I have had limited interaction with transgender people. I became more aware when personal pronouns became more present in communications. Over the past couple of years, I have come to know people who have changed their gender. I have heard maternity ward nurses say they could tell at birth that a baby’s given gender and intended gender were not aligned. Friends who are parents have shared of having their teen transform grief and self-destructive behavior into joy and relief when their gender affirmation was complete.
I’ve also gotten to know a 68-year-old who changed her gender from male to female when she was forty. Her name is Hilary Howes and she is the founder of the TransCatholic Apostolate. She writes and advocates for the dignity and inclusion of transgender laity in the Catholic Church. Hilary remains married to her wife of 45 years; she and her partner are active leaders of our weekly worship at the Greenbelt Catholic Community.
A couple of weeks ago, Hilary raised in prayer the need to stop the attacks on transsexual adults and children occurring in state legislatures across the country. The politicization of this issue, like many others, challenges us all to consider: what would inclusiveness mean to Jesus and other moral leaders? What would equity and the right to live in dignity mean?
For those less familiar with this issue, the following is a letter written by Hilary in March 2023 to the Catholic Bishops who make up the Policy Committee of the US Catholic bishops. Her letter is a reaction to a policy statement issued by the Catholic Bishop’s Policy Committee condemning gender-affirming medical interventions. Her letter challenges those in leadership in all our institutions – government, religious and community – to openly explore this important issue. She has not received a response.
To the Catholic Bishops Policy Committee:
I have received your DOCTRINAL NOTE ON THE MORAL LIMITS TO TECHNOLOGICAL MANIPULATION OF THE HUMAN BODY with great sadness and concern. I am a 68-year-old transgender woman who was baptized Catholic after my transition at 40. I have been married to a catholic woman for 45 years now. I’m blessed to feel the contentment of having my body now physically aligned with my brain, mind, and soul with medical interventions you seek to limit. So your document does not harm me personally except to know your disapproval of a process that is approved by Medical, Psychological, Scientific, Legal professions and many religious communities.
I am saddened especially for the transgender people who often desperately need these effective interventions. They may forgo Catholic medical care. I am also saddened for Catholic parents of transgender children who, while they are facing very difficult decisions, will feel the burden of your disapproval.
Like you, I grew up in a time when we never heard about transgender people. I understand that it can seem very confusing to be confronted by so many people now that do not fit into simple male and female categories. But the people we know as transgender today have always existed in every culture and throughout the centuries. Scientifically gender identity is formed in the brain while still in the womb but at a different time than sexual attraction or genitalia. 99% of the time it matches the genitalia so it can seem like it is only natural to have it match. One percent of the time it doesn’t. But I believe transgender people are created by God, just as are the blind, the deaf and the left-handed. The dysphoria of living with that mismatch is truly unimaginable to cisgender people but deeply affects our lives just as being deaf or blind does for others.
I had to go through a spiritual journey that led me to accept the gender that God had given me and be humble enough to make the physical changes that would share that with the world. I undertook a period of discernment which included research, study, community, psychological evaluation, courage, prayer, deep reflection and noticing my movement toward inner peace. I actually tried every other way to cope with my difference before submitting to God’s will for me.
My life blossomed as a woman: creatively and career-wise. My relationship with my wife deepened. I made friends and found a spiritual life now that I am living authentically as the woman God had intended not as the man the doctor identified as by my external genitalia. Twenty years after I started living as a woman, I was able to have gender confirmation surgery. In my case, it was not the life-or-death issue as a younger unmarried person might have. It was the chance to finally feel the unity of body and soul that cisgender people take for granted. It has truly been a godsend. Prior to surgery, I was attempting to treat gender dysphoria. Now I am able to simply live as the woman I prayed to God to be as a child.
I attend Mass every week with my wife in a Catholic community that accepts and affirms us. My spiritual call to service brought me to create TransCatholic.org, to write, and advocate for the dignity and inclusion of transgender laity. It’s brought me in touch with many of the faithful that will be so harmed by this Doctrinal Note. I beg you to consider withdrawing this policy. The lives of families affected by gender identity dysphoria are tough enough without the Church weighing in on decisions that have to be extremely personal and individual. The medical care in this area has been providing effective solutions for almost 100 years now and societies have been providing compassionate solutions for centuries.
I care deeply for the church and I am concerned that a doctrinal statement like this will only further serve to alienate a younger generation from any participation in Catholicism.
I’m available for further discussion and conversation. If I can be of any service in moderating your statement, please do contact me.