Letter to the Editor: Trans people are just another group of God’s children

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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.

For years I had expressed my desire to go into the priesthood. All I want is to have the opportunity to participate in the historical ministry of Jesus Christ as it is eternally extends into the present. I was a chaplain’s assistant in the military, at the time people thought I was a straight man, I was assured by many that the Church needed me and that once I returned from the war I could begin the process and start moving towards ordination.

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.

VTaylor2013

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.

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Paul Woodrum
Guest

Vivian, I admire your courage and persistence as trans and ex-Southern Baptist in a church that, at its clubby worst, turns even the expression "cradle Episcopalian" into a condescending put-down in spite of the gifts brought to it by those of us who don't quite fit the three-centuries-of English-heritage model. Hang in there. We all need each other.

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Jan Adams
Guest

Thanks, Vivian. We humans are painfully anxious about gender. For whatever reason (I think some of this is Euro-American culture, but it is more widespread than just that), we want gender to be rigidly binary. But it is not.

But we don't have to be stuck there: we say it every Ash Wednesday: "God hates nothing that God has made ..." The wild varieties of God's creation exceeds our puny categories. God asks of us the courage to see.

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Gwen Fry
Guest
Gwen Fry

Thank you, Vivian, for courageously sharing not only your experience, but also the personal experiences of many transgender and gender nonconforming people. The gap between Episcopal Church policy/canons and the lived experience by those of us in the pew, and the pulpit, in the trans* community is often much too wide. Let us begin that difficult but desperately needed conversation.

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Cameron Partridge
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Cameron Partridge

Thank you, Vivian, for the clarity and courage with which you share these difficult stories and call us to action. We have much to continue to address in our Church, particularly regarding transmisogyny and-- I would add -- for people who are genderqueer and/or gender nonconforming. As one of those one or two voices that has been lifted up a great deal lately, I very much concur that both the conversation and the structural changes pointed to here need to address and impact all of us.

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JC Fisher
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JC Fisher

Thanks for mentioning us genderqueers, Cameron. When I was "in the process" (of discerning vocation to holy orders) ten years ago, the diocesan vocational guide had a phrase like "expresses the gifts of gender (it was pretty clear it meant the gifts of Manly Men *or* Woman Women). Somebody w/ the gifts of genders, like me, was going to be left flailing. [I'm not going to say my androgyny was why I wasn't recommended to move on in the process, but I still wonder...]

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JC Fisher
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JC Fisher

That should say "Manly Men *or* Womanly Women" [I STILL miss a Preview button on this site! >:-/ ]

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Sarah Lawton
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Sarah Lawton

Thank you, Vivian, for speaking up. We know passing resolutions doesn't do the work for us.

Amanda, I don't know where you live in the Bay Area, but you would be warmly welcomed at St. John the Evangelist Episcopal Church in San Francisco. We (explicitly) welcome transgender people and we have been and are blessed with the witness and ministries of trans folk over many years.

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Donna Cartwright
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Donna Cartwright

Thank you, Vivian, for expressing so eloquently the concerns that many trans Episcopalians (myself included) have been grappling with.
We've seen pro-trans legislation passed by several dioceses and two General Conventions, but there's still plenty of evidence that trans people remain in a twilight between acceptance and "othering."
Keep speaking up.

Donna Cartwright
Diocese of Maryland

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Robin Knauerhase
Guest

Amanda's comment above is illustrative of so many trans (T, as well as LGB) concerns. If a church is *really* open to all, it should not be ashamed to call that fact out in bulletins, websites, and church directories. So often, despite a subtle rainbow flag or a rumor of "You'll be OK there", the fear of rejection by a church family is so strong that it can't emotionally be overcome without an explicit welcome.

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Robin Knauerhase
Guest

Vivian! What an honest, vulnerable, and truly conscience-holding essay. People like you really are "good at it" -- not in a trans-judgment sense, but in a Christ-following and Christ-emulating sense. Yay for you, and may God bless you and your efforts in the Episcopal church.

Robin

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Amanda Clark
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Amanda Clark

"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."

Even here in the SF Bay Area, I'm extremely reluctant to go to church (i.e. any mainline Protestant denomination). Saying you're liberal and open and tolerant isn't quite enough to assuage my fears as a trans woman.

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