Rick Santorum Affirms Bruce Jenner’s Coming Out, Revealing the Value of Sharing Stories

Rick Santorum, left, and Bruce Jenner

In an atypical remark, Catholic politician Rick Santorum spoke positively about Bruce Jenner’s coming out as trans* last weekend though the former U.S. senator has not shifted in his notoriously strong anti-gay  attitudes. Is this a sign that conservative Catholics might welcome trans* people more readily than gay, lesbian, and bisexual people?

Santorum was speaking to reporters in South Carolina last weekend when Buzzfeed asked him about Jenner’s high-profile interview with Diane Sawyer which aired last weekend to generally positive reviews from transgender advocates. In response, the former Senator said:

” ‘If [Bruce] says he’s a woman, then he’s a woman…My responsibility as a human being is to love and accept everybody. Not to criticize people for who they are. I can criticize, and I do, for what people do, for their behavior. But as far as for who they are, you have to respect everybody, and these are obviously complex issues for businesses, for society, and I think we have to look at it in a way that is compassionate and respectful of everybody.”

Santorum added, problematically, that regarding restroom usage, it was an issue to be left to businesses and private groups without the need for government interference. Still, for a former presidential candidate who famously compared homosexuality to incest and bestiality, this is an unexpected and relatively positive response.

The question now is why Santorum’s compassion and respect is not transferable to gay, lesbian, and bisexual people. I suggest it is because Santorum, and those who think similarly, improperly understand sexuality as a non-constitutive part of one’s identity, while gender identity is more readily accessible for them. Santorum’s differentiation between who people are and how they act is false when it comes to sexuality, perpetually reducing gay people to any possible genital expressions of this sexuality. He should admit that, just as questions of gender are complex and people’s self-identification should be respected, so too are matters of sexuality. All people must be respected for who they are.

Can trans* people’s witness to authenticity be a conduit for conservative Catholics to come around more broadly on matters of gender and sexuality?

Santorum’s comments are an invitation to LGBT Catholics and allies to reinvest ourselves in educating others, as Bruce Jenner’s interview did before the American public. Ignorance and miseducation are often at the core of LGBT opposition, rather than any particular animus. Though we may not all be interviewed by Diane Sawyer, we can share our stories and share our present lives with those in our families, our parishes, and our communities.

Editor’s Note: Though Jenner publicly identifies as a woman, he has not asked to be referred to by another name or female/alternative pronouns. News articles on the interview have widely kept referring to him as Bruce with male pronouns and so Bondings 2.0 follows suit.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

One Response to Rick Santorum Affirms Bruce Jenner’s Coming Out, Revealing the Value of Sharing Stories

  1. julie miller says:

    Great article! As for pronouns, Bruce consistently used the pronoun “her.” Thus, I think at this point the use of male pronouns is problematic, with female pronouns–or at least “they, them, their”–being more respectful choices.

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