Transmissions: In God's image

  • by Gwendolyn Ann Smith
  • Wednesday October 18, 2023
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Illustration: Christine Smith
Illustration: Christine Smith

Longtime readers will note that I don't often discuss matters of religion. It's not a topic I am comfortable with. I am predominantly agnostic, with a very strong pagan bent to my spirituality. While I have — over the course of my life — delved into mainstream religion, none of it really seems to fit me well. Because of this, I often feel more than a bit under-prepared to go too far into belief systems.

By the same token, I feel religion is, well, a personal matter. I don't feel a need to try to convince someone that their spiritual beliefs are somehow wrong, because I would take offense at someone claiming mine, too, are in error. I feel that, for the most part, one should be free to hold their religious beliefs as they wish, provided they aren't causing anyone else any harm in doing so.

This, of course, is where the issues lie.

For the majority of my life, I have seen mainstream religion used as a way to justify any number of things. Of particular importance to this column, I have seen it used, again and again, as a way to harm trans people like myself. It is something I have been witness to from the earliest weeks of my coming out. I have been told, over and over, that their God loves me, all the while being told that my existence is also one of sin.

Of course, in recent years, it has gone further: not only are they willing to preach against me, they have demanded the right to shape a culture where I am excluded, where even the mere mention of those like me is against the law. Rather than a place where we can have equality in the eyes of both God and the law, they seek a place where their rights stand proudly against me.

This I simply cannot abide.

One of my readers, Veronica, sent me a note the other day, alerting me to a September 29 "pastoral letter" from the Catholic Archdiocese of San Francisco, and signed by San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone and Bishop of Oakland Michael C. Barber, S.J. It can be read in full at here.

The timing of this was curious, as just several months earlier, in July, Pope Francis spoke about opening the possibility for blessing same-sex unions, all the while reaffirming that marriage in the Catholic Church is between a man and a woman, "naturally open to procreation."

The Vatican released the pope's letter earlier this month. It came before a major three-week meeting where LGBTQ Catholics were to be discussed.

The pope's letter is, on one hand, much further than we've seen before from the Catholic Church, while, at the same time, a fairly weak position that simply does not go far enough. That said, I've expected some in the church to push back even at this statement.

The aforementioned pastoral letter from Cordileone and Barber quotes Francis as well, referring to "gender ideology" as "one of the most dangerous ideological colonizations."

Now, first off, I will have to go into the notion of "gender ideology" more one of these days. While the letter does go into details as to what the archdiocese means when it uses the phrase, evoking "powerful cultural influences" and such, understand that this boils down to something simple: people understand their gender in a way the church doesn't like. We can go on about some non-defined "forces," or realize that we are talking about living, breathing humans, just like me.

The letter goes on: "Throughout her history, the Catholic Church has opposed notions of dualism that posit the body and soul as separate, non-integrated entities. The body is an integral and indispensable aspect of what it means to be a human person. The body and soul come into existence together, in an individual human being at the time of conception. From the beginning of his or her existence, the human person has a body that is sexually differentiated as male or female."

Setting aside the use of a pronoun to describe the body of the church, it is worth noting that the human body is not so differentiated. (The church as "she" comes from the Romance languages, the word for church is a feminine one in Latin, Italian, and Spanish, so it gets a feminine article attached.)

In the womb — and yes, I should note that this is a church that believes that life begins prior to one's first breath on this world — we all start out as a single, proto-gendered being, where our parts will change in the weeks prior to birth. Likewise, not everyone will ever be so differentiated. In spite of their notions of infallibility as expressed above, bodies are messy and imperfect, and not so formed.

Needless to say, the letter continues to attempt to claim to love all people, including transgender people, but denounces the care we need to survive in the world.

"Great harm can be done in situations where medical procedures and treatments fail to respect the fundamental created order of the human person," Cordileone and Barber write, a few paragraphs after claiming, "One can never be said to be in the 'wrong' body."

I agree with the latter sentence. This is my body, and it's not a mistake. It is, however, a trans body and, insofar as it fits their religion, my body is exactly what their deity may have meant for me to have. That same deity also provided the means to form this body and make it perfect, much like one can opt to correct for other needs.

Should there be such a God, then surely they made me in their image, just as I am: I am transgender, and no archdiocese may change that fact.

Gwen Smith is just as God and goddess envisioned her to be. You'll find her at

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