Livescore Sunday, May 19

I was about 10 years old when my best friend and I had what my family now laughingly refers to as the “holy water fight.” It all stemmed from a dispute over a goal during a recess soccer game in our summer church youth program. The details of the incident that prompted the fight are disputed to this day (it was not a goal) and led to my friend Steve and I brawling and rolling into the long brush bordering the grassy field we turned into our makeshift playing field.

I can still remember the fury on the face of the chaperone who broke us up, a mustachioed man whose name I’ve long forgotten. Steve and I were still heated with each other as we re-entered the chapel to resume our Bible class. In a moment of frustration — or inspiration, depending on how you look at it — as we passed the holy water font near the entrance to the chapel, I reached out and slapped the water right at Steve.

Good Lord did I get in trouble for that decision, but it makes for a fond memory Steve and I, and my family, still regularly talk about to this day.

Growing up, my local Roman Catholic was my most important social connection outside of school. Most of my childhood friends were also Catholic, and every Sunday, we’d look forward to seeing each other at church. I knew even then that I was closeted transgender girl, though I did not understand at the time what that would end up meaning for my relationship with the church.

On Monday the Vatican released a document calling gender-affirming care “contrary to human dignity,” throwing my relationship with my faith even further away than it already was. I am a cradle Catholic — I grew up getting all the sacraments, from baptism to First Communion — but the church’s message this week likely stamped out whatever hope I ever had to come back to Catholic services.

I first left the church in 2002, not long after my confirmation, when the Boston Globe began exposing rampant church sexual abuse. I was not the only New England Catholic to stop supporting the church at that time. But back then, my deeply closeted trans identity wasn’t yet a factor in my alienation from the church.

Every once in a while, driving past a local Roman Catholic church, I’d reminisce about my youth in the church, of the camaraderie I had with my Bible class friends, of the neighbors I would shake hands with before, during and after Mass, and I’d feel a pull back to my roots. But as it became increasingly clear that I wouldn’t be able to suppress my gender identity in my mid-30s, I understood that the likelihood of returning to the church grew ever more remote. Why go back to an institution that so clearly wanted no part of me?

In place of church services, I have adopted a private spirituality. I still retain the excessive Catholic guilt that so many people who grew up in the church end up with, and I often contemplate my own mortality and how I can leave a positive legacy on the planet after I’m gone. There’s none of the pomp and circumstance — or community — of my childhood church, but that’s how I’ve maintained my spiritual health outside of Catholicism.

There have been a lot of headlines over the last few years about the “woke pope” Pope Francis, who has repeatedly called on Catholics to stop persecuting gay and lesbian people. He even met with a group of trans women as part of his so-called message of inclusivity not that long ago. But despite such gestures, the Vatican has always been one of the main players in anti-LGBTQ persecution in the Christian world.

Indeed, even the now-common term “gender ideology,” an amorphous phrase that means different things in different Western countries depending on that country’s conservative agenda (in Central America it mostly means abortion rights; in the U.S. it refers to trans people), started with the Vatican in 2003. “Although actors may not be aware of its religious origins, the discourse on ‘gender ideology’ often resonates with [conservative] ideas and criticisms of gender,” David Paternotte and Roman Kuhar wrote in their book “Anti-Gender Campaigns in Europe.” “In this context, ‘gender ideology’ becomes a ‘threat’ — an empty signifier which allows coalition making with a variety of actors precisely because of its ‘populist emptiness.’”

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve thought often of returning to my faith in some form. I miss the community I had as a child. There’s still a strange comfort in the scriptures for me, as I think about the Bible stories I grew up with. There are lessons to be learned in the story of the Good Samaritan, and I can’t help but cheer along during the story of Jesus flipping tables to drive the merchants out of the temple. I still think about Jesus telling his disciples that eunuchs can inherit the kingdom of heaven, and I smile. But the church’s dictate Monday is far removed from the Jesus I learned about who embraced the downtrodden and the eunuchs of the ancient world.

I haven’t been able to regain that sense of community I enjoyed in my childhood, and I’m not the only trans person lacking in-person community. According to a 2023 study, trans people are significantly more likely to feel lonely, isolated or excluded compared to the general population. The Jesus I learned about when I was younger would want trans people to find community in church.

But the Catholic Church has made clear for centuries that we simply aren’t welcome, most recently by calling our lifesaving medication a threat to human dignity. But from my perspective, big international religious organizations encouraging their institutions and followers to obsess over the possible genitalia of a small and highly marginalized demographic is completely devoid of dignity.

It’s also rich that the Vatican is so intent on alienating people like me while still struggling with its child abuse scandal. “He who is without sin among you, let him cast a stone at her,” Jesus is quoted as saying in the Gospel of John.

I understand that the church has religious beliefs, but trans people aren’t even mentioned in the Bible, making it strange that the church would so heavily focus on us as a minority for persecution. Young people in the West are leaving churches in droves in large part because of homophobia and transphobia. It’s disappointing to see the Vatican lean in on bigotry against people like me.

I’d love to come home to my church, but its opinions of me and my community make it impossible to do so. I’m not willing to abandon my trans identity or my health care, but I promise not to touch the holy water again.

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