When people learn you have a transgender child, their reactions vary from shock, to support, to not having the first idea of what to say. All of these are normal. Sometimes, however, well-meaning people respond in ways that are harmful to both the parent and the child. This is especially true of people in a faith community.
When my oldest son came out as being gay, no one had a lot to say about the matter. Sometimes I would get an “Oh,” followed by some stuttering, and then the person would move on to another topic. When my youngest son came out as transgender, suddenly, people had a lot to say.
I believe this is because the idea that transgender people are living among us is just now becoming something we are free to talk about. For many years it was pushed to the side, talked about in hushed tones. Even the LGBTQ+ community is guilty of discrimination against transgender people.
Where I have felt the most push back, however, has been from the faith community. I find that ironic because the Bible tells us that we should love one another, the way that Jesus loved us.
Without judgment, big and freely.
That’s the way I want to be loved, as I am sure my children do as well. It is how I extend love to others. I can’t understand how any faith community could say they are followers of Jesus and not practice that same belief.
The summer after my youngest came out, I called a trusted spiritual advisor to discuss where the Church stood on LGBTQ+ issues. I was in a fragile place with my faith community, and I felt the need for counsel from someone I could trust. The conversation that followed broke my heart.
I was told, essentially, that the Catholic Church, in spite of recent declarations from the Pope about how we should be more loving and accepting, still had a “love the sinner, hate the sin” attitude towards LGBTQ+ people. That they were sinners, and so was I for supporting them. I was expecting this, so I listened, as he solidified my doubts about the Catholic Church. What came next was shocking. He said my youngest son should go to counseling because he knew of transgender people who had been cured with therapy. As if being transgender was something that was wrong with my son, and therapy could fix him.
Transgender people are not broken, nor do they need to be fixed.
I’ve written about that a little already here, but let me say it louder for the people in the back. If you have been told by your faith community that there is something wrong with your child, you need to find a new faith community.
Leaving the Catholic Church has been one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. You’d think it would be simple, considering how they felt about my children. Where they stood on my support of them. Or that they don’t allow women to serve in positions of leadership. And I don’t agree with their stand on abortion. I am pro-life, but that doesn’t mean I am anti-abortion. There are some circumstances where I think it is justified, and either way, it’s up to the woman and her partner to decide that: not me, or the Church, or the politicians.
On top of that, I didn’t really have a faith community. I wasn’t attending weekly Mass. I had all but given up on the Catholic Church.
At the time, I thought I was having a crisis of faith.
I realize now I was going through a period of deconstruction. This usually involves a lot of questions and doubts. It generally ends up with some kind of transition, usually to another faith denomination, or away from God entirely. You can deconstruct your faith without losing it if you are careful. I came out on the other side, my faith in God as strong as ever, but knowing I no longer belonged in the Catholic Church.
The idea of not being Catholic scared the hell out of me.
Growing up Catholic, we were taught that there is one way. The Catholic way. Everyone else can believe what they want, but essentially, they are all wrong. There’s never any question of not being Catholic. You don’t walk away from the Church, and you certainly don’t join another faith community. It’s just not done.
For years, I have struggled with being done with the Catholics, but I have been too afraid to leave the Church. Where would I go? How would I leave? What would I tell people? What if my mom found out? Instead, I became a holiday church-goer. I showed up for Easter and Christmas and eventually dropped those as well.
During some of the hardest times in my life, when I really needed a faith community to turn to, I felt as if I had no one. It has made me more empathetic to the struggles members of the LGBTQ community face regarding the Church. I can’t imagine the pain they have endured in their faith communities, but I know what it’s like to be on the receiving end of hurtful words. To be told, you don’t belong. You and/or your child(ren) don’t matter. You are not welcome.
If you belong to a faith community that no longer feels welcoming, there are others to choose from. It took me three years to walk away from the Catholic Church. The lead-up was more painful than walking through the doors of a church in a new faith community. Here are some places you can check out:
Has your faith community hurt you? What actions did you take as a result? Feel free to share in the comments.
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