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.

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