Posts Tagged ‘Transgender’

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My Barbara Bush Story

18 April, 2018

As so many famous people are sharing their Barbara Bush stories, I thought I would share mine. Two things you should know:

1. In 1998 Barbara Bush spoke at the Augustana College Boe Forum where she gave a talk on faith and family.

2. The exit to the Augustana cafeteria was into a hallway with two conference rooms in it.

Picture it, fall, Sioux Falls, South Dakota, nineteen hundred and ninety-eight. I was a young, trans girl not yet out but playing with presentation. My hair was long, full, and blonde.

I was eating in the cafeteria. Likely, it was granola because they served a lot of pasta and I didn’t want to gain a sophomore 30. After finishing my cereal and studying I dashed to the drop off window and then quick to the exit. Where I ran into, almost literally, two men in dark suits.

One said, “You can’t go this way.”

I said, “I have class in ten minutes.” My class was with history professor Mike Mullins who was renowned for fast spoken, straight through lectures. For the first two weeks, I didn’t even know what the man looked like (smokin’ hot, by the bye) because I never looked up from my notebook. I did not want to be late for class.

“You can’t go this way,” the dark suited man repeated.

“Oh.” I said. Then I slipped my 135 pound self between the two of them and out the double doors where I ran into, almost literally, former First Lady Barbara Bush. I dead stopped and felt my famous too-pale-for-you flush of embarrassment rise from my chest to hairline. Then I felt very heavy hands on my shoulders and left arm.

I gaped at Barbara and she glanced at me and then, to the security escorts she said, “Let her through.”

The hands released me and I dashed past Barbara Bush and down the stairs faster than Peter Cottontail out of Farm McGregor’s field. It was over an hour before I realised the matronly, conservative woman said “Let /her/ through.”

I still smile with the thrill of proper gendering when I think of this.

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A Queer Pedagogy

7 February, 2018

I worked as a public-school literature teacher for just shy of a decade. I had the privilege of introducing pre-teen and teenage children to good stories well-told and the honour of hearing them tell their own stories. It was never easy, and if I am honest, it was often grueling. Some classes, of course, are more difficult than others. Some were even resistant to what I had to offer. But, every few years, I got a class that was just the right make-up of kids at just the right time with just the right experiences to make the stories live, to make the words sing and the narration dance. But whether it was a difficult class struggling against every lesson or a shining class stretching the words beyond the author’s own limited horizons, I told them all the secret to finding meaning: seek the seed of truth; look for the human experience that tells you what it is like to be alive and together in the world.

Every class found this, at least at first, to be queer. They were right; it is queer. Certainly, in the literal sense of the word it is. To have an instructor insist on multiple answers to the important questions even as the school system administers tests that demanded a single right answer, is strange. The encouragement to empathise with an antagonist’s anguish and to grapple with the darkness lurking in a protagonist’s heart seems perverse to good girls and good boys. Though, as a mentor told me when I was a student, as a storyteller you cannot ever be the good girl.

It’s this last truth that makes the perspective I taught them queer in the outcast sense, in the beaten and bleeding sense, and in the passionate and holy sense. I was asking my students to place themselves on the margins. To see the world through the eyes of the other: the other belief, the other gender, the other morality. To take what they held as most normative and twist it round, viewing the world upside down and inside out. To stop trying to be the good girl who is quiet and accommodating or the good boy who derives his value from his strength and to queer their perspectives, running at oblique angles to the rest of the world. In the final years of my teaching career, this was intentional, but in the early years, when I was struggling to be the good girl who arrived early and stayed late, who attended school concerts and sporting events all while being the virtuous spouse of Proverbs 31, this queered pedagogy only seeped in when I was exhausted and could no longer maintain the tweed-jacket expectations. It happened when I was in my most vulnerable and honest place. I believe that stress and exhaustion reveal our inner character and what I learned was queer perspectives came naturally to me because I was a queer woman.

Perhaps, it’s better to say, what I re-learned. My earliest sense of self was as a queer girl. I was four when Mrs. Peterson informed me I was standing in the wrong line: I was in the girls’ line and I belonged in the boys’ line. I did not have the word queer—with all its danger and strength—at that age, but what I felt was distinctly queer. I knew who I was and who I wasn’t with the same surety that Mrs. Peterson believed she knew which line each child belonged in. That sense of queerness stuck with me throughout my half-day kindergarten class. I played with the girls, I ate with the girls, and I sat with the girls during story time. But at nap time I was told to lay my sleeping mat—a rug woven of earthy greens and reds and purples—alongside the boys and be quiet.

That evening, as my parents drew me a bath and prepared to wash the day’s play off me, I asked them how they knew I was a boy and not a girl. I had been thinking about this and it occurred to me that some girls had short hair and some girls had Smurf t-shirts and some girls looked like boys and they were still girls. My parents recited primer biology; the biology adults still recite authoritatively to children, and to transgender people in a disgusted and vicious tone, and to themselves when they are most desperate for reassurance: boys have penises and girls have vaginas. Even at the age of four that didn’t square with my understanding and now, as an adult woman of transgender experience, it feels queer that some girls are believed when they yell, “I’m not a boy; I’m a girl!” and some girls aren’t.

The attempts to exorcise me of my queerness and to turn me into a good boy fractured me. I hid my true face from people, presenting them with what they wanted to see while I viewed them over my shoulder through a compact’s shattered mirror. It was in this way, I learned the importance of stories. The stories we tell to keep ourselves safe, the stories others tell about us to maintain the illusion, and the early seeds of our stories, the ones we bury deep inside ourselves.

These seeds are the ones I encouraged my students to seek. Kernels buried deep and choked out by all the “good” vegetation planted by professors and politicians and pastors and parents. I taught them to dig their hands into the earth, rip out those straight rows of pedestrian flowers, and look for the bits beneath. Find what is sleeping in the dark, waiting for its chance to stretch deep roots and poke green shoots into the light and burst with vibrant reds and purples.

I worked as a public-school teacher for just shy of ten years and I am transitioning out of that season into something new. I have exhorted students to engage with human stories well-told and I suspect what comes next will be radically different than what has come before. Still, the essence inside me is queer and I know that I will carry my queer pedagogy into whatever I do next.

This post was written for the Queer Theology Synchroblog 2018 – check out others’ posts here

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Exilic Theology

30 December, 2017

A new study has shown that of the 100 largest churches in America 7 have a person of colour as their pastor, 1 has a woman as their pastor, and 0 are LGBTQ-affirming. A faith that once offered hospitality and hope to the disenfranchised and minoritised outsider has become the arm of the white, straight, cisgender man. We have seen this approach to faith before and we have seen how it ends:


Enslaved by monarchical theology in Egypt,

an exodus restored freedom to the oppressed.


Ruled by monarchical theology in a divided kingdom,

an exile restored commitment to the poor, the widow, and the orphan.


Dominated by monarchical theology under Rome, a pacifist Messiah ate and drank with tax collectors and sex workers and brought them salvation.


The church must abandon supremacist theology

or face a new exodus.


The church must abandon patriarchal theology

or face a new exile.


The church must listen to the messianic voices of and among the LGBTQ community

or they will lose the way to salvation.

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On Lukewarm Christianity and the Nashville Statement

31 August, 2017

In light of the Nashville Statement I have a scriptural reminder for those clergy and congregation members who have decided to remain neutral:
“These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation. I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm–neither hot nor cold–I am about to spit you out of my mouth.”

Revelation 3:14-16
“I hate, I despise your religious festivals; your assemblies are a stench to me. Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them. Though you bring choice fellowship offerings, I will have no regard for them. Away with the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps. But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!”

Amos 5:21-24
The good thing that has come out of the Nashville Statement is that I and other LGBTQ people of faith know where the signatories stand in regard to our ability to worship and participate in community. They have pulled the sheets from their faces and made it clear their communities are dangerous, are toxic, to us and we can separate ourselves and our faith from them. It has, also, brought to the fore religious leaders who are unequivocally on the side of the oppressed. It helps us to see where we are welcome and where we can be full and contributing memebers as our authentic selves.

Churches, clergy, and laity who stand silent in the face of announced discrimination and hate are dangerous places for LGBTQ people. It gives us an ungrounded hope that maybe we are welcome while providing enough doubt that we can never act and live as ourselves for fear of condemnation. In their attempt to be everything to everyone, these communities are crushing the spirits of LGBTQ members who are forced to live in a state of doubt and fear. No one can worship and commune when they are living in fear of rejection. As it says: were you hot or cold we would know where we stand with you, but as you are lukewarm, we are left neither fully part not fully barred from community.

If you are clergy, we need you to make clear from the pulpit that we are welcome in your house. We do not expect that every member of the congregation will be in agreement with you, but it makes it clear that if/when conflict comes you are in our corner; that we can rely on you to stand with us and preserve our right to worship. Or, to express the opposite, so we can know that we are not viewed as integrated members and we can seek a place where we are.

If you are laity, we need to know you are accepting of us or not accepting of us. It is to everyone’s benefit that your views are clear. If we have an ally in you, we know that we can be genuine with you. When we are able to be vulnerable with you it opens us to be a support for you when you are feeling weak and vulnerable. It allows us to offer our whole selves in our support of you. Conversely, we need to know if you are not accepting because we will know that our genuineness would hurt both of us.

Or maybe you do not know own where you stand on this. If that is you, I urge you to be honest about that. Ask respectful questions, get to know us as people both as LGBTQ people but also as people of faith and members of a community. Hiding from what you do not understand or are uneasy with will not help you to grow and learn. Seek to understand us; we are willing to meet you on that path and we are open to learning about you as a person of faith, as well.

Do not stand neutral in the face of this deceleration. Use it to make your stance known or to embrace your own doubt and to grow.

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Ten Things Cis Allies Can Do To Help Trans People

1 April, 2017

I received another ask recently about what cisgender allies can do to support transgender people. So, here are ten things a cisgender person can do to support transgender people.

1. Educate yourself by reading and listening to trans women and trans men on what it is to be trans. Sounds simple, but you’d be surprised how many people value what cisgender (from the Latin prefix cis, meaning the same or same side of, the medical term denoting people who are not transgender) people say about being transgender rather than what transgender people have to say. I recommend five books to start: “Whipping Girl” by Julia Serano, “Redefining Realness” by Janet Mock, “Transgender Warriors” by Leslie Feinberg (trans masculine writer and author of “Stone Butch Blues”), “A Transgender History of the United States” by Susan Striker, and the essay collection “Manning Up: Transsexual Men on Finding Brotherhood, Family & Themselves Connected.” Along with this is the important task of educating yourself in proper terminology to avoid micro-aggressions–the GLAAD media reference guide is a good starting place.

2. Follow trans inclusive media that has trans women and men writing for them. My personal favourites are Mey Rude on Autostraddle, Kat Callahan on Jezebel, and Samantha Allen on The Daily Beast. Feministing.com has good stuff, too.

3. Donate to trans groups and charities, e.g. The Transgender Law Center and the National Center for Transgender Education. Donate time or money to local charities that are explicitly transgender inclusive.

4. When people you know are being transphobic or trans misogynistic, correct them. Having someone standing up for us in everyday situations is the most powerful support we have. Educate the people around you and work to dispel the misunderstandings and lies believed by the average person.

5. Write to your local, state, and national legislatures. Demand they stand against transphobic bills, praise them for trans inclusive actions, and suggest changes that can be enacted​, like non-discrimination policies that specifically include transgender people.

6. Do not buy from companies with anti-transgender policies, donations, and/or attitudes such as Chic-Fil-A, Brilla Pasta, Jelly Belly, or Urban Outfitters. Do buy from transgender inclusive companies like Starbucks, Apple, or Amazon. The HRC maintains a record of and inclusiveness ratings for many companies (and politicians).

7. Get one of these #IllGoWithYou buttons and be ready to support transgender women, transgender men, and non binary people when accessing public restrooms (note: the restroom a person feels comfortable using will vary depending on presentation and how far along a transperson is in their social transition). This is huge because trans people experience medical complications as a result of avoiding restrooms for 8 to 12 hours everyday: urinary track infections, kidney problems, and malnutrition from not eating or drinking all day so they won’t need a bathroom. Not to mention the verbal and physical attacks they face. According to a 2013 survey in DC, 65% of transgender people have been denied access to, verbally harassed in, or physically assaulted in public bathrooms. It may seems like a little thing to cisgender people who use public bathrooms regularly without incident, but it can be life or death to transgender people.

8. When you receive good service from a transgender employee take a minute to tell their manager. Everyday managers receive complaints about transgender employees just because they are transgender. By complimenting their customer service, work ethic, et cetera, you provide a counter-narrative to the “I’m offended you employee a trans person” complaints. If employers see only negative responses to a trans employee’s presence they will terminate the employee–even in the handful of states that have non-discrimination policies. By taking a few minutes to compliment them, you could literally save their job and prevent them from having to seek alternative sources of employment (sex work is often the only viable alternative for trans women).

9. Know that even in places with laws against discriminating actions towards transgender people in housing, employment, healthcare​, and education people still find subtle and malicious ways to discriminate.

10. Listen. Listen to what transgender people say and take their fears and concerns seriously, even when it may not align with what you have experienced. The worst thing that can happen to a victim of harassment, abuse, or discrimination is having their experiences minimised.

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Transgender Day of Visibility 2017

31 March, 2017

With visibility comes vulnerability. We are more visible than we have ever been and it comes with a price. Constant scrutiny, legislation against us, discrimination in health care, housing, and employment, rejection from our faiths, termination of jobs and education, harassment, abuse, rape, and murdeThis year has been the worst on record for anti-transgender legislation and is on track to be the deadliest year on record. Trans women of colour, more than anyone else, know the danger we are in. The Republican party has in their party platform that we are not real, we don’t exist, we don’t deserve rights.  “Even liberals have yet to fully embrace transgender rights, with a sizeable 30 percent of Democrats in a Public Religion Research Institute survey saying that they favor anti-transgender bathroom legislation” (Whatever Happened to the Transgender Tipping Point? Samantha Allen). Evangelical Christians are working with Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminists and the Alt-Right to systematically oppress us until being visible not only isn’t safe but isn’t even possible.

Today, Transgender Day of Visibility, we recognise the power and strength in being visible even as we are wounded–all too often mortally so–for doing so.

If you are transgender and are visible by choice or fate I stand with you. If you are transgender and not visible by choice or discrimination, I stand with you. If you are cisgender, I ask you remember us; remember us by name and remember us by deed, so transgender visibility can stop being the double edged sword we are impaled on.

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What Bathroom Bills Are Really Doing

23 February, 2017

Let’s breakdown what the anti-transgender/public privacy bathroom bills and laws are really doing.
(1) The laws are unenforceable without a bathroom attendant checking people’s birth certificates so
(2) It encourages citizens to make personal judgements based on what a person looks like leading to
(3) The unofficial nod to approve cis men and cis women carrying out vigilante justice against suspected transgender citizens (unless you live in Texas or Kansas where politicians openly endorsed vigilante enforcement).
(4) The number of transgender children and adults who don’t eat or drink so they can last eight hours without using a public bathroom will rise past the 1 out of 3 it is already at. Meaning,
(5) More and more transgender people will develop malnutrition, dehydration, UTIs, and other negative health consequences. Further,
(6) Students and employees’ concentration, productivity, and effectiveness will suffer and impair their ability to get an education that can lead to successful employment or hold onto employment if gained.
(7) Without an education and viable employment they will not have an income and will be unable to secure housing, food, and healthcare.
(8) They will not be able to use shelters due to the same gender enforcement laws that affected them in school and public accommodations so they will be forced to seek alternative housing and illicit jobs (prostitution being the most common).
(9) Living on the streets and performing survival sex work will further endanger their health and physical safety and
(10) Will eventually lead to an early and likely violent death.
So, really, it is not, nor was it ever, about bathroom safety. Rather, it is the legislative genocide of a minoritised group.