Pro Life Catholics and Transgendered Persons

Transgendered persons, as an emerging minority group, are becoming newly visible in the medis.  Unfortunately this attention usually arises from the fact  that people are being attacked, bullied, excluded and even killed.  The transgendered population now join homosexual and lesbian individuals who have suffered from their “difference.”  This is a moment for Pro Life Catholics to take the lead in offering protection and acceptance.     

More is at issue than the Church’s efforts to see that all human persons are granted dignity and rights in a just society.  In addition Catholics are committed to protecting the value of embodied human life in all its varied forms, from embryo to fetus to infant, child, adult, and the impaired and dying.  Difference and uniqueness of development characterize bodily life.     


The current secular culture does not yet affirm the rights of nascent fetal life and also tends to reject bodies that do not meet favored norms of health and beauty.  Within the Church other rejections can exist.  Many intra church arguments have arisen over gender identity, gender orientation and acceptable expressions of embodied love.  The varied and complex unique development of each human body has been downplayed.  One adult heterosexual model of the reproductive “nuptial body” has been validated as the privileged norm.

It seems important at this point for Catholics to develop a deeper and more comprehensive  theology of the body.   We need an approach taking in new scientific, theological and experiential lived findings.  Our Pro Life witness and understanding can be expanded and deepened.  What for instance are the implications for this age of bodily resurrection and our membership in the body of Christ?  In the meantime, waiting for an expanded conversation, and/or a new ecumenical council, Catholics can seek to protect and value all nascent and different lives.

Sidney Callahan


Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
ed gleason
7 years 5 months ago
Sidney C. Good points..  Pax Christi pro life will embrace such a stance more loudly. and we need to ignore the fear/calls of some that giving attention and justice to this very small minoruty will 'use this [concern] as a political weapon'    What? attack the commonwealth.???  Bullies rights rule?  
David Pasinski
7 years 5 months ago
It would be extremely helpful to all to talk with someone who has made the difficult decision to live a transgendered lifestyle and, most likely, to have some hormonal treatment and surgery.  There are some well done biographies and autobiographies that would sensitize all to individuals who recognize the necessity of making this choice.
7 years 5 months ago
The real crime is these supposed doctors who mutilate these poor people who think that they are in the wrong body.  Change the body rather than change your mind!  If you care about human life then you would try to stop these doctors from taking advantge of these people.
Stanley Kopacz
7 years 5 months ago
For me, thE transgendered experience is easier to imagine than being gay.  There's no thought experiment that can make me see a man as anything more attractive than a lawn tractor.  But for a transgender thought experiment, I can turn to the old science fiction trope of the brain transplant or transmigration of minds.  It happened once to Captain Kirk on Star Trek.  A man wakes up in a female body.  He is still a man inside but looks down to see things are radically different, and wrong.  Everyone perceives him now as a woman but he knows that they don't see the real him.  Gender is wired in the brain/mind.  I can see this body/mind mismatch occurring sometimes.  Embronic development is so complex.  I don't think it's imagined.  I don't think it's a joke, either.   Glad it never happened to me.  How can one have anything other than compassion for anybody it did happen to?
Brian Killian
7 years 5 months ago
For all Sidney Callahan talks of embodiment, she is a radical dualist. Her views on sexuality are practically gnostic.

It's too bad America still can't be trusted to stay within reasonable bounds of Catholic faith. 
Andy Buechel
7 years 5 months ago
Thanks for this, Sidney C.  Your reflections are spot on and show far more nuance (unsurprisingly) than many others.  I also wonder about the question of intersex persons who are born with either both or some sort of ambiguous configuration of genitals.  This is an equally troubling issue, perhaps more so, and also a more direct confrontation with the Church's current understanding of gender and sexuality since it directly contradicts-from nature-the idea that there are two and only two sexes and correspoinding genders.
Stanley Kopacz
7 years 5 months ago
Andy Buechel's comments remind me of the ending of Flannery O'Connor's short story "A Temple of the Holy Spirit".  The little girl narrator slips into a circus freak show tent with a half man/half woman as the attraction.  He/she admonishes the audience not to mock because God made him/her like this.  Flannery O'Connor's writing never ceases to amaze.
Stanley Kopacz
7 years 5 months ago
Forgot to mention that, in O'Connor's story, this odd sexually mixed human body was also a "temple of the Holy Spirit".  What an amazing way to illustrate a point.
Stanley Kopacz
7 years 5 months ago
Correction:  O"Conor's story was titled"Temple of the Holy GHOST"  Pre-Vatican II.  Sorry.
PJ Johnston
7 years 5 months ago
I suspect that the standard concept of being "transgender" in which you imagine there are just two genders (male and female) and that a transgender person is defined by being physically the opposite sex to their inner gender is probably too simple a model.  There are more possibilities for gender than that, and correspondingly more ways of being gender queer.  It's beautiful and refreshing to see these issues being considered on this blog, however!

I'm physically female and I don't think either option of the traditional gender binary fits - both masculine and feminine pronouns clearly feel "wrong," though I am much more annoyed by being gendered in an explicitly feminine way than the opposite.  (Ask Fr. Clooney, who once referred to me as "Ms. Johnston" on this blog!)  The closest historical model I can think of for my gender and sexuality map is the "pais" or adolescent boy partner in male homosexal relationships in ancient Greece, but there isn't really a word for that concept in contemporary English.

I probably won't ever seek out surgical reassignment ($$$), though if there were a magic wand that could switch my physical appearance to correspond to my self image, I'd certainly wave it.  School sucked, with people bullying me constantly (there were probably other issues involved here too) and calling me a dyke or queer from a very early age.  I seem to have disturbed teachers, who tried to persuade me not to always to center first-person perspective in creative writing projects on a male character.  Wearing dresses or making my hair up in a "girly" way feels roughly like a straight, cisgender male going around in drag, and it has always made me squirm.  It is however socially mandatory on many "dress-up" occasions as one is growing up.  When I was in my early twenties I decided to lose my first name because it and all of its common nicknames are too feminine - for awhile I was enduring the awkwardness of saying "Just call me Johnston!" in all my classes.  I realized that wouldn't work in church and finally settled on PJ.  I had to totally lose my name and the social identity associated with that name to get anywhere close to feeling I was not totally disconnected from the "real" me.  In recent years I've been butching up my physical appearance with suits and ties, and when I got my head shaved in India as part of some research on a Catholic shrine where that is done, I realized it was perfect as it made me look much more like how I feel, so I've kept my head shaven since then.  There are many more awkward and hostile moments now when I have to decide which public bathroom to use or I go to church (it is clear to me that most parishioners would rather I were not in the congregation).  This marked hostility is so new that I'm still trying to get an idea of all the forms it might take and how I will deal with them, but it's definitely unpleasant.  People seem to take a masculine-appearing, bald woman as an extremely threatening thing.  When I travel in extremely rural or conservative areas, I do worry somewhat about the possibility of violence.  I was harrassed when travelling for a family funeral in the rural Ozarks this summer when waiting for my father to meet me at a convenience store when the clerk called in a state trooper (in his words) "run off the queer in the big brown truck" (fortunately the trooper was none too impressed when he arrived on the scene and realized that I wasn't doing anything bad, he just had a conservative storekeeper on his hands who thought it was OK to call the law to run off LBGTQ people).  I'm not certain that all troopers would have had such rectitude.
Amy Ho-Ohn
7 years 5 months ago
PJ, you sound relatively cool, so I figured I'd tell you what I think I've discovered about being transgendered. I'm biologically female, but mentally ambiguous too. When I was your age, I probably felt rather male, but after a lifetime of living in a female body, and seeing the crappy way a lot of men treat women, I've got to the point where I sure hope I'm not much like a man.

So the main thing I should tell you is that being trans is the absolute coolest thing to be. The world is full of things which are just designed to be fun as heck for us: sailboats, telescopes, bassoon, big dogs, and computer programming are just a few of the things to which we are exceptionally well-suited. We're also generally less imprudent with money than gender-typicals, so we often can afford expensive toys.

The worst time to be trans is childhood; it's infuriating how many grown-ups think they can make a kid act femmy if they just hit her enough. But we usually survive (You did, obviously.) because we have a built in "thblptblptblpt" defense mechanism. The second worst time is adolescence, when the gender-typicals go completely nuts on that conformity thing. Oh well, "thblptblpt," as we say. The next worst time is your twenties, when social life is dominated by everybody else's need to size each other up and see who will be a good breeding partner. Also, it can be awfully hard to get off the ground professionally without either male privilege or female coquettery.

Life starts getting good in your thirties. But you really have to get beyond forty to realize what an enormous source of creativity and insight it is to be trans. Once you're forty, you can see through everybody's BS; some of it is still annoying, but mostly it's just hilarious. And all those years everybody else spent flirting and pairing off and fighting and splitting up and sueing each other we spent acquiring useful skills and saving money. And, best of all, most of your coaevals are fat, ugly, desiccated old wrecks, which kind of renders the whole question of "who thinks who is hot" moot.

I know what you mean about people not wanting you in their church sometimes. ("thblptblpt") But maybe you just haven't found the right parish yet. Skip the VII looney bins and the Tridentine S&M parlors; they're both really into that conformity thing. My parish is run by Redemptorists, and the front door says their mission is to the "marginalized." Everybody is out of spec: ancient, obese, illiterate, paraplegic, mentally retarded, unemployed: nobody notices a trannie.

It's really not that dangerous anymore, but weirdos do exist. Get a good fast car with all the safety precautions and keep up with maintenance. Learn to use a gun, keep it handy and be prepared to use it. That's my advice.
PJ Johnston
7 years 5 months ago

There are men with breasts and women who can hide them, you know.

I am rather fond of the hairdo and the clothes, and probably the Virgin Mary is too.  Plus, I couldn't let this guy (or anybody else) outdo me in Marian devotion!


Thanks for all the kind and helpful thoughts.  The big brown truck has a powerful engine and is permanently equipped with a metal baseball bat, in case it is ever needed.  I really wish that Tridentine S&M parlors were less irresistible or had less of a hangup with conformity or that there were better parish choices in the area, or possibly all of the above.  It sounds like you found a great place.
Hilary howes
7 years 5 months ago
I am a transsexual woman and I apreciate Sidney's conclusion that as good Catholics we should be welcoming to all gender expressions. There is no public teaching on transgender people by the church and yet there are many news report of their poor treatment by the institutional church. I understand why it would be so hard for cisgender people to understand this naturaly occuring variation that only happens to less than 1 in 1000 live births. It is much easier for people to imagine that it is some sort of madness but all the best medical evidence points to our gender identity being inborn and that is certianly born out by my experience an that of perhaps 150,000 other American transgender Catholics. I can assure Joe who suggests we change our minds rather than our bodies that anyone who can do that does so. For those of us who have discerned that the incongurity is unbearable phyical transition is the only medicaly approved and posibly church approved option. But regardless of our understanding we are called to be loving and careing for all of gods creation as Sidney points out.
I go into more detail in my blog.
Lily McBeth
7 years 5 months ago
It is encouraging to see dialogue in the Catholic Community on this subject.
The point of dignity for all of God's creatures and the related social justice that follows from it is but a continium of the Gospel mesage to love one anoter.
      I like Hilary H. am a Transexual woman. I happen to be blessed with an open and welcoming parish and Pastor.My spiritual growth ahs been enhance by participation in a number of ministries over the years including Altar server,Choir Member,Euchristic Minister and Bible Study Group. Granted there are some in the congregation who no doubt prayer for my dissapearence. That will happen when I am called to go home to my God & Savior. HE alone is the judge.Not of my outward appearence ,but of my soul.
Theology? How about the quote which I have published. A SOUL HAS NO GENDER.
                                                                Lily B. McBeth
7 years 5 months ago
Is surgically mutilating a perfectly healthy body any different than a permanent costume or make up.  Is this reality or a disguise.  I agree with Lily when she says: ''HE alone is the judge.Not of my outward appearence ,but of my soul.''

Then why change the outward appearance?  It might make you look like a man or woman but it does not change who you are.  You cannot really run from this reality.

I suspect that in most transsexual persons this outward facade does not really satisfy the emotional distress that they feel (and in fact that is what the medical data would indicate).  There is good data that would indicate that doctors who give in to this type of surgery are not helping the patient.  Many acedemic institutions have quietly stopped doing this surgery precisely because of this concern.

Compassionate doctor or Catholic means more than giving in to a patient's desires. Below are some of Johns Hopkins data.  They stopped doing these procedure in part because of this data. (

Derogatis LR, Meyer JK, Vazquez N. A psychological profile of the transsexual. I. The male. J Nerv Ment Dis. 1978 Apr;166(4):234-54.

Meyer JK, Reter DJ. Sex reassignment. Follow-up. Arch Gen Psychiatry. 1979 Aug;36(9):1010-5.

Meyer JK. The theory of gender identity disorders. J Am Psychoanal Assoc. 1982;30(2):381-418.

William G. Reiner, M.D., and John P. Gearhart, M.D.  N Engl J Med 2004; 350:333-341January 22, 2004
Andy Buechel
7 years 5 months ago
I'm not quite sure what you think the studies you post prove.  Most are 30 years old and have been subjected to much critical analysis.  The First Things post you cite (the link doesn't work by the way) has been heavily critiqued as well.  I'll grant that that isn't the most scholarly, but the first that popped up and has good links.

I'm especially uncertain what your posting of the Rainer article is intended to prove.  First of all, this isn't about transexualism or transgenderism at all, but rather about intersex persons whose genitals don't aling with their genetic makeup at birth.  First, this begs the question of which is the "real" sex, the genitals or the genes.  Secondly, it records that 8 out of 14 persons born with male genes and raised female identified as male later on.  Which of course means that six didn't.  So what is the point you're trying to make?  And I presume you would be against any surgery on intersex children as "bodily mutilation", or else how do you reconcile your position on the two phenomena?

Finally, you only speak about transexuals who undergo reassignment surgery.  There are many transgender persons who do not.  I am sure those who posted here appreciate the window you have into their psyches, however.


The latest from america

Even in our relationships with family and friends, forgiveness can be hard to come by.
Pope Francis has accepted the resignation of Cardinal Ricardo Ezzati, the archbishop of Santiago, Chile, the Vatican announced on March 23.
Gerard O’ConnellMarch 23, 2019
Sister Bibiana Emenaha
A combination of a rapidly growing population, extreme poverty, unemployment and armed conflict push people to cross Nigeria’s porous borders in search of a better life.
Linus UnahMarch 22, 2019
As we come to grips with a national history of violence, greed and racialized privilege, this fable of noblesse oblige rings hollow.
Brandon SanchezMarch 22, 2019