A Father Can Also Be a Woman

Photo by William Widmer for Al Jazeera America

Years in the making, my profile of a Catholic nun with a secret ministry to the transgender community has been published at Al Jazeera America. I hope that, above all, it points to some ways in which transgender experience not merely challenges Catholic faith, but is poised to deepen it:

[Hilary] Howes told the story of her life as a parable, a tale of a girl born with a penis and expected to live like a boy. “She died a little each day.” The girl grew up into a man, married a woman and became a father. Yet the dying continued. She decided to reveal herself, at last. Her wife and daughter stuck with her through it all. With the help of hormone treatments, father and daughter went through puberty together.

As the parable caught up with the present, Howes turned to a discussion of the hierarchy’s official position, or lack thereof, and the basic comfort she feels in her church, and in her faith, day to day. “I make a good spokesperson because I’m disarmingly normal,” she said.

She’d observed over the years that liberal Catholics — the kind likely to be friendly toward LGBT rights, the kind likely to be in the room — often feel uncomfortable with the masculine language Catholic tradition tends to use for God: Him, Father, Lord. Some prefer to discard those words altogether. But Howes had noticed that the old-fashioned words have never really bothered her.

With her dimples hinting at a sly smile, she said, “I suppose it’s because I know that a father can also be a woman.”

Read the rest (and see William Wedmer’s moving photographs) at Al Jazeera America.