Following the Leading to Get Past Our Own Issues

Susan Stryker

Susan Stryker

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.

Early Transgender History

Early Transgender History

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.

Next Steps

Next Steps

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.

This post has 16 Comments

  1. Diana on April 3, 2009 at 12:10 pm Reply

    Thank you for being a friend and ally, and
    I think I just found a book for my summer reading list.

  2. Oliver Danni on April 3, 2009 at 1:38 pm Reply

    I’m intrigued by your statement “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.” I’m curious what you perceive that which you describe as “the MTF and the FTM experience” to be, and what differences you see between your experience and those.

    I’m not trying to convert you to transgenderism or anything…my definition of transgender is “If you say you are, then you are, and if I don’t think you are but you say you are, then I need to expand my definition”…but I am curious to hear more from you on your consciousness of the distinction. 😉

    I’m also curious if you’ve read Kate Bornstein’s work…especially her book My Gender Workbook, which is now available in its entirety for FREE on GoogleBooks (but go buy it anyway, it’s the best book on gender you’ll ever have. It’s been my Bible since before the Bible was my Bible.) http://books.google.com/books?id=KTWsKc7NfzAC&dq=my+gender+workbook&pg=PP#PPA112,M1

  3. Dharmashanti on April 3, 2009 at 3:12 pm Reply

    All I can say is that I am truly blessed to know you.

  4. daniel on April 3, 2009 at 5:40 pm Reply

    Peterson,
    What do you mean when you say

    “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.”

    I’m a gay man, but I’m not quite sure how my gender expression makes me any more female, than any other man.
    I do see myself technically as more sensitive or responsive emotionally, which could be defined as feminine… socially. I supose.

    I really enjoy your style of writing and your genuine heart is very clearly expressed (through writing)

  5. Oliver Danni on April 3, 2009 at 6:43 pm Reply

    Daniel,

    I think that defining “attraction to men” or “sensitivity/emotional responsiveness” as “female” or “feminine” qualities does a disservice to men, by saying that one is not “really” a man if one has these qualities. Personally, I love the idea of EXPANDING what it can mean to be a man, by saying that attraction to men IS masculine, because men ARE attracted to men; or by saying that your sensitivity IS a masculine characteristic because you ARE a man and it is part of who you are, as a man. You are not less of a man than someone who is unemotional and attracted to women. You are just as much a man as he is, and you have every right to be!

    What do you think? This is just my personal philosophy on gender, of course…I have no claim to inside knowledge on the Ultimate Truth of All Gender Things or anything silly like that. 😉

  6. daniel on April 3, 2009 at 7:11 pm Reply

    Well, That is kind of the point of my asking.
    I think of myself as a well rounded masculaine gay man. I am asking,
    How does being attracted to men, or gender expression in a queer way, make someone more female?

    I do not think it does.Which is kind of what I read in the post.

    I did not mean to do a diservice to men, but I did say SOCIALLY emotional awareness and sensitivity is viewed as feminine.
    I think socially (North American Culture), being in touch emotionally is viewed as being a feminine trait. I do believe we need to broaden the cultural view of masculinity.

    … If we look at Jesus, Ghandi, Dali Lama, etc. they are masculine.. but quite sensitive and emotionally aware aswell. That doesn’t make them female in anyway.

  7. Oliver Danni on April 3, 2009 at 7:31 pm Reply

    Daniel, I agree with you. 🙂

    I didn’t mean that you were doing a disservice to men — I meant that the idea of “sensitive = feminine” seems to be doing a disservice to YOU, as a man.

    My belief is that people are whatever gender they say they are. It’s not up to anyone else in the world to say that they are wrong. So, if you say you are a man…you are a man. Someone can have the exact same qualities as you, and NOT be a man…and then for that person, those qualities are theirs. So if you are sensitive, and you are a man, and being sensitive is an important component of your masculinity, then sensitivity is a masculine trait for you. If the person next to you is also sensitive, and that person is some other gender, then being sensitive for that person is gendered whatever way they are.

    I never got to ask Jesus, Ghandi, or the Dalai Lama what gender they are…so I don’t know if they identify as men or consider their sensitivity and emotional awareness to be masculine traits! To me, it doesn’t really matter how other people identify within the gender system, beyond knowing how they prefer I treat them. 🙂

  8. daniel on April 3, 2009 at 8:02 pm Reply

    Ya, I agree with you too.
    I used the examples of Jesus, Ghandi and Dali Lama to show a point that masculinity goes beyond what our culture labels it as. It is much more diverse than the narrow understanding of one particular culture.

    I still do want to undertsnad what Peterson meant when he said.
    “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.”

    I am intreged by what he means.

  9. p2son on April 3, 2009 at 8:40 pm Reply

    Hello there, I have read your comments with interest, but as I have been traveling all day and have commitments all night, I will not be able to respond properly until tomorrow or Sunday. I am at the Unity Conference at UNC Chapel Hill. Yay!

  10. gwenydd on April 3, 2009 at 9:53 pm Reply

    Thank you so much for all your kindness and love Peterson! We really can’t wait to have you back here in California with us!

  11. p2son on April 6, 2009 at 6:59 pm Reply

    eek, so many questions.
    Oliver Danni, you write,

    I’m intrigued by your statement “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.” I’m curious what you perceive that which you describe as “the MTF and the FTM experience” to be, and what differences you see between your experience and those.

    Well, I am not at all opposed to placing myself in under the lovely transgender umbrella (in fact, at the CA Trans Leadership Summit, during a Q&A session, a trans woman asked, “So when did you transition?”) I think I am making a distinction to recognize the often arduous and challenging experiences that many MTFs and FTMs have gone through in order to embrace their identity. As a gay man, I have had my own challenges, but it seems that I can more lightly use the term genderqueer and I don’t want to equate the ease with which I can use it to the challenges MTFs and FTMs have overcome.

  12. p2son on April 6, 2009 at 7:02 pm Reply

    Daniel, yes, I think we can expand the understanding of maleness and we should. But that is not the same as someone who recognizes or believes that he is also part female. It is hard to explain why I feel this and I am sure that some folks who consider themselves 100% male (whatever that is) experience similar things, but when I look inside myself, I see male and female and this flavors how I interact with the world. It is still also something I am just beginning to understand and appreciate.

  13. daniel on April 6, 2009 at 7:23 pm Reply

    Yes, Ok I do understand that.
    I guess for me, I just have never wrestled with feeling like I should have been female, or am part female . I’ve been challenged with the fact that I have qualitites that are socially viewed as feminine… it’s been a process I’ve needed to come to peace with, but I’ve never had that transition to thinking I should am part female. It is an interesting way to view it…

    I do have complete respect for the transgender community. I hope I have the chance to meet personally one who can enlighten me.

  14. gwenydd on April 6, 2009 at 7:34 pm Reply

    Daniel,

    If you are truly interested in meeting and talking with trans folk I am sure your nearest PFLAG chapter can put you in touch with someone.

    As a lesbian-identified trans woman I’d be happy to talk with you myself if you are anywhere near the Bay Area in California. Also for a truly immersive experience – please feel free to join us at next year’s Transgender Leadership Summit in Sacramento, CA.

    Peace,

    Gwen

  15. daniel on April 6, 2009 at 7:58 pm Reply

    Ya I am in Toronto, Canada.
    Not too far from California!! 🙂

    I can definately look into what the Toronto area offers in terms of these type of resources.

  16. gwenydd on April 6, 2009 at 8:04 pm Reply

    And like I said – I’d be happy to talk with you myself. =)

    Gwen

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