On the Metro last night, I sat opposite a white straight male. That is I gathered by his appearance, and that is all I had to go on, that he was a white (his skin was pale, hair straight and light brown, eyes blue), heterosexual (he wore a wedding ring…which isn’t definitive, but it put him in the realm of likely to be married in some way) and male (he had visible facial hair, wore pants and grabbed his crotch at one point in a way that suggested he definitely had a penis. He put me in a reflective mood. I thought of how his world may have many challenges, but the one thing he may have never had to question (particularly in these United States) is his gender identity and resulting social location. Using him as only a jumping off point, because I knew nothing of this man and his desires or real thoughts, I thought for a minute “how lucky” and then I thought again…”how sad.”
I had planned on writing a blog post with the title Trans-Formation, because I wanted to do homage to the transgender community. I have been blessed to have many trans friends over the years and have some key folks in my life right now who are some of my greatest support and sources of enlightenment about myself. But I’m finding that this post needs to be something different. After spending the last couple of days at the National Black Justice Coalition “Out on the Hill” (http://nbjc.org/) conference surrounded by my black LGBT brothers and sisters and among them some of the most articulate, active and impassioned leaders I have ever encountered (check out Monica Roberts’ blog TransGriot http://transgriot.blogspot.com/), I find myself wanting to say something different under the same title. I find myself wishing the whole world could see transpeople as I do: light, inspiration, depth…and somehow much more human than the rest of us.
My ministry and my blog are about bodies. There’s a through line in case you haven’t gotten it yet. I am obsessed with anything to do with the body, how we use it, how we see it, how we accept it. I love bodies…I think our bodies are the magical. And the body is the first thing we tend to think of when we speak of the trans community. Everyone wants to know, like some kind of science experiment, about “the surgery.” This week, I had the privilege of hearing the glorious and eloquent Laverne Cox (http://lavernecox.com/) speak twice. First as a Transwoman and second as a successful member of the media. No, I correct myself…I heard her speak at all times as a PERSON who has a gift for language and humor and honesty. A whole person who is beautiful in both spirit and body. Nowhere did it seem either appropriate (or at all more interesting) to wonder or ask about “surgery.” She said it beautifully, “We need to get away from the surgery narrative.” It is not just insulting on a certain level, it is naïve and downright childish. Do we ask women who have had breast augmentation about their boobs? Do we ask men with impotence about penile implants? Asking about anyone’s surgery is incredibly narrow and places someone on a level that is “outside” of human. It identifies them as a medical procedure. Transmen and women are so much more than surgery. They are artists and models, parents and children. They have jobs and struggle to build relationships like anyone else. It is a shame that gender expression is so personal, but in our sex obsessed culture, it is also a public calling card for labeling and otherizing. This needs to change.
The other element of this blog is spiritual. As an aspiring minister, I ask all of my question about the body through the filter of a conversation about faith. I find this particularly important when holding up trans people. These days, I am surrounded by trans clergy and people may find it more remarkable, that most of them identify as Christian, either born or bred. But as I look at it, this makes perfect and divine sense. They see themselves, as do I, in the message of Christ reaching out to everyone. Love knows no gender or orientation. Often I’ve heard people make reference to “the least of these” when including TLGB people in the conversation of an inclusive Christianity. Although Matthew 25 speaks to the true benevolence of Christ, I say that trans people are not the least of anything. They are if anything the most. They are more carefully and thoughtfully male; more invested and involved in being female, and significantly more aware of the gift of being truly and wholly alive in both body and spirit. For those of us who are cis-gendered, we take for granted our physical sex, our sexuality and our gender expression. We never, or rarely think about how these three interplay. I imagine that growing up trans, you have to do a level of self exploration that is worthy of a Ph.D in gender studies; understanding, reaffirming, defending, forgiving, and celebrating all of the incredible gifts that are given to you in your trans body. True Christianity, and really any true faith, begins in the depths of the soul. Trans men and women dig deep into their souls and they come up with gold. Oh, that the rest of us would face ourselves as honestly.
So this post is not just an homage, it is really a love letter to the trans community, and it is a message to the cis-gender community to wake up. If we all explored our bodies and our sexualities and our gender expressions to the depth that tran people explore theirs, we might change the world. We would have no need for homophobia or transphobia. We would understand ourselves so well and be open to the changing landscape of our own gender expressions in such a way that would allow us to let each other be…to lift each other up as beautiful, unique and complete and never ever have a need to ask someone about their “surgery” again.