Sunday, February 24, 2008

Transgender Moment?

A parishioner recently asked me, “so, how does it feel to be in ‘The Transgender Moment’?” She was referring to the title of an article recently published in Christianity Today, a conservative evangelical magazine. I laughed and told her I didn’t quite know. On the one hand it seemed oddly presumptuous of Christianity Today to declare this the transgender moment (it kind of reminds me of that Newsweek cover story from the summer of 1993, "Lesbians: what are the limits of tolerance?"). On the other hand I thought, you know, over the last year there has been some serious momentum in transgender concerns both within and outside of faith contexts. A year ago there was a first of its kind Summit for Transgender Religious Leaders at the Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley, CA. Then there was the controversy over Rev. Drew Phoenix’s status in the United Methodist Church, which seems to have brought the reality of ordained transgender ministers newly into the public eye. Add to that the ENDA crisis this fall and it does begin to feel like “the Transgender Moment” may be, so to speak, at hand.

Apocalyptically tinged title aside, and upon further reflection, the article does not strike me as nearly as negative as it could have been. It seemed to aim for education and pastoral sensitivity, to de-demonize us—which I certainly don’t begrudge. Unfortunately its pastoral angle didn’t stop the story from pathologizing. I’m not going to belabor the article any more at this point, though. What strikes me more than anything else is the rather carefully pointed attention this magazine has given us. It makes me wonder, what might this “moment” mean and where might it be going?

This sense of “the moment” also resonates with me at the end of a weekend that-- quite unusually-- boasted not one but two special services in greater Boston celebrating queer Christian lives. The first was a dance performance my partner and I attended last night called “Converge/Collide: a Queer Catholic Journey.” It was the performance component of a Master of Divinity thesis written and choreographed by Kate Long of Harvard Divinity School. It was awesome and exhilarating to watch the dancers moving to a combination of church hymns, hip-hop, and sobering readings of Roman Catholic documents on homosexuality, all of which were woven into a narrative about a teenager’s process of coming out as both Catholic and queer. The dance ended with an exuberant declaration that there are many, many queer Catholics whose worlds not only collide with one another but also converge. Then, this evening—after doing services this morning—we attended an event called “Transpire: An Ecumenical Celebration of Transgender Lives Breathing Spirit into Community.” It was a special service of Cambridge Welcoming Ministries, a United Methodist LGBTQS community. As with Converge/Collide, the service was strikingly well attended—I’d guess there were maybe 70 + people there. It was also especially gratifying to gather with transfolks of many different stripes for an event other than Transgender Day of Remembrance. So often when we and our families and allies gather it’s to remember those who have died-- clearly an important witness we need to continue to bear each year. But this was simply to celebrate our lives. It was a joy to do that.

Here in Massachusetts the time is also drawing near for transgender rights to be added to the state’s hate crimes and non-discrimination codes. Over the summer several of us formed a coalition called the Interfaith Coalition for Transgender Equality. Our aim is simply to show that people of faith can be supportive of transgender equality and that transgender people can be people of faith. Some of us will be testifying before the Judiciary Committee soon in favor of the proposed legislation.

So in many ways it does feel like a “transgender moment” is dawning (converging and colliding?). I pray that God will bless it.


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