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Getting up to speed on transgender issues

Getting up to speed on transgender issues

Becky Garrison admits to her credit that even many veteran campaigners for LGBT equality don’t actually know very much about the challenges faced by those identified by the last initial in that acronym. In a recent article for Killing the Buddha, she sets out to educate herself, and educates the rest of us in the process. Some excerpts:

[A]s gays and lesbians became more visible over the decades, … the media [began] to portray them as neighbors, family members, friends, and co-workers. Hence this year’s LGBT Philly Pride Parade and Festival seemed akin to any other family-oriented festival, with vendors offering products like adoption services, animal rescue vans, and insurance. Out with the leather, in with gay-friendly leisure travel.

Such a cultural shift has yet to happen for the trans community. What few trans-related stories I can find tend to focus far more on the subjects’ sex lives when compared to similar reporting of those who self-identify as cisgender (a term that refers to someone whose gender identity coincides with their sex at birth).


The findings of the National Transgender Discrimination Survey Report paints a bleak picture of the how this fear of the other translates into victimizing trans people:

The 6,450 US-based transgender and gender non-conforming participants who took part in the study were nearly four times more likely to have a household income of less than $10,000 a year compared to the general population. So much for the myth advanced by progressive evangelicals like Jim Wallis, Brian McLaren, and Shane Claiborne that one can advocate for anti-poverty measures while ignoring LGBT rights.

A staggering 41% of respondents reported attempting suicide compared to 1.6% of the general population.

Discrimination was pervasive throughout the entire sample, yet the combination of anti-transgender bias and persistent, structural racism was especially devastating.


Prior to coming to this conference, I picked up a copy of Nick Krieger’s Nina Here Nor There: My Journey Beyond Gender from Beacon Press. (Shameless plug: Beacon also published the latest Killing the Buddha anthology, Believer, Beware.) Watching Nick read from this moving and humorous memoir about his fight to inhabit both and neither gender, I became acutely aware of the need for people to self-identify as they wish. For example, some transsexuals who have transitioned no longer self-identify as transgender, as they now see themselves as a cisgender male or female of transsexual history. Hence, I have begun to use the term “trans” when talking about the broader community and, then, to ask those I am interviewing how they would like for me to identify them.


While sitting in on a number of seminars focusing on faith and transgender, I was struck by the depth of conversations about how to create spaces that will welcome all who are created “very good” in the image of God (cf. Genesis 1:26). I came away from these sessions with a plethora of resources to aid in this exploration of what communities of faith can bring to this discussion.

Read Garrison’s article to find a list of those resources.


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One thing that churches can do, and which my church has done in an accidental sort of way, is to have single bathrooms that don’t have “MEN” and “WOMEN” on the door. Just plain bathrooms. It’s simple things like that which create a more welcoming and non-judgemental atmosphere.

That’s good, Anne. Something else, from my (Trans) experience: having single sex church groups, who then recruit based upon perceived gender. “Come to our ECW meeting! Why won’t you come to our ECW meeting? You haven’t yet joined ECW? We could really use you on ECW”: got old.

@Tobias: for Trans people, I think the only thing worse than being lumped in w/ Ls, Gs and Bs, would be being left out altogether (which happens anyway, see re HRC, and the 2007 ENDA—and today, DADT repeal, which won’t protect Trans service personnel from being discharged).

“Gender identity and sexual orientation are independent variables, existing among numerous other variable.”

Well, Yes and No. In theory, they’re separate . . . but human beings’ lives are never purely theory, are they? Homosexuality has long been connected to feminine presentation in (some!) XY people, and masculine presentation in (some!) XX people, in ways that one can’t merely relegate to “the Bad Old Days” (i.e., passing in order to have access to same-sex oriented).

For XX Trans people (FTMs), a lesbian ID is *frequently* understood/tried-on, as a stage. For both XX (FTM) and XY (MTF) Trans people, transition may bring a (organic, not coerced) change in sexual-orientation (oriented from one sex to the other, or from one to bisexuality).

In short, it’s complicated. I don’t think the issues of lesbians, gay men, bisexuals and Trans people ever were, or ever will be, completely separate.

JC Fisher

tobias haller

I’ve long felt that the alphabet soup approach has not been helpful in the debates and movements for equal rights. Lumping gay and lesbian persons in with bisexual and transgender persons has not, to my mind served these constituencies well in clarifying the issues and concerns that distinguish them. The fact that these are all rotating around “sex and gender” do not, to my mind, warrant simply lumping them together. Gender identity and sexual orientation are independent variables, existing among numerous other variable.

This is not at all to imply that the transgender concerns are less important. On the contrary, I think they are very important but get short shrift by being lumped in with other legitimate concerns, and introduce confusion into those other areas of concern and action.


Over the past 4 to 5 years, I’ve been reading a fair amount on transgender issues. I have a dear friend who has a transgender child (10 years old), and I thank God that child is being raised in an accepting family and community (he’s a Cub Scout! Scoutmasters are aware of his trans status, but not the other scouts).

When talking with friends about trans issues, I’ve found it helpful to ask, ‘when were you aware that you were a boy or a girl?’ It gets people thinking of it in terms beyond sexual behavior.

One thing that churches can do, and which my church has done in an accidental sort of way, is to have single bathrooms that don’t have “MEN” and “WOMEN” on the door. Just plain bathrooms. It’s simple things like that which create a more welcoming and non-judgemental atmosphere.

– Anne LeVeque

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