Should We Catholics Call Him Caitlyn?

Should We Catholics Call Him Caitlyn

This is definitely the picture of a man.

Language matters! One of the lessons I remember from high school debate is that if you can define the terms right, you almost always win the debate. Even a cursory glance at the recent referendum on gay marriage in Ireland shows that the “yes” side managed control the language so that it was about 2 people loving each other not about family, society, and children.

Language is also important when we want to win teens for Christ. If we call a dude “jerkface,” chances are you won’t come back. If we are able to remember his name after he says only once, he will feel appreciated.

In the past week, the news is abounded with stories about Jenner: formally Bruce, and now wanting to be called Caitlyn. Many others have explained all the problems with sexual reassignment surgery but I want to discuss whether we should use “he” or “she,” and “Bruce” or “Caitlyn.” I want to apply this not just to one individual case but in general to any transsexuals we might have to discuss in ministry or we may encounter in ministry. Since teens who have these desires are often transitioning, we need to be ready for a transsexual teen in our youth group – a bad reaction to such a person could set them against the Church permanently.

I’m not 100% sure what the best option is but I want to present the arguments for both sides and conclude with what I would do.

Why you should call him Bruce

  • There is something unique about being born male or female. Every human being is born a certain gender which is immutable. In theology of the body, John Paul II talks about it as a way of loving. Thus to call a trans-woman “he” simply expresses the deepest reality of their gender.
  • If we want to win the cultural battle here, it would seem that we need to stick to this and win the language battle that you are the gender you are born with.
  • If we call a trans-woman “she,” it seems that we are implicitly endorsing their immoral decision. It would even seem charitable to call someone out for their sin here.
  • Operations to change someone’s gender (both cosmetic and sex change) are deceptive. Our biology is or biology – it’s in every strand of DNA.
  • Masculinity and femininity go deeper than biology or physical characteristics – our soul is masculine or feminine. No matter how many physical changes someone undergoes, even were it possible to replace every Y chromosome in the body, someone who was born a male has a masculine soul.
  • Both charity and justice would lead us to addressing a person as the Lord made them. God doesn’t make mistakes and he made him a male.
Should We Catholics Call Him Caitlyn

Not clearly a man or a woman.

Why you should call her Caitlyn

  • Charity to the person and their choices (even if we don’t agree with it). We usually adjust how we address someone to their liking. For example, most of us would address a Catholic relative who got married on a beach as “Mrs. Jones” and not by her maiden name “Miss Smith.” Almost all of us would respect to fully call an Anglican/Episcopalian priest “Father” even though he is not. Calling a trans-woman “he” is simply rude and thus uncharitable.
  • Meet them where they are… If you were introduced, you’d probably call her Caitlyn so as not to lose her. Christ showed the example of meeting people where they are.
  • Calling her “Bruce” disrupts the peace in her soul; we are called to bring peace to lost sheep.
  • Paul VI: “It seems to us that the relationship of the Church to the world, without precluding other legitimate forms of expression, can be represented better in a dialogue, not, of course, a dialogue in a univocal sense, but rather a dialogue adapted to the nature of the interlocutor and to factual circumstances (the dialogue with a child differs from that with an adult; that with a believer from that with an unbeliever). This has been suggested by the custom, which has by now become widespread, of conceived the relationships between the sacred and the secular in terms of the transforming dynamism of modern society, in terms of the pluralism of its manifestations, likewise in terms of the maturity of man, be he religious or not, enabled through secular education to think, to speak and to act through the dignity of dialogue.” If we want dialogue, we need to refer to them respectfully.


  • The key principle we should be guided by is “truth in love” (Eph. 4:15).
  • The desire to change one’s gender usually comes from psychological hurt and need to help them get over that. (I could see this used for either side.)
  • Another option that might be preferable is using “they” and simply referring to them by their last name in discussions about them.
  • There is a difference based on circumstances: we can legitimately use “he” unless we encounter a trans-woman who is particularly sensitive, or we might distinguish between an academic discussion with other Catholics (use “he”) and a cultural discussion with secular people (use “she”). As an extension of this, I would be much less likely to call someone by a name they don’t prefer to their face then when talking about them with others.
  • I think I will generally use “Jenner” and “they” in general discussions but out of charity I would usually refer to a person directly by what they prefer to be called.

Note: I posted this question on Facebook and have used my friends’ ideas for this post.

Teens need to experience Christ. I am a Catholic religious priest with the Legion of Christ who tries to help them do that. Part of doing that is running this blog. Currently I'm stationed in the DC Metro area preparing material for (Regnum Christi Spirituality Center), studying an advanced Theology degree, and helping youth ministry freelance. If you need help with your youth ministry, such as retreats, talks, programs, volunteer training or consultation, contact me via Twitter or Facebook. You can buy my book Spiritually Mentoring Teenage Boys in paperback or on Kindle.

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  1. Louis Melahn

    I mention this because it is bound to come up: referring to a single individual as “they” is bad grammar (or at best illogical grammar). It would be a most unfortunate disservice to the English language (and logical discourse in general) to foster further confusion of grammatical gender and number (apart from the evident confusion regarding biological sex). I think it is best to take sides here: he or she.

      • Michael Marchand

        I’m about to say something I have never said before (or ever thought I would say): Merriam-Webster is wrong.

      • Louis Melahn

        I have to agree with Michael Marchand here. It may be that the use of “they” as a singular has been used for a long time (even by some of the best writers), but it remains illogical. (I can understand someone slipping and using a plural pronoun after an indefinite like “everyone,” but blatantly using a plural word to refer to a single, concrete individual simply makes the language difficult to understand.)

  2. Tom McDonald

    I’ve wondered about respecting his parents’ right to name him. Biblically, the power to name or rename someone is quite significant. I think this angle is worthy of consideration.

  3. Bob Shine

    Fr. Matthew — Thank you for a more reasoned response to Caitlyn Jenner’s coming out and the current conversation around trans* identities than I have seen on many Catholic sites. Your insight that there may be trans* people in our faith communities where we minister, especially youth who are more vulnerable, is nearly absent from non-progressive Catholic spaces.

    That said, I have to contest your proposition that gender transitions come from psychological hurt. I work closely with the LGBT Catholic community and have come to understand that these transitions, or simply presenting as one’s authentic gender identity, are holy paths and part of trans* folks road to saintliness. It is one of the processes by which they become their truest self, the person to which God is calling them to become. I recently wrote about this in a blog post and would add my invitation in the post to you if you’d like to learn more about gender identity:

    Caitlyn Jenner and other trans* people have prompted a graced moment for all of us to learn more about gender identity and, for ministers, the particular pastoral care implications that trans* folks provide — and the gifts they offer our faith communities! Let us all pray we may grow in love as we seek greater understanding. Peace!

    • Fr Matthew P. Schneider, LC

      I think we need to care more about people who have transgender inclinations but we can never deny the reality that your birth gender is your gender. We can never deny the reality of your birth gender.

      I read your blog quickly and I was more impressed by the following blog where a woman admits her masculine tendencies (she could have easily been trans) but realizes she is a woman and lives it out by marrying a man and having kids:

      Cross-dressing (without sexual intent) seems moral to me. Cosmetic surgeries are likely immoral. Sex reassignment surgery is definitely immoral. I think the idea of New Ways is good (minister to homosexuals) but you guys go too far (permitting acts which the Church has taught are immoral for millennia and must always teach are immoral). I think Spiritual Friendship does what you do without the moral errors. I hope you all become more like them.If you have moral issues, Louis Melahn who responded here is a friend and an associate prof. of bioethics – he’ll know more than I.

      • Bob Shine

        Thanks for taking the time to reply. I’ve been following your Twitter feed and am impressed with your responsiveness.

        I’m in agreement that the church can improve its care and welcome for trans-identified folks, along with many other communities. I pray the synod will address some of these, continued through the Year of Mercy. To do this, however, we must be cognizant of what is really under discussion and where the church has (and has not importantly) weighed in on these matters. Education is key.

        Contemporary science helps us to understand assigned sex is different than gender; this insight must be integrated into Catholic reflection. When it comes to gender, I agree with you that gender norms seem amoral. Catholic discussions must be careful to parse out whether we’re discussing something about which moral claims are to be made or whether it is cultural practice. New reflections on gender raised by feminist thinkers and now trans thinkers must bear on our theology.

        One big pushback I must note is that the question of gender-confirming surgery is not a settled issue. What about intersex people? Medical practice is thankfully moving away from assigning sex at birth and allowing people to develop. Would it not be appropriate to then help bodies match minds in later development? These seems moral to me and by extension so does such confirming surgery by someone who is transgender. Either way, this is not a settled matter theologically and we need to have good discussion about it from all perspectives.

        As for same-gender relationships and homosexuality, it is an entirely different matter than trans identities so I’m leaving it alone. I appreciate you respect for New Ways initiatives, even if we disagree about our understandings of what the organization professes and does.

        Thanks for the time, Fr. Matthew. It appears you are in DC, which I visit several times a year. I would love to meet up for coffee to discuss your vision for internet ministry. Great work there!

        • Fr Matthew P. Schneider, LC

          “One big pushback I must note is that the question of gender-confirming surgery is not a settled issue. What about intersex people?”

          There is no problem with clarifying the situation (as a child, teen or young adult) if you are born with mixed or undeveloped genitalia. This is something quite different from a psychological condition where even though you have properly functioning genitalia that match your biological sex, you feel like you should be the other sex. The former condition is repairing something that due to some interference was not developed right, the latter is destroying something that did develop right.

          If someone is born with Klinefelter syndrome (XXY) or something similar, they may have mixed genitals but a simple blood test can determine their sex and then it would be appropriate (but not required) to correct their genitals.

          No matter how much you believe you are the opposite gender, you always are the gender you were biologically born as. Each part of your cell has DNA that include a Y chromosome or don’t – if they include a Y, you’re male, if they don’t you’re female (this includes people with more than 2 chromosomes).

          • Tommy_Butler

            You are very good, Father. Your answers cheerfully and helpfully clarifying. Keep up the good work in Christ!

  4. bdlaacmm

    “Should We Catholics Call Him Caitlyn?”

    NO !!!

  5. PalaceGuard

    If Bruce Jenner has legally changed his name to “Caitlyn”, then Caitlyn he is. OTOH, he is *not* a she.



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