Occasionally we print letters to the editor; in this letter, Vivian Taylor asks of the church that our rhetoric match our actions for the trans community. Letters do not necessarily reflect the views of the Café or its staff.
By Vivian Taylor
When I returned from the War in Iraq in May 2010 I hoped to enter the ordination process. I had found the Episcopal Church when I was 19, after I left the Southern Baptists over a combination of asking too many direct, technical questions about how Biblical Inerrancy could possible work and my basic queerness. I began attending an Episcopal parish near my college and discovered that it was a loving, welcoming community, that it was a place where gay people could have a fair share in the community.
The one option I was given was to be transitioned “fully” so that no one would no I was not a cisgender woman by the end of the summer of 2010. The issue there is that I was a soldier who had just returned from War, shaved head, war muscles, issues with traumatic stress from all those rockets that fell on the unit in Basra.
There was no way to go stealth fast enough.
Five years, that’s what was suggested again and again. Give the Episcopal Church five years to deal and we’ll get past trans stuff.
I eventually came to terms with needing to move on and came to Massachusetts. Since then I have committed myself to helping our beloved Church move forward. I love this institution. I love our community. If you are reading this there is a very high chance that I love you.
As a family though, we need to talk about this.
Now that we are five years on from that summer I returned from war and was told the Church just wasn’t ready for me, how far have we come?
At the 2012 General Convention our Church passed resolutions adding “gender identity and expression” to our nondiscrimination canons for access to lay and ordained ministry. Unfortunately that action has made little discernible positive difference for the trans people in our Church. Instead there have been no further ordinations of trans people to our priesthood since the 2012 General Convention and currently there are no trans people employed full time in our Church. Brilliant theologians, kind, great ministers are forced to knit together three or four part time jobs just to get by. No priest in our Church has ever come out as a trans woman and kept her job.
In our Church there are far too many leaders who publicly make a big deal about being “allies to trans people” but behind closed doors continue the same old trans exclusion that has always been practiced in our Church.
As I served as the executive director of Integrity USA, the national LGBTQ ministry for our Church from 2013-2015 over and over again I was shocked at the negative response from some clergy about trans issues.
The rector of a wealthy parish raised her voice at me during a clergy meeting when she learned I was advocating for trans issues as well as lesbian and gay issues. “Now is not the time for trans work” she said, “our communities have already gone through so much with gays and lesbians, why can’t you give us a break?” Later she told me that she was sorry for how she reacted but that she was just so shocked that I would suggest her community be involved in trans advocacy, and then she warned me to stay silent about the incident.
At an event in the mountains, a Church leader told me in front of the community that she felt her community would be welcoming to a transsexual “if she was good at it”, by which she meant able to pass as a cis woman without “crazy eye makeup”. When I tried to explain that trans people are just people and neither “good” nor “bad” at it and that we’re more than our make up or appearance, she began crying and accusing me of tripping her up, then said that she wasn’t trying to say that I was bad at it. This total focus on trans women’s appearances and gender presentation creates a series of double binds that excludes trans people from many parts of our Church. All too often trans women’s welcome in our Church comes down to whether or not she passes well enough according to the most judgmental people in the community.
Another community told me that they didn’t want to ask for prayers for the trans women being murdered in our country one after another because “It’s not supposed to be an obituary page.”
The problem is that each of these people in our Church makes a big claim out of being trans allies, but that trans people have no power in this Church to hold anyone accountable. We are at the rest of the Church’s mercy. When someone wants to feel big they can invite a trans person to this event or that event as an honored guest, maybe even make a big blubbering deal about how “meaningful” they find trans people’s lives, but we’re never allowed to settle here, to make a home and put down roots.
About 1% of our Church is trans. That’s around 10,000 people. Those 10,000 people are not a political issue, not a feminist issue, not a gender issue. They are just another group of children of God. I understand that for many, trans stuff can seem confusing and that many feel they have a right to question and inspect trans-ness to see what is actually going on there, but I’m sorry to tell you there’s no answer. Anglicanism has always done the best when we remember the words of Queen Elizabeth I, “I have no desire to make windows into men’s souls”. With trans folks, the Church is going to have to, if it actually loves trans people, stop trying to root out ghostly transphobic intention that may or may not color one action or another, and instead carefully work to set up institutional systems so that all are protected and that that protection is not dependent on any particular leader’s attitude towards transsexuals on any given day.
This is why, as we move toward General Convention, I ask that you and all of us 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. Thank you.
Vivian Taylor is an Episcopalian writer, activist, avid Sung Compline promoter, and proud (if occasionally troubled) North Carolinian currently living in Boston, MA. She served in the War in Iraq from 2009-2010 and has run several statewide LGBTQ rights campaigns in places like North Carolina, Michigan, and others. She writes about being a peacenik veteran, an Anglican Nihilist, and the paradox of our coexistent onesness with being and solitude.