About That “T”

While the nation has been engaged in a 46-year conversation on issues facing lesbians, gay men and bisexuals, it has only just started talking about the T in LGBT — lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender.  Let’s be honest here, the T has largely been silent because of a visceral discomfort with the issue. Many folks don’t know what transgender issues are or understand them. And the fascination with transition surgery only makes it more difficult for people to focus on the hate, discrimination and stigma that permeate the lives of transgender Americans. But that’s changing as more trans people come out and demand to be heard. – Jonathan Capehart, “Bruce Jenner, Jacob Lemay, And What It Means To Be Transgender”, Washington Post, April 22, 2015

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Neither Bruce or Lipkins accurately represents the experience of transgender children, who can begin to understand their gender as early as age 2 and who identify as completely with that gender as their cisgender peers. Furthermore, allowing them to identify with that gender improves their mental health, relieving depression and anxiety.

Perhaps the most ironic problem with how Fox News has framed this story is the fact that Jazz Jennings is a real transgender teenager. The book is based on her experience growing up trans, including the fact that she was aware of her gender years before even arriving in Kindergarten, and is designed specifically to help affirm other kids in the same situation.

While one mom was worried that her son might be transgender, another parent was grateful that the school incorporated I Am Jazz. A parent of a transgender child in the Horace Mitchell School system wrote, “People in this country, parents in this country are outraged by bullying, teen suicide rates and the depression in children. The staff of Mitchell School is doing something about this.” He added, “LGBTQ issues should never be classified as a ‘sensitive subject’ — there is nothing sensitive about the way we are born. Blonde hair, brown hair, gay, straight or somewhere in-between, we are all people and we all need acceptance.” – Zack Ford, “Fox News Guest: Being A Transgender Kid Is The Same As Pretending To Be A Dog”, Think Progress, April 22, 2015

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Leelah Alcorn, about whose suicide I wrote in January, had her gender dysphoria rejected by her parents for religious reasons.

Leelah Alcorn, about whose suicide I wrote in January, had her gender dysphoria rejected by her parents for religious reasons.

We are beginning a long-needed discussion regarding trans people, the abuse and discrimination they receive, and how their lives, their needs, and the obstacles they face are different from other sexual minorities.  Add to the ignorance a gratuitous fascination with the mechanics of gender transitioning, and most folks know the path ahead is very long, mined with all sorts of traps. We have no choice, however, if we are going to be something resembling a civilized society with dignity, equality, and security for all our people.

We United Methodists, believe it or not, have dealt with this matter regarding trans clergy.  In 2007, Rev. Ann Gordon transitioned to Rev. Drew Phoenix, and continued under appointment in the Baltimore-Washington Conference. The Judicial Council ruled that, as the Book of Discipline was silent on the matter of gender transition and active clergy membership, Rev. Phoenix’s appointment was legal and his status was not a matter the court could consider. Mark Tooley, leader of The Institute for Religion and Democracy was quoted at the end of the above article protesting the decision. His words have an irony he probably wouldn’t recognize:

“Predictably, the Judicial Council chose not to intervene in the Baltimore transsexual case,” Mark Tooley, director of UMAction, a conservative Washington-based activist group, said in a statement.

“But we expect the upcoming General Conference . . . will respond with legislation that upholds traditional Christian teachings about the sacredness of the human body,” Tooley said.

No action was taken in 2008.  No action was taken in 2012.  And the irony in these words should be obvious.  “Traditional Christian teachings about the sacredness of the human body” don’t actually exist because traditional Christian teachings about the human body tend to view the body as evil. Thanks in no small part to the influx of neo-Platonism in the early centuries of the Church’s existence, the human body was considered more of a hindrance to faith than a center of sacred existence.  It is all to easy to find references to the human body being constructed of dung and filth; the mother and birth canal being disparaged; our bodily existence consisting of filth, excretion, and fit only to host flies and worms at our deaths. For Tooley to claim that Christian teachings regarding the human body have been anything but negative is just ignorant pandering. I won’t deny my on discomfort with issues regarding gender dysphoria, matters of transitioning, and how to understand healthy trans people from pathological.  These, of course, are matters as much of ignorance as anything else. Correcting that ignorance is in all our interests. It is not, however, up to trans folks to do that heavy lifting.  On the contrary, we in mainstream society should educate ourselves, come to understand trans people as just that: people.  We in the churches should remember that, because they are people, they are to be loved; we should be ready to listen to what trans people need from our churches; and we should never allow our prejudice to receive baptism, hiding our hatred behind the curtain of alleged declarations of holiness.

What with all the attention focused on issues surrounding gays and lesbians and marriage and ordination and church membership, we should never forget that “LGBTQ” contains a variety of different kinds of people, issues, and an openness to our creation and one another that, while demanding, reminds us that following Jesus is not easy.  With the increasing visibility of trans people, including children and youth, let us be voices of support for them, their families and loved ones, and not forces for silence, bigotry, and death.

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About gksafford

I'm a middle-aged theologically educated clergy spouse, living in the Midwest. My children are the most important thing in my life. Right behind them and my wife is music. I'm most interested in teaching people to listen to contemporary music with ears of faith. Everything else you read on here is straw.
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