Dear Pope Francis,
I’m writing on behalf of my son, and perhaps trans and gender non-conforming children everywhere, in expressing my gratitude for your recent remarks about how we shouldn’t force children into gender roles.
I know that’s not what you really said, but I’m choosing to give you the benefit of the doubt.
Let me give you a little bit of my background.
I was raised Catholic, attended Catholic grade school from 3 years old until 8th grade. I was baptized, received the Holy Communion, Reconciliation, and Confirmation. I went to mass (dare I say religiously?) every Sunday, through high school and into my early 20’s. I was part of the parish youth organization, I sang in the choir, and I even cantered mass for a couple years.
I stopped believing the Catholic dogma around the age of 14, but I wasn’t given a choice, whether I wanted to go or not, believe or not. I went to confession when I was 15, scared that my words would somehow reach my parents, and told the priest that I wasn’t sure I believed in God or what I believed in at all. His response: that doesn’t matter, just keep going to mass.
So I did. And yes, I found comfort in the community. I found comfort in the warmth of bodies, pressed on all sides, singing and genuflecting and sharing a common faith. I found safety in the knowledge that so long as I pretended to be one of them, I was one of them.
Somewhere around my early 20’s, I stopped pretending. I dropped the pretense of adhering to the Catholic dogma, because the Catholic dogma was outdated, unethical, and I will say it, quite frankly, un-Christ-like.
Until you came, with your humility and your mercy, with your open arms for the poor and your open doors to anyone that sought refuge and respite. You turned down the riches and trappings that came with your office, choosing instead to wash the feet of refugees and migrants.
For the first time, in a long time, I had hope. Hope for the Catholic Church. Hope for my parents and siblings, who still identified as Catholic, despite their many modern, opposing views to the traditional Catholic views. Hope for my son, who has repeatedly expressed both his love for Jesus and his choice to learn and possibly become a Catholic.
But then you compared my son, and anyone that questioned the societal constructs of gender roles, to nuclear weapons, to Herod.
I was heartbroken. My son cried when I told him that the Catholic Church would never accept him. All of your good deeds, in that single gesture, were undone, because you could not find it in your heart to embrace and love and respect my child. And in your position of considerable power and influence, you were decreeing that the Church turn its back on him. You were telling my son’s grandparents to reject him. Telling my son’s uncles and aunts to revile him.
You were telling the world to treat my son like less than human.
And how? How could a Christian man who was chosen, some would say divinely, to lead his Church and embody all that is Christian and holy and good, treat any human being as less than human? How could a modern leader of the entire Catholic Church choose to attack an already marginalized population of people? How could any person who loves Jesus encourage hatred of a group of people who already find no support in their families and communities? Jesus would never have condoned it, never. He only ever condoned love. Unconditional love.
Which brings me back to my gratitude. Last week, you announced that school children were being allowed to choose gender. I prefer to think you meant forced. And you are correct.
All people in our modern society are forced to choose gender, to pick a team, from birth on. You, Most Holy Father, must be aware of the barrage of frilly pink princesses, waiting to be rescued on one side and the macho-insensitive-don’t-be-a-girl-don’t-cry super heroes on the other side. Children have no other options. As we mature, we find ourselves in the same dilemma. Forced to choose between this or that. Men who want to grow their hair long and women that want to cut their hair short are bullied and harassed and told they are wrong, and where is Christ in that?
And so you took a stand. You said, enough. Stop forcing our children to choose, stop dressing them up as exaggerations of some idealized version of what men and women should look like. Stop thrusting them into roles that they don’t understand, don’t want, or don’t fit. Because Adam didn’t wear pants in the Garden of Eden and Eve didn’t wear a dress and make up. You know what they wore? Absolutely nothing and that’s exactly how God wanted it.
I know that many will leap to defend your accusations that I let my child choose. Only I know that you’re smart enough to know that nobody gets to choose their gender. My child had no more choice than you did, when you first understood yourself to be masculine. Which probably happened around the age of two, and not when they saw your genitals at birth. And if you were born today, you’d be thrust into a blue hospital gown with a cute little blue hat and a sign that read something like, “Go Get ‘Em, Champ” or “Man of the Year”, while beside you laid a helpless little pink bundled, labeled “Cupcake” or “Sweetie Pie” or “Pretty in Pink”. For you to make any other claim about your gender means that you do not understand it, and I would certainly hope the leader of a major religion would not speak on matters he didn’t understand.
It’s a far cry from recanting your earlier comments about my son. I do get that. And I get that you have alienated a whole community of trans and gender non-conforming people, their families and friends, and allies. I want that to change. But I hope that you are beginning to see that children need to be children, need to be respected and listened to and allowed to grow on their own. Need to be treated with dignity. Jesus always put children first, even said that we must be like children to enter his Father’s kingdom.
Well, my child is trans. And you know what else I tell him? Jesus loves him, exactly as he is. Because there is absolutely nothing wrong with my child.
There is, however, something wrong with a society that has no place for him.
Now you have a choice to make. You have the opportunity to pull back the veil on a major issue, to expose a gross oversimplification of gender in our world, to correct a morally incomprehensible treatment of every person, masculine or feminine, and to change the world and make it better for future generations.
And to make it better for my son, who still one day hopes to be Catholic.
Interested in learning more about my son? Read Portrait of a Transgender Child. You can read my latest post here: I’m having nightmares about my son going to sleepaway camp
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