Monday, December 24, 2007

Christmas Blessings


Just a pause now in the busy Holiday preparations, so I will take the chance to wish everyone a VERY BLESSED and MERRY CHRISTMAS! The event that we commemorate in this Holy Day has very little to do with feasting, Santa Claus, or presents. It has everything to do with the birth of Jesus. Jesus birth and Christmas is also called the Feast of the Incarnation (God becoming flesh.) In all the celebrating please remember that underneath all our festivities there is something very real to celebrate. God, the creator of the Universe, cares enough about us, God's creation, to become one of us. Not only did God become one of us, but God came into this world as a small and vulnerable child, just as we all do. This is the miracle of Christmas, that God cares!

Peace and Love,
Shel (The Rev. Michelle Hansen)

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Transgender Day of Remembrance


Tuesday, Nov. 20, brings in many places the Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDOR). One might legitimately wonder at the need for such a remembrance. I would have been in that condition just five years ago. Although I have been transgender all my life I was "in the closet" for much of that life. That meant for me not being in touch with other Trans people, not in touch with Trans issues, and not really in touch with myself very much. I also grew up in a rather privileged white middle class environment and did my undergraduate education at the University of Rhode Island and graduate work for two masters at Yale University. I worked as a parish priest for many years in the "elitist" Episcapal Church and then for many more years made good money in the computer industry.

Five years ago it barely dawned on me that I might be in jeopardy of social violence for being transgender (possibly from a terrorist, it was just after 9/11/2001.) I have learned much in the last five years! Last night I attended a public service for TDOR in Springfield, Massachusetts. I will be unable to attend the services in Hartford on Tuesday. I experienced many feelings during the service, extreme sadness, much concern and fellowship with the others there. I also was shocked and horrified at the stories of those whose lives ended so prematurely at the hands of others. You see, this day of remembrance is for those Trangender people who have been murdered (eleven in this current year alone.) In the service people read some of the stories of those murders. It was all horrifying and shocking to hear of people being stabbed to death with twenty or thirty knife wounds or being killed and then having their bodies mangled. It is all so far from my personal experience, yet somehow all too personal.

What shocks me the most, though, is the general indifference and acceptance in the general population of this treatment of Transgender people! One of the stories recounts the fact that a bunch of bystanders cheered as a trangender woman was beaten to death. Another story tells that the police recorded a Transgender death (murder) as being accidental (she was actually killed and then run over four times, accident?) Many of the murders are listed as unsolved. Even the solved ones often show light sentences for the murders. If you don't believe me visit the Remembering our Dead Web site.

Being a religious woman I could say to you pray for the dead. That certainly would be fitting. I am however going to say to BE OUTRAGED! Don't accept this violence. Being Transgender isn't bing less than human. All these Transgender men and women who were murdered were people worthy of their right to life. Fight with me and those like me for justice and the right to life without terror and violence. By all means please pray but do more. Tell your Doctors, your Police forces and your legislators that you will not accept discrimination and violence against any one! Don't accept violence against your Transgender brothers and sisters!

God's Love to you all,

The Rev. Michelle Hansen, S.T.M., M.Div

Friday, November 2, 2007

In Support of Rev. Drew Phoenix

For Immediate Release:

TransEpiscopal, an organization made up of Episcopalians who are transgender, as well as allies and family of transgender loved ones, extends its support and congratulations to the Reverend Drew Phoenix. Rev. Phoenix, by all accounts, is doing an outstanding job at St. John’s United Methodist Church in Baltimore, Maryland. As several members of TransEpiscopal are also ordained clergy who are transgender, and as we serve in various ministries throughout the United States and the United Kingdom, we know something of the struggle Rev. Phoenix is going through, and we offer thanks to God for his ministry and the opportunity he has to engage in it.

For additional information, please visit our website at www.transepiscopal.blogspot.com, or contact the Rev. Cameron Partridge at cepart@yahoo.com, the Rev. Gari Green at ggreenjay@aol.com, the Rev. Michelle Hansen at hansen_michelle@sbcglobal.net, or Ms. Donna Cartwright at donnacartwright@earthlink.net.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Thoughts on the HoB

I haven't posted directly to the blog before, but I feel obligated to offer some reflection on the recently concluded House of Bishops meeting. I believe the meeting was a watershed time especially for trans folk in the Episcopal Church. This assessment has nothing to do with what the bishops did, since the actually did nothing. My categorization has to do with the fact that the same time the bishops were meeting in New Orleans, the Consultation was meeting in Newark. This meeting of the Consultation was the first meeting in which there was an official trans representation. Cameron Partridge and I were both honored and pleased to serve as representatives to this meeting. A friend of mine, another transwoman, asked me what accomplishments I hoped would come out of the Newark meeting. I told her the very fact that our part of the Body was represented was accomplishment enough for me.
 
During our meeting we monitored the House of Bishops, eventually crafting a well worded reminder to them regarding their responsibilities to the rest of us. Cameron has posted that document. I have no idea what kind of response it received in the bishops meeting. We are now three weeks past what Susan Russell has called the "day after". I feel calm enough to offer some thoughts.
 
My partner has assured me that the bishops did the only thing they could. They agreed to that which had already been decided at the most recent General Convention. I have come to see the wisdom in that assessment. However wise the assessment may be, I am left wanting more from those to whom I look to for leadership. What more could they have done?
 
Well, the could have acted like leaders, now couldn't they? They could have stated categorically that, as the House of Bishops, they could neither accede to nor turn down the requests(demands)of the Primates. Our polity requires us to make decisions together, not unilaterally.
 
I believe the bishops wanted to pour oil on the troubled waters of the Anglican communion. They failed in this. Conservatives felt the Bishops response to be inadequate. Those of us in the GLBT community felt scapegoated yet again, if only by reliving the betrayal foisted upon us at the most recent General Convention.
 
So, the bottom line is everyone lost. Everyone but the Bishops that is. They apparently congratulated themselves heartily for their efforts in saving the Anglican Communion for at least another season. Bishop Robinson may get to attend Lambeth, where he should have been invited to begin with.
 
So, we spent a lot of money to get the purple shirts to New Orleans for the great meeting, which is certainly good for the economy of New Orleans, to arrive at the same place we were before the "great meeting". Somewhere I can almost hear a small voice saying, "pay no attention to the man behind the screen, the great and powerful OZ has spoken".
 
 


The Rev. Gari Green

Friday, October 12, 2007

ENDA: a View from a TransEpiscopalian

My Take
by Meredith Bacon

In the ninety degree heat and beating sun, most of us who demonstrated in front of the Washington Convention Center last Saturday afternoon glistened with perspiration. “No ENDA without gender,” which can be made to sound like a rhyme, was the recurring chant. We handed out Equality Federation stickers which read “Equali_y.” Many of the arriving invitees for the Human Rights Campaign’s National Dinner reluctantly took the sticker but never put it on their cocktail attire. Some of the LGBT glitterati, who paid $250 for the evening, were clearly uncomfortable because of the temperature and the additional heat generated by the demonstrators reminding them that the HRC’s position on an Employment Non-Discrimation Act which would include protection based on “gender identity” was less than consistent.

That inconsistency resurrected doubts that the transgender community has harbored since the August 2004 HRC Board decision to commit itself and its immense political and economic power to trans-inclusive federal protective legislation. Ironically, along with the rest of the LGBT community, the trans community had celebrated the passage of the hate crimes amendment to the Defense Authorization Act just days before. We were included in that bill which has still to go to the President for his signature. He has threatened to veto it.

Also ironically, three weeks before at the Southern Comfort Conference, the world’s largest gathering of transgenders, HRC President Joe Solmonese had promised not only to support a trans-inclusive ENDA but to oppose an ENDA which was not inclusive. I was at Joe’s luncheon table just prior to the speech but had met him on a number of other occasions and had even been a guest on his XM radio program. Joe is one of the most charming and politically astute people I have ever met. For the most part he has lived into the HRC’s 2004 commitment. Officially, he still is and has urged the greater LGBT community to push for an inclusive ENDA. However, that part of his Southern Comfort speech which promised to oppose a non-inclusive ENDA has been placed into doubt, not because Joe is not an honorable man leading a great organization, but because Democratic leaders in the House of Representatives are prepared to send a non-inclusive substitute to the floor (HR 3685). HRC’s largest visible constituency and the core of its financial support is gay men. To deny gay men and lesbians employment non-discrimination in order to fulfill his promise to transgenders puts Joe in a difficult situation. I don’t envy him. Achieving such a laudable goal at the expense of others poses, or should pose, a moral dilemma of the highest order.

Two days before, Donna Rose had resolved her personal dilemma by announcing her decision to resign from the HRC Board. She had been its first and only transgender member, our articulate and influential voice inside the HRC. Her principled and courageous decision stands in sharp contrast to that of others who in their silence appear to acquiesce to our further marginalization

At the urging of other National Center for Transgender Equality Board members, I had abandoned my plans to boycott the HRC dinner and had entered along with three other Board members. We had hoped to lobby HRC Board members and staffers to rethink their decision of October 1 not to oppose HR 3685 should the trans-inclusive ENDA, HR 2015, appear to have failed to garner the 218 votes needed for passage in the House of Representatives. The senior staff and HRC Board members whom we approached were courteous, if somewhat condescending, but unbending in their belief that something was better than nothing, although their confidence that ENDA in any form would become law under this administration was fanciful. Still inspired by the demonstration, I sat, my back toward the stage as Joe Solmonese spoke and referred to us as “the elephant in the room,” never once pronouncing the word “transgender.” That was left to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi whose announced sympathy for us belied the Democratic leadership’s willingness to drop us from ENDA “for now.” As I suggested to the Advocate reporter, incremental civil rights usually means a fifteen year wait.

However disappointed we may be that some of our friends in Congress and in the larger LGBT community seem ready to sacrifice our protection from discrimination in order to achieve theirs, we are going to have to work with them in the future. Our justifiable anger must give way to a reenergized determination to realize our equality which will mean, whether we like it or not, patching up our differences with those who have so recently abandoned us. As Christians we are called to forgiveness. As Episcopalians we see God’s hand in our relationships. With God’s Grace, our community will be one again.

Dr. Bacon is Professor of Political Science at the University of Nebraska at Omaha,
Board member of the National Center for Transgender Equality, and member of TransEpiscopal

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

A Letter from The Consultation

The following is a letter written on September 24th by the Consultation, a coalition of justice organizations in the Episcopal Church, to the House of Bishops as they deliberated on their statement. Two of us from TransEpiscopal participated in the Newark meeting and, while the letter has been posted on several other blogs and websites for the last couple of days, we post it here as a sign of a process in which we were proud to take part. Even as we struggle in these difficult days in the Anglican Communion, this kind of collaboration gives us hope.









Integrity

TransEpiscopal

Episcopal Urban Caucus

Episcopal Peace Fellowship

Episcopal Women's Caucus

Union of Black Episcopalians

Episcopal Ecological Network

National Episcopal AIDS Coalition

Province VIII Indigenous Ministries

Episcopal Church Publishing Company

Episcopal Network for Economic Justice

Episcopal Asiaamerica Ministry Advocates

Associated Parishes for Liturgy and Mission


September 24, 2007


A message from The Consultation to the House of Bishops as it deliberates its message to the Church.

The thirteen constituent members of The Consultation, representative of the independent justice organizations of The Episcopal Church, meeting September 23-24 in Newark, wish to remind the members of the House of Bishops that they represent one house of the General Convention, and one constituency of the baptized in The Episcopal Church.

Any message you make must be mindful of the fact that the Executive Council has made a very clear statement on the matter before you and that General Convention will not speak on this matter until its meeting in 2009.

We have in mind the language of the Baptismal Covenant which calls us to respect the dignity of every human being. It is not respectful of our lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender sisters and brothers when we tell them that they are full participants in the church and then place restrictions on their participation at any level of the church’s life.

In the preamble of the 2006 platform of The Consultation we affirm that we see the image of God and the Christ in others and ourselves. We believe that all the baptized are called to share in the governance and mission of the Church at all levels. We see the increase of power claimed by the episcopate as imbalance in The Body.

We urge you to have these things in the forefront of your minds and hearts, as you craft this statement. The sacred vows of The Baptismal Covenant and the tradition and heritage of the participatory governance of The Episcopal Church must not be squandered for a single Lambeth conference.

We urge you as bishops not to walk apart from the rest of the priesthood of all believers in The Episcopal Church, and to embrace the unconditional love of God as made incarnate in the radical inclusion of Jesus Christ. May the Holy Spirit be with you to guide you in all strength and courage in these difficult days as ordained leaders in The Church.

What to Think? Communications Constructions & Pastoral Pathology

Last night the House of Bishops released a statement of where they are as a body. In part the statement responds to the Communiqué issued by Anglican Communion Primates in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania last February. The media and the Anglican Blososphere are weighing in on it left and right. What I would add for now are two observations and one critical comment:

1) Range of Reactions:

It’s striking to observe the range of reactions among progressives (e.g. see comments to posting on Fr. Jake’s blog). Some people are incensed, while others think this was a decent outcome that clarifies what the next steps need to be. Integrity USA, the organization of LGBT Episcopalians, has issued a quite positive statement, saying that the bishops stood firm, resisting the demands of the Anglican Primates. I have also observed question marks about Integrity’s statement from some progressive corners, a sense of ‘are we reading the same document?’ There can be no doubt that the primary work of the next General Convention, which will be held in Anaheim, California in the summer of 2009, is to repeal the resolution known as B033 (which stated “that this Convention therefore call upon Standing Committees and bishops with jurisdiction to exercise restraint by not consenting to the consecration of any candidate to the episcopate whose manner of life presents a challenge to the wider church and will lead to further strains on communion”). Yesterday's bishops statement points to the language from that resolution as ‘where the church is’ right now. It also stated that the immortally ridiculous phrase, “those whose manner of life presents a challenge to the wider church”, includes gay and lesbian people.

2) Media Constructions

I’ve been part of several conversations recently about what angles on this story the media may be missing. The aspect about which I hear most is the notion that this split within the Episcopal Church is not happening on nearly as big a scale as the media seems to think it is. This morning, Michael Paulson of the Boston Globe remarked, “The Episcopal Church has repeatedly sought to portray the conservatives who would leave as a tiny minority.” He doesn’t come right out and say he doesn’t buy it, but he does make it clear he detects spin. I don’t think he’s mistaken, but I also agree that the numbers aren’t nearly as high as conservative groups spin them to appear. Nevertheless, the global dimension of our conflict may ultimately make the congregational numbers game irrelevant; the story itself is impacting infinitely more people than we can count, in and out of the Anglican Communion, for good and/or ill. We can’t just count those who are leaving the denomination. There’s a fascinating communications war going on in all of this. If, as I believe, the media does not simply report on but also constructs its subjects/objects, then the entity known as the ‘Anglican Communion’ is now inflected by the increasingly global concept of homosexuality, and—fascinatingly, to me-- vice versa. How often now, when reading about homosexuality in Global South contexts, do we find some reference to the Anglican Communion? It’s incredible.

3) Pastoral Pathology

The bishops made a distinction between “authorizing” same sex blessings and “making allowance” for them for pastoral reasons. Translation: no diocese has written or officially authorized any liturgies for the blessing of same sex unions, but in many places services have long been allowed to take place. A resolution from the 2003 General Convention even acknowledged that reality. Yesterday’s statement says that most bishops are not making such “allowances”. But where they are doing so, they do it for reasons of “pastoral care.” By the end of their statement the bishops affirm the need to respect the dignity of LGBT people, speaking in terms of our civil rights.

What we’re seeing here is an affirmation that the church is willing to fight for full inclusion outside the church, but that within the church that same fight can only take place under the rubric of “pastoral care.” Indeed, Bishop Caroline Tanner Irish of the Diocese of Utah commented, “’I think putting [same-gender blessings] in the context of 'pastoral care' is the critical word,’ she said. She praised the House of Bishops for what she called the hard work and compromise offered by all the members.” It’s a sad day when the very term “pastoral” takes on a patronizing and pathologizing hue, but that’s exactly what’s happened. The pastoral gets to respond compassionately to disorder. As long as LGBTI people remain officially relegated to the ‘pastoral’, we remain contained, and a worship service that should be a sacramental vehicle of transformation ends up implicitly framed (by bishops, not necessarily by the priests who conduct them) as a kind of pat-pat, there-there, I’m-praying-for-you-in-all-of-your-challenges kind of way. To add insult to injury, there are those who are speaking of the need to make limits to the pastoral. Great. Well, I’m not interested in waging this fight on pastoral grounds. I’m fighting for the full flourishing of human beings, called by God to ever-increasing authenticity, ever more true and clear reflection of the likeness of that image in which we were created.

We’ve got our work cut out for us in the 2009 General Convention. And when I’m not utterly frustrated, I’ll be curious to see how the communications construction process evolves along the way.

CP

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Waiting

This has been a day of tremendous tension in the Anglican Communion. Our House of Bishops are finishing up a six day meeting in New Orleans at the beginning of which they received a visit from Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury. The bishops and the Episcopal Church in general are under enormous international pressure to bow to demands that we unambiguously stop blessing same sex unions and lifting up openly gay people as bishops. The media has been reporting on our denomination to an unprecedented degree because of the intense fear of schism. Everyone Episcopalian I talk to is exasperated by the situation. I too get irritated, particularly regarding coverage of our governance as a denomination. Admittedly, it’s a confusing system with elements of hierarchy and democracy. The most important factor in the present circumstances is that in the Episcopal church bishops don’t actually have authority to declare a national church policy on their own. We include all orders of ministry—bishops, priests, deacons, and baptized laity-- in that sort of decision, and we meet in a kind of congress every three years to do so. In between such meetings the highest level of authority in the Episcopal Church is actually the Executive Council which, again, is composed of all orders, not just bishops. In other parts of the Anglican Communion, governance structure can bestow more authority on bishops than we do. What’s frustrating is when other parts of the Communion expect our bishops to operate as theirs do. I imagine those kinds of expectations can be seductive to our bishops, especially those who instinctively a) want to reign in a chaotic situation and b) keep everyone happy. A situation like this requires strong spines and level heads. Thankfully, this past Spring, our bishops made a clear statement resisting what others would have them take on. As the pressure continues, I pray they’ll do that again.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Congress gets closer to passage of the Matthew Shepherd Act, legislation that would enable the Justice Department to support the investigation of crimes based on hatred of particular groups, including gay and transgender people. A version of this bill has passed the House of Representatives and now looks as though it will come up for a vote tomorrow in the Senate. I called my senators this afternoon to tell them I support it. This morning I noted a Boston Globe op ed by Cornel West and Sylvia Rhue that calls to task clergy who have been claiming that this bill would infringe on religious freedom in any way. It won’t.

As it so happens, late last week it came out that Marvin Nissin, a man serving a life sentence for his role in the 1993 murder of Brandon Teena, as well as Phillip DeVine and Lisa Lambert, now claims that he, not his accomplice John Lotter, did the killings. The case of John Lotter, who is on death row, may now be reopened. Brandon Teena, who inspired the film Boys Don’t Cry, was murdered when his female birth sex was discovered. That kind of discovery also catalyzed the murder of Gwen Araujo in Newark, California ten years later and numerous similar murders have happened between and since. It is for precisely these kinds of cases that this federal legislation was written.

And so on this day, as Anglicans—especially LGBTI ones—look for affirmation of our denomination’s polity and direction, and as LGBTI people of the U.S. await federal protection of our basic human dignity, I pray for an end to the fear on which division and hatred is based.

Rev. Cameron Partridge

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Multiple Masks

August 21, 2007

Multiple Masks

When I was fifteen, the theatre club in my high school put on The Good Woman of Setzuan, a play by Bertolt Brecht. I vividly recall the actors wearing masks that covered half their faces. In particular, I remember identifying with Shen Te, a female character who periodically became the male Shui Ta in order to sustain the shop she’d recently opened. When Shen Te became Shui Ta she put on a different mask. Throughout the play, this dual-character got squeezed more and more tightly by her circumstances.

As I watched, riveted, my stomach bound itself in knots that lasted for weeks. I had no words to describe my struggle as a tomboy striving to find my way into a female adolescence without sacrificing my gender authenticity, an identity I would eventually refer to with such terms as transgender, genderqueer, ftm (female-to-male). Where language was unavailable, images and stories helped a great deal. Although Shen Te/Shui Ta was much more gender polarized than I felt (her femininity much more feminine than mine ever was, for starters), they came to symbolize my own struggle.

This play launched my mom and me into a conversation that continues to this day. At the time my mom, who was doing her doctorate in psychology, wondered if Shui Ta was for me akin to my catcher’s mask (I played catcher in Little League and Softball teams for years—that’s me catching in my first little league game, and below is my beloved mitt ‘Clifford’, whose name was inspired by the children’s story). The implication was that I somehow used masculinity as a shield. No doubt there was some truth to that. And yet, the fuller truth felt more complicated and inchoate. Being catcher-- mask or no-- felt grounding. I liked being able to survey the whole and help shepherd the action as it unfolded. It felt like home. Yet, if this subject-position was a mask—the logic went-- then it must have been merely expedient, self-denying, defensive or even deceptive. While the two didn’t initially feel very compatible, over time I discovered that they need not be mutually opposed: I could incorporate Shui Ta into Shen Te, vice versa, or both. I could simply be myself, be at home.

The mask metaphor is everywhere in LGBTI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex) narratives. Take Malcolm Boyd’s powerful memoir Take Off the Masks! which I read as I was coming out as trans. From where I sit now I admit to a certain ambivalence about the mask metaphor. Do I think it’s good to discover and remove them? Absolutely. Liberation is a powerful thing. Yet I think we should also be wary of oversimplifying our journeys and, indeed, our psyches. In his treatise On the Making of the Human Person (xi.2), Gregory of Nyssa muses, “who has understood one’s own mind?” I’m with him-- a certain ongoing humility about the extent of one’s self-knowledge is always in order.

Yes, liberation is indeed powerful, but it is also never ending. And if none of us is free until all of us are, we would do well to think about our masks and their removal as always partial and always linked in some deep way to the masks of someone else. There is grave danger in their oversimplification.

I see just such a risk in the global debate—crystallized but by no means exhausted by the Anglican Communion—about homosexuality. The debate has indeed enlarged to take complex and multiple cultural and religious contexts into consideration. But it isn’t just the contexts that are varied. The entity under consideration in these contexts is manifold too. We aren’t just debating ‘homosexuality’, as if the cause of our conflict was simply gay and lesbian people but not women (of any orientation), and not bisexual, transgender or intersex people. Bishop Gene Robinson has often argued that this struggle is the beginning of the end of patriarchy. I agree, and to ignore that truth is to refuse to remove an important mask from this debate.

But I’m not sure even the term patriarchy encapsulates what Robinson is pointing at. His insight should unmask the falsity that sexual difference is always an either/or proposition—that one can be either male or female but nothing else. Built on the foundation of this either/or notion is the ‘complementarity myth’, the idea that, as ‘opposite’ sexes, men and women must only partner with one another. This is exactly the place where same sex relationships overlap with transgender lives—both transgress the sexual polarization of the human person. As long as everyone must be either/or-- or must partner with either/or-- to count as a full human being, all who find ourselves outside these boxes will be accused of inauthenticity or deception. Even inhumanity or monstrosity.

Which is what LGBTI people in Uganda are battling with particular intensity right now. To be openly LGBTor I in Uganda is to put oneself at risk of imprisonment or worse. At the end of last week a coalition called Sexual Minorities Uganda, headed by transgender-identified Viktor Juliet Mukasa, announced, “we step into the public today to give a face to the many who are discriminated against every day in our country. Some of us have brought our faces before you for you to know us. But many of us come before you today with masks to represent the fact that you see homosexuals and transgender people every day without realising that it is what we are. We do not harm anyone. We are your doctor, your teacher, your best friend, your sister, maybe even your father or son.”

The combination at this press conference of masked and unmasked people demonstrates the complex, bewildering matrix that queer people grow up having to navigate. Like Sandi Dubowski’s masterful film Trembling Before G-d, a must-see documentary which tells stories of Orthodox Jewish gay and lesbian people, the masked and unmasked activists of Uganda rendered their own invisibility visible.

Amazing how such intricately shadowed lives are also so very ordinary. It should go without saying—and yet, as Mukasa indicated, it does not-- that LGBTI people take up all sorts of vocations. Over the past two weekends the Boston Globe Magazine has run a two-part story about a beloved physician in Somerville, Dr. Deborah Bershel, who transitioned from male to female. To me, one of the most moving moments was when Bershel described a small but significant gesture of gender affirmation from her rabbi. Would that we all could receive such spiritual support.

As the fall deadline looms for the Episcopal House of Bishops to respond to the requests of the Anglican Primates’ most recent communiqué, these voices rising from Boston to Uganda begin to unmask the polarized concept of sexual difference. What a vast wedge that mask has driven in the Anglican Communion and beyond. Sexual and gender variance is so much more complex and pervasive than the debate has begun to imagine.

Back in Uganda, Mukasa’s fundamental message was "Please, let us live in peace. Stop persecuting us. God created us this way. We are children of God as well."

Leaders from the Uganda Joint Christian Council are already rallying against the outspoken ‘homosexuals’. I wonder how the Anglican Communion will understand this “we”?

Rev. Cameron Partridge

For Sexual Minorities Unganda’s entire Press Release, see http://www.genderdynamix.co.za/content/view/281/204/. Gender DynamiX describes itself as “the first (and currently, the only) African based organisation for the transgender community.”

Monday, July 9, 2007

Blog for TransEpiscopal by the Revd Dr Christina Beardsley

Blog for TransEpiscopal by the Revd Dr Christina Beardsley
Thank you for inviting me to write this blog about trans issues in the UK from my perspective as a trans woman and a priest in the Church of England. I thought it might be helpful to begin with a description of the medical and legal context here before commenting on Church matters.

Medical treatment
In the UK treatment for gender dysphoria is available on the National Health Service (NHS), and the Gender Identity Clinic located next to Charing Cross Hospital, London, has been diagnosing and treating people for over four decades. Its leading clinician, until his recent retirement, was Professor Richard Green. Gender Re-assignment Surgery (GRS) takes place at Charing Cross and a number of regional NHS Trusts. Some trans people used to complain that NHS protocols and waiting times were unbearably slow, but one hears this less and less. In the past, however, it often led those who could afford it to turn to private medicine.
The main UK private practice, also based in London, used to belong to Dr Russell Reid, who has treated many trans people, myself included. Highly respected in the trans community as a compassionate, skilled practitioner, he has just emerged from a protracted set of hearings before the British Medical Association, accused of flouting the Harry Benjamin International Guidelines. Dr Reid routinely prescribed hormones to patients as a diagnostic test, arguing that those who are not trans would be unhappy with the changes; and there was criticism of his practice in a few cases, though he was not struck off. He is retired now and Richard Curtis, a trans man and former GP, has taken over his practice.
The NHS GRS surgeons also have private practices, but many trans women go abroad for surgeries, Thailand being a popular destination.

Legal changes
It’s only eight years since the Sex Discrimination Act was amended to protect transsexual people who are ‘intending to undergo, undergoing, or have undergone’ gender re-assignment. Prior to that people who transitioned often lost their jobs (as well as partners, family and friends), so this change has been important for the economic stability of trans people, and has enabled employers and colleagues to appreciate that we are not a threat in the workplace.
This legal support was a great help to me when I transitioned while working as a healthcare chaplain, in the summer of 2001, as the hospital personnel department was familiar with the law and its implications. Unfortunately, the Church of England, as my sponsor, seemed to lag behind, perhaps because it has a habit of trying to negotiate exemptions to equality legislation (despite being the national church ‘by law established’).
The Gender Recognition Act 2004 has been the most significant piece of legislation for trans people in the UK, allowing us to change our birth certificates and to marry in our ‘acquired gender’ (to use the quaint phrase used in the Act itself). Prior to that trans people could change their name and gender on passports, bank accounts and other personal documents, but transition was never quite complete. Now it can be, and the Act also protects the privacy of trans people; though here again, the Church of England, along with other faith groups, has managed to obtain certain concessions, for the time being, at least.

Society and Theology
The legal changes that continue to improve trans people’s lives in the UK owe much to the work of dedicated campaigners, particularly Stephen Whittle, Christine Burns and Claire McNab of the trans campaigning organisation Press For Change. These changes also reflect increasingly sympathetic attitudes to trans people, often promoted by the media, whether through ‘scientific’ documentaries, soap opera storylines, or interviews.
So far churches in the UK have been cautious about these developments, at any rate, in their official statements. The Evangelical Alliance (EA) was the first to comment in its report Transsexuality, published in 2000 (possibly in response to the amendment to the Sex Discrimination Act in 1999). Entirely opposed to transition on the simplistic, and, supposedly, biblical ground, that male and female are immutable, God-given categories, its conservatism was in keeping with the EA’s earlier reports on homosexuality.
The long-standing focus on sexuality in the Church of England and in the Anglican Communion is also the background to Some issues in human sexuality: A guide to the debate (2003). The work of four Church of England bishops, this document attempts to address the inclusion of LGBT people in the Church and has a chapter on Transsexualism. My own contribution to ‘the debate’ was to write an article for the English journal Theology (September/October 2005, Vol. CVIII, No 845) critiquing this chapter, especially its omissions.

LGBT
I have occasionally heard trans people say that we should avoid being mixed up in the sexuality debate in the church; that our ‘issue’ is one of gender, not sexuality; and that the Church seems more ready to accept us than it does lesbians and gays. I can’t go along with that, for while sexuality and gender can be distinguished, they are often linked inextricably; nor would I want to belong to a church that included trans people while rejecting other minorities. Perhaps this has personal roots in that I identified publicly as gay (in 1989) before I accepted myself as a trans person.
Whatever the reason, in 2005 I was pleased to be invited to serve as the trans spokesperson and trustee for Changing Attitude, the Anglican campaigning organisation which has recently broadened its mission from lesbian/gay to LGBT inclusion. Likewise, this summer, it was an honour – especially given the suspicions of trans women in certain lesbian circles – to be elected the female co-convenor of the Anglican LGBT Clergy Consultation. Since taking up these roles I have met with Canon Phil Groves of the Anglican Communion Office, a sign that the listening process in the Church of England is being extended to its trans members.

Finally
The social revolution in which we have been living in the UK during the past few decades has affected the medical treatment and legal status of transsexual people as well as theological reflection about gender and sexuality. There has been a shift from paternalism to participation, from exclusion to inclusion. In many ways it has been the best of times for trans people, even though, in Christian circles, it has sometimes seemed the worst of times, mainly because the Church is often so reluctant to accept what God is doing in the wider world.

Revd Dr Christina Beardsley

Saturday, July 7, 2007

Freedom and Resistance

I have a friend, a fellow LGBT person, whose very favorite holiday when we were growing up was the 4th of July. I never could quite wrap my mind around that preference—to me Christmas was better by a longshot. I also have to admit I didn’t yet understand how, especially as an LGBT person, one could claim pride to be from a country in which individuals and communities can explore, become, debate and critique freely. To me the 4th of July was bound up with patriotism, and to me the latter evoked Americana, ‘family-values’, apple pie, anti-immigration, anti-change, etc. Not my cup of tea (though I do make a mean apple pie).

But one February about five years ago my partner and I were walking in Concord, Massachusetts near the Old North Bridge. We were in the throes of figuring out what would happen to our relationship as I prepared to transition. I was already using my current name and had some medical procedures on the calendar that had taken a lot of discernment, preparation and coordination. Everyday events—being greeted at checkout counters and receiving mail, for instance-- brought up a strong sense of dissonance between myself as I and those closest to me knew me and the expectations others projected onto me. I was struggling to carve out a place for myself and resisting enormous social pressures to do so. We were in Concord that day because I love the old burial grounds we have here in New England, the ones with the rounded tombstones with medieval-looking skulls and crossbones. There’s something about that raw, yet exuberant, Puritan aesthetic that I’ve come to love, paired up with inscriptions that emphasize embodiment—we’re not talking mere memory, we’re talking ‘here lies buried the body’.

Walking across the Old North Bridge was almost an afterthought, and I don’t think I’d ever before noticed the words below a statue that we passed along the way. Not the famous Concord Minute Man Statue that bears the immortal stanza of Ralph Waldo Emerson:

By the rude bridge that arched the flood,
Their flag to April's breeze unfurled,
Here once the embattled farmers stood
And fired the shot heard round the world.

It was the obelisk on the other side of the bridge that caught my attention, or more specifically, the inscription at its base:

Here, on the 19 of April, 1775 was made the first forcible resistance to British aggression. On the opposite bank stood the American Militia. Here stood the Invading Army and on this spot the first of the Enemy fell in the War of that Revolution which gave Independence to these United States. In gratitude to God and in the love of freedom this monument was erected A.D. 1836.

I was so struck by these words that I took a photo and pasted it on the inside cover of my journal. This action was highly unusual for me. No patriotic words had ever struck a personal chord before. There was something about “resistance” against an Goliath-like aggression, the sense the phrase conveyed of feeling gradually, increasingly squelched and, when it became unbearable, needing to create a space in which to breathe, to live freely. And, movingly, there was an expression of gratitude to God for that freedom.


Two months later on the day of my first shot of testosterone—‘T’, as it’s called in trans circles-- I was celebrating with some friends over beer in Cambridge. My partner was out of state doing a post-doctoral fellowship, and I would be joining her the following year. But that night, as I regaled my comrades with the day’s events, one of them noted the date: April 19th. The state holiday was to be on a Monday, but this was the actual ‘Patriot’s Day’. “Dude!” a friend joked, “yours was the T shot heard ‘round the world!” Who knew? When I got home I looked inside the front cover of my journal. The inscription included the date. On April 19th, 2002 I began a very different sort of journey of resistance.

Transition wasn’t the only journey I was on then. I had started a doctorate that fall, and I was also a candidate for Holy Orders in the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts. Just about three years after ‘T-Day’ I was ordained to the (‘transitional!’) diaconate. The day after my ordination I took a friend, visiting from California, to the Old North Bridge. We paused in front of the obelisk. It had already been a long journey, and I also knew it was only the beginning.

What stays with me, and particularly strikes me this week of the 4th of July five plus years after my transition, is the sense that a single act of resistance is never enough. After all, what began as resistance against British oppression also brutally wiped out native peoples across this land and now all too often participates in the oppression of others both within and outside our national boundaries. In the days since September 11th the value of that freedom itself—especially the freedom to critique-- has fallen under steady assault. As someone who now moves easily through those same everyday encounters that used to chafe, who gets offered white, heterosexual male privilege at the drop of a hat—though not in every context, and not as long as my history is known-- I have to keep choosing to resist lest my freedom unwittingly become the instrument of another’s oppression. At the same time what I feel more than anything else is gratitude. I am profoundly grateful to be in a country where I am free to be, and become, myself. In how many places around the globe would that be possible?

Stir up your power, God of Mystery and Might, and grant us the strength to celebrate the freedom with which we are endowed in your image (BCP Catechism, p. 845), and to have the strength always to resist oppression, wherever it may surface. Amen.

Rev. Cameron Partridge

Saturday, June 9, 2007

A Trans Perspective on Gay Marriage

A Reflection for 'Lessons and Carols for the Struggle'

The Cathedral Church of St. Paul, Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts
TBLG Pride, Boston, Massachusetts, June 9, 2007

A Reading from Psalm 139

1 Lord, you have searched me out and known me;*
you know my sitting down and my rising up;
you discern my thoughts from afar.

2 You trace my journeys and my resting-places*
and are acquainted with all my ways.

3 Indeed, there is not a word on my lips,*
but you, O Lord, know it altogether.

4 You press upon me behind and before*
and lay your hand upon me.

5 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;*
it is so high that I cannot attain to it.

12 For you yourself created my inmost parts;*
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.

13 I will thank you because I am marvelously made;*
your works are wonderful, and I know it well.

14 My body was not hidden from you,*
while I was being made in secret
and woven in the depths of the earth.

15 Your eyes beheld my limbs, yet unfinished in the womb;
all of them were written in your book;*
they were fashioned day by day,
when as yet there was none of them.

When I came out to our assistant rector just about 3 years ago, he quoted part of this psalm to me. It speaks of God’s knowledge of us even as we were being formed. All of us here—*all* of us—are who we are intended to be. There is nothing “wrong” or “broken” about us in the eyes of God: we are exactly who God intended us to be from the beginning.

As a transgendered gay man, this means that I am exactly that: transgendered, gay, and a man. I did not “choose” to become who I am, any more than anyone else here chose to be bisexual, lesbian, gay, trans, intersexed, or any other category along the spectrums of orientation or gender. (And while these 2 spectrums are distinct, they often do overlap!) I firmly believe that our brains, our hearts and our souls determine who we are, not the outward appearance of our bodies, and that we are *all* part of God’s creation and plan.

I certainly was never a straight woman, though I bore 2 children and had what looked like a heterosexual marriage for almost 30 years. The truth is that my spouse came out to me before we were engaged. He knew he was gay, and I knew that I definitely was not heterosexual or female. We were married in the Episcopal Church in 1974 and have just celebrated our 33rd anniversary as a gay couple.

I think that I speak for Ben as well when I say that, just as we all evolved before birth, he and I have evolved throughout our lives and our marriage, and have been sustained in our love and evolution by the love of God. Psalm 139 states that God’s hand was and is on all of us, through all that we’ve undergone and endured and celebrated, and diversity is good, and everything in creation is good.

Throughout the ages, couples who are other than heterosexual have been together and some have been married. Some relationships appeared to be same-sex and now appear to be opposite-sex; some appeared to be opposite-sex and now appear same-sex. Some of us identify as heterosexual, bisexual, gay, lesbian, queer or any combination of the above. Some are in mixed orientation marriages, while others’ orientations match. We are living proof that same-sex and other-than-heterosexual marriage has been happening all over, long before May 17, 2004. I would like to know how our love, our commitment, our marriage, or any other marriage or relationship here, has threatened the sanctity of marriage.

-Charley Labonte

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

It Get's Better and Better or ....

It gets better and better or worse and worse depending on your point of view. The punishment of intolerance is more intolerance. The Archbishop of Canterbury (AB of C) just sent out invitations to the Lambeth Meeting in 2008. He Invited all the Bishops of the Anglican Communion except two. One of those was a Bishop from the Episcopal Church (TEC) who was duly elected, confirmed by the General Convention of the Church and Ordained, but just happens to be openly Gay. The other was ordained by an African Archbishop in the United States violating very ancient notions of jurisdiction (and in opposition to the Presiding Bishop and the AB of C.)

The AB of C has now set off a firestorm of controversy making things worse than they were before. The Episcopal Church finds itself in the awkward position of having to now respond to the AB's snub and there is already a firestorm from the supporters of the "irregular" Bishop, claiming that they will boycott Lambeth. If TEC decides to boycott and the Nigerians boycott then Lambeth will no doubt be quieter, but the dialog that needs to take place won't happen.

Intolerance and bigotry has no place in the Church. It never has and it never will, but all too often the Church's history has been filled with it. The present is no exception. It seems to me that Jesus made a great deal of effort to counter intolerance and hypocrisy. We need to follow in Jesus' footsteps and be loving of our neighbor. It's just real difficult some times.

Lord Jesus give us patience and tolerance to understand those who are different from ourselves. Give us the will to love our neighbor in spite of difference.

Michelle Hansen +

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Insecurities

This is a shameless repost from another of my blogs. In light of the complete misunderstanding illustrated and total willingness to pursue policies and views of bigotry by some of our TEC Brothers and Sisters, I feel this post is of great import in response.

NOTE: This post may not represent the views of the rest TransEpiscopal group as a whole. The views herein are mine, and mine alone. Should there be agreement, so be it. There certainly exists dissent.

(Originally Posted 30 April 2007)

This past week, Mike became Christine, Bishop Robinson announced he and his partner would wed in New Hampshire, and I was told I could pursue HRT whenever I feel like it. This week the National Center for Transgender Equality is ramping up for ENDA Lobby Days. And Susan Estrich is wondering why one person's struggle to come out makes others squirm in their seats.

I wonder that too.

I have not come out yet to my co-workers. I likely won't until I have too. I have not come out yet to many in my family. Or to most of my fellow parishoners. Why? While fear and rejection are certainly part of it, another part is more based on the reaction of my surrounding colleagues, church-goers and family: their fear will likely result in a lashing out to me, or worse, to my spouse or children. What I feel I must do, the process of transition, aligning my body to fit my mental image and identification, affects on the whole no one else aside from me and those closest to me: my wife and children.


Does my coming out make you feel less secure about who you are? Do you suddenly feel the need to fit your gender stereotype all the more to make up for my 'switch'? Do you feel that I have been lying to you before I came out? If you are lashing out now because of my admission, can you justly argue why I should have come out earlier?

We are who we are. I am biologically male, but mentally female. If I could have rectified this dichotomy earlier in life, I would have. But we could play the 'If..." game forever, and nothing would change. Like Christine, I struggled for decades. Most trans folk do. As we must deal with ourselves, you, John and Jane Q. Public must likewise do soul-searching and realize that my decision, however you feel about it, is mine. I am here to stay. And I deserve a crack at happiness just like you do. Take your insecurity, your bigotry, and feelings of angst, and turn it into something constructive. Educate yourself. Try to imagine wearing my shoes. Ask questions. Or go into yourself and keep your negative feelings to yourself. I would hope for the former. Either way, deal with your fear and leave me to my happier existence.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

from a friend

A little snippet that might be of interest is this site that I found on a hot tip from a local priest. The billboards are very enjoyable, and the site is simple and resourceful.

Saturday, April 7, 2007

Easter Blessings

On behalf of TransEpiscopal I would like to wish you all Blessings during this Easter Season. He is Risen! Yes, Christ is Risen and that has brought renewal to us all. Christ's Resurrection brings us all new hope, hope in this life and hope in the life to come. Alleluia, Christ is Risen Indeed!

Michelle Hansen +

Friday, March 30, 2007

The age old question: Who Am I?

This is my first post here at our blog, and so, before I begin in earnest, I would like to welcome our many varied readers. I would also like to take a quick moment to give major kudos and kewpie dolls to Shel, who has done (singlehandedly) a wonderful job with the creation of this blog.

Onto business...

We within TransEpiscopal have discussed privately the thought that perhaps we should share some of our stories. The Accidental Eremite has recently done something of the sort by discussing religious vocations within the church, while dealing with being transgendered. Since the time seems ripe, I shall relay some of my thoughts.

Who Am I?

The vast majority of the human race never question their gender. The thought of questioning whether one is male or female is as foreign to the general populace as seeing someone with polyploidy (having a sixth finger or toe). In my experience, the responses I have received from telling someone I am trans usually involve a display of disbelief bordering on the obscene. I might as well grow a third eye, or perhaps a tail, which sadly might be met with more understanding. It leaves me with the thought that the public is in dire need of education: What is this, being 'transgendered'?

I can not answer that question for anyone else, only me. There are thousands of differing definitions for transgender. As with all biological entities, I am unique, and thus my definition, the one that describes me, is likewise unique. Sure, much of what I have experienced is paralleled by many others, and I can point you in the direction of two different books that may shed light on those experiences: a memoir by Jennifer Finney Boylan entitled "She's Not There" or the more clinical text by Brown and Rounsley, "True Selves". Boylan's stories of her life pre-transition ring especially accurate to my ears. I cried through out that text, and felt as though she was telling my story. You see, I am a MtF (male-to-female) transgendered person, but I have not transitioned. Yet. Perhaps I won't, though I believe it to be more a 'when' than an 'if'.

So when did I know? I knew I was different in kindergarten. I wanted to be a woman, to grow up and have babies. Small problem: I am biologically male. I didn't admit that I might be trans though until December 28, 2005, when after a long heart to heart with my beloved wife, I admitted that I had issues with who I was gender-wise.

I began crossdressing, wearing my mother's clothes, in kindergarten. I have been doing it ever since. Like most of my trans-sisters, I tried to hide this aspect of myself out of shame and guilt. I went through periods of accumulation, where I horded women's clothing like a raccoon with shiny objects. Then after a short time, I would convince myself I was crazy, that 'normal' people don't do this sort of thing, that I am a male and I should just admit it, accept it and live it, and throw out (we call it purge) all of my accumulated clothes. During these times I subscribed to the "out of sight, out of mind" philosophy. This cycle continued through high school and college, extending into my marriage.

This inability to accept myself led me down a very dark path. A spiraling depression, one that left me near suicidal for years. I hated myself. I knew I wasn't truly male, yet every time I looked in the mirror, a relatively handsome young man gazed back. I developed survival mechanisms, the most successful of which was diving into work. I am a work-a-holic, and have always been so. Another tactic was to merely act - I developed an outward personality I could 'turn on' that lived up to societal expectations, based on the outward appearance observed by society, i.e., people saw a young man, so I acted like a young man. This did not always work however, but for the most part it allowed me to be left alone by the rest of the world.

NOTE: I am happy to say that once I began to truly accept who I was, the depression has more or less been alleviated. Still, I have my days when my GID (clinical term: Gender Identity Dysphoria) overloads me, blinds me, causing me to do little else but try to maintain an outward image of calm. Back to the story...

Like many of my trans brothers and sisters, I felt that if I assimilated into society, fulfilling the norms expected of someone with my outward personality and gender, I could just fit in and live a 'normal' life. I also believed, romantically, that love conquered all. Not merely all, but me. My GID. I truly believed that by falling in love, and marrying the love of my life, I would be cured. Boy was I wrong. But I married a wonderful woman. We have two beautiful children. From the outside looking in, we might be the perfect family. Just don't look in too closely as you might wonder who is wearing the pants (I'll give you a hint...) From the inside, during the first 6 years of our marriage I felt I was living a lie: ashamed and guilty I was hiding from my wife my accumulation and purge cycles; worried that if I were to get caught, we would lose our idyllic life, and that my being a freak was the cause of it all.

Once I came out to her, that dark December night, I was still in denial. I thought perhaps I was just a crossdresser... I wanted the easy out, the path that would cause the least disruption to our life. But I knew even then there was more to it. It took another 3 months before I admitted I was trans, that I wanted to transition. The admission was the first of many steps toward self acceptance. My wife and I have grown more in the last year than we have in the previous 6 years, both as a couple and as individuals.

I could continue, but this is feeling like a novella. More to come. Instead I leave you with an excerpt from "She's Not There":

I did not know the word transsexual back then, and the word transgendered had not yet been invented. I had heard the word transvestite, of course, but it didn’t seem to apply to me. It sounded kind of creepy, like some kind of centipede or grub. In my mind I sometimes confused it with the words that described cave formations: What was it again--transves-tites grew down from the top of the cave; transves-mites grew up from the bottom?

But even if I had known the right definitions for these words, I am not sure it would have made much difference to me. Even now, a discussion of transgendered people frequently resembles nothing so much as a conversation about aliens. Do you think there really are transgendered people? Has the government known about them for years, and is keeping the whole business secret? Where do they come from, and what do they want? Have they been secretly living among us for years?

Although my understanding of the difference between men and women evolved as I grew older, as I child I knew enough about my condition to know it was something I’d better keep private. This conviction had nothing to do with a desire to be feminine; but it had everything to do with being female. Which is an odd belief, for a person born male. It certainly had nothing to do with whether I was attracted to girls or boys. This last point was the one that, years later, would most frequently elude people. But being gay or lesbian is about sexual orientation. Being transgendered is about identity.

What it’s also emphatically not, is a “lifestyle,” any more than being male or female is a lifestyle. When I imagine a person with a lifestyle, I see a millionaire playboy named Chip who likes to race yachts to Bimini, or an accountant, perhaps, who dresses up in a suit of armor on the weekends.

Being transgendered isn’t like that. Gender is many things, but one thing it is surely not is a hobby. Being female is not something you do because it’s clever, or postmodern, or because you’re a deluded, deranged narcissist.

In the end, what is, more than anything else, is a fact. It is the dilemma of the transsexual, though, that it is a fact that cannot possibly be understood without imagination.

After I grew up and became female, people would often ask me—how did you know, when you were a child? How is it possible that you could believe, with such heartbroken conviction, something which, on the surface of it, seems so stupid? This question always baffled me, as I could hardly imagine what it was like not to know what your gender was. It seemed obvious to me that this was something you understood intuitively, not on the basis of what was between your legs, but because of what you felt in your heart. Remember when you woke up this morning--I’d say to my female friends—and you knew you were female? That’s how I felt. That’s how I knew.

Of course knowing with such absolute certainty something that appeared to be both absurd and untrue made me, as we said in Pennsylvania, kind of mental. It was an absurdity I carried everywhere, a crushing burden, which was, simultaneously, invisible. Trying to make the best of things, trying to snap out of it, didn’t help either. As time went on, that burden only grew heavier, and heavier, and heavier.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Religious Vocations in the EC

What do you think when you consider vocations in the church? About priests, monks and nuns? Many people, when asked this question, will describe a person who is inhumanly pious, clean of all sin, and the ideal of perfect in every way, like someone straight out of a Roman Catholic "Lives of the Saints" collection.

It is rather surprising to most people when they find out that the image of saints gliding around grand cloister hallways in their strange-looking robes, at peace with everything and everyone could not be further from the truth. On the contrary, the monastic vocation emphasizes the humanness of each person, rather than their piety.

The word "vocation" comes from the Latin word, meaning "call". For those pursuing a religious vocation, there has been a call from God, and most times, this call catches the most unsuspecting people. Ask any priest about their discernment process leading up to the priesthood, and they might illustrate to you a long and grueling process in which they had many arguments with God.

Over the years, I have spoken with about 100 monks and nuns, and have heard countless times the phrase "Why God picked me, I will never know." Weather they are rich, poor, educated or not, straight or gay, each one of them gave a similar comment concerning their vocation. It seems that God chooses the most unlikely people in order to keep us on our toes.

One of my biggest fears when I felt the call to monastic life was that I would never find a community that would "let me in". I was sure that I would be doomed to wander outside the circle of those who were blessed with an outlet to pursue their desire to make prayer their full-time profession. In fact, just the opposite has happened. I often asked myself "Why did God have to pick me?"

It was surprising to me to find out that about 75% of all vowed religious I have spoken with (that's not to say that the ratio is accurate for all vowed religious) are self-identified as gay or lesbian. Many monastics have commented to me that Religious Orders have been safe-havens for LGBT people through the ages, despite what the public thinks.

I have also noticed that monastic houses are safe places for people who don't otherwise fit into the rigid categories of gender found in secular society. This shows both in the taking of religious names (For instance, Br. Christopher-Mary, or Sr. Barbara-John) and in the treatment of monks who are effeminate and nuns who are masculine. Often times these characteristics are never made fun of, and often encouraged, many times being seen as one of many forms of personal integration.

One of the principles of a monastic vocation is self-knowledge. This leads to a better understanding of our relationships with others and with God, and allows us to grow continually into the person that God had in mind when each of us were created. (This principle is often applied in therapeutic relationships as well.)

Being someone who is transgendered, this process is all to familiar. The feeling of personal integration has been a very healing, spiritual thing, although the process leading up to it can be quite treacherous. That being said, both the process of transition and the process of continual conversion have been great instruments in deepening my relationship with God and with others, and who can find fault in that?

I don't think that we will ever know an accurate set of statistics concerning gender-variant or gay and lesbian people who have pursued some kind of vocation within the church. From an "inside perspective", I'm not sure such a statistic is really relevant, considering most monks and nuns actively choose a life of celibate chastity and thereby make gender mostly a non-issue.

In closing, it is an important fact that people's perceptions and reality are very different from each other. Almost every one of us can identify with that, weather we are secular or monastic, ordained or lay.

So, next time you consider yourself outside the sphere of God's love, or unwanted by the church, remember that much of the glue that holds the church together is made out of people who may be in your very same position.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Vigil Against Violence

About two hours ago, mourners gathered in San
Francisco in memory of Ruby Rodriguez, a transgender
Latina woman who was found murdered in the city's
Mission District. Ruby died one week ago today, one
of at least three transgender women of color to be
murdered in the Bay Area over the past six months.
And this is the Bay Area, one of the most—if not the
most—open, supportive places in this country to live
if one is transgender. A press release from Community
United Against Violence asks, "Let us not forget Ruby.
She was an exceptional woman who was intent on
improving her life. Ruby participated in various
support groups and language classes, and idolized
Chicana singer Selena." You can read more of the
press release at
http://americansexuality.blogspot.com/.

This news takes me back to the death of Gwen Araujo in
2002. As it so happened, that year my partner and I
were living in the Bay Area. It also happened to be
the year I was transitioning. The murder hit me
pretty hard. The day of Gwen's funeral I drove over
and participated in a vigil outside the church. I'd
heard that Fred Phelps and his Westboro Baptist Church
had threatened to come and protest outside the
funeral, and I wanted to be there in support of Gwen's
family and friends. The crowd was a mix of students
from Gwen's school (Newark Memorial High), neighbors,
and transgender community members. As it turned out,
the Newark high school drama crew was putting on a
production of the Laramie Project, a play by Moisés
Kaufman about the aftermath of the murder of Matthew
Shepherd, a young gay man killed in Laramie Wyoming in
1998. One of the most moving scenes in the Laramie
Project occurs when mourners shield Shepherd's family
from members of Phelps's Church. They achieve their
shield by wearing angel costumes with huge wings:
standing side by side, the wings block the protesters
from view. That day at Gwen Araujo's funeral in
Newark, California, I was stunned to see the high
school's angel cast members in full winged regalia,
ready to shield the family from any foes. Thankfully,
none showed up.

I pray that the memorial vigil earlier tonight also
took place in peace.

As Chris Daly of the Transgender Law Center in San
Francisco has said, it isn't clear if the number of
hate crimes against trans people has increased or
whether we're simply able to identify better them now
(http://www.ebar.com/news/article.php?sec=news&article=1656
). I pray for all impacted by these murders, and for
an end to the practice of violently writing our
dominant culture's norms of gender, race, immigration
status, sexuality and class on the bodies of those who
transgress them.

Rev. Cameron Partridge


Thursday, March 22, 2007

Toward Comprehensive Vision

From Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori's
Sermon at the Close of the House of Bishops Meeting,
3/21/07:

"That divine vision sees beneath the surface, beyond
what the world sees as loss or death or rejection.
That vision of blessing sees the fundamentally
gracious nature of reality, it sees the ground of
loving being that continues to arc toward justice in
spite of the emptiness or
evil of the world's current reality. To envision
poverty as blessedness
sees potential, sees the fulfillment - the filling
full of empty bellies and sightless eyes - that God
expects and hopes for and encourages this world to
make real. Seeing the blessing comes from the ability
to see both lack and possibility in a kind of
multilayered reality.
That multiple reality is present - the kingdom of God
is all around you - but it takes eyes that can see at
multiple focal lengths."

As I read Bishop Katharine's words, and in the wake of
the statements released by the House of Bishops over
the past two days, I am inspired, once again, to be an
Episcopalian and an Anglican (I'm a 'cradle
Episcopalian', but in recent years it's been tough--
as it has been for so many-- to watch my beloved
church go through so much turmoil and at times to feel
judged by it.). As someone married to a scientist, I
also appreciate the way our Presiding Bishop weaves
together a variety of ways of viewing the world. The
world is such an incredibly rich place. And the world
is also a place filled with poverty, racism,
zenophobia, homophobia, biphobia, transphobia-- forms
of oppression tragically too numerous to name
exhaustively. Bishop Katharine's call to learn how
better to adjust our eyesight, to see with a
multifocality that enables us to participate in and
realize God's reign-- God's *dream*, as Verna Dozier
called it-- hits home for me.

As a transgender person who took years to figure out
that I needed to transition from female to male, I am
very familiar with the notion of vision being, and
needing to be, multi-faceted. If I need a "generous
vision" just to look back upon my own history--
growing up as a girl, then a young woman and for nine
years a lesbian, and now as a man married to a woman--
how much more do I need such vision to continue to
make my way in this world and church?

I pray for our church, that it would embrace once
again the Anglican tradition of perceiving all of
God's Creation with a generous breadth, and that we
would aim to embrace Anglican "comprehensiveness for
the sake of truth", as is wonderfully articulated in
the collect for Richard Hooker:

O God of truth and peace, you raised up your servant
Richard Hooker in a day of bitter controversy to
defend with sound reasoning and great charity the
catholic and reformed religion: Grant that we may
maintain that middle way, not as a compromise for the
sake of peace, but as a comprehension for the sake of
truth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and
reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever
and ever. Amen.



Posted by The Rev. Cameron Partridge

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

A Statement of Purpose for TransEpiscopal

TransEpiscopal is a group of transgender Episcopalians and our significant others, families, friends and allies dedicated to enriching our spiritual lives and to making the Episcopal Church a welcoming and empowering place that all of us truly can call our spiritual home. Our group was started in January of 2005 and initially served as an online, nationwide community of support. After several informal gatherings in various parts of the country, we held our first Advent retreat in 2005 in New Jersey, sponsored by the Oasis Commission of the Diocese of Newark. In January 2007, several of us attended the first Summit for Transgender Religious Leaders co-sponsored by the National Center for Transgender Equality and the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies in Ministry at the Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley, California. Having met with leaders, lay and ordained, from various denominations and religious traditions, we are inspired and galvanized to support a new chapter in transgender advocacy that is spreading across the country this year; a window is now opening in which transgender people have an opportunity to secure civil rights protections that long have eluded us, and to win an increasing degree of acceptance and welcome in this country’s religious denominations.
As Episcopalians we are proud of those times in our denomination’s history when the Church has supported and empowered those who historically have been marginalized or “othered” within and outside the life of the Church. We are grateful for the gains made by the groups that have entered the wider Church conversation before us, and we look forward to helping to sustain and to build upon those gains. Because we also recognize that this is a time of continued conflict in our denomination’s life, and knowing that our voices may intensify and add complexity to an already challenging debate about human sexuality and gender, we seek to enter that wider conversation with awareness and respect even as we look forward to more change. Knowing that none of us is nearly as strong singly as we are in concert, and recognizing that many of us embody multiple identities represented by different groups within the Church, we seek to collaborate with other progressive groups, that together we may ever more clearly embody God’s transformative love for all people.
As a group of transgender and allied Christians, we represent a range of gender identities and expressions. “Transgender” is an umbrella term referring to people who transgress the sex/gender they were designated at birth. Some of us physically and medically transition from one gender to another (a complex, multi-staged process that various individuals define in different ways, but which traditionally has been called transsexualism). Others of us believe that our bodies need not take on any particular characteristics in order to identify as male or female. Still others of us do not identify with traditional gender categories. All of us ultimately see gender as a spectrum of multiple lived possibilities. Trans people and our partners also do not necessarily identify as heterosexual. Some of us who identify as male, for instance, are partnered with other men. Others of us who are now female are partnered with other women. And while several of us have found that our previous relationships weren't able to survive our emerging identities as trans, others of us remain with the partners we had prior to transition. One couple in our group has been married for 30 years. Indeed, those of us who are married can witness to a denomination already struggling with marriage, showing that we are already living into its new forms and expanding its dimensions. Many of us are single, and several of us have children and grandchildren. Indeed, some of us are raising children as single parents. We live out our vocations in various ways within and outside of the Church, some of us as clergy, some of us partnered with clergy, some of us as laypeople quite involved in our diocesan or parish governance. Others of us limit our Church involvement to Sunday morning, and some of us are searching for the right community. All of us want to be able to count on the Church to support us and lift us up just as they would other individuals and communities.
Coming out as trans is a time when, for many of us, our faith becomes even more important to us than ever before. As we have come out, some of us have experienced profound difficulty with Church leaders who view us negatively or in condemnatory ways. Others of us have discovered that we are seen as potential sources of controversy. Still others have found an inspiring and at times surprising support, given the widespread lack of information in the Church regarding transgender people. In order to increase that support throughout our denomination and beyond, we encourage the Church to commit itself to learn about transgender lives, not simply as social, medical or psychological phenomena, but most importantly as people on powerful spiritual journeys that uniquely embody a lifelong human path of transformation and authenticity before God.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Transgender Episcopalians Form Organization

Transgender Episcopalians Form Organization
And Seek to Ally With Progressive Groups in ECUSA


Transgender Episcopalians and their significant others, families, friends and allies have announced the launch of TransEpiscopal, an informal organization dedicated to “making the Episcopal Church a welcoming and empowering place that all of us truly can call our spiritual home,” according to its statement of purpose.
The group, which began as an Internet listserve in January 2005, now has dozens of members, including both lay and ordained people. TransEpiscopal has just been accepted into the Consultation, the collaborative organization of progressive organizations within the national Episcopal Church.
The formation of TransEpiscopal represents a deepening and formalization of work on transgender issues that has been under way in the Episcopal Church for several years. A number of dioceses, including Michigan, Newark and California, have done significant educational work about transgender people. In December 2005, the Oasis Commission of the Diocese of Newark sponsored a weekend retreat for transgender people and their friends and allies, the first of its kind.
Since 2004, six dioceses (Newark, Michigan, New York, Maryland, California and New Hampshire) have passed resolutions at their annual conventions expressing support for the ministry and civil rights of transgender people and their supporters.
“Inclusion and equality are the common denominators in all of the parables of Jesus about the Household of God,” said Jim Toy, a TransEpiscopal member who was the first gay Episcopalian to come out in the Diocese of Michigan more than 30 years ago. “We are called to reaffirm and expand the scope of our commitment to inclusion, equality and nondiscrimination for all individuals and groups who are devalued and disempowered. To oppose discrimination and prejudice and to support equal opportunity and protection is moral, Christian and just.”
“There is nothing that can separate us from the love of God,” said the Rev. Michelle Hansen, an Episcopal priest in the Diocese of Connecticut who transitioned from male to female four years ago. “Transgender people are equally loved of God. It is time the institutional Church comes to terms with God’s people of all sorts and conditions.”
For additional information contact the Rev. Gari Greene at ggreenjay@aol.com, or the Rev. Michelle Hansen at hansen_michelle@sbcglobal.net.