Why do you have to talk about being trans* all of the time? We get it. It’s part of your identity. We’re fine with it. We just wish you didn’t feel like you always had to include it. There’s so much more to your identity than just that, so why do you make it such a big deal?
These are questions that I and my colleagues (both trans* and cisgender queer folks) get asked all of the time. Especially in the context of our ministries/activism. And on the one hand I get the questions. Especially from liberal communities and congregations who really are completely fine with queerness. And yes, my queer identity is only one part of my identity.
My first critique to this response is that we don’t ask other people to be silent about their identities when we find their identities acceptable. We don’t ask mothers to not talk about their children, or people to not talk about their work. We don’t tell them that their love of baseball doesn’t belong as a sermon analogy. We don’t ask people not to talk about their spouses or the ethnic identity of their family (so long as that ethnic identity is something that won’t “challenge” our own ethnic identity). But these identities are socially acceptable in most cases. These identities don’t carry with them the threat of violence. A mother who kisses her children in public doesn’t have to worry about being told she’s an abomination (although a mother breastfeeding her child in public might have to worry about this). Husbands and wives can hold hands and walk down the street without paying attention to their surroundings. A single, cisgender person can go on a date without worrying that the encounter will turn violent if their lover finds a body they weren’t expecting.
In a lot of ways, at this point in my life, my queerness is invisible. I am single and so my sexual orientation isn’t apparent to folks. I have the privilege of passing and so my trans* identity isn’t apparent to folks. Unless I can name my reality, I am erased. I am assumed to be a cisgender, straight man. But that is not my reality.
My queerness shapes and frames the rest of my reality. It influences my theology in profound ways. In many ways it is through my queerness that I encounter God. My queerness has deepened my spirituality in powerful ways. It has also drawn me into the heart of God for the poor, the oppressed, the orphan and the widow. My experiences as a queer person are my gift to give to the church. The insights I have gained, the new ways that I read Scripture, that is my gift. And when a church calls a queer person, you are calling us in all of our identities and realities. You are calling us in the wholeness of our queer selves.
Every time you ask us to be silent you are attempting to erase us. Every time you ask us to focus on other parts of our lives you are telling us that our queerness is shameful and shouldn’t be talked about. Every time you tell us to “talk about something else for a change” you are overlooking the fact that for many of us our queerness shapes how we walk through the world. (and by the way, when all you hear of a 25 minute sermon is the one line where we name our queer identity, it brings up that maybe you are not as okay with queerness as you think you are!)
When you tell us not to name our queerness from the pulpit you are not only telling us that our queerness has nothing to do with our ministry, but also that the queer people in our pews don’t deserve to have their reality named. You are telling the queer youth that they don’t need role models. You are telling the same gender families that they don’t need to see their family life reflected in the life of worship.
You are telling us that you find us shameful. And that we would be more acceptable to you if we just pretended we were just like you. If our identities aren’t shameful, then we should be able to talk about them. And if you are bothered by talk of queerness, then the work sits with you, not with the queer person.
But we have different experiences and struggles. We still face discrimination. We still face fear. And our identities are intersectional and include the ways in which we experience our race, class, gender, and numerous other realities. We cannot separate things out and just remove our queerness. These unique challenges shape the ways in which we see the world. And they shape the ways in which we move through it. They have strengthened us and challenged us. They provide a perspective that your experience cannot provide. They are a gift.
As ministers and activists we need to bring our whole selves to the work. If we are to preach healing we must be on a journey of healing. If we are to model authentic spirituality then we must be able to be authentic. We all are called to be whole people. My wholeness includes my queerness. And I won’t be silent about the blessing that has been to my life.