Category Archives: politics

Challenging the Traditional Gender Binary is not a Disorder: The Insensitivity of the Diocese of Marquette’s Comparison of Gender Dysphoria to Anorexia

The Diocese of Marquette recently received attention for issuing a guidance stating that “a person who publicly identifies as a different gender than his or her biological sex or has attempted ‘gender transitioning’ may not be baptized, confirmed, or received into full communion in the church, unless the person has repented.”

To defend this, the Diocese compares transgender persons to persons suffering from anorexia.

“In this disorder there is an incongruence between how the persons perceive themselves and their bodily reality,” the guidance says. “Just as we would refer a person with anorexia to an expert to help him or her, let us also refer persons with gender dysphoria to a qualified counselor to help them while we show them the depth of our love and friendship.

This shows not only how insensitive and close-minded the diocese is toward LBGTQIA+ persons, but also how out of touch they are with the reality of those suffering with mental health issues (many of whom are also gay or transgender).

According to ANAD, eating disorders, of which anorexia is the most deadly, kill one person every 52 minutes. Although extreme weight loss and/or body dysmorphia sometimes accompany an eating disorder, less than 6% of people with eating disorders are medically underweight. In other words, anorexia is not simply a thin person thinking they are overweight (which already is a problematic term given that the BMI is a racist, sexist standard that was invented to measure populations of white European men, not health). Going to sleep at night and not knowing if you or your loved one is going to wake up due to the physical effects of an eating disorder is an experience that I would not wish on anyone. I cannot believe that living with an eating disorder is living how God intended one to be, although I believe God’s love is never far from a person in the depths of one. 

Being gay or transgender is neither disordered nor unhealthy. The disorder, rather, lies in the hearts of those who remain closed to any challenge to a strict gender binary.  God desires our human flourishing, and unlike the case of an eating disorder, I cannot believe that a person being able to perform the gender identity that fits with what they feel in their heart is against God’s will or intention. What kind of God would want otherwise? The only reason being gay or transgender is life-threatening is our reactions. According to the Trevor Project, 42% of LGBTQ youth seriously considered suicide in the past year. As a college professor, I have read and talked to numerous students who have lost their faith in God due to the cruelty they have experienced from Catholic parents, clergy, teachers, and friends. I always tell them that with this reaction, they show a knowledge of God deeper than most. In the words of Edward Schillebeeckx, “it is better not to believe in God than a God than enslaves human beings.” Whatever “God” would treat them as such cannot be God at all.

When I was fifteen, I witnessed a gay teenager get kicked out of an eating disorder treatment program, a program he did not feel comfortable in since it was clearly and explicitly designed for cisgender girls. I can still vividly remember his mother’s cries. Perhaps, being only fifteen, people might let me of the hook for not saying or doing more. However, thirty-two year- old recovered me with a PhD in theology has no excuse and refuses to stay silent any longer.

I am a volunteer support group leader for people struggling with eating disorders, many of whom are transgender or non-binary. Transgender college students report experiencing disordered eating at four times the rate of their cisgender classmates. Eating disorders are linked to the experience of being forced to hide one’s true identity from others, to not be able to express themselves freely (something non-binary people would not have to do if we could all be more kind). Eating disorders are hell as it is. Imagine on top of that having to worry about where you can use the bathroom, or whether your relationship will be recognized by others, or whether you will be forced to leave your church, your gym, or even your family simply for being who you are. I hear stories like these all the time.

If the Catholic Church truly cared about people with anorexia, this comparison would never have been made. And, of course, the Catholic Church cannot claim to care about those with eating disorders and at the same time, deny sacraments to non-binary people. Eating disorders are issues of gender, sexuality, race, ability, and socioeconomic status. Discrepancies still exist among who gets diagnoses and treatment and who does not. You cannot be a true mental health advocate if you do not acknowledge this and attempt to dismantle gender and racial biases in health care.

Sure, many of you may tell me that this is just one diocese statement, that its likely not going to be put into practice in many parishes, and you are right. However, the words have been said and damage has been done. The pain of being rejected by one’s “home parish” is not always remedied by just going to a different, more progressive one, which, while it might be kinder, still cannot marry a gay couple. Also, not everyone has access to multiple parishes in their neighborhood.

The denial of sacraments to gay and transgender Catholics should bring pain to all of us. Leaving others out does not bring joy. Rather, it makes a mockery of the sacraments, which are not contests but encounters with God that are not meant to be reserved for the “in crowd.”

And yes, it also time for the Church to do something about weight stigma too. Funny the diocese mentions getting help for someone with anorexia, yet I cannot tell you how many people I know who have heard disparaging weight jokes from the pulpit during Lent.

It is sad how religious people often want to claim a certain “type” to be holy. Yet, God is beyond human, and therefore God does not have a size, a race, a gender, a sexual orientation, etc. So, really, we are all called to see the image of God in so many different people and places, and relationships. Maybe that’s challenging and uncomfortable sometimes, but Christianity was never supposed to be easy.

A Bully May Be Our President, But It Does Not Have To Mean “The Bullies” Won

A lot of people who know me now may find it hard to believe, but I was a bullied kid, and bullied for a variety of reasons. First I was fat. Then I was too skinny. First I was shy and awkward, then when I started to come out of my shell and talk, I was loud and awkward.

I do not say this to get sympathy, as a lot of people have went through much worse. However, I will say that even post -getting a master’s degree from Harvard, running a marathon, and getting proposed to by a handsome Harvard physicist, the pain of bullying never fully heals. When I am back in my hometown and I run by the elementary school I attended from fourth to sixth grade, I do not happily point it out to my fiance, but rather, I seriously want to barf.

I feel the need to write this today because this afternoon, in the words of many Americans, a “bully” officially became our president. Even if you like Donald Trump, and think he will do a great job in office, and you are certainly entitled to that opinion, you cannot argue that he does not meet the definition of a bully. A “bully,” plain and simple, is “a person who uses strength or influence to harm or intimidate others. ” Yes, in other words, stuff like “grab them by the pussy” and the mocking of a disabled reporter are examples of bullying, there is no way around it.

Understandably, many of us are worried about what this means. We fear that “bullies are now ruling the playground,” and we are anxious about what message this will send to children. Growing up, I always thought that by the time I reached my 20s, what I call “junior high bullshit” would be long gone from my life. Sadly, I have learned that “junior high bullshit” exists everywhere, among people of all ages and levels of education.

However, this realization has also given me hope. I used to think that resisting a bully required a lot of skills, power, or authority, but, in fact, we can all resist bullies fairly easily. We may think of bullies as strong and powerful, and Donald Trump taking office seems to prove this point. However, bullies gain their strength and power from bystanders, just as Donald Trump will only gain power and influence if supported by Congress and American citizens. A bully can only have control if others let him, in other words, if those surrounding the bully remain silent or laugh along or say, “that’s no big deal.” If no one laughs at a bully’s taunts, he or she is no longer funny. If people tell a bully to stop making fun of another person, and reaffirm that the target of said bully is “really cool” or even, “their friend,” the bully does not succeed in hurting and isolating that person (or at least not as much as the person would have been hurt had no one said anything)- the bully does not achieve his or her goal.

Nothing illustrates this better than a story from- you guessed it- junior high. A girl in my group of friends was being a bully and her target was another friend of ours. When the bully received an invitation to this girl’s birthday party, she mocked it for being “babyish” and talked about how we all should not go. However, a few of my friends and I got together and said, “we are going to the party.” (This decision was not as simple as it sounds. We were not total saints- we each individually struggled with whether or not going to the party would make us “not cool.”) When the Saturday of the party came around, almost everyone who was invited showed up, except for the bully. We all enjoyed a fun night of games, cake, and laughter, while the bully sat home with nothing to do. This situation taught me that a bully has only as much power as others choose to give him or her. Without our support, the bully was powerless to ruin this birthday. She was no longer “cool” and “in charge, ” though she quite easily could have been had my friends and I given into our fears and made a different decision.

Trump’s ideas cannot thrive without support, or, at least, complicit silence by a large number of people. Already, we are weakening such ideas through events like the Women’s March in Washington DC, with counterparts taking place in Boston, New York, and other parts of the country, and with people making pledges to accompany neighbors who may feel particularly threatened by violence or ridicule in public. We are making the statement that disparagement of Muslims is “not OK,” that mocking disabled people is “not funny,” that joking about sexual assaulting women is not “super cool locker room talk.” However, these actions cannot stop after the inauguration hype dies down. We need to keep calling our representatives, keep protecting those who have been the target of violence, and keep donating our time and money to organizations whose funding may be in jeopardy. We need to do this even when doing it is no longer “fashionable” or “stylish” as it is quickly becoming on Facebook.

Trump is a bully, but it is up to us whether or not living under a Trump presidency means living in “ a culture of bullying.” We need to stop being bystanders in our everyday lives and refuse to participate in “junior high bullshit.” Don’t just refrain from making disparaging remarks about people – say something when you hear one- even if it doesn’t apply to you, it hurts someone else! Don’t exclude people for the sake of popularity- don’t be the person who doesn’t invite a classmate with autism to the party because he “acts weird,” or doesn’t invite the gay couple because that might be “controversial to some people” (all bullshit I’ve witnessed in my life). Don’t say no to a friendship with someone different from you because you are worried about how that will look to other people. Don’t laugh at a harmful joke just to impress the joke-teller and you don’t want to “ruin the fun.” When you do those things, you become the bully too. Just because people of a certain race, gender, sexual orientation, or religion go to your school or work in your office, does not mean they feel welcome. It does not mean sexism, racism, and homophobia are issues of the past.

Speaking from my personal experience as a bullied kid, I can say that it is the bystanders that hurt the most. I have long ago forgiven the bullies. They were just instigators, the pain they caused barely lingers. It is the people who laughed along at a bully’s taunts, the people who said “no, you can’t sit with us at lunch,” the people whom I thought were my friends but ditched me when they realized I wasn’t “cool,” who hurt me much more deeply. “You’re weird” or “you’re ugly” or even, “you should go kill yourself” were just one person’s words, they weren’t so bad. But it was the bystander’s laughs, rejections, and silence that made me feel like those words were true.

One final note- I do not think a person deserves to be labeled a “bully” indefinitely. I do believe that people who formerly engaged in bullying behavior, can reject their former ways and become the allies of those who experience bullying. I hope and pray that this can someday be said of Donald Trump. People accuse me of not “giving him a chance.” I am more than willing to “give him a chance,” but he needs to stop bullying and sincerely apologize to those he has hurt before I am going to stop resisting.

So, stand up, my friends, not just to Trump’s bullying, but to bullying behavior wherever you may see it.

Challenge Hillary If You Must But Stop Telling Her To Lower Her Voice

In the 2016 Democratic primary, we have two strong candidates. There are legitimate reasons to prefer one candidate over the other. Most of us do. Therefore, it is perfectly acceptable to critique Hillary Clinton on her policy positions, past speeches/votes/decisions, etc. As a Hillary supporter, I want to hear such critiques and dialogue with those who have opinions that differ from my own. After all, my fiance is “feeling the Bern” and we are still happily engaged.

However, to be frank, I am tired of hearing people complain about Hillary Clinton’s voice. Is she loud? Yes. IT’S A POLITICAL DEBATE. In political debates, people vigorously defend their policy positions. When have you ever seen a candidate sit back and say, “Oh gee thanks, you’re right, I’m wrong, sorry I’m running for president and taking up your time.”

Before dismissing the possibility that sexism is at play here, please think carefully. As a woman in academia, I can say that many people are still very uncomfortable with a woman being assertive. I cannot begin to tell you how many times I have been told I was “loud” or should “calm down.” Every day, I witness female students (undergraduates all the way up to the doctoral level) apologize for raising their hand to make a point, or for disagreeing with a professor or fellow student. Numerous studies have shown that American workers still prefer a male boss to a female boss. A male leader is strong and efficient, while a female one is often “bitchy” and “loud.” Women are still subject to scrutiny for their appearance more so than men (Barack Obama’s suits never seemed to get as much air time as Hillary Clinton’s did in 2008). Women are expected to always smile (yes, it was also wrong to criticize Carly Fiorina for not smiling enough), be polite, and look pretty. I am not accusing men here, women expect this of other women too, albeit often unconsciously.

There is nothing wrong with not liking what a woman (or any public person) has to say. All I ask is that we all think twice before criticizing the way she says it or for defending her beliefs (even if they are not your own). There are a lot of questions Hillary may need to answer from voters, but she does not need to apologize for taking up space.

Personally, I want a president who is loud (I think most of us do!). I want a president who feels passionately about the issues facing this country. I want a president who is going to be boisterous in protesting Congressional attempts to restrict women’s access to reproductive health care, or to defund Planned Parenthood, or to justify discrimination against the LGBTQ community.

Last night, I was very proud of both candidates, namely for talking about the issues that matter instead of the size of Donald Trump’s you-know-what. Did things get heated? Yes. But BOTH candidates interrupted one another to correct what they believed were misrepresentations of their views, and BOTH candidates were pretty vocal in defending themselves against criticism. And I am glad they did! That’s how debates work. That is why moderators are there.

So, please, tell me why you are voting for Bernie Sanders. Challenge me. Ask me questions.  I am not always right, neither is Hillary Clinton (or anybody!) But, please, don’t tell me to be quiet or lower my voice (unless we are in church or the library or a context where it is inappropriate to argue politics). And don’t tell Hillary to lower her’s either!


A Loud and Proud Female Voter

For The 2016 Presidential Campaign: As A Woman, 6 Things I Ask of Fellow Voters

During the 2008 presidential campaign, I was a freshman at Fordham University and an avid Hillary Clinton supporter in the Democratic primary. While I did not get up and shout this from the rooftops of my dorm room in Manhattan, I did proudly display stickers on my backpack and was happy to tell people whom I was voting for when asked. I was deeply offended when many people expressed the following sentiments to me:

“Are you just voting for her because she is a woman?” Yes, even though I am a political science major, I know nothing about politics. And when I participated in the Young Democrats in high school, I was secretly a diehard Republican.

“You should read up on the issues.” Because, of course, an eighteen year old woman is too stupid to pick up a newspaper.

“Just so you know, electing a woman is not going to solve all the problems of gender inequality.”   Sorry. I totally mistook Hillary Clinton for the second coming of Jesus Christ.

“You should vote for the best candidate instead of voting for someone because you want to see a woman president.” Yes, because there is just no way a woman could actually BE the best candidate. No way, not when there are men running.

Some of my rejoinders are sarcastic, but I think my point is clear. So, this year, I am making a few simple requests.

1. Please do not accuse me of supporting Hillary Clinton just because she is a woman.

You can disagree with me, and you can even actively campaign against Hillary Clinton. However, please respect that I am an informed and intelligent woman. I would not vote for a woman who does not share the same concerns as I do or who holds policy positions that differ drastically from my own.

2. If you are going to criticize Hillary Clinton, please criticize her on something that is actually relevant.

Keep your comments about clothing, weight, hair style, and appearance to yourself. Not only are such comments rude and demeaning, but they contribute nothing to your argument that I should vote for your preferred candidate. Women are not sex objects.

3. Before reacting negatively to a particular comment or speech, please honestly ask yourself “Would I feel the same way if this had been said or done by man?”

Would you think a man was unable to cope with the stress of the presidency if he were to show emotion?

Would you call a man bossy or a bitch for being a demanding leader or for being assertive in a debate?

I am not saying that women cannot abuse their power, but women and men should be held to the same standards.

4. Please do not say something along the lines of “I’m sorry, but I’m voting for …..”

Don’t apologize. I am not angry with you for not supporting Hillary Clinton and I do not think you are sexist. As theologian Emilie Townes states, “refusing to critique is a sign of devaluing and disrespect or worse- ignorance.” If you can tell me that you are not voting for Hillary because you disagree with some of the actions she took as Secretary of State, or differ with her certain political issues, all without using misogynist language, it shows that you take a woman seriously as a presidential candidate. It also shows that you recognize my intelligence, strength, and maturity as a woman voter. My two favorite topics are politics and religion (the two things you are not supposed to talk about at the dinner table), I can handle a debate!

5. Do not tell other women they are supposed to vote for Hillary or else they are traitors.

What women are SUPPOSED to do is making an opinion based on their own values, beliefs, and concerns. Telling a woman she needs to vote for a woman in order to be a feminist defeats the entire purpose of feminism.

6. Do not say that sexism is a thing of the past just because we have a female running for president.

The election of Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012 were celebratory moments, but racism still persists. There is still work to be done. Similarly, if we elect Hillary Clinton in 2016, it will signal that some more progress has been made, but it will not be a panacea for all the struggles women still face in our country. We all still need to examine our own biases and listen to those who have been and continue to be marginalized on the basis of race, gender, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, or physical disability. 

Disagreements, even among persons of the same political party, are inevitable as election season gets into gear. We need not shy away from expressing our honest opinions, but let us please do so without using misogynistic, racist, or heterosexist language. To the person who disagrees with you, say “I disagree with you. I feel differently, here is why….” instead of “You’re an idiot.” In the end, let’s face it, none of us (not even Hillary Clinton, although I admire her greatly) has all of the correct answers!

2016 election