Dear church: A letter from a young transgender Catholic

Views Elijah Mustillo / April 27, 2023 Print this:
Photo courtesy of Pexels/Pixabay

My dear church, 

My name is Elijah, and I am a transgender student at the University of Notre Dame. I am writing because I need help. Although you don’t notice me, transgender people have been waiting for you, quietly and gently. We have been ghosts in your chapels, haunting your pews. Now there is a fire and I am asking you for refuge. 

The fire is inside your walls. Smoke billows up through the floorboards and sucks out the air. I call out, trying to hold my breath until you notice the smell. But even with all the fire and smoke, how could I ever leave?

By staying here, I hold onto the hope, however dim, that I do, in fact, belong in my faith, at my college and in this world. Leaving you would be letting go of that hope. In this way, coping with being Catholic, no matter how suffocating it can feel, is ultimately an experience of hope. 

On my worst day, Jesus was no longer visible through the smoke and fog. His voice was lost in the crackle of my clothes catching fire and the beams collapsing. I stumbled around your rooms, in a blinding haze, fumbling for his hand. Then, when I couldn’t hold my breath any longer, when the smoke finally came in, so did the fire. We both know the pain of burning from the inside. 

Coping with being Catholic, no matter how suffocating it can feel, is ultimately an experience of hope. 

Why can’t I abandon the church that has so often abandoned me? Why breathe smoke instead of air for a faith meant to give us life? 

Some people smell the fire, and together, we can build windows to let in just enough air to keep the oxygen in my blood. People with spirits as beautiful as their hearts are heavy remind me that even when we find ourselves trapped by the fire, there is no building that Jesus can’t enter. When the church is like a burning building, with no air left to breathe, Jesus will blow his holy breath into my lungs and say, “Stay here with us.” 

Even when I am trapped on the outside, Jesus is never trapped on the inside. I felt, and some days still feel, excluded and ostracized, by not being included in residential life at school. I know now that when I cry in my apartment because I feel alone, Jesus is not stuck inside the dorms but is in my apartment crying with me. Jesus is wherever I am when I’m alone. 

Jesus is not stuck inside the dorms, but is in my apartment crying with me. Jesus is wherever I am when I’m alone. 

I stay because I can’t help it. No matter the difficulties, God grants me the grace never to get fed up enough to give up on you. I love you, dear church, and though you may not know how to love me back, I will wait here until you do.

Right now, I am saying the Our Father with hands outstretched and blistered, waiting for you to take them. I will be here, arms growing heavy, palms turned towards heaven until you learn how to touch burnt skin. Then, when you finally reach for me, I will show you how gently you can rest your hands in mine, like snowflakes falling on your tongue. 

Our faith has never depended on how much we understand God’s creation. If it did, how little faith would we have. If God can bring forth light from the darkness of nonexistence, then I believe he can make me transgender. I like to imagine that my identity is just another way God expresses a creativity that exceeds our ability to explain.

With God, what is possible goes far beyond my little life. I know this when I see sunsets, my friends or when I read about Jesus raising his friend Lazarus from the dead. Sometimes I smile when someone uses the name of a man who turned water into wine to explain why being transgender is unnatural. Our God is one of surprises and we are the surprise. Maybe God made me transgender to keep us on our toes so we never forget who he is. 

Creation is a surprise that is always being revealed. The seasons pass, stars die and relationships shift. Conception is only the beginning of a life that will unfold. God takes his time; I am nothing if not willing to wait. God doesn’t tell us who we are all at once. We spend our whole lives becoming.

I have never met another transgender Catholic. But I know that when I do, they will have faith like the last sunflower on earth that uproots itself and chases the sun as the planet turns beneath it. They will have a heart more like fabric than flesh for all the times it’s been torn and then stitched up with thread.

Our God is one of surprises, and we are the surprise. Maybe God made me transgender to keep us on our toes so we never forget who He is. 

They will hear a thousand voices telling them to leave you and respond to the one that says, “Stay.” They won’t have an easy or unexamined faith and wouldn’t want to. Their prayers will be like quiet heartbeats that never stop. 

Do you have any unceasing prayers, too? Do they live inside you like stained-glass windows, always letting in God’s light? This is what being transgender is like. My whole journey has been a conversation, an endless prayer spoken through my body in which I love God and God loves me back. 

Dear church, please tell me if my letter reaches you, wherever you are. I have to let you know how scared I am that my letter may get to you before I ever do. Should this be the case—that our meeting never comes to pass in this lifetime—know that I will spend every moment of it loving you.

I pray each day that one day you will look into my brown eyes, filled with tears, and see your own beautiful face staring back.  

Peace be with you always, my dear friend,


Elijah Mustillo

Elijah Mustillo is an undergraduate student at the University of Notre Dame studying the Great Books.

All articles by Elijah Mustillo

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  1. Elijah, thank you for sharing this. You are created and loved by God and you are making our Church a better, more Christ-like institution. You’ve got this Notre Dame alum cheering you on!

    • Dear Elijah,
      I saw a comment once that I’ve taken to heart from a progressive Catholic responding to a piece about loud conservative voices overwhelming the narrative and promoting exclusion.

      She said defiantly: “Nobody’s gonna run me off my Church!”

      Please know that there are millions of us who have your back and are working to bring the Church back to the Way that Jesus showed us.

      Thank you for your heartbreaking, beautiful piece.

    • Thank you for your kind words, Kate

    • Elijah, You are made in the image of God God does not make garbage. Someday the church will figure this out

  2. This is the most beautiful letter I have ever read. Thank you for sharing it. I pray if I ever meet you in person I will recognize the sacred story you shared here. Peace be with you

    • Elijah, what a beautiful letter. Know that you are loved. Loved by our Lord and loved by me. I pray for others to see your beauty, your worth. I see you. I hear you. I am an ally working for change in our church. I wont give up hope.

    • Mary, I take your words to heart and I am grateful for them.

  3. Dear Elijah, my heart breaks to read your beautiful letter. I believe if every Catholic had the faith and earnestness that you have, they would act as Jesus acts and welcome everyone equally in the church. I’m the mom of a trans son and I know that we are all children of God; I pray that Christians everywhere will recognize that. By sharing your faith story you are helping to show that, and you are doing God’s work. God bless you.

    • Mary, thank you for your beautiful words.

  4. God is the ultimate judge on whether or not anyone belongs and said anyone who seeks him won’t be cast out.

  5. Elijah .. I see you .. I hear you .. but more importantly .. Jesus sees and hears .. AND LOVES YOU!! His unconditional love does not ask you to conform to a church’s doctrine or a religious teaching. But rather, His love says .. come just as you! And, I .. raised in the Catholic Church .. apologize for it’s lack of empathy and love for ALL people .. not just those who they think look like them. Jesus .. Himself, did NOT spend time with the proud Pharisees who thought they knew all the rules. But, it was those who the church did NOT see .. THAT OUR WONDERFUL JESUS .. SAT WITH .. AND ATE WITH .. AND COMMUNED WITH!! And sadly .. we still have LOTS of Pharisees in the church today. Do not let a church define who Jesus is to you. Churches are man-made .. and because they are, they can .. AND DO .. get things wrong! But our Heavenly Father .. does not! And He says .. you .. Elijah .. are fearfully and wonderfully made .. and He loves you just the way you are.

    • Thank you for your love Diane

  6. Elijah,
    You ARE seen and heard and loved! Don’t ever forget that! You are made in God’s image and likeness.
    I’m so sorry for the pain you carry – my hope, that you will be free of fear and pain. And come to know Freedom, acceptance and Peace

    • Cathe, I won’t forget. Thank you for your kind heart.

  7. Elijah you are seen, you are heard, and you are loved. I was also in ND’s great books program. Like you, we spent each semester working towards one ultimate task by reading great works: know thyself.

    You know yourself. You are there already. In time, the church will catch up and make it easier on you. But in the meantime, please know that your kind and gentle heart is unassailable and beautiful.

    And look for people in the church who want to make everything easier for you. We are here for you. You will find us.

    (And you’re a good writer, by the way. Be proud).

  8. God made you exactly how He needed you to be. Thank you Elijah for being who you are, and celebrating God’s creative power. I am so grateful for your faith! It reminds me that God meets us where we are and how we are and loves us unconditionally. I am here, loving and supporting you, and praying our church learns to do the same.

    • Elijah, thank you for your courage and sharing your story with such eloquence. As a parent of a transgender child and a Catholic, I cannot begin to express my gratitude for the work of Outreach and other ministries in giving a voice to you and to others to reach many more people. Thank you for writing this letter, know that you are making a difference and that you are a gift. Peace to you my brother in Christ.

  9. Hey Elijah,
    Hello from Cape Cod!
    GREAT piece! You are an excellent writer.
    Please know that God loves you very much. Humans and institutions can ruin everything. Try to ignore this. Please know there are other trans Catholics and you are welcome to go to church with us anytime!
    Bravo for writing this and thank you from the generations to come, your generation is moving the needle towards more acceptance and full embrace in our church.
    Stay strong and be yourself, God loves you!

    • Thank you for your comment Jennifer– your words mean a great deal to me.

  10. Hi Elijah,
    I’m Ira Zoe from the Philippines and reading your letter made me cry, maybe because the pain that you are in now is the very pain of being judged by the Church. Thank you for staying and for choosing to stay in your Catholic faith. I love how you mentioned Creation and you being it’s surprise. Thank you because you reminded me of the dignity of every human person. Know that you are seen, heard and loved because you, as a person, is true, good and beautiful. Thank you because your letter opened my eyes more to the beauty of encountering Jesus through every person I meet and through every circumstances they are in. Praying for you and with you. God bless you and God loves you, do not forget that. ❤️

    • Ira, thank you for your support and your caring message. I am praying with you and for you.

  11. Thank you Elijah, your name says it all! Truly prophetic and beautiful, your very self and your writing. I have met three transgender Catholics and they helped me to see more clearly how creative God truly is. So please know, you are not alone. You are needed and welcome in the church, or wherever you find yourself to be.
    My God makes all kinds of human beings because She/He/YHWH love’s diversity. Together we are The Body of Christ! Peace and All Good.

    • Thank you Marco. May God bless you and your kind heart.

  12. Yes Elijah, your letter has been received, widening the capacity to love in my own heart. That’s your gift, along with so many others who abide in the margins. Thank you for having the courage to share with such creativity and transparency. May all within the church someday come to honor and value this.

    • Dan, thank you for your message here. I am grateful that you took time to read this, and I am praying with you.

  13. Thank you for this beautifully written and profound letter. I hear you. I see you.

    Gob bless you!

    • Many won’t speak because we’re considered haters! I believe Jesus loves all. It is my goal to love all. I try to love the person, not the act. Some acts remain wrong no matter how society normalizes them. We are not to look at thing here on earth but to those above. There is a guide for us. It’s called the bible.

  14. I’m neither Catholic nor Christian, but I know divine, inspired writing when I see it.

    Thank you, Elijah, for these grateful tears.

    • Michael, your words touched my heart. Thank you for taking the time to respond.

  15. Elijah,

    Your letter is modern Psalm, like those so long ago from King David. It’s a sacred song, a prayerful hymn, a plea of faith infused with the sacred power of change.

    May the beauty of your writing provide the cracks to break the walls of exclusion and pain that people of the Church have erected, for the dear Christ never excludes anyone.

    Bless you always.

    Jen B

    • Jen, thank you for this beautiful comment.

    • What a brave and beautiful plea. I love that you are striving and holding to your faith even when it has not necessarily held you. That is a remarkable act of courage and faith. You are right that God does not make mistakes. We are all needed in the Body of Christ, with all of our lovely brokenness.

  16. Elijah, the book of Genesis tells us that on the day that you were born God looked at what He had created and said “You are very good”. Always remember that you are an original blessing. Rejoice in knowing and accepting that Truth.

  17. This is a beautiful and heartbreaking letter. As a Catholic, I am so grateful that you are a part of our religious community, to enrich our faith and help us grow. May we all bring each other closer to God.

    • Rosemary, thank you for your message. You are right; we bring each other closer to God.

  18. Dear Elijah, Your beautiful words touched me deeply. I pray that someday our Church can fully accept and reflect back the love you demonstrate by staying. Please know that you are not alone and there are many who share your desire for a more inclusive and welcoming faith.

  19. Wow! All I can say is wow! Elijah, your letter was beautifully written. It perfectly described my experiences coming back to the church. I came back to the Catholic Church after I had come out as transgender. In the two parishes I have belonged to since then (St. Cecilia’s, Boston, and Blessed Trinity, Westford/Littleton) I have found nothing but love. I often say to people when they ask why I’m still Catholic that it’s easier for me to come out as trans to my Catholic friends than it is for me to come out as Catholic to my queer friends. That’s why I stay. You are loved. It was an honor to be able to have read your letter. Peace be with you! If you’re ever in the Boston area, look me up.

    • Thank you for your beautiful comment, Danielle. You are not alone.

  20. What a emotional encounter by Elijah. His words reverberating in my mind. What an exception a person to know & love. I do hope the Church will open up to Eijah & if you see Elijah say hello extend your hand & love. God Bless you Elijah🙏

    • Thank you so much. God bless you, Angela.

  21. Elijah, thank you for sharing. I love you and will pray with great devotion that the smoke clears and acceptance grows. I graduated in 1978 from Our Lady’s University. I am proud you are at Notre Dame.

    • Joan, I am praying with and for you. Thank you for your comment, and go Irish!

  22. Elijah, thank you for this beautiful letter to the church! I’m weeping as I write this for your words have touched me deeply. My prayer is that our church will move from a disposition of fear and judgment and learn to love as Christ loves. I have a transgender grandson whom I love deeply but I fear for him at times because of the lack of understanding and acceptance in our society. Your words and perseverance are important in bringing understanding and the love of Christ into our church and our society.
    Good bless you my friend!

  23. Dear Elijah,

    You are not alone. We hear you and we love you. My daughter is a transgender woman. She, her father and I are members of an LGBTQ+ faith-sharing group and a sister transgender group at our church in New Jersey. Our groups march in Pride parades to show that the church welcomes everyone to the table. We’ve even marched with GALA ND/SMC. There are various groups in our state and they are increasing.
    God bless you.

  24. Dear Elijah,
    I was weeping reading your beautiful, heart filled letter. My son graduated from ND,
    it is hallowed ground, and they are fortunate to have you there. I feel you should be teaching a course. You are not alone, God has blessed you and you are loved.

  25. Elijah,
    Thank you for this letter and for the clarity with which you express the state of our beloved Church today. Like you, I sometimes feel lost in the smoke and fire, but I stay. When people ask why, I can only respond with Peter, “To whom should I go?”
    My husband and I were married in Notre Dame’s Log Chapel and when our transgender son was looking at colleges we hoped he might find welcome there.
    I will continue to work and pray to dissipate the smoke and flames choking you, my son, and so many others. And I will pray for you to receive whatever graces you need to carry on because the Church needs your witness and your love. I hope we will meet one day.

  26. Elijah, I’m blown away by your beautiful letter. As an unlikely convert to Christianity who often struggles with rejection and doubt, stumbling into this letter renews my faith and love. God clearly blessed you with a very special gift and your church is lucky to have you. Thank you for sharing your heart and words so generously.

  27. Dear Elijah,

    I am another one of the ghosts haunting the burning church. I will remain in the pews with you searching for our Lord.

    I am a non-binary/agender trans Catholic. Your words matter, and they mean so much. Though we may not meet in person, at least in this life, know that your imagery is beautiful, poignant, and relatable. I hope you feel my love extending through this message. I long for the day when the fire is put out, and we can both feel Jesus’ healing breath in our lungs.

    Well said, well done, and well met, Elijah.

    God Bless You and Keep You Safe,
    Pip (short for Peregrine)

  28. What a beautiful person and beautiful writer you are! Elijah, please know that your Alumni Association has your back! The Alumni Rainbow Community (ARC ND) will be waiting with open arms for you to keep doing what you are doing, writing what you are writing, and being who you are and who you are becoming, forever after graduation. We can’t wait for you to get involved!!

  29. I’m a transgender woman in my 30s. The conservative Christian environment I grew up in caused me great harm and raised me to hate myself for being queer. The church,God,Jesus,the Christian community were not there for me when I needed help. I see the marks of this mistreatment every day.

    My mental health,body and well being were damaged and will never fully recover. It was the Christian community that hurt me. It will not be the Christian community that helps me recover. If God and Jesus are real then they ultimately neglected me. I was pushed back into the closet at 14 and did not break free until 29.

    I hope you get what you need. If you find something good in all that you are going through then I am glad.

    The Christian community will not progress enough to make up for the harm that they caused to lgbt people. They will lose their power and influence before that can happen.

    • Sasha, thank you for your comment. You are right that the damage is powerful and long-lasting. This is the constant struggle of the LGBTQ Catholic; weighing how much to tolerate until it’s not worth it anymore. Take care of yourself and know there are Christians who love and accept you for exactly who you are.

      • Thank you. Unfortunately the physical damage from transitioning later can’t be fully fixed for me.

  30. Elijah, what a beautiful and powerful letter. As a parent of a child of a gender-fluid child, my heart is with you. You are MY child. And I will never stop advocating and loving you. I think of the historical struggles of the disenfranchised, persecuted, and discriminated…the people on the fringes…and I see how God moves in them. They are so treasured in the story of what his love can do, and how it has the power to make civilizations evolve. Their strength…YOUR strength…gives me hope. My heart is often wrecked with worry that the world won’t love my child like it will other children. But I’m confident whoever does, does so genuinely with a love only God can fashion. While we will have more than our share of heartbreak in this life, I believe with every fiber that my child was made special. And that God gave her/him to me with his trust that I would do everything in my power to champion this cause. God’s cause. You, Elijah, were made special. One of God’s most prized creations. And while you may not feel accepted, understood, or treasured…you are. And so greatly!! Whenever you feel lonely, tired, broken, or tempted to despair….know that your courage, your steadfast love, is a beacon to children like mine. Like the resurrection…God can overcome anything, and he lives in you. Just as genes give us traits of our parents, so too, do we have traits of our Almighty Father flowing through our bodies, hearts, minds, and souls. My prayers and my love go with you, Elijah. And I hope one day to look into your eyes and tell you myself that the church loves you…because the church isn’t just hateful cries from a misguided crowd. The church also waited by the cross, even in smaller numbers. And I will wait by the cross my child bears in life…and by yours. I am the church, too. And I love you.

    • Diana, thank you so much for your kind words. I am so grateful that my letter moved you, and you and your child have my prayers.

  31. Elijah, thank you for writing from your heart… The Bible is clear… God is neither male nor female. Therefore God is nonbinary. If God is nonbinary, then who’s created in the very image of God now? God is not about gender. God is about love. And YOU are loved.

  32. “We cannot love God unless we love each other, and to love we must know each other.”


    • Amen.