Is conforming to gender stereotypes part of Catholic teaching? At least in one Catholic school
In what will go down as another embarrassing incident for a Catholic school, a Queens Catholic high school has terminated a 32-year teacher for what appears to be gender non-conformity. According to a lawsuit, reports CNN, Mark Krolikowski, who taught for 32 years at St. Francis Prep School in Queens, N.Y., was fired for "insubordination" after revealing to the assistant prinicipal that he is transgender. He only did that after being confronted with a parent's complaint about Krolikowski's appearance, which included manicured nails, earrings, and shoulder-length hair--all of which conformed to the school's dress code for teachers.
The school asserts that Krolikowski's termination was lawful, and if they can make a case for some kind of variance between Krolikowski's transgender identity and Catholic teaching, they may (unfortunately) prevail--but only because courts in general defer to religious institutions when they claim religious belief as a grounds for discrimination. But there is no Catholic teaching on gender variance (though there is one on gender reassignment surgery), and if there were, it would be shockingly ironic given the fact that, in 21st-century America, Roman Catholic liturgical garments are "gender variant" for men! If Jesus appeared today wearing clothes appropriate to first-century Palestine, he likely wouldn't pass muster before the gender police.
Krolikowski's case, however it turns out, is more than anything a reminder of the fungibility of gender and how it gets "performed" in public--that is, what "passes" as acting "male" or "female" (along with the presumption that those are the only two options, which isn't even biologically and genetically true--ask any intersex person). The boundaries governing those two categories are practically completely dependent on culture, and there are now and have always been people whose refusal to comply with those boundaries has been violently punished (Joan of Arc, anyone?). Assuming his teaching is up to snuff--and since he had a 32-year career at St. Francis, it's fair to assume that it was--the problem does not lie with Krolikowski but with the gender panic of the school officials. The students, on the other hand, seem to have loved their teacher--thank God for "kids these days"!
When I was managing editor at U.S. Catholic, I got a call from a woman religious in South Carolina who wanted to know if there were any resources to help a parish integrate a transgender child into their religious education program. A new family was moving in, and one of its members was a young child who preferred to dress and present herself as a girl even though she was biologically a boy--and this rural South Carolina parish was doing its best to learn how to welcome her and her family. I wanted to stand up and cheer.
Now that's the way we should do it. St. Francis, take note.