“Transgenderism” isn’t a thing.
But there are fully human persons who—for reasons that we cannot possibly begin to comprehend—feel so disconnected from the biological sex of their own body that the effort just to stay alive becomes day by day a losing battle.
To speak of the slowly ebbing strength to go on living is no exaggeration for too many transgender persons. It’s a stark, statistical fact: unable to escape their own anatomy, and the mockery or hostility or impossible expectations of their families, their societies, their churches, they peer in alarming numbers into the abyss of non-being and see no other recourse but to fall headlong into its bottomless depths.
I can’t speak or write of these things without tears flowing down my face. I’m the father of a 35-year old transgender son. He’s probably the person I love most of all in the world. This isn’t to say that I love him “objectively” more than my other four sons, or more than my granddaughter, or my soon-to-be-born second granddaughter.
I mean that he occupies a place in my heart that I did not know existed, a place deeper than the rest of my progeny because a place more painful—and more painful because I cannot fathom the courage it takes to live his life, to walk out the front door and face the world morning by morning, moment by moment.
So let’s be clear about one thing: I don’t love my son in spite of who and what he is, but precisely as he is, because of who and what he is.
And if I who am evil know how to love my son so much, how much deeper must be our heavenly Father’s bottomless ocean of love for my son, for His own son, adopted and clothed in uncreated light in the waters of baptism. “Grant unto me the robe of light, O most merciful Christ our God, who clothest Thyself with light as with a garment.”
If I who am evil don’t care about bathrooms and pronouns and all the isms of the diabolical culture wars, but about my son, how much less does our heavenly Father care about bathrooms and pronouns and isms than He does about my son, His son, our son whom He has so graciously shared with me as a priceless gift in my unworthiness and ineptitude to become his father.
Do I have all the theological answers? Ha, I wouldn’t even know where to begin. My own “transition” as the father of a transgender child is a never-ending journey of heart and soul in which I sometimes feel that I haven’t even taken the first step. Much less do I feel equipped to expatiate theologically or philosophically on why some persons simply must transition in order to go on living.
Let the full force of that sink in: In order to go on living.
But I do know this. Our Lord, God, and Saviour Jesus Christ, during His earthly life, reserved His condemnation for the following: the “moral” who judged others; the religiously self-righteous; those who thanked God for making them better than other people (you know what you can do with your “There, but for the grace of God…”); those who turned prayer and worship into a capitalist venture; and those who ignored the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, the homeless, the foreigner, the lonely, the convict, the sick. In short, everyone whom the religious establishment deems “non-normative” comes to us as He Himself in disguise.
Beloved Masters, Fathers, monastics, brothers, sisters, theologians, and religious thinkers in the Orthodox Church: Until you have met my son face to face, looked into his eyes as through a window into his heart and soul, witnessed his love for the least of Christ’s brethren, listened—truly listened—to the story of his life, his need to be loved and welcomed by you, his reasons for transitioning to save his own life, you have nothing of value, or legitimacy, or authenticity, to say to him.
Forgive my bluntness. Surely you must understand the reaction when you mess with a man’s kid.
My son is not an ism. He’s my son.
Giacomo Sanfilippo is the immeasurably grateful father of five sons, a PhD student in Theological Studies at Trinity College in the University of Toronto, and an editor at Orthodoxy in Dialogue. He holds an Honours BA in Sexuality Studies from York University, Toronto.