The Pope and the Eunuchs
“I happen to believe that you can’t study men;
you can only get to know them.”
C. S. Lewis, That Hideous Strength
If you want to cut straight to the primary propositions of this admittedly longish essay, please scroll to the section Five Important Implications for Transsexuals Arising From Pope Francis’s Remarks. The first half of this piece addresses the current gaps and problems in how transsexuality is observed in mainstream Catholic opinion pieces.
Thank you for reading: I understand the intense emotions this subject evokes.
The First of October! Weather, golden. Contrition of withered leaves cross-hatched with burnished bronze sunlight. Easily my favourite season. Favourite month even. Starting off with my favourite saint’s Feast Day!
Last Saturday morning, typing on my blog (which is a pasture of rambly reflections) the inkling urge had itched its way from idea to draft. For the first time in ages, I wanted to write: something like a tribute letter to dearest St Thérèse of Lisieux, keeper of my tears and tender of the ikebana in my heart. How I love her, even referring to the saint of collected blossoms as my “heavenly BFF“, calling out to her gaze with an unrestrained childlike confidence, through wounded singing and temperamental prayers. St T: you who led me back to the Church; you, renowned for your lack of subtlety in terms of touching souls, who continually makes appearances in times of severe struggle. The scent of a rose-wreath wrapped around an old olive cross, dripping with the tresses of petals, each a pain of penance and a scapular of patience. Doctor, mystic, author of transformative Peace.
Beginning kicked off OK: first paragraph. But typing turned into sand, and my fingers choked on their own indecision. As a petition for intercession began in my head, for St T to approach Our Lady, as the zenith of love’s simplicity, on my behalf . . . as beseeching began — panic onset. An inexpressible ache except to those who have endured the inner delirium of sexual dysmorphia. The screen went blank with buried question marks:
In heaven, would St Thérèse refer to me as “he”to the cold shoulder of angels?
Me being who I am, uncertain of my continuing status in Canon Law or pastoral concerns . . . I’ve coped with the swelter of bad science made valid through media reiterations; of bishops launching contradictory declarations on “trans people” and “gender theory”, without ever defining either; of conservadox Catholic op-eds, eager for clickiest of controversies . . . and the incessant dismissal of transsexuals as deluded, hyper sexed, and loyal to filth and confusion. Overall, impossibly wrecked to approach the altar in clear conscience. As an actual transsexual (not transgender) Catholic trying to live faithfully and authentically according to the Church teaching — attending Mass daily whilst viewing a pulpit hardwaxed and polished by unclear opinions — the dread never departs. Has all hope or blessing been breathed out, once and for all, against me, like a defective candle snuffed in the brassy dark at the votive’s unseen end?
Whatever one’s individual opinion of transsexuality/gender theory/transgenderism, the earnestly practicing trans Catholic worships from a place of divine love but also human incoherence. Poster-board priestly invectives — which filter down to ground-level pewish derision — have borrowed heavily from the manual of insulting analogies: from the denigrating, the quaintly condescending. Worst: the eschatological similes of thermonuclear war; the apocalypse of insanity; and the Devil’s culminating hatchet job on the Divine Image of God. Every time “Catholic” and “transgender” appeared together in a headline, I flinch in readiness for the next cling-wrapped rebuke. Yes, there were some voices of support for us, but the cubiclist mentality of moral opining, assuming but not stipulating formal teaching, left little room for “shades of grey” engagement.
Sympathetic clergy, religious sisters, and congenial laity communicated to me in private, but avoided open interaction. How I wish I were a normal Catholic, I sighed. Because a transsexual Catholic is best not seen and most of all not heard. Don’t ask, don’t tell. Better yet, don’t come. Yet my faith informed me that it didn’t have to be this way: splitting my head against indifference. But who is listening? The editorials chastised us as pitiable but goat-headed. The marginal body like an irritating hangnail clipped from the corpus of the church. I’ve been expecting the excommunication order to come down against us from the CDF , quis ex, and that’d be the end. Such has the rhetoric ratcheted up into unsympathetic glee: the ultimate affliction of consumerist vanity — we, the fictional quasi-women who carve our likenesses out of the salubrious gloss of magazine covers.
In reality, the Catholic transsexual is a liminal verse, in a way the 21st-century version of Matthew 19: 12’s eunuchs:
“… there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let anyone accept this who can.”
And then yesterday! — the Pope offered a few surprising remarks — albeit in that most misinterpreted of all Vatican genres, the mid-air free-for-all colloquium. Notably, for the very first time, his observations shook me out of my chair with cautious optimism . . . we, as a Church, seemed to finally be coming into contact: and — “HEY,” I exclaimed, “THE POPE IS SAYING WHAT I’VE BEEN TRYING TO SAY!” Spirits lifted. Genuinely
The intercession from St T came through for me: my canonical fate had not been foreclosed, and my Church was developing a more nuanced approach, one of encounter rather than dismissal . . . And maybe, just maybe — a celibate, pro-life, trying-to-be-devout transsexual women like me … that I … that I could remain in the church I truly love and consider my life’s greatest treasure — being Catholic. Pope Francis offered to walk with me, not against me.
And my tears fell with the weight of mustard seeds.