To be clear and honest about this: I am not transgendered, so understand that I am speaking as an ally, a friend, not an expert or from my own transgendered experience. I do not speak for trans people, of course—and to my trans friends, I apologize in advance for over-simplifying, for leaving out some of the complexities, for not speaking to all the difficulties and complications. I speak, again, as an ally, from my friendships and my love for my transgendered friends of all genders. You know who you are—thank you for your presence in my life. You have been my partners in crime, my inspirations, my role models, my refuge from time to time, and most of all, my beloved friends.
I have many transgendered friends—they are transwomen, FTM, genderqueer, transmen, androgynous, pre-op, MTF, transitioning, post-op, transitioned, never planning to transition. Without exception, they are some of the strongest, wisest, most grounded, and self-aware people I know. They know who they are; they have fought and struggled and worked hard to be who they are—and they are beautiful, every one of them. All the extraneous “stuff” is being burned away, and the refined gold is left--because of course, it's a continuing process. They know who they are, they have worked hard to be the person God wants them to be, and they aren’t going to let anyone take it away from them. They’re not perfect, of course—they’d be the first to tell you that—but as John Wesley would say, they are going on to perfection, with God’s help.
But my particular friends are, in many ways, the blessed ones, the ones who have been able to work through it all to a place of relative safety—relative only, of course, since there is never absolute safety for those who are different form society’s strict categories. They were able, with a struggle, but able nonetheless, to get the education, the therapy, the surgery, the employment, the treatment, the relationship, the sacred space of church or temple or synagogue that allowed them to speak truth. Many others aren’t so blessed.
Humans tend to dislike what they do not understand—which may have had its uses back in the stone age, but it is a trait that has out-lived its usefulness. The vast majority of people expect another person to be identifiable as a man or a woman, and when another person is not readily identifiable as one or the other, frustration and anger often set in. If the other person seems to be deliberately trying to “fool” them, their anger increases. Thus the butch lesbian and the drag queen are attacked; cross-dressers are mocked by emergency medical personnel and young transgendered women (transwomen) are placed in the men’s section of jails, where they are beaten and raped.
You have doubtless heard of some of the more famous cases of transphobia resulting in murder—Brandon Teena, Gwen Araujo, and others. But for every one of the famous ones, for every one who is killed, there are countless others who are harassed on a daily basis; who cannot use a public washroom for fear of being violently ejected and even arrested if they use the “wrong” one; who are kicked out of school, jobs, church and home; who are referred to as “it” by medical personnel, prison officials and teachers; refused entry into emergency shelters because they do not “fit” into either the men’s shelter or the women’s shelter; and told they are “sick” by the world in general.
In spite of it all, they continue, as a group, to march forward, insisting on their humanity, on the presence of God within themselves and their relationships. In many of our theologies, we make the claim that God is beyond gender, both and neither male or female. If we understand our God to be both and neither, why then can we not accept fellow human beings who are also both and neither? Take some time this week to think about those you know or may have heard of, who are transgendered, and pray, as I will be praying, that you may have the courage they have shown, to live their own truthful, beautiful lives.