Transgender and Catholic: A parent’s perspective


Fifty years ago this year, the church restored the permanent diaconate, opening the doors to married clergy who brought and continue to bring with them all the joys, sorrows, and complexities of family life to ordained ministry.

In the case of my family, that included first-hand experience with LGBT people.

In the fall of 2013, at the beginning of our oldest child’s sophomore year at Georgetown University, she came out as transgender.

With that news, my family found itself plunged into questions and issues that surround families of faith with LGBT children.

If there is one truth that has become evident, it is that the reality transgender people live is miles from public perception.

Ongoing legal battles for the transgender community (including over the use of public restrooms) demonstrate how pervasive the misunderstandings and prejudices about gender identity continue to be.

In the case of the church specifically, a series of formal and informal statements has called into question the very existence of transgender individuals and has warned about “an ideology of gender,” described as an ideology that seeks to eliminate sexual differences in society, thereby undermining the basis for the family.

I respect the theology and the good intentions that underlie these statements, but I think they are based on lack of knowledge and experience and false information about transgender individuals.

My wife and I are cradle Catholics and have large extended families that are predominantly Catholic.

Our three children all attended Catholic schools, including Catholic colleges.

After decades of active lay ministry in the church, including various marriage enrichment programs, I was called to the diaconate, was ordained a permanent deacon in 2009, and completed my master’s degree in theology in 2011.

The overly simplistic, often negative message about LGBT individuals from the church that was so important in our daughters upbringing only served to aggravate her circumstance.

To our dismay, our daughter descended into a deep depression during high school and attempted suicide.

Almost overnight we went from the usual parental worries about grades and college applications to just trying to get her through her junior year of high school alive.

My daughter’s depression would eventually lead to her questioning of gender identity.

This was intimately connected with her mental health struggles.

We now understand that, like many LGBT individuals struggling with the decision to come out, she was faced with what seemed like an unsolvable dilemma: Either continue to deny who she really was or come out and risk losing her entire world of family, friends, and faith.

This inner battle drove her to consider suicide.

The overly simplistic, often negative message about LGBT individuals from the church that was so important to her upbringing only served to aggravate that situation.

As for my wife and me, we experienced the full range of thoughts and emotions that any parent does when a son or daughter comes out.

There was shock at the news, a lack of understanding of gender issues, internal conflict about what the church teaches about human sexuality, confusion and guilt about what we should do as parents, profound sadness at what felt like the loss of the person who had been our son, and fear and worry for what the future would hold for her.

There were arguments, tears, sleepless nights, and prayers—lots of prayers.

Over time we realized that we hadn’t lost the person who had been our son but, when she embraced her gender identity, we got our child back. Continue reading

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