Para mi querida Iglesia,
For a long time I have struggled with my relationship with you—at times proud of my Catholic faith, at times ashamed and hurt by my Catholic faith, at times a combination of all of this and much more. My journey of faith has been incredible and filled with experiences that I am grateful for and whose insights I continue to learn from today. At the same time I recognize that you do not accept me as me; you accept parts of who I am but do not embrace me as a blessing that was and is created in the diversity and vastness of God.
It look me a long time to admit that I was angry at you and was being hurt by you.
However, before I get too far ahead, let’s start at the beginning. Dramatic voice change reminiscent of a combination of Charlton Heston and James Earl Jones: “In the beginning…”
Mi lucha, my struggle, has been a journey of going from a black and white world to a world that thrives and abounds with color—a journey of living into both/and-edness. As I look back at my life, I realize that growing up I noticed and knew that there was something different about me; however, I did not know quite what it was or have language to express what I was experiencing.
I had a feeling that I did not feel right in my own body and I was not like other boys or girls. In a Latin@ and Catholic household and community, being “different” or living outside boxes was not an option, period. My family was very involved in church justice work, especially missionary work. Advocating for the marginalized was a commitment and calling that was a part of me and would evolve over the years. I didn’t realize initially that my desire for solidarity with marginalized communities would ultimately propel me into queer advocacy.
I was confused for a long time and decided not to deal with it.
I repressed many feelings that did not fit into the black and white paradigm of gender that stemmed from growing up Catholic and Latin@; many of the strict expectations of gender did not make sense to me or click with me.
Growing up, I knew gays and lesbians were out there (but other identities like bi or trans were completely unknown). I was taught that being gay or lesbian was sinful and immoral. I was taught that it went against my culture and that it went against the teachings of the church. I unwillingly adopted and conformed to some of the standards because I was scared of the ramifications if I did not. For many Latin@ communities, the smallest unit of self is the family—my struggle was not only my own but would ripple into and through my entire familia.
I feared being a disgrace to my familia and being the relative that no one talked about. I looked to you, mi querida Iglesia, for guidance but was greeted with rigidity and lack of opportunity to ask questions.
I felt trapped and had no one that I could really talk too.
I did not understand why I could not play piano like my sisters but had to take Tae Kwon Do for 7 years until I was a black belt (unlike my sisters). I did not understand why my step-father did not like that I cooked but encouraged (or coercively forced) my sisters to cook and be in the kitchen in preparation for being a good Cuban wife. It bothered me that my uncle and cousin put pressure on me to have many girlfriends and be macho; while my sisters were strictly and sternfully told to be pure like the Virgen Maria.
At CCD and in youth group we were taught what was expected of a good Catholic boy and a good Catholic girl—our bodies were places of sin that needed to be punished and sexuality was not to be explored until after marriage. A lot of these messages I internalized (even expressed them to others as the poster child for the Catholic Church), but I was painfully confused; I was lost and caught between a world of latino machismo and restrictive Catholic masculinity forcefully engrained into me and an inner sense of not wanting to conform and luchar for my true self to be affirmed and bienvenid@.
The first time I came out, I was 21. I had just returned to the US from studying at a seminary in the Dominican Republic. My church and my family disowned me. After going through everything other people wanted me to do such as prayer, confession, reparative therapy, and self-bashing, I realized that there had to be another way. The vindictive and judgmental God that was being used to control me and fracture my personhood was not the God of love, solidarity, and compassion that I was raised with. This was the beginning of an arduous and enriching journey of wrestling with God and trying to live into a radical understanding of beingness in the world.
When I was 25/26, I had another coming out experience.
I realized that I had haphazardly labeled myself as gay because it was all I knew, but I was also aware that the gay label didn’t truly reflect who I was. I had a second coming out and epiphany about my personhood when I discovered my transgender identity and understanding that transgender represented a family of identities.
These identities resonated with me and reflected who I was as a person, made my youth make better sense (the little kid who would dress up in my mother’s and sisters’ clothing behind everyone’s back and who tearfully pray every night to wake up in a girl’s body), and became a first step in the dance of embracing my sexuality, spirituality, and gender as a two-spirited or both/and person.
As I began to venture into the world of sexuality and gender, questions, doubts, and issues with Church enforced gender binaries and Latin@ expectations began to rise. I began to learn language that explained this “something more” that was luchando inside of me in relation to gender than just the binary imposed onto me by my family, Church, and culture. If the Church and my Latin@ roots struggle with gay and lesbian people forcing them to fit into the binaries of male and female with no room for variation, what will they do with those of us who transcend categories or binaries?
It is a scary thing, and I question where is God in this whole mess, but I also know that God is in the in-betweeness of messiness.
I have many questions about what being transgender and a person of faith means in my life. Through discernment and late night conversations with God and heart to hearts with friends, I have found wholeness in realizing that there is no one way to be Catholic and no one way to be transgender (let alone not one way to be combinations of both).
All of us are on a journey of living into wholeness and of finding home in our bodies and selves. Transition is not a process of changing who we are, but of affirming and celebrating who we have always been, who we are, and who we will live into being. The details of what is to come will reveal themselves as I strive to be authentic to who I am, with no right or wrong way of being trans and/or Catholic and/or Latin@, for it is about being true to me as a child of God which is as an act of being in solidarity with creation.
Coming into my wholeness as a transgender person has helped me to see creation as something that is, not was. It is ongoing, it is dynamic—my transition is an invitation to co-create with God, for the divine and me to be in solidarity with each other as we create and recreate wholeness in myself, in others, and in the wider world.
In my lucha to claim and rant my isnesses as a queer trans Catholic, I am faced with a society and church that categorizes people into suffocating neat little boxes—limitations that are also placed on the awesomeness of God.
By deconstructing gender to reconstruct wholeness, I have come to understand and believe that we are a borderland people created in the amazingness of GOD.
For a long time I struggled with “God created male and female in God’s image” wondering what this meant for me as a trans* person who embodied both male and female. But as I was being interviewed for a friend’s article on transgender spirituality, I was graced with a new understanding of what it means to be created in the image of God—a God who is complex, multifaceted, multivocalic and who like dwells in the borderland of male and female.
It has been very exciting and liberating and healing for me and for many others who transgress la frontera of gender to come to know God as transgender and as queer. It is this God who lovingly created us, graced us, blessed us as good; not just select pieces of us, but the whole person with all our quirks, contradictions, bloopers, passions, and gifts.
In sharing my experience with you, mi querida Iglesia, of living the both/and of gender I hope to share helpful insights to help you embrace those who are struggling to reconcile different identities within their personhood. For me, being equally blessed is not about working to create spaces that only tolerate me; the goal is to create spaces that actively, boldly, and wholeheartedly celebrate all of who we are with our goods, our quirks, and our whole complex, rich, contradictory, sacred humanity.
Mi querida Iglesia, I was angry for a long time and was letting bitterness take over.
However, I have come to a place of healing where I am not dwelling in the anger but finding ways to advocate for conversations within and beyond the Church on sexuality and gender. Perhaps a piece of me will always feel hurt and angry—there are a lot of wounds and scars that need to be discovered and mended, but not erased.
I don’t know if you still claim me as family, I have been told that I have self-excommunicated myself. Though you may not claim me in the family, I will continue to challenge you to widen the circle as Jesus did and affirm ALL members of the family as equally blessed.
And so I will continue to raise questions, knowing that I am in the company and communion of many who have lived before who also questioned who were once deemed heretics and now celebrated as saints. As I reflect and reflect and rereflect on our Catholic faith, I have come to tearfully and joyfully embrace Trans Catholicism—a Catholicism that has always been there but was hidden and never taught to me. Why do we not delve into the depths of being created in the diversity of God; if our God is vast and beyond our understanding, will not God’s reflection in us as creations also reflect that vastness?
It was recently that I came to discover transgender narratives in the Bible and in our Catholic tradition.
We have a rich history of people who did not conform to society’s understanding of gender? Folks like Joan of Arc, Deborah in the Book of Judges, Mary Magdalene, the Ethiopian Eunuch, Hildegard of Bingen, Teresa of Avila, Marinus, and many more who transgressed gender norms provocatively and prophetically—why do we not teach and celebrate this history?
Even our heavenly Mother, Mary, transgressed norms. Her “yes,” which we continue to celebrate as a source for inspiration of embracing God’s call, challenged her society’s expectations for women (and some will argue even society today’s gender expectations) by taking her life and her calling into her own hands. Why are these reflections and questions so threatening? Why am I so threatening? Like others, I just want to be accepted as a person who is whole, not an abomination who is disordered. Why do you try suffocating God and so many of us who live outside gender binaries in boxes?
As I conclude my letter, I realize that it is not an end but the beginning of a journey of self, spiritual, and vocational exploration—a journey that I hope you will be a part of. I am not sure where my spicy rambunctious determination to break binaries will take me. I will get dirt in my falda as I walk, but that will not stop me from moving forward and discerning what step to take next in this baile y lucha.
Coming into my own publicly will be a journey where God walks with me and holds me.
It is my hope that God will also walk with and hold others through me. I pray that you will one day see that not only in me but in so many other churchless transgender Catholics who like your other members are equally blessed, equally loved, and equally Catholic.
¡Amen, que asi sea!
Together in the struggle and resilience of faith,
Photo by flickr user Eric E Castro