On Trans

dotCommonweal has a new writer for the blog. Two great essays from Rand Richards Cooper this week, including one today titled, “Trans America.”

In 1969, I was a fairly sheltered and over-protected kid. My parents had various magazine subscriptions, though, that were occasionally dicey–if they had known. National Geographic had a thing then about frontal nudity of non-westerners. I think it was Life magazine that had an absorbing piece on people who had undergone sex-change operations.

The science of things fascinated me. But I also found myself troubled and affected by the graphic description of surgery and of the human experiences of people who switched from woman to man and man to woman. I remember imagining having parts of my body cut out and carved out and feeling sick to my stomach. All in all, probably too much too soon for a little kid.

In a healthier family or psychological environment, I suppose talking that out with someone would have helped me process a mix of curiosity, compassion, inappropriate exposure, shame (at intruding on someone else’s story) and other things a ten-year-old boy might feel.

Fast forward well into my middle age, and I know at least one trans person. A friend suggests I know more. But she thinks I don’t count sexual preference as important enough to decide if a person is a friend, a parishioner, a believer, or active in the Church. And that’s true–hopefully not from the view of an apathetic bystander. I really don’t care, except for the person cultivating personal holiness, and being a disciple of Jesus, and such.

I think I share Mr Cooper’s skepticism somewhat. From his conclusion:

But gender dysphoria still seems like a disorder to me, and gender reassignment a nightmare. Maybe knowing someone well who went through it would help get me over the hump. Lord knows that at sixteen, I would have found gay marriage bizarre. Real connections to real people have a salutary way of humbling us and correcting our ideas.

To those who share my doubts, I’d ask, How to balance skepticism with respect for real people in their life predicaments? And to those who are celebrating Trans America, I’d ask: Is there room in the public square, in the public conversation, for those of us who harbor doubts?

In my mind, I wonder: is it possible some people are truly trapped and Mr Cooper’s “nightmare” is actually a way out? But not all?

I confess a degree of skepticism over the celebritizing of Caitlyn Jenner. If I knew the person I would care. But since it is the media bringing a famous person into my awareness, I tend to rebel against that. And I don’t think a wealthy middle-aged celebrity has to worry much about bullies at school, or neighborhood tormentors, or others who plague so many children and youth. Story not relevant, not even to most trans persons, it seems to me. Caitlyn Jenner doesn’t have to worry about rent, a job, or legal stuff. Not at all.

I like the “real connections to real people” notion. I think that is the start. I hope trans people are finding the needed support from friends and loved ones to continue on a path to healing and fulfillment, if not holiness. I hope I would be a good friend or supportive family member. I know I would be listening carefully.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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25 Responses to On Trans

  1. Jim McCrea says:

    I know a few (albeit small number) of trans* people. To a person they are extremely happy that they made the move. 2 of them underwent surgery as well as living differently.

    I am happy for them as they seem to be happy for themselves.

    All else is academic.

  2. Liam says:

    It’s probably prudent not to assume that, merely because we have a pigeonhole to compartmentalize this, it represents the same thing for everyone we’ve put in that category. (It’s not for nothing that many gay folk once tried to make this point by referening to homosexualities rather than homosexuality, for example.)

    Facts are also helpful things. Facts that are most salient also tend to be particular.

  3. Jen says:

    It’s problematic to bring Dolezal into a discussion of trans identity/issues, namely because of issues of privilege around whiteness. This blog post on Racialicious does a better takedown than I can: http://www.racialicious.com/2015/06/29/dont-askrachel-she-checked-out-long-ago/ And, really, people of color need to be more widely read on such issues.

    I think the Church (and society as a whole) needs to do a better job of shutting up and listening to trans people. It’s hard for you to imagine passing as a woman because you don’t loathe being a man. Your body doesn’t disgust/horrify you in a way I can’t even begin to understand (as a cisgendered individual). I think once we (as a Church and society) start listening to the struggles of trans individuals, we’d all be better off. I also think it means reexamining long-held beliefs about gender, gender identity, and the like that are being debunked by anthropology and sociology.

    But such frank, honest, and open discussions aren’t going to happen so long as slurs, puerile responses, and juvenile attacks get used in any discussion of trans or LGB issues. (I’m not accusing you, Todd. But we all know how rapidly the comment boxes of Catholic blogs devolve into ad hominems whenever issues below the belt come into play.) “I am uncomfortable with this” is a very different discussion than “These people make me sick.”

  4. Liam says:

    I think the Jenner wave is a media wave more than a genuine shift in culture. And the Jenner wave is a double-edged sword precisely because it was a media-celebrity event, which typically have longer negative than positive half-lives.

    Same-sex marriage shifts have very little positive crossover effect for trans issues. Because many gay folk tend to be rather decidedly sex-essentialist, just like straight folk.

    Were I a parent of a trans minor, I would approach the idea of reassignment surgery on minors with the greatest of caution. Especially because what we don’t know is still rather vast. Our ignorance is not helped by taboo, so I support the breaking of taboo for enabling more learning. Next steps are more learning.

  5. Melody says:

    “Were I a parent of a trans minor, I would approach the idea of reassignment surgery on minors with the greatest of caution.” Me to, Liam. There is a reason why minors can’t enter into binding contracts, can’t take out a loan without a co-signer, and a lot of other stuff. Most parents would discourage teens getting married, too. They’re not ready to enter into life-changing decisions.
    Most of us who are parents, or can remember our own youth, know that adolescence can be a confusing time, and not just about sexual matters.

  6. Dick Martin says:

    These conversations I would have thought should have been about God and his ideas . trans is a picture of man ideas and thoughts about what He or She wants out of the direction their going with out seeking God and His Destiny for everyone. All I can picture is a ” WONDER” side show at a carnival. come in and see the Woman who is a Man. or a woman who was born a man. God does not make mistakes. Because of our first parents fall we inherit the sinful NATURE. that is what the homosexual feels and makes statements about being born ;(SHOULD HAVE BEEN). Today they want to be out front with their Rainbow, Spiked heels, bright painted big lips and rouge. Having their own National, Annual Parade. Flaunting their sin in front of the world and their CREATOR. How sickening. The percentage of the world Knows the truth.
    Romans 1:24-29
    Therefore God also gave them up to uncleanness, in the lusts of their hearts, to dishonor their bodies among themselves,
    who exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.
    For this reason God gave them up to vile passions. For even their women exchanged the natural use for what is against nature.
    Likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust for one another, men with men committing what is shameful, and receiving in themselves the penalty of their error which was due.
    And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting;

    • Todd says:

      But if God made people trans, that sort of throws out the idea people put themselves into such difficult places with choices. If God makes no mistakes, and God made people trans, it rather puts the burden on believers and disciples to be at their very best in making friends and cultivating holiness, wouldn’t you say?

  7. Dick Martin says:

    God did not make trans. God gave them up to. They exchanged the truth , they served the creature. They dishonored, They should be studying and reading God’s word to find out who they are and who they were created to be. Sin is sin and the wages of sin is death, Jesus gives Life to the sinner. There is hope. We’re to Hate the Sin but love the Sinner. It’s hard to do when They seem to have made their choice already.. We’re not to encourage them and make them think that God is Happy about it. There are multiple Gay Churches in the world–Not good. you can’t cultivate holiness. I don’t expect approval since your approach is not scriptural but politically correct .

    • Todd says:

      How do you know people weren’t created in this way?

      Cultivating holiness is simply responding to God’s grace. God’s agency in our lives when we respond to his invitation.

      None of this has anything to do with politics.

  8. Atheist Max says:

    “I hope trans people are finding the needed support”

    Well, that’s a blog post I can applaud.

  9. Dick Martin says:

    Todd ; DUH… I can’t believe you would ask such a foolish question: How do you know that they weren’t created this way. It was Adam and Eve not Adam and Steve. Our anatomy tells me the answer. Where do you think Romans 1:24- 29 came from a cracker jack box. Holiness is who you are when your born again and you are one with the Holy Spirit as John 17:20- 26. states.
    Colossians 1:15-17
    He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.
    For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist. All Gays and trans are about Sin and one of the worse sin is (PRIDE).(GAY PRIDE). All the Gay community wants is recognition and equality. they could stay in their closets for another 6000 yrs. as they have done in the past. this is all about political correctness. I thought we were on earth to spread the Gospel ?

    • Atheist Max says:


      “He is the image of the invisible God”

      It always puzzled me that an invisible god somehow had an ‘image’.
      If God’s image is invisible, who is to say what it looks like? It it a male image or a female image?

      Give it one moment of thought. That is all it takes.
      If God’s image is male as the bible contends, he cannot create any people without a female. But God is one – there is no female for Him – so he must also have enough female properties within himself to create Adam and Eve.

      God must therefor be both male and female among other as yet unknown sexes.
      If we are in his image we can go either way regardless of our birth sex. And that is according to your logic (such as it is) of your biblical argument.

      If we are in the image of God we must be as fluid as God regarding our sexuality. Male and Female components – with drives which can go either way.

  10. Dick Martin says:

    God is a Spirit being ONLY. He lives in a Place called Heaven. He has no body. He creates things out of nothing He has no male or female parts to create anything. Since God knows all things He can see his creation in advance and the workings of it. God’s Image and likeness is Spirit and operates by Faith. We also are created Spirit and operate by Faith. the bible calls our body a Tent that we need to live on the earth to touch things and grow things to move about. When we die our body and spirit separates , but we will live on a perfect earth because the Earth and Heaven will become One for eternity and be reunited with our new immortal body–Perfect and whole, no sickness or diseases and will live forever. There’s a lot more.

    • Atheist Max says:


      “God is a spirit being only”

      Then how can we be in his image since he has no image?
      How can we be in his image if we are somehow more than spirit?

      “He creates things out of nothing”

      Then why did he need air to create Adam and a rib to create Eve? Those aren’t nothings.
      There is no evidence of any truth to the claims of how a god creates out of nothing.
      If Gods can create things out of nothing, why not the Cosmos and its atomic properties?

      You claim millions of real human beings (not spirits) must suffer lifetimes of loneliness simply because your claims about God happen to forbid same-sex relationships as well as relationships of questioned gender.

      You owe those human beings a much better explanation than the contradictory claims you are making. You owe them a much more serious answer because the price they are paying for your claims is tragic.

  11. Dick Martin says:

    Colossians 1:15-17
    He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.
    For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him.
    And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist. This is the word of God. There’s a veil over your mind and it can only be taken away when you accept Jesus into your life.
    2 Corinthians 3:16-18
    Nevertheless when one turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away.
    Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.
    But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.
    1 Corinthians 2:13-14
    These things we also speak, not in words which man’s wisdom teaches but which the Holy Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual.
    But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.

    • Atheist Max says:

      Dick Martin,

      You are using the Bible to justify your claims. But I can do the same thing and end up in a completely different conclusion.

      There are no checks and balances in the Bible and no reason to believe any claim is dominant over any other.

      “Love thy neighbor” is on one page.
      “Kill them all” is on another.

      If you use the Bible to justify your arguments, you may find yourself looking for witches to burn alive:

      “Execute them in front of me” – JESUS (Luke 27:19)
      We err only when we think this stuff is real.

  12. Dick Martin says:

    You err only when you quote a scripture verse that’s not there. There is no 27th. chapter in Luke. The picture would be much clearer if you would paint by the Numbers instead of throwing paint when completely blindfolded as stated in my above quote of 2 Corth. 3: 16-18.

    • Atheist Max says:

      (Luke 19:27)
      “Execute them” – JESUS

      • Todd says:

        As we’ve covered before, Jesus is telling a parable, a story. It is as meaningful as the silly notion that when you recount Sandy Hook you approve of the violence committed there because you tell the story and celebrate yourself as an anti-religionist. This one you can put to bed, Max.

      • Atheist Max says:


        “you approve of the violence committed (at Sandy Hook)”

        You claim a loving, interceding God will answer prayers – yet he will abandon little children in their hour of need – and you call ME(?) the approver of violence?
        If your god exists
        he deserves to be denounced for his approval of this horror on his watch.
        And for his decision to allow merciless cruelty to happen when all he had to do was DESTROY THE KILLER FIRST by giving him a heart attack before he committed the crime. Or denying him a parking space at the school.

        Instead of honestly facing the obvious – God didn’t help because THERE IS NO GOD – you insult me for pointing out the obvious.

  13. Todd says:

    “you call ME(?) the approver of violence?”

    Not exactly. I’m pointing out the absurdity of your own methodology.

    • Jen says:

      Pardon me while I give the ASCII version of the carebear stare at his comment: o_O

    • Atheist Max says:



      God enables mass murderers to kill without interceding to stop them. Then you are supposed to pray to the same God to….do what?…forgive? punish? absolve? assuage? Calm my terrified heart?

      If God can’t do the most important thing – which is to intercede to save lives = why would he do lesser things like forgive? or punish?

      What good is God?
      Your god has already watched and done nothing. What good is that?
      Then you support god’s decision? While objecting to my clarity on this issue?
      What sense does that make?

      Are you aware of the meaning of the word “Absurd”?

  14. Todd says:

    Welcome back, Max. God permits human beings freedom, and free human beings do horrific things. It’s not quite possible for us to be put on a short leash that prevents mass murder, but allows us to forsake the mentally ill and conduct a society that neglects mental health.

    I might have a measure of agreement with you on why God permits grave suffering. But it’s a choice I didn’t make and over which I have no control. I do have the power to be a peaceable person in daily life. I can advocate politically to make society safer. I might even support the dissolution of the NRA. But mainly, I hope not to be a cruel person, murdering in small quiet ways among family and friends. Do you?

    You and I disagree on the interpretation of what seems to be God’s indifference. My suggestion is that we agree to disagree and move on to the next topic.

  15. Dick Martin says:

    Max; Seek First the Kingdom of God and all these things will be added to you. Kingdom is HOW God operates; how He deals with us. His rules. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. Why are you even sharing your non-beliefs with the community of believers; what a waste. He let’s us have a Free will to make choices. even shows us both sides of every choice and then tells us which to chose. It takes more faith to not believe in the existence of God that to believe, since there is a whole universe of beautiful created things out there that prove the existence of a Creator. you have be letting the wrong spirit deceive you and you listen and believe. your doing things the hard way. Satan come to Kill, Steal and destroy; Jesus comes to Give Life more abundantly.

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