A break from the Ritual as Resistance series since I am here in Berkeley California for the 2012 Transgender Religious Leaders’ Summit. This is my second year at this event. I am here this year primarily because of my work with the Transgender Religious Roundtable sponsored by the Pacific School of Religion’s Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies.
This event is one that I attend with a bit of ambivalence, if I can be completely honest. I love the idea of an event for Transgender Religious leaders, but I also realize that in my own life and in my day to day ministry I am somewhat removed from this community.
I try to get the best out of this event (and other trans* events). I network with people outside of the sponsored spaces, I visit with friends I rarely get to see, and I am thankful for the opportunity to be in Berkeley, to get a break from my day to day. I appreciate PSR and the organizers for doing the hard work of bringing us all together. I think for a lot of people this is a vital and life-giving event. Maybe it’s that I am just in a different place these days.
I’m fortunate in that I work at a church where my gender identity is fairly well understood and where I am mostly respected. (There is always, always work to do, but for the most part I am incredibly fortunate.) I am also more and more unwilling and uninterested in work that is only on trans* issues. I am concerned with intersectionality, with poverty, with class; all issues that affect the trans* community, for sure, but issues which aren’t exclusive to the trans* community. Really, I think it’s that I am sick of doing the 101 conversation. I want people to access the resources that are already available thus freeing up trans* people to do other work.
And so I find myself at this summit feeling a bit out of place. I am a transgender religious leader, but I’m also a queer religious leader, and a Catholic, and an anarchist, and a man, and, and, and. I can’t separate out any of those identities and I feel like here, there is a singular focus. My work also encompasses so much more than my trans* identity. I am a church planter and a camp director. I am a writer and a preacher. But, at the same time, being trans* sometimes affects how I am able to do my other work. I wish there was space for us to have that conversation.
I also struggle with spaces that try to be relentlessly interfaith. I think interfaith and ecumenical work is ridiculously important. I think it’s vital to the health of the world. I also think that it can only be done well after people have gone deeply, so deeply, into their own tradition. The best interfaith work I have been a part of has been work where I have been able to be explicitly and intentionally Christian and where the other person has been able to be explicitly and intentionally Jewish. We were able to have a conversation because we were both speaking of our own experiences. In other interfaith work I feel like we borrow a bit from here and a bit from there and it all gets kind of muddled and nothing gets explained and I leave feeling empty. Maybe for others this isn’t the case, but it’s something I really struggle with.
I also struggle with spaces in which my identity as a binary identified trans* person feels maligned. I want there to be space for gender fluid people and for gender queer people, but it hurts when in a space that is supposed to be for trans* religious leaders there is a praising of people who choose not to medically transition because they are happy with their bodies. The implication for me is that I am somehow weaker for choosing to transition medically. When I walk through the world as male or as binary identified I am not performing a gender. I am not trying to be masculine. I am being myself. I transitioned so that I could be more fully myself. I resent the implication that I have sold out or that I am a tool of patriarchy because I transitioned and identify as male. (Certainly I should be called on misogyny but in this case that’s not what I’m talking about.) It hurts to be in a space that should be for support; a place where I should be around my community, and feel that I am not good enough or not the right kind of trans* person. I realize that for a long time genderqueer people caught the brunt of disapproval, that they were told they weren’t the right kind of people and that they weren’t trans* enough, and so this is an effort to correct that. I just wish we could correct errors without marginalizing other folks. But maybe that’s my privilege talking. Just tonight it feels kind of raw.
I guess the frustration is that I’m not sure there is a place (outside of the internet) for me to find the community that I need.