Q&A: Growing up being gender non-conforming in the Catholic Church
Editor’s note: Kris and Beck decided to withhold their last names to protect their identities.
Born into the faith, Kris and Beck were both raised in the Catholic church. They attended Catholic school from kindergarten through 12 grade. Part of this time was spent in an all-girls school.
It was during these formative years that both discovered that they are transgender.
Kris identifies as a man, while Beck identifies as non-binary.
The Cougar: When did you figure out that you were trans when did you realize this?
Kris: I had a partner and they identify as non-binary. They knew that a lot earlier than I did. Me, being the supportive girlfriend I was trying to be, I went on Tumblr and followed a bunch of trans positivity and non-binary positivity blogs. I started looking at the different posts and I thought, wait a minute, that sounds like me. I slowly toyed with the idea: maybe I’m not a girl.
Beck: I was on Tumblr when the rise of non-binary and third genders was becoming part of the LGBT Tumblr landscape. I didn’t understand it at first, but as I kept reading and looking at other peoples’ profiles and stories, I started realizing it was very similar for my own life. This is something that I can explore, something I can learn about. I continued to learn more about it and I thought, this explains a lot about my childhood.
TC: What was it like attending an all-girls Catholic school before you realized your gender identity?
Kris: It was very hard. This is one specific incident I think about a whole lot. In my government class, we were having a roundtable discussion about the Bathroom Bill. I was the only one in my class who was like, everyone should be able to use the bathroom willy nilly because it doesn’t matter, you’re just going in to use the bathroom, and regardless of if you let different genders into the bathrooms, you’re not going to get an increase in pedophilia. I tried to explain, without outing myself, why it matters. I got all the other kids in the class to be like, no, they’re pedophiles, and unless they have an actual sex change surgery, then they are not (the gender they identify as). After that class was my lunch period and I went to the chapel and I cried for almost the entire lunch period.
Beck: It helped that I went to an all girls school. It allowed me to be me and gain the confidence for me to be gay during those four years. I wouldn’t be the same without that school.
TC: How would you describe the attitude of members of the Catholic faith toward trans individuals?
Kris: I’ve had people who are like, I still love you in a way that they don’t really approve of what I’m doing. It’s very condescending. That’s what the majority of it is. I also very often get people that say, you’re an abomination, what you’re doing is sinning, and you’re going to hell. People have said this to my face. There’s also fantastic, very Catholic people that I was afraid to come out to because of fear of their judgement, but they supported me wholeheartedly.
Beck: In Catholicism, you are taught that there are two genders that are complementary. There are no third genders or otherwise options because there’s no need for something that’s already complementary. Personally, I’ve been accepted by a small group of people I hang out with that identify as Catholic. (With negative reactions), for the longest time, I just tuned it out, but it got harder when it came from people I trusted.
TC: How supportive is your family of your gender identity after they’ve raised you in this religion?
Kris: I didn’t want to hide this from them. I had been doing so much hiding in high school and I was done hiding. Luckily, they didn’t scream at me that night (I came out). That came a little bit later. They did cry into the phone and then hang up. My family won’t call me Kris, they will not use he/him pronouns, they aggressively call me their daughter. Any chance they have to gender me, even if they didn’t have to use a pronoun or call me their daughter, they will insert it into the conversation to make it known that I’m not a man.
Beck: I tried telling my mom about a year ago. My mom, she doesn’t really accept me as non-binary, but I don’t attribute that to religion. That’s more because of cultural upbringing. Filipino culture is steeped in Catholic religion, so it’s very hard to separate the two. My parents never gave me the religious gay talk. They just knew that God loves you. That’s literally it. You can do bad stuff and He’ll forgive you.
TC: Are you a part of a church community and are you out to that community?
Kris: I was a part of a Newman center near campus. The more I was there, the more I was scared because I didn’t know how people were going to react. I didn’t want my transness to get out to the community before I was ready for it to. I left that community before I came out. But I want to be able to be a part of that community. I plan on rejoining them in the fall.
Beck: I am only an active church member when I’m in Houston, at my home parish. At college, I don’t have or make the time.
TC: How active of a church member were you before you came out as trans as opposed to now?
Kris: It has greatly impacted my church attendance. I have been going to other religious ceremonies to keep myself in touch with God. I go to a church called the Unitarian Universalists. It’s literally, whatever you believe, that’s fine. The creed of the Church is that we’re not going to judge anybody and that’s it. They’re an incredible group of people, very accepting, versus my old church being very much not so. It’s a space I’m very comfortable being religious in.
Beck: As I got older, it (altar serving) was pretty much the only thing that kept me going to church. At that point, I wasn’t jaded by my faith up until senior year of high school. I’m not gonna lie, that last year in high school made me question whether or not I wanted to be Catholic. After going off to college, the lack of going to church killed what little religious life I had.
TC: What role does religion play in your identity?
Kris: Religion has started to become how I cope with my identity. I’ve begun praying a lot more than I used to. It’s been a slow process. I’ve been so hurt by people in God’s name that it’s been really hard getting comfortable enough to pray. It’s gotten to the point to where I’m comfortable enough in my relationship with God and my relationship with other people who also believe in God that I can start to be like, hey, I’m not doing so well. I need your help, God.
Beck: It really doesn’t at this point. I’m so far removed from my own religion that it doesn’t even affect my identity at this point. It hurts because, especially during those times when I’d listen to Catholic radio or watch Catholic TV, it was like a painful stab to the chest. I just had these thoughts like, oh, my God, I’m going to Hell.
TC: Do you ever feel that your religion and your gender identity and in conflict?
Kris: Yes. For quite a while, I was told you cannot be trans and Catholic. It’s not correct. I was still in such a fragile place, feeling like I still had to rely on others, that I was like, they’ve gotta be right. That is something that I have learned. It took me a while to get there, to be like, I am allowed to be here, I am allowed to be in this religion, I am allowed to participate.
Beck: I have had those experiences. It’s horrible because I don’t want them to be. As much as I hated those religion classes, I listened in them.
TC: How do you contend having a relationship with God when it can seem like he lets all these terrible things happen to you?
Kris: It’s something that i haven’t ever attributed it to God letting that happen. He’s given me all these opportunities to become a stronger person, to do what I can to make the world better for the next generation. I want to make a positive impact to future trans kids and in general. That’s what I think God has given me. It’s not that he’s given me all these trials and tribulations, he’s given me an opportunity to help other people grow.
Beck: You know what sucks? I’m trying to rebuild (my relationship with God) again, but I know I’ve had those religiously bonded moments, those deep revelations. Then, when I get to Mass, I can’t concentrate.