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Neither Confusing Nor Scandalous: The Joy and Resistance of Trans Catholic Realities

Meeting Preference

In-Person November Meeting

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“What liturgies, rituals, sacraments do you wish existed for trans folks in the church?” While the answers to this question range from ‘all of them’ – referring to desiring access to the seven sacraments of the church for transgender Catholics – to ‘a truth and reconciliation commission’, over 90% of respondents indicated a desire for some sort of ritual recognition of their true selves within a liturgical context. Rather than pursue some sort of extra-liturgical blessing a la Fiducia Supplicans, transgender Catholics are yearning for a liturgical (and potentially sacramental) blessing of their true selves, as an outward sign that yes, transgender Catholics are a valued part of the church.


While recent voices in the church including James Martin, S.J. and Pope Francis advocate for a more pastoral approach towards LGBTQ Catholics, this pastoral shift has often not been supported by corresponding moves within the Church’s theology or polity. Even a recent letter from Pope Francis and the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith that allows for the baptism of trans people within the church does not carry with it an explicit doctrinal policy change (Risposte del Dicastero a S.E. Mons. Negri, 2023).  The magisterium of the Roman Catholic Church continues to cling to gender complementarity and biological essentialism as bulwarks against the ‘evils of gender ideology’ (Male and Female He Created Them, 2019),  trying to simultaneously minister to (but not necessarily with or by) transgender Catholics even as several U.S. dioceses continue to publish anti-trans statements and policies. (“Rejection or welcome: Transgender Catholics encounter both,” ABC News, February 26, 2022,

 Often occupying a precarious marginal space, transgender Catholics exist within and outside the official structures of the Roman Catholic Church but are rarely given the opportunities to tell their stories. Despite vitae of gender transgressing saints and centuries of the existence and ministry of gender transgressing and transgender Catholics, Catholicism (as an institution) has not been transed in a way that would make it more affirming to those individuals who call it home or for whom it forms an intrinsic part of their identity.


Grounded in both queer and liturgical temporalities, my project looks towards the past, present, and futures of trans Catholics through ritual study, ethics, and ethnography. Understanding Catholic identity to be more than simply where or whether one attends church on Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation, I am less concerned with official church teaching and more with the individual and collective experiences of transgender Catholics, focusing on examples of joy, resistance, and liberation. By looking towards the past and present, I examine the lived religious experiences and practices of trans Catholics, paying particular attention to rituals, saints, sacred spaces, and devotional practices. Second, I ask questions about the grievability, legibility, and mourning of trans Catholic lives inside and outside of church contexts. Can the church learn to value trans Catholics while they’re alive instead of just mourning them when they die? Third, I look towards the future, imagining a trans Catholic futurity that embodies an ethic of flourishing and liberation, not merely tolerance. I endeavor to reflect the stories and sacred practices of trans Catholics who have had to construct that home, that sacred space, in the wilderness of the church margins.


Drawing on ethnographic research, this project examines the lived experiences of trans Catholics, the queer sacramentality of zoom interviews, and proposes a liturgy of renaming with the renewal of baptismal promises that could be used in Catholic spaces. With 53 participants as of March 1, 2024, ranging from age 18 to 79 who define their spirituality and faith identity as everything from rooted in Catholicism, recovering Catholic, to cradle Catholic and converts to Catholicism, there is significant diversity. Regardless of whether respondents still identified as Catholic or participated in Catholic rituals / life, they overwhelming desired to be seen and recognized as their true selves. Some mentioned ‘Rites of Renaming’ that other Christian denominations have adopted (particularly The Episcopal Church), but most seemed to focus on the need to bring their fullest self into the sacramental space of the church. No one suggested a ‘rebaptism’, but the idea of renewing baptismal promises as part of a rite of renaming came up several times.


In addition to proposing a liturgy of renaming that could be used in Catholic communities and spaces, in this project I reflect on the queer sacramentality of the process of zoom ethnography. I wanted to raise up other trans voices. I wanted to hear their stories - to know what they thought about the church, about the saints, about ritual. It didn’t matter whether they stayed or left the church - I just wanted to provide a space to talk about these things. I expected to cry, I suppose. I did not expect my fist to clench as someone told me about a priest who had tried so hard to convert them that the person had nearly taken their own life. But that encounter has forever condemned the church in their eyes.  (And rightfully so.) I did not expect my heart to ache so much I thought it might break out of my chest as I listened, laughed, wept. I did not expect the journey this would take me on. I hoped that I might offer a listening ear or, at best, reassure someone they were not alone.


The zoom room turned into a sacred space. We complain that zoom is impersonal, sterile. Yet the pandemic changed that. As a priest, I have celebrated mass, anointed the sick, and heard confessions on zoom. This time, there was no need for candles or incense. Across thousands of miles, across time zones and liturgical preferences, technology provided us the space for a holy sacrament. Souls were bared in a way that mirrored the confessional with one major variation. There was no sin. At least not on the part of those telling their stories. But the way some of them were treated? The things said to them by leaders of the church, shepherds of the flock, that were repeated to me, recorded, transcribed – anonymized to protect the guilty, those made my soul ache. Such harm perpetuated in the name of a God who is love, in the name of a church whose pontiff reminds us that all are welcome and sacraments should not be a weapon.

Abstract for Online Program Book (maximum 150 words)

"I couldn’t stop being Catholic anymore than I could stop being trans.” “Being Catholic is more than a religion.” These responses demonstrate the ways Catholic identity often becomes more than just a set of practices of beliefs, taking on a cultural identity that is not easily shed. The deep-seated lingering of Catholic formation manifests in a particular way within trans individuals. Whether they remain active and practicing members of the Church or not, the hauntings of Catholicism often remain, affecting their spiritual practice and their gender journeys/coming out processes. Despite anti-trans Bishops waging war against trans rights and official documents extending a limited pastoral olive branch providing a trans Catholic’s gender does not provoke “confusion and scandal,” this paper draws on ethnographic research with trans Catholics that illuminates both the struggles of reconciling the aspects of these identities and the ways in which they are forever intrinsically linked.