Wednesday, March 27, 2013
“VOICES OF WITNESS: OUT-OF-THE-BOX”
Transgender 101 – Integrity Delaware Spring Retreat
Integrity Delaware, an Episcopal Church LGBT advocacy group, is hosting a spring retreat April 19th & 20th exploring the world of transgendered people. The retreat will begin with the film “Voices of Witnesses: Out-ofthe-Box” produced by IntegrityUSA. This film is a groundbreaking documentary giving voice to the witness of transgender people of faith courageously sharing their stories of hope, healing and wholeness. Retreat leaders are Vivian Taylor and Donna Cartwright, who are transgendered women, and who will share stories of their journey transitioning from male to female. The retreat will also include a Q & A period, worship, and socializing.
Viv Taylor is a writer, activist, and avid Sung Compline promoter currently living in Boston, MA. She served in the War in Iraq from 2009-2010 and writes about her experiences in war, being a veteran, and being a transgender Christian. Ms. Taylor started transitioning in earnest when she returned to Chapel Hill after serving as a Chaplain’s Assistant with the Army in Iraq. Taylor was part of IntegrityUSA and TransEpiscopal (a transgendered online support group), and their successful advocacy effort at the Episcopal Church’s General Convention in 2012. She offered powerful testimony in support of resolutions that added "gender identity and expression" to The Episcopal Church's nondiscrimination canons on lay and ordained ministry.
Donna Cartwright, is an Episcopal layperson in Baltimore Maryland, where she attends St. Bartholomew's church. For many years an agnostic, she came to faith through her transgender journey, joining the Episcopal Church in 2000 in the Diocese of Newark. She was the first trans person to join the Commission (governing body) of The Oasis, the LGBT ministry of that diocese, and served on it until she moved to Baltimore in 2006. She was a co-founder of TransEpiscopal in 2005, and helped lead TransEpiscopal efforts at General Conventions 2006, 2009 and 2012.
The retreat will be held at All Saints Episcopal Church, 18 Olive Avenue, Rehoboth Beach, from 3:00pm, Friday April 19 through Saturday, April 20th at 4pm. Registration for the retreat may be made online at www.integritydelaware.org. The cost of the retreat is $75/per person. Discount rooms available at the Boardwalk Plaza Hotel (302) 227-7169 (ask for Integrity Group Rate), and the Atlantic Sands Hotel, call 1-800-422-0660 (Ask for Integrity Block #7059). For additional information call Rita Nelson (302) 945-7520 or Elizabeth Kaeton (302) 231-8246.
Posted by Shelly at 3:23 PM
Friday, February 22, 2013
About a month ago, Bishop Tom Shaw of the Episcopal Diocese of Masachusetts wrote a blog post about a recent encounter at the gym. I just came across it this evening, and was moved to post it here. The post reflects on the case of Michelle Kosilek, a transgender woman who was convicted of murder in the 1990s and has recently been in the news because of a judge's decision that the state should cover the cost of her medical transition. As I remarked in the comment I added to Bishop Shaw's post, seeing the steady stream of stories in the paper about Kosilek, and the predictable backlash against her was pretty demoralizing. A December Boston Globe op ed put it this way:
“For the judicial system, the case [for MA paying for Kosilek’s surgery] is a no brainer. For just about everyone else the case can be confusing at a minimum, and downright infuriating at its worst. And some of those most disturbed by the case are often those who, like Kosilek, identify as transgender.” I have heard people in the community wonder how someone who committed murder could potentially have her medical transition paid for while most law abiding trans people have to pay thousands of dollars out of pocket—if they can manage to save up and/or get a loan.
Kosilek may be far from sympathetic, but at the end of the day, I agree with Judge Wolf’s decision. It is an issue of fairness, of respecting her human dignity-- even if she did not respect that of the wife she murdered years ago. For the state to make an exception in its commitment to medical coverage for those in its prison system would be, as Jennifer Levi put it, “transgender exceptionalism.”
Bishop Shaw agreed. But what particularly moves me about his piece is its prayerful reflection on encounter-- how we do and do not engage one another, and how God continually calls us into this process:
Back at the gym. This time the conversation was about a transgender person. My trainer asked me what I thought about the recent controversy over the ruling of the federal court judge who ordered the Massachusetts Department of Correction to pay for the reassignment surgery of a prisoner, Michelle Kosilek, who had previously been known as Robert. (The ruling has since been put on hold pending an appeal.) I said that it was my understanding that the prisoner had a gender identity disorder and that it seemed appropriate, as she is a ward of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, that the Department of Correction should provide the remedy of surgery. I personally agreed with the judge.
This is a small gym, so everyone hears every conversation. Before my trainer could respond, another trainer offered his opinion, which was very different from mine. My trainer didn’t agree with me either. Back and forth we went. It got pretty heated and, of course, no one’s mind was changed. These are not unkind men. I couldn’t just dismiss them. They are my friends and I’ve known them for years.
The conversation stayed with me for days. It even became part of my prayer. Mostly I was mad at myself. I wished I had been more articulate. You probably know how it is after a conversation like that. I kept saying to myself: “If only I had said this, then they would understand… .” The more I went over it, though, I got the clear sense that God was shifting my focus from this unconvincing conversation to the deeper place of my own conviction. God was asking me how I had come to the place where I could be open to securing the rights of a transgender person.
I knew immediately. It was several years ago in a workshop on transgender issues. I didn’t really want to be there but a friend had asked me to go. Intellectually I think I understood why someone should have the right to change their sex, but I was pretty uncomfortable with the whole idea. Then a transgender woman stood up and told her story. She was a minister and she spoke of how she had suffered in making her decision and how she had sacrificed her career, friendships and family relationships. She told of how alone and helpless she often felt because of the discrimination she experienced, and of how hard it was for her to fulfill her vocation.
“Wow,” I thought to myself as I listened to her poignant story, “all she wants is to practice her call from God. She isn’t any different from me, from anyone who takes their call seriously.” Something shifted inside of me, and the Spirit opened me to her dignity as a human being. It’s almost always different when it’s a personal encounter like that, or when it’s someone you know. Somehow their dignity is right there in front of you and it speaks to your dignity as a human being.
So ever since then it comes to me at odd times in my prayer: Who else don’t I know? Who are all the other people I’ve kept at a distance or let circumstances keep at a distance from me? Who is God trying to put in front of me and open me to?
M. Thomas Shaw, SSJE
Monday, February 18, 2013
On Thursday, February 14, the Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori and House of Deputies President Gay Jennings announced the composition of the Task Force on the Study of Marriage. Resolution A050, passed at The General Convention of The Episcopal Church in July, 2012, called for “not more than twelve people, consisting of theologians, liturgists, pastors, and educators, to identify and explore biblical, theological, historical, liturgical, and canonical dimensions of marriage.”
As the resolution specifies, the group is intended to develop tools for theological reflection and norms for theological discussion as part of a wider relational, contextual process:
· to consider the following issues in the U.S. and in other countries where The Episcopal Church is located (e.g. parts of Europe, Haiti, the D.R., Venezuela, etc):
1) changing societal and cultural norms
2) changing legal structures, including legislation authorizing or forbidding marriage, civil unions, or domestic partnerships between two people of the same sex
· to develop tools for theological reflection and norms for theological discussion at a local level
· to consult with the following constituencies as part of this work:
1) the Standing Commissions on A) Constitution and Canons and on B) Liturgy and Music “to address the pastoral need for priests to officiate at a civil marriage of a same-sex couple in states that authorize such”
2) couples in married or committed partnerships, as well as single adults
3) Anglican Communion and Ecumenical partners
· to report its progress to the 78th General Convention in 2015
TransEpiscopal supports the work of the task force and is proud that its co-convener Reverend Dr. Cameron Partridge has been nominated to it, along with past IntegrityUSA president the Reverend Canon Susan Russell.
Tuesday, February 12, 2013
Episcopal/Anglican Fellowship, Harvard Divinity School
Monday, February 11, 2013
Transfiguration greetings from inside the cloud. I say this not simply because of the fog that envelopes us here in Cambridge as rain melts our record snowfall, not only because of the in-between place this diocese has entered in the wake of our bishop’s retirement announcement, or even in honor of the strange possibility that, as this article explains, "a new Archbishop of Canterbury and a new Pope may be enthroned in the same month." I say this inspired by Luke’s unique observation that all of those present on the transfiguration mount were not only “overshadowed” by a cloud but actually, terrifyingly, “entered into it” (Lk 9:34). In some way, Luke seems to do more with the Transfiguration, to link the very paschal mystery to it, and to make that mystery accessible to his readers—to all of us. In the hands of Luke, all of us are delivered into the mysterious liberation that is transfiguration.
This cloud-envelopment is not the only unique gift brought to us by the Year C in our liturgical/lectionary rotation. Only Luke, among the synoptic witnesses, gives us a window onto the summit conversation between Jesus, Moses and Elijah. All three accounts tell us that Peter, John and James see these towering figures of the Law and the Prophets. But Luke alone explains that “they appeared in glory” and, most importantly, that “they were speaking of [Jesus’] departure which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.” The term for departure is ἔξοδον, a word that evokes the Exodus of the Israelites from their Egyptian captivity. Already the gospel story draws upon Moses’ shining encounter, as our first reading reminds us. But Luke’s window onto Jesus’ mountaintop discourse gives us more on which to chew. Jesus was about to embody Exodus. Think about what that might mean. Think of what we know about the journey that lay before him: the downward slope into Jerusalem, the crucifixion, the resurrection and ascension. The shorthand Luke uses for this, the frame through which he wants us to read it is ἔξοδον. It is liberation from oppression. It is the transformation of an individual body—suffering and death followed by resurrection life—as the transformation of a collective body. Does this relationship of collective to individual embodiment not shift how you might read Jesus’ words of agency? Do you not hear the notion of “accomplishing” this paschal mystery in a different way? It is not simply a matter of deciding to suffer and to die (which, of course, is not simple in and of itself). This “accomplishment” is about the exodus of a people, or as Paul puts it in our reading from 2 Corinthians, freedom, which flows out from “the Spirit of the Lord” (2 Cor 3:18).
Both in written reflection and in iconic depiction, the Christian East has long honored the Metamorphosis (as it is often called, after the term with which Matthew and Mark describe Jesus’ transformation), and has seen in it a deep connection to the mystery of Easter itself. Transfiguration is not only something that happened to Jesus on Mount Tabor, as our unnamed peak is often called. It is also the effect of resurrection power in our lives here and now, as well as at the end of all things, when that power will lift us up from the grave. Transfiguration is the transformation “from glory into glory” to which Paul speaks in this breathtaking vision: “all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another” (2 Cor 3:18). This is not an effect reserved for the end. It is with us now. It is why, “we do not lose heart” as we carry forward in our ministries (2 Cor 4:1). The present, pervasive reality of transfiguration allows us to discern the holy in this cloud in which we stand.
The idea that to be transfigured is to be changed, to be transformed, to be metamorphosed first drew me to the theology of transfiguration-- as someone who has transitioned, this spoke powerfully to me. The complexity of my gender identity also gave me a particular appreciation for its liminal placement in the liturgical year. But surely I am not alone in my love of the uniquely clear way in which the transfiguration (and more specifically Transfiguration Sunday, placed here, at the threshold of Epiphany and Lent) makes the heart of the gospel-- the good news of God’s transforming, healing, reconciling work -- available to us, a prism through which to see our own lives as in some way part of this larger collection, these stories of salvation history. This combination of liminality and transformation should prompt us to see not only the obviously-set-apart places, the mountaintop locales, but also the more mundane interstices, the in-between spaces of our lives, as places of transfiguration.
These thresholds can be temporal, spatial or both. Perhaps we might look afresh at the context of divinity school and of the university more broadly. This context is a crucible—as you surely don’t need me to tell you—a space of intensive formation, and which carries to some degree the anxiety of next-steps, both for students and for faculty and staff. And so I want to invite us all to consider here and now, in this peculiar perch: What is the ἔξοδον you are about to accomplish, or rather, that God is about to accomplish in you? How are you being called to embody the paschal mystery in all its incorporation of death and new life? Stand on this verge today and know that by virtue of your membership in the body of Christ, you too are being transfigured. You, dear friends, are caught up in the mystery of metamorphosis, you are poised to leap up from the sacramental waters of your baptism. In the least likely spaces of your life, you are being “changed from glory into glory,” invited to grow like the engrafted olive shoot you are into the very heart of the living God. The death Christ died and the resurrection life through which creation itself was recast—these fundamental tenets of our faith our not mental exercises, but spiritual realities with deeply concrete implications. As we move toward the dust-filled return of Ash Wednesday and the wilderness territory of Lent, think on this mystery.
Luke’s vision of the Transfiguration frames our entry into Lent and Easter like no other gospel. To be sure, the placement of this day at the end of the season of Epiphany, as the bookend to Jesus’ baptism (another iconic favorite in Eastern Christianity) works similarly in all three years of our lectionary. Transfiguration stands as the mandorla, the holy hinge on which the cycles of Incarnation and Pascha swing into one another. But Luke’s version alone gives us a prism through which to read the paschal mystery itself. Luke alone truly uses Transfiguration as the key for interpreting the cross and the empty tomb. Luke alone refracts our very body/ies through the lens of Exodus (for an Easter preview, see Luke 24:1-12). And so again I ask you, what is the ἔξοδον that God is seeking to accomplish in you? How are you being called to embody the liberation that is the Paschal Mystery? Amen.
Monday, November 26, 2012
|Rev. Dr. Christina Beardsley|
The Reverend Dr. Christina Beardsley is an ordained priest in the Church of England, is a board member of Changing Attitude (which works for full LGBT inclusion in the Anglican Communion), and has served for a number of years as a hospital chaplain. In the piece below she reflects on last week's vote by the General Synod of the Church of England which fell just shy of allowing women to become bishops there. As she notes, because the various members of the Anglican Communion have somewhat different governing structures, women already are bishops in other parts of the Communion (e.g. Australia, the United States and, most recently, South Africa). Her comments on the church's relation to equality legislation also reflect the fact that the Church of England is a state church. As we reflect with Tina, may we stand in solidarity with all in the Church of England who are struggling, who are angry, who are in pain.
“Well, and which way did you vote?” The lady who asked me was sitting with an elderly friend in the High Dependency Unit of the hospital where I work. It was her first remark to me as I introduced myself as a hospital chaplain, the day after the General Synod’s recent vote on women bishops.
People are angry at the outcome – and rightly so. I explained that I hadn’t had a vote – not at the Synod anyway, but that as a member of a deanery synod I had voted in the clergy elections: ‘and it was passed in the House of Clergy’ I said encouragingly. She seemed to calm down then, knowing that I was ‘on side’. I think that it has probably shocked many women to see television clips of women arguing against the consecration of women as bishops. This lady clearly needed to check me out.
It wasn’t the place or the occasion though to talk about me, or my credentials as a supporter of women’s ordination, which go back a long way. I was there in my role as a chaplain and we quickly moved on to the needs of her friend.
Prior to transition I was a member of Priests for the Ordination of Women, and, of course, the ordination of women in the Church of England enabled me to remain a priest when I transitioned. Most of my working life, though, has been about pastoral care. It’s only in the last six years I’ve become an activist for LGB&T inclusion, and now that I have it’s probably too late to stand for General Synod, even if I wanted to (and I might not be elected anyway).
In any case I’ve felt very ambivalent about the General Synod since 1987, and the personal morality debate initiated by the Revd Tony Higton, which basically set the scene for the marginalisation of LGB&T people in the Church of England.
That catastrophe, combined with the painfully slow progress of the legislation on the ordination of women to the priesthood from the late 1970s onwards, means that I’ve never felt wholly confident in the processes and ethos of the General Synod. Perhaps I should have taken time to observe it at close quarters, but each time the Synod is in session I’m either working or elsewhere. Back in July, when the General Synod was meant to have voted on women bishops in York, I was at General Convention in Indianapolis, networking with the TransEpsicopal delegation.
What a contrast between General Convention 2012, where the three transgender inclusive resolutions were passed overwhelmingly by the House of Bishops and the House of Deputies, and the defeat, last week, of the women bishops’ legislation in the House of Laity of the General Synod!
|Tina Beardsley in the Speaker's Corner at General Convention 2012|
On the other hand, the failure of the laity to meet the required two-thirds majority by just six votes was not a complete surprise. It had been evident for some time that this could happen. The legislation had been drafted, redrafted and amended several times, and it’s claimed that there was an orchestrated campaign in the last election to the House of Laity by those opposed to women bishops. If that’s true, it shows just how political the Synod has become, and how the moderate middle need to be more politically aware in future.
In many ways this was not so much a vote about women bishops but about the creation of a measure that could accommodate those – Conservative Evangelicals and Anglo-Catholics – who, for different reasons, would be unable to accept the ministry of a woman bishop. From the General Synod vote, and the voting by the dioceses (42 out of 44 in favour), it would seem that those opposed to women bishops are a minority; but the Church of England tries hard to hold on to its conservative minorities. I find that slightly uncomfortable when the Church of England seems to treat other minorities as expendable, though the principle is sound and could, and should, be extended.
What has shocked people about the latest decision is that a truth that has been hard won, and is now widely experienced in society in general, the equality of men and women, cannot be embraced by the church because of its tenderness to those with conscientious objections. Such tenderness is the Christian way set out by Paul in relation to dietary regulations in Romans 14-15.1 and 1 Corinthians 8, but not when it challenged the inclusive character of the gospel (Galatians 2.11-21). Parallel jurisdiction, which some of the opponents to women bishops appear to want, would likewise compromise the oversight of a woman bishop, leading to a two-tier episcopate.
This is the so-called ‘circle that cannot be squared’ which is plunging the Church of England into crisis. Since the Church of England is the Established Church of the land, the General Synod’s legal decisions are subject to scrutiny and ratification by Parliament and there is serious concern within Parliament about the Synod’s inability to progress the legislation in favour of women bishops.
There is talk of making the government’s experience in promoting equality available to the Church of England. Some MPs, and even bishops, are keen for the Church’s exemptions to equality legislation to be lifted. If this were to happen there would be a huge outcry from conservatives but it is something that I have longed for. Back in the late 1970s, when I was lamenting the Church of England’s slow progress towards enabling the ordination of women to the diaconate and the priesthood, the priest who was training me said this: ‘It was scandalous that the Church of England was granted exemption from the Sex Discrimination Act (1975).’
How right he was, and how important now for us, as LGB&T people, that ALL the Church’s exemptions should be removed, not just with reference to the Sex Discrimination Act, but to all the equalities legislation the UK Government has enacted in recent years. Only when the Church of England has finally embraced the principle of equality – which, after all, lies at the heart of the gospel – can it with integrity minister to the tender consciences of those who find such strong meat too hard to swallow.
Tuesday, November 20, 2012
Though today, November 20, marks the official Transgender Day of Remembrance, many communities observed the day on Sunday evening. In Boston, the Cathedral Church of St. Paul hosted the event, organized by a local planning committee. In his comments below, TransEpiscopal member Iain Stanford reports on his experience of the evening, how it brought together his worlds.
This past Sunday afternoon the air was cool and crisp, and thelast of the leaves with their shades of orange and red still clung to thetrees, as I walked across the Boston Common to the CathedralChurch of St. Paul to help in the preparations for Boston’s annualobservance of Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDOR). Joining with other membersof theCrossing community, signs were put up, linens were put out, and candles lit. This was the third year that the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts wouldhave the honor of welcoming the trans community into our cathedral.
In 1998 in the Allston neighborhood of Boston, friends, family,and allies had gathered to hold a speak-out and candlelight vigil in honor ofRita Hester, who had been brutally stabbed to death days before. This was thebeginning. Since then, TDOR has grown into an international observance toremember those in the trans community who have lost their lives due toanti-transgender violence and discrimination. Now in its fourteenth year, thenumber of deaths continues to rise. Sadly, this year’s TDOR remembered 265 people who lost their lives from November15, 2011 through November 14, 2012. Listening to the stories of loss and grief,I am always struck by the resilience and beauty of people embracing andsupporting one another. It is an evening filled with tears and aches, but alsowith laughter and joy. It is a time to see old friends and meet new ones.
As people took their seats and began to settle in for the startof the evening, I sat off to the side collecting my thoughts. Scheduled to givethe welcome with Bishop Shaw on behalf of the Cathedral, I could feel thenervous tension intensifying. Katie Ernst, the Crossing’s Minister for Mission,and liaison to the TDOR committee, came over to try to calm me. I was feelingsomething more than the usual adrenaline rush and nervous butterflies. Was itjust that this was the first time I would speak at the Cathedral? Was it thatthis was the first time I would speak to the Boston trans community? Yes andyes, but there was something more.
Two of my worlds were meeting this night. It felt a little likeinviting your friends and family to the same holiday event, where you are hopingfor more than mere toleration-- you are hoping that the two groups mightactually enjoy their time together. I am grateful that there are many who quite literally embody in ourlives both these worlds—I do not stand alone. Still, being Christian in thetrans community or being trans in the Christian community has its moments ofincongruity. The hurt to many in the trans community in the name ofinstitutional religion, particularly some Christian Churches, looms large.There is much work to be done. I am grateful that my own Episcopal Church is asupportive ally and counter voice to the hurt.
Charito Suarez, the master of ceremonies, set the tone of thenight as she sang, “Perhaps Love,” a poignant song of love and loss. She thencalled Bishop Shaw up to the microphone to speak. I was trying to listen, butmy heart was pounding. +Tomwelcomed the trans community to the Cathedral, explaining how blessed he feltthat the trans community, had trusted him with our stories, how he had grownover the years to understand our lives and struggles more and more, and how hewas committed to being an advocate on our behalf. In particular he told thestory of young man just 14 years old who had touched his heart.
And then, it was my turn to speak: I walked up, took themicrophone, and turned around. All of a sudden, facing the people, the Cathedral had just become much bigger than the view from the seats. These weremy remarks …
* * *
Hello, my name is Iain Stanford. It is my pleasure to welcome youtoday on behalf of the Cathedral Church of St. Paul, and especially on behalfof the Crossing community. We are one of several communities that call theCathedral home. We are a community that seeks to practice what we like to callradical welcome, embracing all people, communities, and the earth.
I feel particularly blessed tonight to have two of my worlds cometogether, The Episcopal Church and the trans community. Two years ago, havingjust begun my own transition, I sat right over there, in those seats, for thefirst Trans Day of Remembrance held here at St Paul’s. I listened intently toBishop Shaw as he apologized for the way Christians – and especiallyinstitutional Churches -- had treated trans people. As I listened to his words, my eyes filled with tears, asdid those of the people around me. It was powerful moment, and for many, ahealing one. It lingers still in my heart today. Thank you, +Tom!
Tonight that memory, combined with recent events, brings me fullcircle. It is with great joy that I can report to you the events of this pastsummer at our General Convention -- the highest governing body of The EpiscopalChurch. We changed the non-discrimination canons of The Episcopal church -- thelaws by which we govern ourselves -- to include gender identity and genderexpression.
We were able to accomplish this feat through the efforts ofTransEpiscopal members, several of whom are here tonight. But more importantly,we accomplished this through you. We could not have achieved this historic shift without the witness ofthe trans community writ large. As +Tom mentioned, he and the other bishops,and the people in the Church learned from and grew in understanding because ofthe trans community. Without your witness every day, day in and day out, TheEpiscopal Church would not have been able to turn its face. This summer itembraced us. So tonight, I want to say thank you!
And again, welcome to my home!
Wednesday, September 26, 2012
Vivian Taylor was part of IntegrityUSA and TransEpiscopal's successful advocacy effort at General Convention this summer. She offered powerful testimony in support of resolutions that added "gender identity and expression" to The Episcopal Church's nondiscrimination canons on lay and ordained ministry. This article is reposted from her column in the Chapel Hill News.
Being trans no joke
BY VIV TAYLOR
One day back in high school I was hanging out at a friend’s house. There were several of us watching funny videos on the Internet. There was all the usual sort of Internet jokes, nerd humor, silly animals, various bloopers, but then someone put on a video that made me wince.
It was a cell phone commercial showing a young man marrying a beautiful woman only to discover, horror of horrors, that she is a transgender woman. He is crushed. I don’t remember the point of that commercial, but it might have been something about their competitor’s deceptive fees.
There are many mean jokes that are often told about trans women. They are told in books and movies and on television. It’s the narrative that “The Crying Game” made famous, that delivers the punch line at the end of “Ace Ventura.” It’s the joke told on Jerry Springer and with only slight modification on “The Simpsons” and in the “Game of Thrones” books. Everywhere you go, it’s an “edgy” way to get a laugh.
It says that we’re deceptive, trying to trick straight men. It’s a joke that snickers at the looks of trans women, that says that the only reason a “regular” person would love or be attracted to us is if they didn’t know the truth and were lied to.
That sort of narrative is often used as defense for violence against trans women as happened in the trial of Gwen Araujo’s murders in 2008.
That isn’t the only harmful narrative about trans people, especially trans women. Trans women are regularly shown as sex workers in crime dramas and comedies. We are used as a metaphor for the rot and decay of civilization. An early episode of Dave Chappell’s show makes a joke of the harmful effects of cheap beer by showing it causing otherwise reasonable men to visit trans women sex workers as Chappell looks on screaming in terror.
It’s a story that is told over and over again that says that trans women are loathsome, monstrous, immoral, that we don’t deserve to be in relationship with other human beings or even really have a place in the world.
Watching this with my high school friends, I was the first to laugh, and the probably loudest. I glanced around looking for an expression of recognition on any of my friend’s faces, waiting for one of them to put it together that I was trans, that I was just waiting for my chance to transition and live as the person I was. I prayed that they wouldn’t see who I was, think of me as a joke or a freak.
The thing is though, the worst part isn’t the fear that people you care about will think you’re a monster. The worst part is the fear that all these jokes are right, that you somehow are this gruesome, laughable thing.
Return to Chapel Hill
I started transitioning in earnest when I returned to Chapel Hill after serving in Iraq. I came out of the military in a great rush to come out, to transition, to move on with my life.
I was shocked to find that even after all I had been through, coming out even to people who weren’t incredibly important to me was extremely stressful. I choked on my words, sometimes I almost apologized for being trans.
It was bizarre. I felt poisoned by those old stories.
The solution came through a mentor at my parish. She gave me the contact information for an open group that met once every other week. These were local North Carolina trans folks who would come together to talk about their lives. It was halfway between a support group and a social club.
I’ll admit, the first time I visited I was completely tongue tied. Here were trans men and trans women and nonbinary folks and folks still figuring it out, people of many ages and stages of transition coming together to drink coffee and talk. I had no idea what to say or do the first time.
They were just such powerfully regular people, students and insurance adjusters and artists and … well, people. Some folks talked about their romantic relationships, some about their jobs, some about stuff as esoteric as best practices for keeping rabbits as pets. They were smart and funny, occasionally angry or tired, but mainly just wonderful to be around.
When I first turned up, I think I was looking for people with all the answers about how to be trans, what it meant to be trans. What I found was better.
All those ugly narratives want to hold up a distorted caricature and tell you it’s a mirror. They want to make those dirty jokes your life, either being the butt of them or struggling against them.
The real answer, and what I found at trans talk, was that the trick is to find community, and to fight oppression without that oppression defining you, owning you. It’s an incredible blessing to exist. Why let anybody tell you how you have to do it?