Public radio series explores transgender lives and the sister who serves them

by Jamie Manson

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If the Synod of Bishops is leaving you wanting for a more cutting edge discussion of sexuality, look no further than “Trans Families,” the latest series from public radio’s “State of the Re:Union.”

Broken up into five, ten-minute radio shows, the series explores the lives of transgender persons and the ways in which their transitions impacted their families. All five episodes can be heard for free on the “State of the Re:Union” website.

Host Al Letson says that the idea for the series emerged after a friend, whom he describes as “one of the smartest people I know,” admitted “I get the ‘LGB’ part, but I just don’t get the ‘T.’”

“If this guy doesn’t get the ‘T,’ then a lot people don’t,” Letson says in the introduction.

Of particular interest to Catholics is the fourth episode that profiles a woman religious who has worked with transgender persons since the 1990s. She uses the pseudonym “Sister Monica,” as she did in Nathan Schneider’s profile of her in a March 2014 piece for Al Jazeera America. Her religious congregation also goes unnamed because of the Vatican’s ongoing scrutiny of women religious in the U.S.

Though Sister Monica continues to work under a cloud of secrecy, the radio show allows us to hear her voice, which is filled with quiet strength that so often characterizes the prophetic voice. Sister Monica has a remarkable clarity about God’s presence in her work. It is an awareness that she strives to share with her transgender friends.

“When you are true to yourself, you are holy, you image God, you mirror God,” she tells them.

An estimated 1.5 million Americans identify as transgender, and a reported 41% of them have attempted suicide. Sister Monica herself has worked with over 200 transgender persons. One of them, named Sean, shares how Sister Monica’s patience and loving words kept him from ending his own life.

“How can I face my God if I can’t face myself? I have to be completely honest. And by doing so only then do I really honor my Creator. She taught me that, which basically is what saved my life,” Sean says.

A debilitating arthritic condition in her jaw has significantly limited Sister Monica’s ministry. Talking has become exceedingly painful for her. Though it’s hard to be silent, she sees that this new way of life is a gift, too.

“My soul needs a quiet life,” she says. “I don’t want my name to be out there. It’s not about me. I feel such passion about shining a light on them…they are the story. They are the beautiful people that need to come into the light, not me.”

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