Before I begin this little but very important blog posting I would just like to register myself as a definite confirmed heterosexual of unambiguously male gender and so can only look at today’s subject with a sympathetic outsider’s eye. I am writing as I feel after my small amount of research, I might have some terms and facts wrong but I am new to this area of life’s rich tapestry.
This train of thought came about with a careful nudge from a transgender friend after the tragic suicide of Leelah Alcorn, a transgender 17 year old from Ohio in America on 28th December 2014. For those of you unaware, a transgender person is one whose brain tells them clearly that they are of the opposite gender to that which they were given at birth and which their physical appearance might suggest. Leelah was born Joshua but through her early teens knew she was actually a girl and dressed and thought accordingly. Her Christian parents believed she was damned if she continued with this perspective and forced her into a course of conversion therapy, a brutal remedy which borders on mental abuse and which ought to be banned.
It was this inhuman conversion therapy and the thoughts of her parents bullying attitude that eventually led to her death. Her parents still considered she was their son and that they could not accept her gender for religious reasons. It is a fact that Christianity and especially the Catholic Church, does not deal fairly with people whose sexuality or gender is not conventionally heterosexual. They consider that anything else is a perversion not a God given gift whilst the Asian religions of Islam and Buddhism and others tend to be far more welcoming to gender variation. We, after all, are all God’s children and we should all be treated with equanimity and equity.
Faced with this dark force in the western world you can now start to see the absolutely complicated decisions that affect some people’s lives, decisions that we as heterosexuals of conventional gender just take for granted and never have to consider.
This transgender friend of mine grew up as a boy knowing herself to be a girl but with male apparatus. By the age of 20 she was dressing as a woman and became suicidal at the societal pressures put on her by family and others. However she was intelligent and used her common sense and swapped back and forward in gender as the occasion arose. It is a sad fact that 50% of transgender children attempt suicide as a way out of the pressures that society often places on them, but she was older and stronger than Leelah when it really mattered.
There is help out there for people in this difficult position but because of their youth they are often not mature enough to access it. This I think is where sympathetic parents hold the key. A good parent should, when they love their child enough, be able to throw off the shackles of convention brought on by religion and society. Leelah’s parents were not able to take that step which I can imagine is a difficult one to take even though they confess to loving Joshua as much as any parent could. They should have sought out real help and advice not the inhumane conversion therapy with which to treat their daughter.
You might now be asking so what, some dumb cluck teenager topping herself, why should I be interested? But the problem is a serious one and no child should have to tread these waters alone, help should be readily and easily available. It is reasonably estimated that possibly 0.3% of the population is faced with this horrible worry and if you think of the United Kingdom with 60 million of a population, there are 200,000 transgender people around. An awful lot of people with no steer to the early parts of their lives.
How can we help these poor souls, lost in a strange world that gives them no help? Well we can start by not sniggering when transgender is mentioned, we can stop being dismissive when the subject comes up. We can all start to feel sympathetic towards the minefield into which they might be heading. We tend to think of these people as being degenerates and perverts but they are no different than me or the next person. It is just that it is easier for us to rise to a level to suit the typical societal mores. We do not jar, they seem to, all because perverted and deserted Christianity tells us so.
So let us all make another New Year’s resolution. Let us look on our personal sexualities and gender as a gift from our maker. Just as there are many shades in the colour of skins in this world, there are also lots of shades of sexuality and gender and we the majority should not get on our high horse when dealing with, speaking to or even helping out the minorities. We all add flavour to life and we should all be treated with respect.
When I persuaded myself to do this difficult posting I thought of the many years I had spent largely unaware of these matters. I did not think about the lives of even straightforward gays and lesbians of which there are an awful lot. In the UK there are about 1.5 million gay men and about 900 thousand lesbians. It never entered my cognisance of the many, many transgender people and variations in between but this exercise has been therapeutic for me as I hope it will be for you, if you choose to think seriously about this subject. I in the space of a few days have learnt to be magnanimous, sympathetic, appreciative and above all understanding of this rich creed of people that I had not considered before. If there is any kind of positive spirit that has come out of Leelah’s tragic and premature death, it is that she has raised the awareness of her situation in all of us.
If you yourself are transgender or have a family member or friend who is transgender, remember that there are organisations and help lines for you. Don’t do what Leelah did. If you e-mail me in confidence on firstname.lastname@example.org, I can provide further information.
4 thoughts on “To Be Or Not To Be.”
Paul, I enjoyed reading this and fair play I you. I have a very close friend who is transgendered. However, my friend has never had any problems from the Catholic Church. In fact when my friend confided in a priest the priest was very supportive. So while the church as a whole has a long way to go, it does not, as a whole, condemn people such as my friend. With regards to leelah, I feel so sorry for her that she felt this was the only option open to her. I also feel sorry for her parents as they will realise one day, hopefully soon, just what a fantastic daughter they lost.
Danny, you can probably find as many different opinions as you can find catholic priests, and I’m sure some of those opinions are humane, but the steer from the top is not. If you read Pope Benedict’s “Christmas Greeting’s to the Roman Curia” delivered on 21 December 2012 you will find (if you manage to wade through its turgid prose in an effort to extract any meaning) a distinctly negative attitude to anything other than a very old-fashioned, narrow, rigid (and scientifically nonsensical, I might add) view of gender. By the time that Benedict’s sophisticated theology has been decoded into plainer words, and those words have filtered down into popular attitudes, what you get is, to put it politely, less than helpful to transgender people. Pope Francis has not (yet) offered a different tone on this one. Just like sophisticated catholic theology about the Jews played a part in the Holocaust, and bears some degree of responsibility for what happened, I don’t think that the RC Church can deny all responsibility for what happens to trans people.
But, to be fair to Catholics, the fundamentalist Christians in America are far worse. Or at least they are more direct. They don’t hide their often virulent prejudices behind sophisticated theology.
Try reading something like a yahoo article on trans people, and scrolling down through the comments. The nasty comments – and some of them are really nasty – come from Christians. Some of those Christians are catholic.
The lack of acceptance that transgender people face in our society comes ultimately from Christianity, or at least from the way that many people interpret Christianity. My concern is to improve the situation, not to engage in Christianity-bashing, but the first step is to tell it like it is, and to recognise the root of the problem.
All transgender people with struggles please pay the rosary for guidance to the truth!
*please PRAY THE ROASRY