to wait until after she had died — ‘And for her, I’d wait one and a thousand lives.’ ”

“He said his mother wasn’t rejecting him, but rather, she was afraid that those in their small city of Plasencia, in Spain, would reject him.”
And his mother was correct, as he ended up receiving mistreatment and ostracization from his local parish, with even a priest calling him “the devil’s daughter.”
But, not all local church officials mistreated him.  The news story explains that a local bishop supported him, and even aided him with getting his letter to Pope Francis:
“He sent the letter through his local bishop, Monsignor Amadeo Rodríguez Magro, in whom Lejárraga has found ‘encouragement, comfort, and support.’ Magro personally delivered the letter to the Vatican.”
Jane Fae

Jane Fae, a U.K. journalist who is a Catholic transgender woman, was very moved by the pope’s gesture, though disappointed that the Vatican would not confirm the meeting.   Writing in The Catholic Heraldshe sees this dichotomy of welcome vs. denial as a dangerous way for the Church to operate:

“Heart and head. Cautious traditionalism versus celebration of life. Even, perhaps, careless idealism versus responsible conservatism. Many, it seems, are already defining this papacy in terms of easy dichotomy. My sense is that the real issues are more complicated, and it is far from clear who is really using their head: which ‘side’ has thought through the implications of what it means to be a world religion in an increasingly secular 21st century. For me, the Church was always thus.”
Fae describes the struggle of transition:
“There is often an assumption that the defining moment is the point at which you go under the surgeon’s knife. Not so. Apart from the perfectly rational fear associated with any major operation, there was not a shred of doubt in my mind that that step was right for me. Real difficulty arrived in daily living: the discovery that, however ordinary my life pre-transition, I was now extraordinary in every sense: both as a public property and a target. I was on the receiving end of more threats of violence in the first year of transition than in the 20 years that preceded.”
And the experience also brought fear, but also joy:
“It was a truly scary time, even when among friends – and one of the absolute scariest moments for me was my very first Sunday in church en femme. I shook in fear as I entered. I was in tears, albeit of joy, when I left. What got me through was the love, support and acceptance of others in the congregation – especially from the ‘mums’ brigade,’ several of whom quite literally held my hand the first time I approached the altar.”
Which brings Fae back to the importance of Pope Francis’ welcoming gesture:
“As to the Pope’s simple act of hugging a transgender man, it may look like an action that springs from the heart – as, indeed, I firmly believe it did. But in the longer term, the road now being travelled by Francis is the only rational one: because if we cannot win people’s hearts through joy and through love, we certainly won’t argue them into submission.”
These are words that all church leaders and laity should take to heart.
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

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