Monday, December 24, 2012

A Christmas letter to the Pope


Your Holiness,

I am writing to you because you have been writing about me. You are telling me that I am calling into question “the very notion of being" and also the notion "of what being human really means” and that I am living out a theory whose “profound falsehood... is obvious”.

You seem to be misinformed about me, Your Holiness, and I wanted to write to you in all friendliness to help you understand me better. Because I am not alone in this, there are a great many of us, and perhaps more than you imagine; and if you continue in this vein I am afraid you will only continue to look foolish and bring the Catholic Church into disrepute.

I am so pleased you enjoyed your experiences abroad this year, and the experience of being acclaimed by multitudes. I hope it reminds you how much good spiritual leadership is needed in this dark and suffering world. But I believe there are many millions more waiting for you to communicate the truths of love and commit yourself to the cause of justice, peace, and human liberation.

I should introduce myself. I was born in a male body and brought up by loving parents to be a man. However from a very early age I found myself suffering from the unshakeable, profound and to me completely inexplicable feeling that there was a mismatch between the gender I was told I belonged to, and that my body told me I belonged to, and the gender to which in my deep self I felt I belonged.

For fifty years I followed the advice I imagine your church would urge on me and did everything I could to suppress and deny this feeling. I was so blessed to be happily married for 33 years and to have two beautiful loving children and to achieve success as a writer.

But this did not ease my suffering or my feeling of somehow not being true to my deep self. Indeed, it all intensified with the passing of time.

It was a torment, your Holiness, that I can assure you. The suffering involved in what is now termed “gender dysphoria” is not something I would wish on my worst enemy.

Sadly, my wife died before we were able to resolve this together. It was only after her death, and with my children grown up, that I was able to take the hormones and have the necessary surgery to enable me to live as a woman.

Since then I have been able to find peace.

I did intend to have full Gender Re-assignment Surgery, which you call “mutilation”, though I can assure you it has saved many many lives and enabled countless people, like myself, to live happier and more fulfilled lives.

I do not understand why you would wish to prolong our suffering.

I should add, perhaps, that a heart condition prevented me from having the full operation and in the end I opted for having my testes removed. 

So I suppose I am now what the Bible calls a “eunuch”; and although you would, I am sure, deplore the step I have taken I hope you will forgive me if I remind you of the passage in Matthew (19:12) in which Jesus Himself acknowledges and blesses our existence. I would also add that many of us draw great comfort and strength from the passage in Acts (8:26) in which the Apostle Philip baptises the Ethiopian eunuch and accepts him/her into the church without the slightest hesitation. Perhaps it is not too great a stretching of the text to understand “eunuch” as referring to all gender variant people.

I know you find our existence troubling, and would like to “put a stop” to us and all that we represent; but I have to tell you that you will fail.

You quote the Bible story which asserts “male and female created He them”; I take this as a very beautiful assertion of the fact that we are all a mix of male and female; and I take the greatest pleasure in the knowledge that a Rabbinical school  interpreted this text to mean that the very first human being was an androgyne.

Gender variant people like myself have been in existence for almost as long as recorded history, and we are acknowledged and celebrated in most of the cultures that exist in the world. I refer to the hijra  of India, the waria  and bissu  of Indonesia, the kathoey  of south east Asia, the muxe  of Mexico, the two spirit people  of North America, and many more besides.

For myself, I would not claim to be a woman; but I can certainly live as one. And live very happily and contentedly too.

This Christmas, I am looking forward to being with my daughters, my sons-in-law, my mother-in-law, and my baby grandson. We love each other, and on the whole we get on very well; and I am sure none of us understand how we are “part of the attack we are currently experiencing on the true structure of the family”.

I assure you, your Holiness, we are experiencing no such thing. My dear grandson will grow up knowing he is loved by his mother and his father and by his grandmothers too. He will also come to understand very early on that one grandmother is also his mother’s father, and this will seem to him the most natural thing in the world.

There are many children growing up like him, your Holiness. You cannot prevent it; and I am sure the world will become a kinder and less prejudiced place as a result.

I imagine your Christmas will be a lonely one, your Holiness, and I am sad about that. We have both been blessed with the great gift of sexuality, which has given me, and continues to give me, profound joy and pleasure. 

You have devoted your life to renouncing this gift. How this differs from the “manipulation of nature” which you so eloquently denounce I cannot claim to understand; but leaving the rights and wrongs of it aside, I know for sure this must cause you the profoundest suffering.

I feel for you in this, because for so many years I denied myself also.

And because you, like me, are human, I know that in spite of your very best intentions you will find it almost impossible not to make others suffer as a result.

All the more reason, your dear Holiness, to wish you a very Happy Christmas.

Yours sincerely,

Jo Clifford


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