Guest post! Guest post!
Danica is a journalist, a mobile yoga studio owner and a metal rocker (and she and Elizabeth have known each other since they were ten years old!). She is also a transgender woman who distanced herself from the Catholic Church—the faith of her upbringing—in order to live out her identity in a healthy and positive way. At WIT’s request, she graciously agreed to write the following reflection as a window into her life story, especially her relationship with sexuality and with celibacy at different points in her transition.
This reflection also serves as a companion piece to a recent Washington Post article which describes the choices of many LGBT Christians to live a celibate lifestyle as a way of reconciling their sexualities with their Christian identity.
WIT is thrilled to have Danica tell her story.
Let’s just admit it: this is weird.
Both for you the reader (who probably is expecting something regarding a story about a woman and, you know, theology) and me (as someone who prays to St. Anthony to help me find my car keys but not too much else).
I’m a 30-year-old transgender woman, I haven’t celebrated mass weekly since I was 17, and I skipped out on church this past Christmas for the first time ever because, well, why bother? The Roman Catholic Church doesn’t want me for me and I don’t want it for it. If the Church and I were in court, we would have filed “irreconcilable differences” as our cause for splitting while I still attended a Catholic university in New York a decade ago.
Yet I think my story as someone who gained strength both from abstaining from sex and relationships in general as well as from being sexually active in a relationship may resonate with those questioning the role that sex plays in their lives.
This past December, the Washington Post ran an article that hit home for me while also contradicting my own worldview. Normally, I don’t discuss my views on religion or sex in a public forum. So it’s awkward for me to write about this in the first place, despite writing for a living. Religion for me is private. Talking about it can be divisive and I wholeheartedly believe you can be religious, nonreligious or somewhere in between (hi) and be a good person just as much as you can intentionally hurt others.
I grew up in the Roman Catholic Church. Baptized, confirmed, 13 years of Catholic schooling from fourth grade until I graduated college. Then I gave up Church. I didn’t feel accepted. I felt like the Church wanted me to be someone who’s not me. That includes gender identity and sexual orientation but goes so much deeper than that.
I’ve known about my gender identity and sexual orientation issues since I was a little kid. I can’t even begin to describe how psychologically damaging it is as a closeted teenager to have to answer on a test that “homosexuality is wrong” because “God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve” when the basis of that statement is BS in the first place. I vividly remember crying myself to sleep when I was 10 years old for thinking about a nondescript guy since I thought that meant I was going to hell. What an awful thing to instill in a child’s mind.
Even with all of that, I abstained from anything sexual beyond kissing until I was 22. When I finally became sexually active with cisgender straight and bisexual women, I tried so hard to “enjoy” actual sex, to make it right in my mind. Everything from first through third base was great: kissing, heavy petting and oral sex. I found pleasure in the acts, but I lacked sexual desire. I admired these women. I wanted to look like them, not look at them, at least, not with sexual passion.
After my last try at hitting it home in the spring of 2011, try No. 7, I just laid my head down on the pillow under me, looked to my left and said to a now dear friend, “I’m so sorry. I have a major case of the gay.” (I was presenting as male at the time, so saying “gay” just made it easier than saying “transgender.”) I just couldn’t fake it anymore. However, I was still another 1.5 years away from my first therapy date with a psychologist to talk about what it means to be a transgender person.
During my next three years of celibacy (I use the term loosely as I took care of my own needs, which prevented me from doing anything stupid with anyone else), I did nothing beyond first base with other people.
On the one hand, by fantasizing about myself as a woman in sexual situations with men, I could take care of whatever sexual feelings I did have in my heart from the privacy of my apartment instead of risk contracting an STD.
On the other hand, I harbored no capacity to open my heart to someone enough to trust that person with something as intimate as sex. At the time, I still privately nursed wounds from two previous relationships.
After the spring of 2011, I was done with men and women. Just done. I didn’t even attempt to date, I just focused on my band, on my job on my… anything else. Sure, I kissed a random person every so often but that barely even registers as significant.
Here’s where abstinence mattered significantly in my life.
While my feelings about gender dysphoria swirled daily, staying away from involving myself intimately with another person allowed me to spend hours upon hours researching every aspect of transgender life from people who transitioned or were transitioning: legal, hormonal, presentational, societal, home, religion; you name it, I looked it up.
I knew that if I was going to undertake something so drastic, I had to have a clear head, a well-informed mind and know all the risks involved. Most importantly, how could I date someone if I wasn’t comfortable or even capable of living as myself, the person I knew I was from the time I was in fifth grade but too scared to be?
Through abstinence, I had independence. I wasn’t concerned with hookup culture or trying to co-exist with someone beyond a friendship level. I’ve never sexually desired my own friends. By treating every new person as a potential friend instead of a potential relationship, I could see the world through a less judgmental lens.
By November 2012, I was ready to start my mental transitioning and made my first psychology appointment. By December 2013, I was ready physically and began hormone replacement therapy (HRT).
During the next two years after starting psychological counseling so I could prepare myself to transition, I still abstained from anything beyond kissing. Meanwhile, I started a job where I could present as female fulltime. I learned how to live as a woman, day-to-day, as a permanent part of my existence, something I never had the guts or ability to pursue prior to HRT.
After nearly two years of mentally transitioning and 10 months on HRT, my sense of identity crystallized. I was out at work, and to all of my closest friends, and I even began coming out to my Catholic family, finally revealing myself at home on my 30th birthday. I knew how I felt and that this was me; there was no going back into the closet. I was finally free to be me, all day, every day.
With that renewed sense of confidence and after 3.5 years of abstaining from anything beyond kissing, I met a transgender man who matched me psychologically. It took until I accepted and confirmed my gender identity as my day-to-day reality that I could open up to someone again intimately. Instead of the cisgender women and gay men whose needs I could never fulfill, for the first time, the dynamic changed: we developed a bond and, after months of courting, I finally let my guard down. We embraced.
And a funny thing happened: as I broke out of celibacy, I actually felt our bond strengthen. Our relationship matured and developed slowly and when we finally committed to each other, his moment of sexual ecstasy became mine and vice versa. After seven years, I was ready to love again and be loved in return.
Sex became as healthy as much as it became awkward between two transgender people who have naturally built in body issues and don’t engage in traditional penis-in-vagina sex but find other outlets for sexual expression. Yet by giving ourselves to each other, each of us learned what’s comfortable and what’s off limits. We set up boundaries. Even today, we talk out everything.
Most importantly, sex led to us telling each other for the first time, “I love you.” It led to the clutching tight grip that comes with a genuine embrace, that morning after of playful smiles and seemingly daylong hugs. It helped break down barriers about how we perceive our own bodies and how to define our own roles, gendered and other, when trying to be the best lover to our partner.
We’ve learned as much about ourselves as about each other. All of that is to say that I think celibacy can help someone figure out him/herself. If you can’t reconcile your mind and your heart with your sexual desire, then it will wreak havoc on you. When I wasn’t confident in my sense of identity before transitioning, I couldn’t have possibly made a meaningful, sexually intimate connection with someone else. Maybe exploring with a partner would have helped but I couldn’t put someone through the emotional roller coaster that comes with a lifelong identity crisis.
But celibacy can also have built-in limitations too for LGBT and cis-gender straight people alike. I think that the Washington Post article misses that physical intimacy, whether it be sex or anything else, can actually bring you closer to someone on a friendship or spiritual level. It’s not inherently negative. It’s not necessarily a relationship or friendship killer and it doesn’t have to degrade the emotional bond between two people. In fact, it can do the opposite, as long as both people can consent and know they’re willing, able, and physically and mentally ready to express themselves to the one they love.
As an LGBT person who dates an LGBT person, sex enhances my relationship. I feel loved and I’m able to express my love back. Loving someone physically also lets both people feel desired sexually and express themselves to the other person, all while performing an act that can make both people actually happy.
Another plus about sex: it’s fun! It seems obvious but when you set aside altruism and all the philosophical theories we wrap our minds around, sex is just plain fun when you both do it right. Sex can be so incredibly awkward other times (it often comes with the territory when you’re transgender) but it brings a lot of joy too, especially as we conquer our fears, let down our guards and make ourselves vulnerable to another person only to realize that our partner loves us for who we are as people and is still sexually attracted to us.
Both abstaining from and embracing physical intimacy has made me stronger. I hope that my story can help other LGBT people who struggle with trying to be a good person while acknowledging and accepting that they’re not cis-gender and/or heterosexual. Sex isn’t a bad thing in and of itself; it’s actually wonderful. But staying celibate long enough to discover your identity can be incredibly beneficial too. When you’re ready to accept and love yourself, you can be ready to accept and love someone else.