We celebrate tremendous legislative gains between the 2006 and 2012 General Conventions, particularly the addition of “gender identity and expression” to our canons for access to lay ministry and to the discernment process for ordained ministry. Those votes, as many of our blog posts from those Conventions have witnessed, were exhilarating to experience. We also celebrate the stories we hear and tell about congregations that lift up trans people across the church. We are lectors, greeters, Eucharistic ministers. We are in young adult and campus ministries. We serve on vestries and search committees. We serve on diocesan committees, as Deputies to General Convention, on nominating committees, on task forces. Several of us are ordained to the diaconate and the priesthood. Others are in various stages of the ordination process in several different dioceses. Some are in seminary.
Yet at the same time we also know that this progress is not uniformly felt across the Church. Different people in the same Church can have widely different experiences. This should not be the case.
Vivian Taylor’s letter to the editor of The Episcopal Café underscores this truth in stories that are difficult to read and were undoubtedly more difficult to live through. Many of us have had such experiences over the years as well. They point to the gaps that exist between the legislative actions we have taken and the realities on the ground, which can be varied and far removed from one another. The challenge is to grow across that gap as a Church, indeed, as a family. This requires honest conversation—conversation that may well be painful along the way.
Already, for several decades the Church has been having related conversations about different facets of our shared humanity—about women, about race, about sexuality, about economic inequality, about neo-colonialism, about the intersections of these facets of people’s experiences and lived identities. In all of this we have been doing a collective theology of the human person. Unpacking what it means to incorporate trans people is part of this ongoing conversation, and indeed it calls us, as Vivian put it, to “commit to move beyond honoring one or two trans heroes or thinking about your own gender to praying on and addressing the structural needs of trans people.” We consider the following realities crucial to engaging this conversation:
• some trans people are binary-identified, that is, male or female, but
• some of us are not binary identified; we may identify as gender nonconforming or genderqueer, to use two of several related terms
• some of us have changed or wish to physically change our bodies
• some of us do not wish to physically change our bodies
• we have varying relationships to and abilities to access medical transition, that is, to physically change our bodies
• we, like cisgender people, have varying sexual orientations: we can be trans and heterosexual, lesbian, gay, bisexual or queer
• trans women, as well as gender nonconforming people, are much more often the targets of anti-trans violence than trans men (see the 2011 study Injustice at Every Turn for important stories and statistics regarding this)
• trans women are especially vulnerable when facing multiple points of discrimination from racism, sexism, classism, and/or immigration status, as well as transphobia. Thus far this year there have been eight transgender women or gender non conforming people of color who have been killed in the U.S. (see this story from the Anti-Violence Project)
• those of us who are trans women are routinely subjected to trans misogyny—a doubled form of misogyny- in which we encounter both the sexism associated with women assigned female at birth and another layer of stigma associated with having transitioned (see Julia Serrano’s Whipping Girl: A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity for more about this)
• an aspect of this trans misogyny: trans women are, as Vivian’s piece points out, frequently forced into double-binds. These often relate to appearance and demeanor: don’t fulfill feminine stereotypes, on the one hand, and don’t be too assertive, on the other. The former gets criticized as undermining efforts to dismantle patriarchal standards of femininity; the latter gets criticized as hold-over “male privilege.” These critiques disrespect and demean trans women.
• these double binds can be levied at trans women particularly in women’s spaces and by feminists who were formed or strongly influenced by theories of second wave (1970s and 80s) radical feminism. This type of feminism has more recently been referred to as “trans exclusionary radical feminism.”
• This pattern can be as true in church spaces as in secular spaces.
We would also like to underscore that this is an especially difficult season for trans people both in and outside our Church. The unprecedented visibility of trans people in the media over the past year, particularly over the last few months since Caitlyn Jenner came out, has created arenas of serious backlash. The recent Elinor Burkett piece in the New York Times (which activated several of the last bullet points above), followed by horribly transmisogynistic tweets from Anne Lamott, a trusted source of wisdom, have added to a sense of vulnerability, of unsafety, particularly for trans women. Vivian’s comment about trans people not feeling “allowed to settle here, to make a home and put down roots,” speaks to a sense of precariousness that has intensified for many of us in recent weeks and months.
This week at General Convention TransEpiscopal will be supporting several resolutions, two of which speak specifically to this desire to make a home and put down roots in our beloved Church. One resolution (whose number is pending) will ask for the proposed revision of the Book of Occasional Services to include a name change liturgy. The other (also with a pending number) will call for a study of the canons to address the pastoral need to amend legal name changes in church registries and to reissue church certificates—baptismal, confirmation, or ordination certificates, for instance – when it is requested. In the case of the first resolution, what is at stake is the Church’s affirmation of trans people’s chosen names, recognizing our names in the midst of our congregations as icons of our spiritual journeys. The second resolution seeks to prompt a study whose purpose is ultimately to safeguard trans people’s privacy, to assure that, should one not wish to disclose one’s previous name, the Church will respect that wish, doing all it can to facilitate our freedom to make our way in the Church.
As we think, pray, and talk about these matters coming into General Convention, we look forward to open, clarifying, supportive conversations. Engaging in such conversations both at GC and in your own dioceses and congregations is one concrete thing you can do to support the trans people in TEC. Another is to support this legislation, to work to make it and the changes we have already made in our Church concrete, structurally real in your own contexts. We are inspired by today’s passage from 2 Corinthians 6: “now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation!” (6:2) And as it concludes, “our heart is wide open to you… open wide your hearts also” (6:11,13).
For the TransEpiscopal Steering Committee:
Seems like that you are pretty busy with the work. But I hope that you will give some time to the blog and keep us updated with the work and what you got to see there.
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