Wednesday, May 01, 2019

Welcoming Transgender Christians

Then Peter began to speak to them: ‘I truly understand that God shows no partiality’ ~ Acts 10:34

In my experience as a parent and working with children and youth, young people are not as confounded as adults sometimes are at the growing understanding of gender identity as unlinked to attraction or to biological organs or chromosomes. It’s not that they don’t have a clear sense of their own gender; most children know from the time they’re about three what gender they are. But that sense doesn’t have to do with what’s in their pants, it has to do with simply knowing.

Unfortunately even very young children already also know very what’s ‘for girls’ and what’s ‘for boys’. It’s remarkable - or maybe it’s not, really - how much our social programming around gender roles, expression and identity is entrenched as truth. This was also true for the early Christians related to Christian identity. Peter, speaking in the quote above, is absolutely certain that Gentiles cannot be Christians. How could it be possible? He learns, however, that God’s spirit is continuing to work in spite of our doubt and in spite of our uncertainty. In fact God’s Spirit powers through our uncertainty.

As a congregation of radical hospitality who has embraced an open welcome of LGBTQ+ people (an acronym that means Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Queer or Questioning Plus multiple other sexual and gender identities) we are still learning more about how to fully welcome people who are trans and queer. This Sunday in worship we will hear the full story of Peter’s vision and transformation. We’ll also be blessing the work of our Gender Hospitality Ministry Team, who are working on behalf of our congregation to be clear in our welcome and notice places where we have room to grow.

While we work at this as a congregation we all have the opportunity to grow in our understanding of our own gender identity and expression. We have an opportunity to undo some of the expectation in ourselves and in our children about what’s expected of being a male or female and that there are folks whose identity is as neither - or both. I actually think that knowing God can help us know people beyond the binary is a better way. When discussing gender with my older child, talking about people who are a-gender or non-binary, she replied, “Oh, like God.” Yes!! Like God!! We are indeed made in the image of a queer God.

As a part of my own learning I’ve embraced resources and media that help me see and hear from people who are transgender or non-binary. I compiled a few resources for adults and for kids last fall around Trans Awareness Week and I’d like to share that list (to which I’ve added a few) to help us all continue our growth in understanding trans experiences in order that we all might be more compassionate. So that we can advocate and amplify the voices of trans gender non-conforming folks. See the list below.


A Note on the image: We’re all familiar with the rainbow flag image which is a symbol for the gay pride and is a visual cue of openness to welcome for people who are gay and lesbian. The trans flag is a similar symbol and visual cue to trans folks that those displaying it are knowledgeable about and welcome people who are transgender or gender non-conforming.



Reading and Resources for Adults and Older Teens

Transforming: The Bible and the Lives of Transgender Christians by Austin Hartke. Austin uses stories of trans folks as well as the Bible to weave a theology for affirmation and welcome, in addition to telling his own story of being trans in the church.

Trans 101: a brief guide from BMC. I found this really helpful in framing gender as beyond a binary. It also has a helpful glossary and personal stories from Mennonite and Brethren people who are transgender.

A Quick Easy Guide to They/Them Pronouns I have not read it but I saw it on the yellow-sticker shelf at the Seattle Public Library. So you can have it for as long as you need it!

“Dear (Cis) People Who Put Your Pronouns on Nametags” by Sinclair Sexsmith. Help from an experiential perspective for understanding why pronouns are so important.

Jaimie Bruesehoff - A blogging parent of a transgender child who is both an outspoken advocate for trans rights and committed to raising her children to be people of faith in the Lutheran Church. Her now 11 year old daughter was just blessed in a naming ceremony honoring her 'forever name' in her congregation. I find her writing about the intersection of faith and parenting a trans kid especially meaningful.

How To Be A Girl - a podcast by a Seattle parent of a now 11-year-old (I think) trans girl that documents the whole journey and most recently the very real concern they've had about moving to a suburb where her daughter is not out and where they are concerned about how she will be received. I've also listened to this with my child and we've had some good conversations about it.

Picture Books

I am Jazz was one of the earliest picture books that approached being transgender in a normative way. Jazz Jennings is now a young adult and still an outspoken trans advocate.

Julian is a Mermaid by Jessica Love - a gender non-conforming little boy who admires the beautifully dressed ladies in his neighborhood. So beautifully illustrated, the pictures say more than the words.

Morris Micklewhite and the Tangerine Dress by Christine Baldacchino. Morris loves his swishy, crinkly tangerine dress that reminds him of the color of tigers. But his classmates are not so sure that boys can wear dresses. Together they begin to understand that “this boy does.”

Middle Grade Books:

Lily and Dunkin by Donna Gephart - a middle grade novel about a transgender girl who is afraid of the onset of puberty. It's also very real about the experience of bipolar disorder. It's really good and a very quick read for an adult.

A Boy Like Me by Jennie Wood - I haven't read this one yet but it's on my list. This is what I gathered from Good Reads: All the awkwardness of an eighth grade boy trying to impress a girl, take on the prejudice and small-mindedness of his small town and getting his first period.

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