Archives for June 2009

operating procedure

It seems that it might be helpful for me to say a word about some of the assumptions I am writing under as I continue on with this blog. I am working on crafting some new essays and as I was doing that work I realized a word needed to be said about where I’m coming from and how I understand various things. Hopefully this post will begin to answer to that.

For transsexual people being seen as our true gender isn’t lying. If someone sees me as male, they are seeing me correctly. “Coming out” for transsexual people isn’t about telling people that we are trans, it is about telling people (initially, before medical transition) that who they have perceived us to be is incorrect. Once that has been corrected, then the “coming out” is different. If I never tell anyone that I am trans, I am not lying about my identity. This is an important point that needs to be made in the dialogue of the larger culture. Some people choose to be visibly transgender or genderqueer and that is a noble and valid choice. Some see transition as a stage and not as a destination. They do not see themselves as transgender but as simply male or female. That, too, is a valid and noble choice. The whole idea of transitioning is about being authentic to who you truly are. It’s not about buying into the binary or queering the binary (as an end in and of itself); all of the different manifestations of gender and gender identity are about being true to one’s sense of self. It is about knowing who you are and living into the fullness of your identity. For some that means being simply male or female, for others it means blurring the lines to be something in-between or something else entirely. There should be no shame or guilt about any of these paths.

My experience is such that I am most comfortable identifying as a man. For me, medical transition was necessary and good. Claiming my male identity has been life-saving. My process of doing theology through the lens of being a transsexual means that I see things from my particular point of view as someone for whom medical transition was necessary. As a result of that much of my writing surrounding trans theology has transition understood in this way at its root. I realize this is not a comprehensive study or understanding of trans experience, but I can only write from my own perspective. I will attempt to be as inclusive as possible, but there are times when that won’t happen. I apologize in advance and hope that in those moments it inspires you to approach theology from your own perspective as well.

a sermon for TDOR

as a note on all of these sermons so far: they have been preached to specific congregations with specific worship elements surrounding them. i'll try to illuminate any background information as necessary.

this is a sermon preached on "transgender day of remembrance".  as a part of the service there was the yearly ritual where the names of all of those killed in the last year are read. in our setting we had the branches of a tree set up in the center of the room. empty branches. as each person entered the space they were given a ribbon with the name of a person on it. after the sermon, as the names were read, whoever was holding the ribbon would come forward and tie it to the branches.

thanks to rachelle mee-chapman at http://www.magpie-girl.com/ for the ritual idea.

TDOR

by: s

Today marks the first time that this seminary has had a chapel for the international Transgender Day of Remembrance. There is a history of this memorial on the bulletin you received at the door. This is the 10th year that time has been set aside for this event and events like this one will be held all over the world.

Today is a day that is set aside to remember the people that have been murdered in the past year because of their gender identity or gender expression. Most of the time the ceremonies that mark this day are not religious in nature and I’ve got to admit I struggled with writing this sermon. I struggled with how to balance rage, grief, and the need for celebration. Because today isn’t just about remembering those who have been killed, but it’s also to celebrate their lives and the lives of other transgender and gender non-conforming people. But how do we get to the celebration?

I don’t want to preach from a place of rage, but I find that I have to start there. I am angry at the fact that sometimes I feel like a one man transsexual menace on Union’s campus, a voice crying in the wilderness asking people to pay attention to our struggle, asking people to treat us with respect, asking people to use the right pronoun for me only to be met with silence, or excuses, or disrespect.

I feel rage at the fact that we even have to hold this event. I am filled with rage over the way that the news media reports on the deaths of transgender and gender non-conforming people; how they sensationalize our deaths and yet can’t even get our names and pronouns right. I am filled with rage at the silence of the world over the deaths of transgender and gender non-conforming people, angry at parents and friends that can’t accept our lives, angry at religious institutions and churches that kick us out, silence us, and deny our humanity. I am angry that as we read these names we find they are mainly women of color. Angry that we still live in a racist and misogynistic society.  How do we celebrate when there is so much injustice?

And I realize that I can’t stay with the anger, but the anger and the rage quickly fades to a grief that overwhelms me. As I prepared the list of names for today’s service I found myself getting overwhelmed. Overwhelmed by the sheer number of names. Overwhelmed because it seemed like every day that I woke up there was another new name on the list. And I felt sick as I looked over this list and saw the brutal ways in which these people were murdered. And I struggle with that. Because how do we celebrate the lives of these people when all we know of them in a lot of cases is how they died? I don’t want to do the same thing the media does and sensationalize only the deaths of transgender people, but at the same time, I look at this list and I am overwhelmed by the brutality. People shot execution style, people stabbed and left to bleed to death, people shot over and over, people strangled, people drowned. I am overwhelmed with the grief I feel. I am overwhelmed with disregard that we have for these bodies, for the humanity of these people. I feel powerless to stop all of the killing. I feel grief over all of these powerful people who were killed so young. The youngest on this list was only 15. 15 years old and someone was so afraid of gender difference that they killed him.

I feel grief over our churches that will still deny us ordination and membership. I heard a song yesterday by Arcade Fire, and there was a line that said “Working for the church while your life falls apart, You are singing hallelujah with the fear in your heart.” How many transgender people sit in our pews singing hallelujah with that fear in their heart? Fear of damnation, fear of rejection.

How do we celebrate in the midst of such grief?
How do we get to the celebration? Where is the hope?

Some days I don’t feel it. Some days I can’t get out of the rage. Some days I can’t get past the grief. Some days I can’t get to the celebration.

And I gotta be honest, most of the time the bible or the church aren’t the first places I turn for comfort. Because there are a lot of people hiding their hate behind religious words, and the Bible has been used over and over again to demonize me and my community. It’s heartbreaking for me to be told in not so many words (and even here) that I can’t possibly be a Christian because I don’t fit someone’s interpretation of the Bible. It’s hard to be robbed of my own tradition, my own faith by the very people I should be in community with. The church doesn’t have a great track record on welcoming my trans brothers and sisters. Some days it seems like it would be better to just leave the religion out of it, but on those days when I can manage to get past the rage and the grief and when I find the strength to claim the Bible as my own in spite of the people who use it as a weapon against me. On those days, I find comfort and cause for celebration.

In the book of Isaiah, in the 56th chapter there is this interesting passage: it says:

Do not let the foreigner joined to the Lord say,
‘The Lord will surely separate me from his people’;
and do not let the eunuch say,
‘I am just a dry tree.’
For thus says the Lord:
To the eunuchs who keep my sabbaths,
who choose the things that please me
and hold fast my covenant,
I will give, in my house and within my walls,
a monument and a name
better than sons and daughters;
I will give them an everlasting name
that shall not be cut off.

Some scholars have said that the eunuch is the closest biblical example we have to modern transpeople. Whatever the case, eunuchs were outcasts from society. They were denied a place in the holy assembly. They were looked down upon and despised. And yet here God is saying that they will be given a name that is better than sons and daughters. Friends, this is good news to transgender and gender non-conforming people. We know what it means to have names chosen for us that don’t fit, or to be called names that are hurtful. We also know what it means to choose names for ourselves that represent all of who we are. And we honor one another by using those chosen names even when others refuse to.

But to have an everlasting name; one that will not be cut off; this is hope for those of us who feel like outcasts. This monument is hope to those who have been killed and to those who worry they will be forgotten. This passage brings me great comfort: to know that I am a beloved son of God and that God gives me an everlasting name, even if my family rejects me, even if the church doesn’t want me, there is a place for me in God’s eyes. This isn’t just some cheap hope. I don’t offer it as a placebo, to say that we should stop fighting for our place at the table, our place in society and the church. Instead I offer it as a raft in the ocean for when the fight gets too hard. I offer it in response to the fearful hallelujah. I offer it because it’s the best I have to offer. We are beloved children of the Universe and no one can take that away from us. We are beloved children. We are beloved.

And we celebrate the work that transgender and gender non-conforming people are doing within our own community; how we’re taking care of one another and working for change. How we’re empowering ourselves and fighting for justice. How we serve as our own families, raising funds for families who can’t afford to pay for funerals, helping one another to navigate medical systems that can be antagonistic and judicial systems that can be oppressive. We are doing the work and that is something to be celebrated.

And I pray that one day our churches will become true places of community. I pray that our society will welcome the outcast. That we will take to heart the words of the song sung earlier, that we need one another to survive. I pray that one day we will really believe that and live it out. Until that day, we celebrate knowing that the change will come. That we will cling to the oft-quoted Martin Luther King Jr. quote, “The arc of history is long, but it bends towards justice.” That we will believe in that justice for ALL of us. That we realize the community involves ALL of us.

In the center of our circle is a dried up tree. Today we will place names upon this tree, making our own monument, remembering those who have been killed, celebrating their lives, calling them by name. We will bring this tree to life with color and with memory. Today we feel rage. Today we feel grief. Today we celebrate. We allow all of these things to permeate us, allowing these things to motivate us. And we cannot separate the one thing from the other. We celebrate not in spite of rage or grief but because of it. We celebrate the lives of these men and women. We hold them in our community and offer them love.

Today we know that none of us are cut off. Today we remember.

copyright 2008 by s

gender benders

continuing with the theme of sermons, here is a sermon preached about gender diversity. it's based on galatians 3: 28: "There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus."

before the sermon a clip was shown from "high school musical" (the first one). it's the scene in the cafeteria where it first comes out that troy wants to try out for the musical and all of the teens sing and dance about the things they love to do that their classmates tell them they shouldn't.

gender benders:

by: s

It may seem like a strange thing to lead into a sermon about gender bending with a clip from Disney’s “High School Musical” since Disney is the master of giving messages about gender to little kids with all of their princes and princesses, but I think the clip will make more sense as we go along.

I want to take a little time tonight to tell you some of my own story about living with gender and to talk about how our gender affects how we related to God. I grew up with an incredible dichotomy in the things I was told about gender. In the church where I grew up the gender roles were very strict. As a person with a female body I was told to wear a skirt and to stay in the background. I could help with the children’s ministry, but there was no way that I could ever be a pastor. Fortunately at home I was allowed to be whatever I wanted and so most of my childhood found me playing with both gender roles. I had a lot of dolls, but I also loved my teenage mutant ninja turtles. The older I got, the more I grew into typically male pursuits: I was always to be found in baggy clothes and wearing a baseball cap. As soon as I could get permission I cut off all my hair and refused to wear it long again. I fought with my mother over whether or not I was allowed to shop for clothes in the men’s section.

In this society not fitting in to the role of the gender you were born into is problematic. What we didn’t see in the clip from that film was that Troy, the basketball captain and Gabriella, the new smart girl had both auditioned for the school musical. This created an upset amongst all of their peers. Setting aside the fact that they all broke into song and no one thought that was weird, there is a clear message being taught in that song; you upset the balance by doing things that you shouldn’t be doing. It’s not okay for a basketball player to love baking, It’s not okay for the smart girl to love hip hop. And it’s clear if you read between the lines of this musical that it’s not just about people doing things that aren’t “their things” as one of the kids say, it’s about doing things that aren’t their gender. The message is clear, boys don’t bake or play the cello. Girls shouldn’t want to break dance.

So we live these lives separated by gender lines. It determines what clothes we’re allowed to wear, what bathrooms we can use, what hobbies that we can partake in. And it appears in all sorts of subtle ways that we’re not even aware of sometimes because for a lot of us, this is just the way it is. So what, I should wear a skirt to work? That’s okay, I don’t mind wearing skirts. So what I need to use the men’s room, that’s okay I am a man, so I’ll use that restroom. But for others this idea of gender is not nearly as clear as man or woman. It’s not as simple as, I have a female body therefore I am female.

I have been unconsciously breaking gender roles ever since I was a little kid, but for me it was just because this is how I felt more comfortable. I had no words to talk about the gender binary or any of those other things you learn about in gender theory courses. All I was beginning to learn was that I got looked at funny when I entered the women’s restroom, and I felt more comfortable when I was wearing men’s clothes. Over the past couple of years I have found a language for this gender bending and have come out as a transgender person. This means that although I was born with a female body, my gender identity is male, and I will be undergoing some medical procedures to help my body match up with the gender in my mind. I am at the beginning of this journey and so while there are things about me that definitely still look female, by the end of the process you wouldn’t see me as anything other than a man if you passed me on the street.

This personal struggle with gender identity has taught me some really important lessons already and I am sure there are more to come. See I’m learning that even if you aren’t a transgender person you still have to deal with the rules about gender that society pushes on to every one of us. A lot of the subtle things have both been revealed and bettered by women and their allies fights for equal rights for men and women. But there is still a lot of work to be done. I don’t want to take this time to get into the legal fights of it all, I want to talk about the spiritual effects of gender.

We’ve gotten a lot more inclusive with our talk of God over the past several years, but what does it do for women to grow up hearing God referred to as only male all of the time? And not only that, what does it do for men? Does it teach men that they must be like God to be loved? Does it teach women that they can only relate to God like they relate to the men in their life? Is God only father?

What does this gendered talk teach us in our churches where in a lot of denominations women still can’t be ordained? And gay men and lesbians (who transgress gender roles by loving someone of the same gender) also can’t be ordained?

In my church growing up the verse that we read earlier from Genesis 1: So God created humankind in God’s image, in the image of God God created them;
male and female God created them.” was used to enforce gender roles. The people in charge said, see God created men and women differently and with different roles and so therefore men and women must be kept separate. But when I read that verse I see something really different: God created people male and female in the image of God. Both are created in the image of God meaning that God must encompass both images. And in order for someone to really know God, they must know both the male and the female. This isn’t saying that only in relationships with the opposite gender can we know God, what I’m saying is that we all have both the masculine and feminine inside of us, and it’s only in embracing both of those (and everything in between) that we can know the wholeness of God. There is room in this verse for the whole spectrum of gender identity. There is room for people who don’t fit into any gender category at all, and there is room for people who are comfortable as either male or female (whether or not that was the category assigned to them at birth). And there is also room in this verse for the transgendered-ness (if I can make up that word for the moment) of God. A God who encompasses both male and female and then transcends them both to find wholeness.

Being a transgender person has taught me a lot about how I relate to God. I think that I am in a unique position because at this time I am living in the midst of two genders, and even after I transition, there will always be a remembrance in me of my femaleness. I have had to learn to accept myself as male and to understand that my body doesn’t dictate or limit my gender. But I have also had to accept the feminine parts of myself and to learn that just because I am male doesn’t mean that I have to be uber macho and abandon anything that could be at all considered feminine. For me being transgender is about finding the harmony of both genders and holding them. It’s about getting past gender as just male and female and getting to a place of gender as humanity.

So what does this mean for people who are comfortable in both their body and their gender? I think this means an openness to the parts in you that are considered “traditionally” as something from the other gender: are you a male who loves to bake, or a female who loves hip hop? What does it mean to look at life and not see just your own gender, but to see wholeness?

In Galations we read that in Jesus there is no male or female. What does that mean? To me it means that we can all stand before God as who we are, whatever that means. It means hope for transgender people that they are accepted by God as all of who they are, it means hope for women that they are not considered less than, it means hope for men that they can be exactly who they are created to be without having to live up to any kind of stereotype.

And that’s what gender bending is all about; getting rid of the stereotypes and “status quo” of what it means to be a man, or what it means to be a woman. It means coming clean about your love of baking or hip hop. It means embracing all of who you are and learning to love it. And it means knowing you are loved by God no matter what your gender.

What I want to leave you with today is the idea of wholeness; of being all of who you are and being true to who you are because that, I think, is the whole point of the Good News, of the gospel message; in Jesus we are all one. For me gender has been a struggle towards wholeness; learning to embrace all of myself. And each of us also have to take that journey whether we are male or female or neither or both, we all must journey towards wholeness and the good news is that wherever we fall on the gender spectrum we can find our lives reflected in the image of God.

copyright 2008 s