A Talk Given for Legatus
8 January 2020
First, in all sincerity, I am really honored to be here. I would like to speak to you this evening on the transgender movement—a rather hot topic, to be sure. However, I don’t want to give you the impression that I am any kind of expert on the subject. It is just that, being legally blind, I generally don’t see things the way most other people do, and having vision in only my left eye, it is rare that I see eye-to-eye with anyone. Thus the perspective I bring to transgenderism is really my own. It is not my intention to offend, and I, in turn, really won’t be at all offended if you don’t happen to agree with every word that comes out of my mouth. Only please don’t call me names. The argumentum ad hominem is, after all, no argument at all.
That having been said, let me begin by recommending a book:When Harry Became Sally: Responding to the Transgender Moment, by Ryan T. Anderson. What an awesome volume! Anderson, a research fellow with the Heritage Foundation, covers the subject of transgenderism from every conceivable angle—political, social, psychological, medical, and legal. It’s all right here, mes amis. Ryan T. Anderson has done his homework. What I especially like about his book, published in 2018, is that the author never resorts to name calling and mockery, two tell-tale signs of a weak argument. This opus should be read by every concerned parent, principal, and priest. I don’t even have stock in Encounter books! Again, that’s When Harry Became Sally: Responding to the Transgender Moment, by Ryan T. Anderson. I won’t be hurt if you take out your cellphones right now and order it from amazon.com.
Believe it or not, I’d like to begin by telling you something about my own life and then go on to discuss its implications regarding the whole issue of transgenderism.
This may sound strange coming from a priest, but for many years, I took more joy in Good Friday than I did in Easter Sunday. The promise of Good Friday, the hope of my soul entering heaven, was, I thought, awesome. The promise of Easter, however, the possibility that my body would one day be with my soul in heaven was not all that appealing.
You see, for many years, because of my blindness, I regarded my body the way some ancient pagans and the way the Gnostic heretics regarded the body, as a kind of cage of the soul. Not being able to see the beauty of nature or the sparkle of human eyes was bad enough. When, however, I was in college, it became apparent that God had perversely given me a facility for learning ancient Greek and Latin. Alas! Although I excelled in my coursework—I forgot more Greek and Latin than most people will ever know—my poor vision prevented me from spending long hours poring over the ancient texts I loved. Thus these no good, rotten eyes of mine kept me from pursuing a career in the classics. Why had God given me ability and desire but not the body to pursue the goal to which they pointed?
To make matters worse, while still in college, I fell in love with a beautiful woman who, although she cherished some real affection for me, refused to even consider the possibility of marrying me. Referring to my blindness, she honestly declared, “You’d be a good husband, Bernard, if there were nothing more to marriage than sitting around in a rocking chair.” That one sentence left a deep wound in my soul that took decades to heal.
Later, in graduate school, I took a course in ancient Gnosticism and I learned how the Gnostics regarded human souls as sparks of the divine that somehow became imprisoned in the evil matter of human flesh. I actually began to think of myself as, well, a modern-day Gnostic. To my friends, I would refer to my body as something “little better than the putrid slime that clings to the very walls of hell.” With that kind of cheerful anthropology, it was a wonder that I ever made it through seminary!
Then, a year after ordination—wouldn’t you know it?—I was assigned to teach high school sophomores, tenth graders who were always getting their driver’s licenses, and this seemed only to make my inability to drive all the more painful. In short, I felt as though I were a sighted person trapped in a blind body. Those who knew me then can attest that I would often say that my body was a burden that “weighed down my soul in its otherwise unimpeded quest for God.” My poor eyes were all too good at producing tears of frustration and anger, but they mercilessly stood in the way of many of my most cherished dreams.
Here you might be tempted to ask, “Father Ezaki, if you regarded your body as your soul’s prison, did you ever think of committing suicide?” My answer? Occasionally I did. I would sometimes fantasize about leaning backwards out of a high window or over a high church balcony, but I was always afraid I’d botch the job, and then there was the good Catholic fear of the consequences in the hereafter. So I simply settled into the role of victim.
Alas! Anyone who sits on the nest egg of self-pitying victimhood long enough will eventually bring forth a ruthless monster. The juice of crushed grapes can become wine, but the whine of self-pity all too easily brings forth the grapes of wrath. To put it quite bluntly, what mass murderer isn’t nursing a grudge, real or imagined?
You may have heard the story about the man with a wooden prosthetic eye. My fake eyeball is made of acrylic. This poor guy’s eye was made from wood. Not surprisingly, he was very self-conscious about his appearance and, as a result, led the life of a recluse. One day, however, he happened to be reading the newspaper, and he saw an announcement about the annual Disabilities Ball for persons with handicaps. Here I am, he thought, feeling sorry for myself all these years. The people attending the dance aren’t letting their handicaps get in the way of their having fun. I ought to be ashamed of spending so much time throwing myself a pity party. I think I’ll go to that ball after all. At least I will be among people who will understand me.
Well, our protagonist made good on his resolution and soon found himself at the Disabilities Ball. There he was mesmerized by the sight of a beautiful young woman cutting the rug out on the dance floor. She was, he thought, the very epitome of grace as she twirled and pirouetted among the many terpsichoreans. Through discrete inquiries, the fellow learned that her name was Margaret, but what really astonished him was the discovery that this enchanting lady had, of all things, a wooden leg! “Wow!” he gasped. Here is someone who can give me some lessons in self-confidence. I must ask her for a dance.
The moment the music stopped, the man with the wooden eye made a beeline to the woman with the wooden leg. He was, however, so nervous that he could not keep from stammering.
“Wou—wou—would you c-c-care to d-d-dance?” he finally stuttered.
“Oh, would I! Oh, would I!” exclaimed Margaret.
“If that’s how you feel,” the fellow growled angrily, “forget it, Peg!”
Here we have a man who wallowed so much in his victimhood that he saw an insult where none was intended, and he lashed out. As they say in Alcoholics Anonymous, “Hurt people hurt people.”
Unfortunately, those who suffered most from my victimhood were my students, especially those whom I taught in my first years at Bethlehem Catholic High School. Much of the time, I would harbor a kind of envy. When, for example, one of my sophomores would tell me, “Hey, Father, “I’m getting my driver’s license next week,” I’d pretend on the surface to be happy, but in my heart, I’d be miserable: It’s not fair! Why can’t I drive? Envy, you know, is not merely the tendency to be saddened by another person’s wellbeing. Its darker side is the tendency to be happy at another person’s misfortune. In theology, we call this perverse kind of happiness delectatio morosa. Thus if one of the high school seniors would tell me, “Father, I’m losing my driver’s license for six months on account of a DUI,” on the outside, I’d commiserate, but in my heart there was a wicked glee: Hee-hee-hee! Now he’ll know what it’s like not to drive! In fact, I loved it when people would suffer any kind of deprivation having to do with vision. Why, I’d be happy on foggy days. Hey, if I can’t see clearly, why should anybody else? I am now reminded of the words of British Christian author and apologist, C.S. Lewis, who describes certain hell-bent souls who demand “that till they consent to be happy on their own terms, no one else shall taste joy.”
Sometimes my victimhood would express itself in outright anger. Again, in my younger days, I used to really fume to the point where I’d see red—no small accomplishment when you’re legally blind! I could sure blow my top, and, yes, this was especially true in my early days of teaching. My former students from the Bethlehem Catholic High School Class of 1992 are probably still in therapy!
Here is an example of an occasion on which I would typically seethe. If I caught a student breaking school rules by chewing gum, I would automatically assume that the kid was chewing gum primarily to take advantage of my poor eyesight, and then I would become angry at what I perceived as an affront to my dignity. Every time I discovered one of my sophomores chewing gum, I’d take it personally and blow a gasket. It never occurred to me that my students might be chewing gum because they simply liked the experience of chewing gum. In those days, it didn’t take much to set me off.
On occasion, as a young priest, I would become angry even at God. Once, I recall, going alone into Notre Dame of Bethlehem Church and discovering that the sanctuary lamp above the Tabernacle had gone out. “There,” I said to Jesus, “see if you like sitting in darkness!”
My outlook, however, began to improve when, at age forty-five, I found a life-transforming sentence in a book by Father Ronald Rolheiser. The sentence was something like this:
I’m not grateful because I’m happy; I’m happy because I’m grateful.
The real turning point came during a visit to Rome. I found myself standing beneath the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel with its magnificent frescos by Michelangelo. I, however, could perceive little of its beauty. To me it looked, well, kind of busy! Even when I took out my little monocular and focused it on the paintings, I could just barely make out the image of newly created Adam reaching up to touch the finger of God. Here I am, I said to myself, in the presence of one of the greatest pieces of art in Western civilization, and I can see diddlysquat! Then I thought of Father Rolheiser’s sentence: I’m not grateful because I’m happy; I’m happy because I’m grateful.
Okay, Ezaki, I told myself, you have a choice. You could obsess on the fact that you can’t appreciate Michelangelo’s genius, but in that case, you’ll only make yourself miserable, and your eyesight won’t get any better. On the other hand, you could be grateful that you are in Rome with some of your best priest friends and that tonight you’ll be having a big bowl of tortellini en brodo at the Abruzzi, one of your favorite restaurants in the city. The choice is yours, Ezaki. Then and there I decided to be grateful come hell or high water. I shook my fist at the ceiling, and, in imitation of Rex Harrison in the movie The Agony and the Ecstasy, I said defiantly, “When will you make an end, Buonarroti?” and from that moment on, I was determined to be obstinately grateful.
To my surprise, I discovered that Father Rolheiser was on to something. The more I counted my blessings, the happier I became. VeggieTales’ Junior Asparagus was right after all. “A grateful heart is a happy heart.” Even more surprising, my attitude toward my body gradually began to change. Perhaps this parable will help to illustrate my shift in thinking:
Two friends, a tall blind man and a short man with 20/20 vision are walking hand-in-hand down a country road. They come to an apple tree laden with ripe fruit. The man who is small in stature sees the apples, wants the apples, but is too short to reach the apples. What does he do? He climbs atop the shoulders of his blind companion, and thus he is able to obtain sweet nourishment for both himself and his friend.
Hmm. My body, I began to realize, is to my soul as the blind man is to his keen-sighted companion. My body is not my soul’s cage or prison. On the contrary, it is the means whereby my soul can creatively accomplish its ends. C.S. Lewis elaborates on an even more playful analogy for the body. In his book, The Four Loves, he comments on Saint Francis’ habit of referring to the human body as Brother Ass. Lewis says:
…Man has held three views of his body. First there is that of those ascetic Pagans who called it the prison or the “tomb” of the soul, and of Christians like Fisher to whom it was a “sack of dung,” food for worms, filthy, shameful, a source of nothing but temptation to bad men and humiliation to good ones. Then there are the Neo-Pagans (they seldom know Greek), the nudists and the sufferers from Dark Gods, to whom the body is glorious. But thirdly we have the view which St. Francis expressed by calling his body “Brother Ass.” All three may be—I am not sure—defensible; but give me St. Francis for my money.
Ass is exquisitely right because no one in his senses can either revere or hate a donkey. It is a useful, sturdy, lazy, obstinate, patient, lovable and infuriating beast; deserving now the stick and now a carrot; both pathetically and absurdly beautiful. So the body. There’s no living with it till we recognise that one of its functions in our lives is to play the part of buffoon. Until some theory has sophisticated them, every man, woman and child in the world knows this. The fact that we have bodies is the oldest joke there is.
Well said, C.S. Lewis! Yes, the more I regard my body in a light-hearted fashion, and not as a trap in which my soul is snared, the happier I will be. I know now that if I am ever to enjoy heaven, it will be the result of a happy compact between my soul and my body. My body is not an enemy, something to be fought against or overcome. It’s not a cage, a prison, or a burden that weighs me down. On the contrary, it is my partner in salvation with which, if I am to have any peace in this life, I must make my peace.
Indeed, I’ve come to believe that my body is a pretty good partner. Not only does it come equipped with poor eyes, but it also has a gene inherited from my Japanese father which makes the metabolism of alcohol difficult. Thus because of my body, there are all sorts of sins I will never be able to commit. I’ll never look at pornography. I’ll never overindulge in intoxicating beverages. I’ll never drink and drive; and I’ll never, ever be able to commit the worst sin of all, viz. deliberately driving slowly in the left lane! Besides, because I’m not drop-dead gorgeous, I’ll always know who my friends are. Hey, if you’re good looking, how do you know who really likes you for who you are? Come to think of it, my body is helping me to achieve the most important goal of all: namely, getting to heaven.
Well, Brother Ass, we’re in this together, and, by the way, I like you just the way you are. If I had it to do all over again, I wouldn’t change a thing about you.
Thus, echoing the words of the creed we recite at every Sunday Mass, “I look forward to the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come. Amen.”
Now what does all this have to do with the transgender movement? I think you can see where I’m headed. Perhaps, ironically, my blindness can shed some light on this topic.
First, I am not alone in thinking that the transgender movement is just one more re-emergence of the ancient heresy of Gnosticism, the body-soul dualism that makes the former the prison of the latter. American legal scholar and political philosopher Robert Peter George asserts: “The idea that human beings are non-bodily persons inhabiting non-personal bodies never quite goes away.” According to George, transgender activists, like all dualists, argue that “the person is not the body, but only inhabits it and uses it as an instrument. Perhaps the real person is the conscious and feeling self, the psyche, and the body is simply material, the machine in which the ghost resides.” If that’s not a description of Gnosticism, I don’t know what is!
I call to the stand another witness. On 10 June 2019, The Vatican issued a document entitled, “Male and Female He Created Them: For a Path of Dialogue on the Issue of Gender in Education.” Section 20 of this text contains the following sentence: “The underlying presuppositions of these theories can be traced back to a dualistic anthropology, separating body (reduced to the status of inert matter) from human will, which itself becomes an absolute that can manipulate the body as it pleases.” In other words, transgender activists, not unlike the ancient Gnostics, argue that certain individuals are inhabitants of their own bodies. Often, the body is seen as a mere machine, trap, or prison.
To the extent that the body is a trap or prison, the person is nothing less than a victim. What about victimhood? It ought never to be encouraged. I wholeheartedly agree with the English rapper Nzube Udezue, better known by his stage name Zuby, whose parents, by the way, came from Nigeria. Zuby says:
…I think one of the worst things you can do, especially to a young person, is to convince them that they’re some kind of victim and that the world is against them and that they’re oppressed, especially if that’s not actually true, because I believe that whatever lens you view the world through is going to be your reality. If you walk around thinking that the whole society [or] the nation is very, very racist, very, very sexist, and very, very bigoted, you’ll start to see those things even where they don’t exist…. I’ve had people get mad at me for telling them that I’m not oppressed, which to me is the most bizarre thing. I’ve literally been in arguments with people where they’re trying to convince me that I’m oppressed. I’m like, “No. I’m good. Like I’m very, very privileged.”
Good for you, Zuby!
It’s bad enough if you think you’re oppressed by the world or by outsiders, but what if you regard your own body as the machine or enemy that must be subdued? How will you ever find peace? Is it any wonder, then, that the rate of suicide for those who claim to be transgender is through the roof? Let me quote Dr. Jade Wu from Episode 259 of the podcast “The Savvy Psychologist,” which aired on 12 September 2019. Dr. Wu asserts:
Another major risk factor for suicide is sexual and gender minority status, especially for teens and young adults. Heterosexual individuals have a four percent chance of attempting suicide at some time in their life. Lesbian, gay, and bisexual individuals have an 11 to 20 percent lifetime risk, and transgender individuals have a staggering 30 percent lifetime risk of attempting suicide. The majority of sexual and gender minority people’s suicide attempts happen before they turn 21. This is a global public health crisis that we can’t ignore, and we can start by being aware that the LGBT+ people in our lives may be struggling in silence.
Ryan T. Anderson says that the rate of suicide attempts among people who identify as transgender is actually “41 percent, compared with 4.6 percent of the general population.”
Don’t forget. There’s that other problem with victimhood. Do you remember what I learned from my own experience, that the whine of self-pitying victimhood all too easily becomes the grapes of wrath? It just so happens that Canadian clinical psychologist Jordan B. Peterson agrees. He observes that “aggrieved victimhood…produces first resentment, then envy, and then the desire for vengeance and destruction.” Sooner or later, if the victim is left to himself, he will lash out at others with a violent delectatio morosa. Recall that dictum of Alcoholics Anonymous: “Hurt people hurt people.”
It should come as no surprise that Ryan Anderson sees in transgender activists a desire to lash out. This, he says, is particularly evident in the legal sphere. He writes, “…the purpose of the gender identity antidiscrimination laws and policies now being pushed is not to guarantee basic civil rights, but to impose a radical ideology on society. The policies are used as swords, not shields.” I can’t help thinking Anderson is right. In October 2019, a British court in a transgender case ruled that Bible belief is “incompatible with human dignity.” In the same month, a biological male set a world record for women’s cycling, arguing that common sense is “the last refuge of the ignorant.” YouTube pulled a video in November 2019 all because pediatrician Dr. Michelle Cretella said, “See, if you want to cut off a leg or an arm, you’re mentally ill, but if you want to cut off healthy breasts or a penis, you’re transgender.” When news stories like these keep coming my way, how can I help concluding that transgender activists are viciously out to destroy my religion, my recourse to common sense, and my freedom of speech? I sense the same kind of attitude I saw in myself when I used to think on a foggy day, Hey, if I can’t see well, why should anybody else? It’s as if the transgender activists are insisting, “If I can’t be happy, why should anybody else be happy?”
In sum, when it comes to the issue of transgenderism, I find parallels with my own experience of blindness: a tendency toward Gnosticism, an embracing of victimhood, an inclination toward suicide, and a willingness to deprive others of their happiness. Could it be that Father Ronald Rolheiser’s statement, “I’m not grateful because I’m happy; I’m happy because I’m grateful”—could it be that Father’s assertion might be the way out of transgender darkness just as it has been for me a way out of my own gloom? Perhaps, as in my case, a little bit of gratitude might go a long way.
Every life journey has its lessons, and many of these can be learned only through pain and the gratitude that comes after finding self-acceptance. Anderson has a whole chapter devoted to people whom he calls detransitioners, individuals who once identified as transgender but who now wish to identify with their biological sex. Speaking of these persons, Anderson says, “They detransitioned because they didn’t find the peace and wholeness they desired by changing their bodies, but did find it when they were able to address past trauma in their lives and come to a better understanding of gender.”
I want to make something perfectly clear: I have absolutely no idea how transgender individuals feel, and since I’ve never walked in their shoes, the last thing I want to do is come off as some kind of know-it-all. It has been my personal experience, however, that there is power in gratitude in conjunction with a patient therapist. I also know that it is freeing to regard one’s body as a partner rather than a cage, and to regard the relation between soul and body as a substantial union rather than a warfare.
Finally, I need to confess that much of my current peace of mind comes from my faith in Jesus’ Real Presence in the Eucharist. Let me close with a secret. In the twelfth chapter of Saint Paul’s Epistle to the Romans, the Apostle says, “I urge you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, your spiritual worship. Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect.” On a fairly regular basis, when I celebrate Mass as a priest, in saying the words of consecration—THIS IS MY BODY, WHICH WILL BE GIVEN UP FOR YOU, THIS IS THE CHALICE OF MY BLOOD, WHICH WILL BE POURED OUT FOR YOU—I think, not only of the Body and Blood of Christ before me on the altar, but I also think of my own body and blood. Jesus, this is MY body, MY flesh, which will be given up for You. Lord, this is MY blood, the blood coursing through MY veins, which will be poured out for You. As I give Jesus my body as a living sacrifice, He helps me to love that which I have given. He helps me love myself. To quote the words of a wise priest, Father William Seifert, “Jesus does not change bread and wine into His Body and Blood for the sake of bread and wine. He does it for our sakes; and if He is willing to transform cheap bread and wine into His most precious Body and Blood, what will He not do for our hearts?” Oh, what a joy it is to be a Catholic! I wish the whole world were Catholic—if only so as to know that the human body is an acceptable sacrifice to God.
Catholic author J.R.R. Tolkien, creator of the wonderful Lord of the Rings trilogy, wrote these words to his son, words with which I would like to leave you this evening. He confessed:
Out of the darkness of my life, so much frustrated, I put before you the one great thing to love on earth: the Blessed Sacrament .… There you will find romance, glory, honour, fidelity, and the true way of all your loves on earth.
There you have it. I have maintained throughout this talk that the best way out of darkness is gratitude. It should, therefore, come as no surprise that the meaning of the word “Eucharist” is “thanksgiving.”
Thank you so much!
 Encounter Books, 2018.
 I may be legally blind, but my hindsight is 20/20. Looking back over the years, I realize that, had I married the woman in question, I would have driven her crazy! I still pray for her to this day, and I wish her all the best. She did, however, choose the better part.
 I had once heard words very much like these in an episode of Rod Serling’s television series, “Night Gallery.”
 The Great Divorce, Chapter 13.
 I found this sentence, or one very similar to it, in the book, Holy Longing.
 The parable is not entirely original, but I do not recall its inspiration.
 The Four Loves, Chapter 3.
 Father Walter J. Ciszek, S.J., clearly came to regard his body as a partner. In his book, He Leadeth Me, Chapter 9, he wrote:
“This tendency to look on human nature, and especially so-called ‘fallen human nature’, as ignoble and debased, sinful and therefore contemptible, in constant need to be checked and controlled by the nobler part of man, has remained in some form or other a part of traditional Christian spirituality. And I think it is wrong. It is Gnosticism and Manicheism and Catharism and Albigensianism and Jansenism and every heretical tendency that sees the matter as evil and the flesh as prone to evil. For whatever reason, it is always the poor old body that gets the worse of it, as if the mind and the will never had any sinful thoughts or inclinations, as if sin did not consist precisely in setting one’s will (not the body) against God’s will.
“What came to me in the prison camps was a tremendous respect and love for the poor old body. It was the body that bore the brunt of all suffering, though the soul might well experience anguish. And it was the body that had to sustain you, for all the strength of will and determination a man might have. It was the body that felt the sting of the wind, the bite of the cold, the cramp of aching muscles, the raw lash of cracked and bleeding flesh, the gnawing agony of hunger in the belly, the soreness and numbness of overtaxed sinews. Frostbite and stomach rumblings, swollen feet, running eyes, chapped lips and battered knuckles, sprains and cramps, and aches and bruises—all these the body patiently endured through the long, long days of labor in the driving snow or the freezing rain or the spring muck of the Far North, and yet somehow it always managed to get you through one more day. It was the body that underwent the suffering, felt the agony, and carried the heavyweight across its shoulders of this daily passion and slow death of inhuman work.”
 When Harry Became Sally, p. 105.
 The Ben Shapiro Show Sunday Special, Episode 68, 15 September 2019, my unofficial transcription.
 When Harry Became Sally, p. 2.
 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos, “Overture.”
 When Harry Became Sally, p. 197.
 The court declared: “Belief in Genesis 1:27, lack of belief in transgenderism and conscientious objection to transgenderism in our judgment are incompatible with human dignity and conflict with the fundamental rights of others, specifically here, transgender individuals.” From: “British Court in Transgender Case: Bible Belief Is ‘Incompatible with Human Dignity,’” Hank Berrien, DailyWire.com, 2 October 2019.
 In a tweet late on 19 October 2019, biologically male cyclist Rachel McKinnon argued that “ignorant” people oppose allowing biologically male athletes in female sports. “The thing is, the people who oppose trans women’s full and equal rights think that the ‘facts’ are on their side. This is why they always come back to ‘common sense.’ That’s not an argument, loves. It’s the last refuge of the ignorant. It means you’ve already lost, bad.” From: “Biological Male Sets World Record for Women’s Cycling,” Peter Hasson, Daily Caller, 20 October 2019.
 “YouTube Won’t Let a Medical Doctor Say This Sentence,” Katrina Trinko, Daily Signal, 5 November 2019. According to Ryan Anderson (When Harry Became Sally, p. 96), “Dr. Michelle Cretella…[is] the president of the American College of Pediatricians—a group of doctors who formed their own professional guild in response to the politicization of the American Academy of Pediatrics.”
 When Harry Became Sally, p. 52.
 According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “it is because of its spiritual soul that the body made of matter becomes a living, human body; spirit and matter, in man, are not two natures united, but rather their union forms a single nature.”
 Romans 12:1-2.
 Rev. William N. Seifert of the Diocese of Allentown, Pennsylvania, ordained 1981.