One thing I probably should have made clearer from the outset: I don’t regard religion or even faith as a prerequisite to living a good live. I’ve met morally upstanding atheists and some really horrible people who also were professed Christians, Jews or Muslims.
And I always regarded missionary work as a little bit strange, especially when I read horror stories about forced and coerced conversions—which, after all, were happening not that long ago in Canada and Australia.
I mean, really? Someone has a perfectly serviceable belief system, and you take it away from them and impose your own, and why? Because your holy book says your belief system is better? Guess what? Their holy book says their system is better.
As I noted in Part 2, my disenchantment with my Catholic faith was growing at the same time I accepted the fact that I was transgendered. But it also grew as I learned more about fundamentalist Christianity.
Most commercial radio stations run some kind of religious programming on Sunday mornings. Often, it’s paid for by a church or denomination. For several years after college, I worked for one of these radio stations, running the religious programming. What an eye-opener!
Most of the programs at our little station were paid for by Protestant churches, and all but one were unaffiliated with any of the so-called U.S. mainstream denominations such as Lutheran, Presbyterian or Methodist.
Our programs were hosted by largely self-taught preachers who disdained those mainstream churches as weak or corrupt. You want to talk fire and brimstone? These guys brought the fire and brimstone, with a heavy dose of the Old Testament and Paul’s epistles, taken straight out of the King James Version of the Bible. (“Modern” translations were viewed as weak and corrupt.)
Gays? Fornicators and perverts, sent by Satan to corrupt the Godly. Feminists? Liars who were going against Paul’s teachings. Liberals? People who believe in evolution? Women who work outside the home? All of them, tools of the devil.
Remember: They were broadcasting this stuff in the 21st century in Pittsburgh, Pa., and they still are, if you tune in any of Pittsburgh’s many Christian radio stations.
Oh, and effeminate men. Some of these preachers really had it out for effeminate men. It gave me a kind of perverse glee to listen to preachers bash effeminate men as I used my now-hairless arms and long, polished nails to put their programs on the air.
(And all of it was served with a thick-cut slab of patriotism. As I wrote recently, I was a Boy Scout, and I was proud of my ability to properly care for an American flag, but this stuff was starting to gag me. I particularly began to despise a song called “We Want America Back” by The Steeles, which showed up regularly on our religious programming. The writer of the song, Jeff Steele, says he now regrets the song’s jingoism.)
It was a pipeline of propaganda for George W. Bush’s most rabid fans, and it was designed to convert me to fundamentalist Christianity, but instead, it was having the opposite effect. It was making me question my own shallow but long-held religious beliefs.
I would spend Sunday at the radio station and then go to Mass, and hear many of the same hurtful things about women and gays in homilies, or read those same things in articles in the Pittsburgh Catholic. They were said in a kinder, more professional way, but they weren’t that different.
This was starting to put me in a really bad place, because inside, I was identifying more and more as female. So to remain a faithful Catholic, I had to either believe that I was inferior for two reasons. First, I was inferior because my physical sex didn’t match my gender identity, lumping me into that LGBTQ category that Catholic bishops kept railing against.
Second, I was inferior because women are inferior, at least in the eyes of the Catholic church and more conservative strains of Protestantism.
A word here — many Catholics will deny the church treats women as inferiors. Women are celebrated as saints, they’ll say, and Jesus’ mother, Mary, is venerated above all other saints. Women have important positions as heads of Catholic colleges and universities. Women such as Mother Teresa and Mother Angelica, head of the EWTN television network, have made important contributions in teaching and ministry.
All of this is true, but the centerpiece of Catholic life is the Mass, and women aren’t allowed to be at that center of Catholic life, because they can’t be priests. And because women can’t be priests, they can’t hold leadership positions in the church hierarchy. And because women can’t be in the hierarchy, they can’t set policy. And because they can’t set policy, they don’t truly have a voice—and those women who try to raise their voices to speak truth to power will find themselves facing the wrath of the male clergy, as happened last year when the Vatican reprimanded the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, the largest U.S. organization representing Catholic nuns, for their supposed “radical feminism.” (Among other things, the nuns were chastised for doing too much work on poverty and not enough to fight same-sex marriage. The horror!)
To be a woman and a Catholic requires one to have the patience and discipline to will yourself to suffer injustice silently, or blinders to ignore what’s going on, or some internal self-loathing.
Well, I wasn’t blind to what was going on. The more I learned about male privilege, the angrier it made me, especially that I could now more easily imagine the loss of my own male privilege. And conservative Christian teachings about women’s roles seemed like the worst kind of male privilege.
Patience and discipline? Me?! Get real!
And self-loathing? Well, in the process of finally confronting my gender identity, I’d suddenly shed a lot of the self-loathing I’d felt for years.
So I wasn’t about to accept that women were inferior to men, and I wasn’t about to suffer silently, so whatever else I was, it was clear I wasn’t Roman Catholic any more.
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We’ve never discussed this, but I also worked for a gospel radio station – in a doublewide trailer in the middle of Kentucky. I believe it was 1996? So I can picture this whole scene. Wow. There was no Catholic presence on the air, but plenty of fire and brimstone.
I hadn’t realized how much I internalized Catholic messages about women until I was in a position of complete domination by a priest – even though I was employed by an order of nuns, I was at his mercy (little enough as there was) and the outcome was not pretty. His sense of entitlement was fueled by the “father worship” and it belied his ignorance on certain matters. Very sad.
The misogeny which underlies so much other abuse (and “isms”) is something which most Catholics do not want to acknowledge or address. If women (and LGBT folks and others who don’t meet the criteria of most revered) simply mind their conduct and act appropriately, we are at best tolerated and permitted to participate.
It is very sad. I miss the Church I thought I knew. But it never existed.