I was encouraged to read reports of Pope Francis welcoming a trans man to a private audience last month. The man had experienced discrimination in his home church and had written to the Pope for support. What exactly took place during the private audience and what was said seems to have been kept private, and so instead there was a lot of speculation on whether this signifies a change in the Church's position on trans people.
Today it has emerged that Pope Francis has made some comments about so called 'gender theory' in a new book. He compares it to nuclear weapons, saying that they both do not recognise the 'order of creation'. To compare trans people and different ways of thinking about gender to nuclear weapons is horrific, and a gross misrepresentation.
To be honest here, I think transphobes would make a better comparison to nuclear weapons. In the same way that nuclear weapons have the potential to take hundreds of lives, transphobic views, conversion therapy and poor access to proper medical care contribute to, if not directly cause, the deaths of trans people.
The Catholic Church's position on transgender people is slightly more difficult to discern than their position on homosexuality. In the case of homosexuality the Church very firmly teaches that although being gay is not a sin in and of itself, homosexual acts are sinful. A gay person is expected to lead a life of celibacy unless they marry someone of the 'opposite sex'. Apart from some leaked church documents there isn't really a great deal on the topic of people who transition to live in a different gender to the one they were assigned at birth.
A great deal of the Church's teaching revolves around the fact that God created two genders, male and female, and your body determines your gender. The belief is that to go against what your body is 'saying', and to change your body, is to go against God's creation. It's not a new concept, Pope Francis has just reiterated it, with the unfortunate comparison to nuclear weapons.
As there isn't clear guidance, unfortunately how trans people are treated in Catholic churches can vary wildly, and there isn't a consistent approach that is used in ministering to trans people. The Church teaches love and welcome to all, but all too often this isn't people's experience. Even a binary trans person would be barred from getting married in a Catholic Church, because they would be deemed too 'confused' or 'disordered', and would always be considered by the Church to be the sex they were assigned at birth.
I've been lucky to meet many supportive Catholics, including several priests. There are varied views throughout the Church, and my goal has always been to seek out like-minded people who accept me for who I am.
While many people decided to idolise Pope Francis, I have been reserving judgement. Yes, he seems better and somewhat more open minded than previous Popes, and certainly seems to be doing a better job of showing Christ's love to the poor and marginalised, but he's still Catholic. He's not about to completely change Church doctrine, and sadly I never expected him to. His recent comments simply reflect the state of current Church teaching, and a lot of change in how the Church thinks of gender would need to happen in order for things to progress.
At my catholic school we had this lay chaplain, he wasn't a priest but just a fairly ordinary catholic guy who was there to organise religious services and events and also, to some extent, to provide spiritual support to students.
I ended up coming out to him after he walked in on me crying in the chapel one day. I'd been struggling quite a bit with reconciling my sexuality with my faith, as well as with my mood generally, and by lower 6th (age 17) the chapel had become the place where I would go to hide away when school got too much. It was basically just a tiny room with an altar and a couple of pews in it, but hardly anyone ever used it, so you were usually guaranteed a private space.
I don't remember all that much about the specific day in question, except that I was sitting in there in tears talking to God about what He wanted me to do in terms of relationships. At this point I was exclusively attracted to girls, and I wanted to know whether it would be okay for me to consider pursuing a relationship, or whether I should remain celibate, but I kept going round in circles without getting anywhere and getting quite upset.
When the chaplain walked in to the chapel it was quite awkward; there I was in floods of tears, not exactly expecting to have to talk to anyone. He sat with me for a few moments and then said that if I wanted to talk then I could come find him in his office. This gave me some time to collect myself and decide whether or not I wanted to go to see him.
I had struggled over the past year and a half with finding someone to talk to about my sexuality who also could see where I was coming from with my struggle to reconcile it with my faith. Nonreligious support workers or mental health professionals I had spoken to could not quite understand the specific religious conflicts I was having and religious people often seemed judgemental.
I found it quite hard to actually talk to people about topics that were important to me so I wasn't sure that I would be able to say what I wanted to say to the chaplain if I did meet with him. However, when it came to it I found him one of the easiest people to talk to and I managed to come out to him almost straight away. He was the first person who had really seemed to understand why I was struggling.
Over the next few months we discussed and explored sexuality and faith. It was a really open and honest discussion, and I think it helped that it was one of the first times the chaplain had fully considered homosexuality in a faith context so we were able to explore it together.
We also started speaking about gender and I realised that that was something I wanted to discuss. A year previously I had come to the conclusion that I wasn't a girl, but that realisation terrified me so much that I didn't feel I could do anything about it, so I promptly squashed it. Over the year that followed I continued to learn more about being trans from the internet, but I was still too scared to say anything to anyone.
When my discussion with the chaplain turned to gender, I finally felt able to express how I'd been feeling. After I'd told him that I thought I was a guy, he simply told me that it would be possible for me to transition in school, if that was what I wanted. For the first time I started to consider that I could, that it didn't have to be that scary and that the school wouldn't have a problem with it. I suddenly felt empowered and confident and knew that I at least had to give living as a guy a go. He helped me talk through some of the practical aspects and it became so much less scary. He didn't know very much about being trans but still managed to provide a space for me to talk about it, and was so understanding and receptive.
Within about a week I had gone in to see my headmaster and spoken to him about transitioning at school. He was somewhat surprised, but immediately supportive. He spoke to other members of staff and we agreed that I could come back to school after the half term holiday as Zac.
The only issue I had was over which toilets I was supposed to use, as they originally thought I should use the disabled toilet. I didn't think this was appropriate so they suggested I use the staff toilets, which I reluctantly agreed to. They didn't want me using the boys toilets because they had this idea other students might complain that there was a 'girl' in there. I ignored their directive however and used the boys toilets, and as far as I'm aware there were never any complaints.
I continued to meet with the chaplain weekly for the remainder of my time at the school, and he was one of my biggest supporters. I really don't know how I'd have got through school without him.
Over the past few months I've been slowly getting over a relationship that ended in quite a horrible way. It's been difficult because I'd developed such strong feelings in just a short time, and suddenly I felt like a lot of my hope for the future had been stripped away. It's taken me a while to even accept the reality that we're not together any more, and we're not getting back together, but I think, although I do still get sad about it occasionally, I am feeling that it was for the best.
It also hasn't helped that I've been on my own quite a lot over the past few weeks, working and studying instead of socialising as much as I do during the uni term. Semester two started on Monday so I have been rudely thrust back into lectures, with 9am lectures everyday except for Wednesdays. Since become a student 9am lectures have become a struggle! So far, although it is tiring, it has been good. We have a lot of new lecturers to get used to, but as I have such a good group of friends on my course, I don't seem to have any tutorial classes on my own, and there's always someone to sit and talk to during breaks.
Another thing the start of the semester has brought with it has been the relaunch of LGBT socials, which are usually great, especially now I have a lot of friends there, and it feels like such a lovely community.
I know that it is much better for me to be going out and doing things, but I think that's one of those things I needed to realise for myself. When someone tells me I need to go out and do more it seems like an impossible task, and something I don't want to do. It's hard to motivate myself to go out if there isn't really anything I need to go out for, so having uni as the motivating reason to get me out of bed, and out of the flat, is really helpful.
Last night I went out with the intention of just having a nice night out with my friends, I wasn't looking for anything more. Then I started speaking to this girl, and we got on so well and seemed to have quite a bit in common, which was really lovely. I wasn't sure if she was interested in me or just being friendly, but as the evening went on it became clear she was interested. When she left she asked for my number, and I will be seeing her again on another night out tomorrow, so I'm quite looking forward to getting to know her better.
I do worry that people will have an issue with me being trans in a relationship, and I have noticed that a couple of recent experiences have affected me somewhat badly. I try not to give up hope though, and continue to hold on to the fact that there are people who find me attractive and want to be around me. I'm not a failure or too broken to be loved.
I was 15 when I first came out. I was on MSN with my best friend at the time, and I typed the words 'I think I'm gay... or bi'. I anxiously hit send, hoping her reply wasn't laced with any of the thinly veiled homophobia I'd grown up with.
I grew up in a Catholic family, and the word gay wasn't mentioned very much at all. If it was, it was never positively and left behind it a rather oppressive atmosphere. I never questioned my sexuality until I was 15. I had assumed I was straight, and I had dated boys to try to fit in, in the strange way under 11s do.
I remember being confused when I was 12 and having sexual dreams involving girls. I tried to convince myself that it didn't mean anything and that I was interested in boys, and I managed to squash it for over 3 more years. I was aware that I liked boobs, so I banned myself from ever looking, because I thought it was wrong and dirty.
During that time I threw myself into my faith, which said that being gay was 'disordered' and that I could never have a relationship with a girl. I read books, and went to church religiously, I thought I knew so much, but I was missing the key, the heart. I had all the head knowledge but my heart was not allowed to get involved, because there was this part of my heart that I had been squashing for so long.
Although the feelings had already begun surfacing, my desire to have a relationship with a girl really came to a head when I started my first summer job at the age of 15. The person who employed me is gay, and I believe it was the first time I had ever knowingly met a gay couple. They were so normal, and it made me actually properly ask myself the question for the first time, could I?
Could I be gay? Could I have a relationship with a girl? How did lesbians even have sex? Then at this point I was overwhelmed with guilt. I felt bad and sinful for even having thoughts about having a relationship with a girl, let alone sex, and I turned to self-harm as a way to relieve that guilt.
I had watched my brother struggle with my parents on the issue of his sexuality, they had not been accepting at all, and my overall impression is of them being very angry and controlling. I had very little desire to come out to them.
I came out to a couple of other school friends, and eventually my whole friendship group knew. On the whole, I received so much love and support from them, for which I will always be so grateful.
I never intended to come out to my parents, and it was not my choice to. When I was 16, my dad sat me down and pretty much forced it out of me. He knew about my self-harming, and wanted to know why, he lulled me into thinking he was going to be supportive, and started guessing. He hit the nail on the head and guessed that I was gay, and my non-answer gave it away. Initially, to his credit, my dad seemed quite accepting, but it didn't take long before the façade slipped away.
He told me that I wasn't gay, that I was confused, that I hadn't met the right boy, that I was too young to make such a decision. His favourite argument of all is that he dislikes labels, and doesn't think I should label myself. He was also convinced that somehow my brother, or someone else had influenced me and turned me gay.
It's taken me years to reduce the guilt, and I am still not sure I'm fully there yet. It has been difficult to reconcile my Catholic faith, with my experience and convictions surrounding sexuality. Now however, I could never go back behind those barriers of shame, I fall in love with who I love, and there is nothing broken about me.
you will restore my life again; from the depths of the earth you will again bring me up (Psalm 71:20)
During my daily Bible reading this was part of the Psalm that really stood out to me. I've been experiencing a lot of ups and downs in my mood lately and today has been a bit of a low day so this made me feel like God was reaching down to me and promising that things will get better again.