The LGBT+ Catholics Westminster Pastoral Council welcomes the Catholic Bishops of England & Wales' resolution to understand and accompany transgender people. Many transgender people face prejudice and discrimination in their daily lives, as well as great mental and emotional distress due to the disconnect between their gender identities and their physical bodies, often exacerbated by rejection from their families and communities. As transgender issues have become more visible over the past few years, there has been a backlash against transgender people, leading to increased violence and hatred. This is therefore an ideal time for the Catholic Church to affirm the inherent God-given dignity of some of the most marginalised and vulnerable people in our society, and reach out to them with love and welcome.
We would like to take this opportunity to address some common misconceptions about transgender people. Transgender identity is not an ideological position, nor do transgender people seek to convert others to being transgender. Being transgender does not mean that someone wishes to abolish gender or sexual difference; in fact many transgender people report feeling great joy and peace once their bodies and gender identities are aligned. The argument that gender is purely a social construct is often used to delegitimize, rather than support, transgender identities.
Gender is not a matter of individual choice for transgender people any more than it is for cisgender (i.e. not transgender) people. Although it is currently not known why some people are transgender, current research suggests that genetics, hormones and environment all play a role. In the United Kingdom, the process of transitioning from one gender to another takes place over a long period of time, typically years, and is a multi-stage process. This process may include both reversible changes, such as using a different name and pronouns, or changing hair style and clothing, and more permanent changes such as hormone therapy and surgery. Medical interventions which have irreversible, life altering effects are only provided under the guidance and supervision of specialist psychiatrists, endocrinologists and surgeons. In the case of young people this process is especially gradual, as it is recognised that not all children who display gender variant behaviour identify as transgender later in life. The NHS provides a Gender Identity Development Service to support young people who have difficulties with their gender identity and also their families.
We are pleased that the Bishops are committed to continued reflection on this matter, and we hope that they will take the opportunity to listen to the stories, hopes and fears of their transgender siblings in Christ, as well engaging with clinicians and researchers. We would also like to commend the many clergy, religious, and lay members of the Church who already welcome transgender people into their parishes and communities, and we hope their experiences can be used as examples to help others.
* See: ICN 20 April 2018 - Catholic Bishops of England and Wales statement on gender www.indcatholicnews.com/news/34750