Where the Rubber Meets the Road: Part One

I once had an interesting debate regarding “sola scriptura” with a Protestant apologist. I insisted scripturally and historically on the Catholic position that 1. Scripture could not interpret itself anymore than it could read itself and 2. that the task of authoritative interpretation belonged to the Magisterium of the Catholic Church. My clever interlocutor rejoined with a great question: Who then interprets the interpretation? Doesn’t this just become an endless loop?

My answer was that this question missed the incarnational aspect of the Catholic faith.  Everything does not remain on paper, or floating up in the rarefied air of theological theory. Every doctrine comes down to earth, becomes incarnated by an act: a ritual is performed; a Sacrament is received; a vow is made and kept for life; a prayer is made by human lips and ascends to God; an act of penance is performed. This is where the rubber meets the road. We act on, pray on, live, what we believe.

That we say we “believe” instead of that we “see,” as then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger explains in his Introduction to Christianity, asserts something. It asserts that the horizon of sight is not all that matters to us.  We convert; we inwardly turn our attention beyond what can be seen and we conduct ourselves as though the unseen were more important for living truly human lives than merely what we see. In this construction, the use of the phrase “see” really stands in for all of our natural senses, for everything we are able discern by our senses, by unaided human reason, even by our own inclinations, for we must admit that our human inclinations are bounded by the horizon of what we see, what we perceive. The act of conversion then is an acknowledgment that this is not enough, that we must — by belief, by a leap — go beyond that boundary.

I have said all that to introduce an email that I received a little over a month ago.

I read with great interest your posts of a year ago on the subject of deception and transsexualism.  In the interests of openness, I’ll share that I am transsexual, having undergone vaginoplasty in Oct 2009 under the care of a surgeon who is herself transsexual and not making much money off the practice.  The likely medical cause of my transsexuality was massive doses of estradiol and progesterone my Mom took, as prescribed by her physician because he didn’t believe she was really pregnant and he wanted to stimulate a period, when I was 5 weeks gestational.  I am Catholic by birth, growing up in the Church and meeting the woman I eventually married while serving together at the altar.  My wife and I, at least from the perspective of the rest of the world, may be the only single-sex Church wedded couple in the US.  That wedding, a glorious event cherished in our memory, took place 20 years ago come Sept 14 of this year.  It has resulted in two beautiful children, of whom a prouder father I could not be.

I am a study in complications and contradiction, I’ll freely admit.  I’m a Mom who is a father — my kids call me “Mum” when their Mom is around to differentiate, and Mom when she’s not.  I’m married as a husband, but the world sees me as a wife, and it is as a wife that I function with my wife.  Despite my changes, we’re a teenaged marriage that has lasted 20 years- against 90% odds.  There is no one in my life who does not know my unusual journey to womanhood, but likewise there is no one in my life who has not embraced me as a woman…often more readily than I feel as one.  Even as God gave me the most incredible “growing challenge” of making me transsexual, He also gave me a body well suited to the transition I know in my heart He knew I would take.  I am 5’6” and have finer features than my biologically female wife.  For example, I have smaller hands and feet than she.  After two years off testosterone and on estrogen, no one sees me as a man unless prompted.  Even when people are forewarned one of us is transsexual, upon meeting us some have to ask, “which one?”

My wife did not choose to marry a transsexual.  When we married, I wanted desperately to believe her love would cure me, and so I didn’t tell her.  It helped that I never cross-dressed — ever, unless you count how I have lived since I changed my name and transitioned at work after many months of hormone treatment, so she never had any caches of clothes to encounter.  I was disgusted at the thought of being a “man in a dress” — I wanted to be a woman in one and waited until the hormones allowed me to be.  My marriage helped…for a while…but in the end my nature could not be denied.  I told my wife my sense of self when she was pregnant with our second child, destined also to be our last as her delivery that time left her infertile.  She wasn’t exactly happy with me, as you can imagine, but it never occurred to her (or me) that she (or I) wouldn’t stay true to our irrevocable Catholic wedding vows.  We tried for 7 years to “beat” it.  We tried so hard.  We failed.  In the end, my body was tearing itself apart — I was running a blood pressure of 180/120, my blood chemistry was a wreck, and I was suffering cardiac arrhythmias which placed me in the ER too often for our comfort.  I was also miserable.  I made it clear to my wife that I was willing to die for her, but I couldn’t promise to live much longer even despite the fact I would not suicide.  I had tried that twice as a teen over this, but never since I married her and certainly not with the kids in the picture.  My body just wasn’t going to last much longer.  Since my transition and my hormones normalizing, I am running 110/70, my labs are great, and my heart is behaving itself just fine.  Nothing changed save my hormones, and eventually my perspective and my anatomy.

I say all this not to convince you to change your way of thinking.  You have a right to your opinion, and there are many ill-behaved people in the “trans” community who must certainly place an exclamation mark on your perspective.  Many of your concerns have merit.  That said, I have a few questions of you, to help me understand my status as I turn towards reintegrating myself in the Body of Christ, assuming said Body on Earth is even interested in me.

You have very absolute views on my status as still male.  I make a pretty pathetic one, but that’s fine.  I’ll accept you don’t see the need for special protections.  That said, you suggest I should not be able to get documents as a woman.  I’m curious, though, does this mean you believe I should be detained with “other men” in jail?  Keep in mind, I have a reasonably petite female figure, size C breasts (hormones are amazing), and a vagina (whatever you might think of it, it would function were a man to decide to use it as such).  If I am documented as a man, I would be incarcerated as one were such an unlikely event to happen — a thought which terrifies me given I have known violent rape once before, when I was anatomically male interestingly enough (occupational hazard of delivering Domino’s Pizza in an area with the wrong skin color), and have no desire to repeat the experience ever.  Assuming I travel, there are countries where I could be treated very poorly if identified as a transsexual.  Would you deny me the protection of anonymity under such circumstances?  About showering facilities — I am indistinguishable externally from a biological female — do you propose I shower with men before and after I go swimming?  As far as bathrooms, one of the reasons I transitioned when I did was because men who didn’t even know me were uncomfortable in the bathroom with me — they’d walk in and march right back out.  One outright challenged me on being in the men’s restroom despite my man’s shirt and slacks — my form said otherwise.  I have never been questioned, or identified as anything unusual, in the women’s room since I started using them.  I’ve been told I waited too long to start.

Please know, I respect your concerns about this whole process.  I don’t expect you to understand.  I’d hope you could accept, but you certainly don’t have to.  All I really ask is tolerance and respect, and even then not necessarily of my decision but simply of my existence.  Whether you consider me a mutilated man or an anhysteric, anoophoretic (i.e. post total hysterectomy) woman, would you truly consign me to men’s spaces and men’s treatment when doing so places me at risk, and the men around me at significant discomfort?  You make it clear how understandable the reaction is when men discover the deception during or after sex (something I’d never do both out of honor AND that I’m married), but imagine the discomfort of me in their locker room.  Is there room in this world-view for post-operative MtF’s to be documented as women if just from a purely pragmatic perspective?

And back to the Catholic body.  Is there room in the Church for such as me?  I certainly can’t be active as a man- no one would possibly take me seriously and my very existence in men’s spaces or roles would beg the question of just what I am and how I got to be this way.  I don’t want to be a lightening rod, I don’t want to tear the Church apart, I don’t want to teach kids that this is “perfectly normal” or something they’d want to do, I just want to go home again.  Is the Church’s heart big enough to embrace me as a woman, or do I, and by extension my family, simply no longer exist?

I am very moved at the plight of this person — whose name I will hold in confidence — and I communicated those sentiments in response along with a promise to provide an answer after some time of reflection. What follows will be that attempt.

But first I want to address something that immediately occurred to me and may be occurring to other readers: Is this letter for real? Am I being had here by some kind of prank? There is a reason to think so based on something internal to this communication and I will touch on that later.  But I have some other evidence that this letter is genuine and represents a real person’s life and experience — presented in good faith — and it is on that assumption I will proceed.

Let me begin with something that is biologically and medically true. The sex of all infants at birth and of all persons later in life is not unambiguous. There are conditions — deformities of genitalia, genetic anomalies, intrauterine interference with normal development, etc. — that can make what is usually a straightforward identification of someone as male or female problematic. While these are blessedly rare, they are real medical conditions and the persons afflicted with them deserve and should have access to medical care that performs two critical functions: 1. Determining to the best of scientific accuracy what the sex of the person really is 2. Providing the person with the medical and/or surgical and/or psychological intervention to promote physically, emotionally, and socially healthy adaptation to that sex.  Where an error has been made in documentation, due to the person having been misidentified at birth as one sex while actually being the other, simple justice demands that the records should be corrected.

Along with this justice, with this compassionate care for a medical problem, there devolves upon the persons so afflicted a certain responsibility not to make their condition a matter of the prurient interest of those who might be inclined to use them that way. In the past, people with ambiguous genitalia were exhibited as freaks. Exhibitionism, even pornographic, is still resorted to by some and is contrary to human dignity, harmful to the persons involved and to society.

The first question I asked myself about this letter was whether this person represented such a medical case. Based solely upon the information presented it does seem this could have been possible, although by no means did the letter make that claim. Instead, the writer identifies as a person who has gone from being male –  revealing no ambiguity, genetically or anatomically — to being female.  Leaving alone whether such a change is possible, I just note that the claim is that this person was, albeit uncomfortably, male — and is now — after a series of surgical and medical procedures asking to be recognized as a female by society and the Church.

One more basic point to get out of the way at the outset: where the rubber meets the road we all have a blowout. We all sin and fall short of the glory of God. We are all wretches saved by His amazing grace. When I think about my own besetting sins, I am sickened. That I go to confession with the same stupid black marks on my own soul week after week, is just pitiful. I must be boring Jesus to death with my petty selfishness.  Actually I am not just boring Jesus to death; I am really putting the nails in His sacred hands and feet. We all are. We are such a mess — everyone of us.

Tomorrow we will start there: In the mess of our shared humanity, through which we will seek a way to welcome this person home and lovingly answer the questions in this letter.

I am closing comments here, but they will be open under Part Two tomorrow.

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