That's the story, as it goes within mainstream Catholic discourse. I tried to live that story for twelve years. I figured that maybe if I just limped along for long enough, trying to strengthen my broken femininity, eventually it would completely heal. I would be whole again. Made in the image and likeness of God. As He intended, according to His authentic plan for human sexuality.
Then I was sitting there, in the middle of the winter, and I looked down at my body, and I realized that I didn't feel feminine. That I only rarely feel feminine. That my body image is more often than not male, and that in twelve years of trying to be the perfect woman, I'd only succeeded in fostering a deep strain of self-loathing, and a profound resentment for women to whom femininity comes easily.
I made tremendous progress at first: I went from being unable to be emotionally open with anyone to being able to be emotionally and sexually open in a romantic relationship with my husband. I went from feeling completely alienated by the idea of child-bearing to being an enthusiastic mother, a fruitful vine, open to life. I went from seeing Mary as an image of female subservience and humiliation to seeing her as an icon of archetypal femininity, “fair as the moon, bright as the sun, terrible as an army set in battle array.” Everything that could be altered by a shift in ideology, by a willful change in my relationships with men and with God, by an alteration of behaviour, I had changed.
I had figured that the rest would follow naturally. Since I had come so far, surely those last few steps would be a cinch. And yet I found myself running again and again up against this barrier: that I could not change the way that I feel about my body, that I could not change my alienation from femininity, that I could not change the orientation of my involuntary attractions. I felt confused and frustrated. Everywhere I turned well-meaning Christian conservatives were rhapsodizing about the beautiful wisdom of the God who had created us to participate in the image of the intimate life of the trinity through our masculinity and femininity. Yet there was nothing on offer for people who found themselves slipping through the cracks: the transgendered, the intersexed, the queer. The best that I could find were some dubious psychoanalytic theories, and expensive treatments that allow some people to enjoy some reduction in unwanted SSA – and perhaps, in a minority of cases, to experience sufficient OSA to successfully marry. Since I was already successfully married, that didn't help much. Everything I encountered seemed to just assume outright that all people with gender-identity issues are suffering from a form of mental illness, probably because they had bad parents. I felt angry and abandoned. It seemed that the deepest vocation of the human soul, my Christian maturity, my conformity with Christ, depended on my ability to become someone that I could not become.
Then I took another look at Genesis: “In the Beginning...God created man...male and female he created them.” In the Beginning. The Beginning. In the Beginning, God created man to live forever and never to taste death. In the Beginning man was created without suffering. In the Beginning women were to give birth to their children in joy. In the Beginning things were very different than they are today. Since the Fall every part of the human person has been subject to frailty and imperfection: not merely in our psyches, our spirits and our wills, but also in our bodies. The intellect, the will, the memory, the conscience, even the ability to give and receive love can all be weakened or effaced by a variety of biological and neurological conditions which are completely involuntary. Why, if all parts of the human person are subject to the Fall in this way, would sexuality, masculinity and femininity, be the one thing which was kept miraculously exempt?
I realized that on this one particular issue men and women are being sent back to the gates of Eden. We are being told that in order to become perfectly conformed to Christ, we must somehow, through prayer, psychotherapy, exorcism, or shere willpower, become as we were before Eve took a bite of the apple.
But it is impossible to go that way. There is an angel standing at the gate, flaming sword in hand, crying “None shall pass.”
(Part 10 of 12)