Last weekend I attended the California Transgender Leadership Summit. In addition to getting to hang with super cool people like Mila and Jayna from Trans-Ponder and Dharmashanti (to name a few), I got to sit in on some excellent workshops and plenary addresses.
Dr. Susan Stryker (pictured left) is a historian and filmmaker who spoke about Transgender history. I found her overview of this history both chilling, especially in regards to the legally sanctioned violence against trans people, and hopeful, particularly as Dr. Stryker shared the stories and lives of transgender pioneers.
She told us of Thomas/ina Hall from way back in 1629 (wh0 may have been intersex from the details on the right). Thomas/ina is recorded as saying, “I goe in weomen’s apparel to get a bitt for my Catt.” And we are not talking about felines here! As a result, Thomas/ina got in trouble with the law, and as a result, left us a record.
The legal authorities could not decide if Thomas/ina was male or female. If male, he would have been executed for committing fornication. If female, well, she would have had a much lesser sentence or none at all since lesbianism was not banned (or addressed directly) . In the authorities sentenced Thomas/ina to dress half as a man and half as a woman.
Dr. Stryker included lots of other references, and now I totally want to get her book, Transgender History Studies.
She concluded her talk with thoughts about how the transgender movement should proceed. She suggested they focus less on identity politics and instead seek to gain justice for a broader group of people. In looking after the needs and concerns of others, we all win.
As a non-transgender gay man, both trans and non-trans people ask, “Why do you a play about transgender Bible characters? You’re not transgender yourself.” It is true that I do not identify as transgender. I do see myself as genderqueer, which can technically fall under the transgender umbrella, but I see this as different from the Male to Female (MTF) and the Female to Male (FTM) experiences. For me being gay is more than just the reality that I like to date other guys instead of gals, it also means that part of my identity and gender expression is female. I embrace the reality that I have a whole female side of me, inside of me, that comes out in lots of different ways.
Why do I do Transfigurations? Well, for one it is beautiful. I have been deeply moved by the stories both in the Bible and from the people I interviewed for the play. My life, my faith, and my art are deeper because of the time I have spent looking at gender and getting to know transgender people.
I guess I also do the play as part of the justice work I do as a Christian and a Quaker. Transgender people do not get fair treatment on the job, in churches, with housing and medical care, and even in the LGBT community. That’s just wrong.
In Quaker circles we often talk about leadings we may have. Many of us will not be so bold to say that “God led me to do so and so,” but all the same we get promptings, deep urgings to pursue a certain course.
The first of Britain Yearly Meeting’s Advices & Queries states,
Take heed, dear Friends, to the promptings of love and truth in your hearts. Trust them as the leadings of God whose Light shows us our darkness and brings us to new life.
I have memorized this advice and meditate on it regularly. I especially like this phrase
...the promptings of love and truth…
Yeah, I can say that I feel promptings of love in my heart. My life has been enriched by transgender people. I love my dear friend Alex Resare, and Jayna and Mila, Elliot, Fredrik in Sweden and Yuki in Malaysia, Petra, Ted, Diana in my home state of Connecticut and Sheila and Gwen and Dharmashanti and Autumn Sandeen who I just met this passed weekend for the first time in person. The list can go on and on.
These days so many people write effectively about the ex-gay movement. They counter the lies and dangerous practices that can arise from ex-gay ministry and reparative therapy. I know I will continue to address these issues because the ex-gay experience is part of my own past history, and is something for which I feel passion. Evenso, my heart has shifted. My leading has shifted. While I will still work with Christine Bakke on Beyond Ex-Gay, my heart and mind turn towards transgender issues and concerns.
As an ally, my biggest task is to continue to get educated. To listen and listen some more. My greatest tool is my play, which seems to do well to educate and motivate non-trans LGB and straight folks. It may also serve as a sort of healing salve to some transgender people wounded by religious abuse and violence.
At the end of my performance at the the San Diego LGBT Center last Saturday, I looked out on the audience, which was made up of nearly 100% trans folks. Literally everywhere I looked I saw tears in people’s eyes. I witnessed an audienced moved beyond my expectations. At that moment I felt honored and grateful that I could be a part of their lives and take part in justice work for transgender people.