Back in 2004 The Pacific Northwest Reconciling Ministries Network (PNW RMN), a United Methodist group, brought me to Washington and Oregon to perform Doin’ Time in the Homo No Mo Halfway House. This was before Vlad or Marvin even existed and were part of the play.
Shannon, an openly transgender woman and an organizer for PNW RMN saw me perform Transfigurations back in Portland at the Transforming Faith, Divining Gender Confernce. Shannon has become one of my most enthusiastic supporters. She brought me to Seattle in November to present at Transgender Day of Remembrance and then again to present yesterday at PNW RMN’s conference. This year’s conference was ALL about transgender issues and concerns.
ALL THIS FROM GOD: THE TRANSGENDER PUZZLE” is the theme of our 2009 annual Gathering event. This year’s focus and theme was selected in the awareness that the “T” of LGBT remains far more of a mystery, even to very “pro-gay” people, than the LGB dynamics, and that effective ministry to all (means all!) can be significantly limited by lack of information and understanding.
Recent discussions have made clear that the “T” world is extraordinarily complex and that Transgender/transsexual persons present a particular challenge even to the most accepting and inclusive persons and congregations. Thus, the affirmation of the theme that, while “all this is from God” (2 Cor. 5:18), the transgender realities remain very puzzling to many, with much to be learned. Various elements of the day will help us move forward in understanding.
This is a big deal. Many of these open and affirming church groups have done a lot of work around gay and lesbian issues, with a scant mention of bisexuals and absolute silence regarding Transgender individuals. The T in LGBT has served only as an accessory. PNW RMN decided to change all that with workshops, speakers, literature and the inclusion of several different trans people young and old. All the workshops I attended were led by transgender people and many trans people from the community came to participate in the conference.
At the closing ceremony Shannon spoke powerfully and movingly about the invisibility in the church and even in LGBT-affirming groups of trans people and their concerns. She shared stories, her own and others, of job discrimination, atrocious behavior from medical staff, and sexual assaults with the added indignities of invalidation and stereotyped assumptions from others who hear of the assault.
The question of spiritual health came up and what churches can do to be truly inclusive, affirming and supportive. In addition to practical matters like having gender neutral bathrooms and other bathroom accessibility issues, one trans man mentioned that a church can build in trans-specific services and “liturgy” like a naming ceremony to recognize publicly in community that someone now goes by a new name and set of pronouns.
In looking into transgender issues and concerns, I see a deepening of LGB issues and concerns–the gender differences that many LGB people exhibit for one along with the spectrum of gender. Also in hearing some of the trans people speak about orientation and some of the changes they experienced during their transition and the partnerships they maintained after coming out trans, they opened the discussion about bisexuality and orientation. In many LGBT groups we have seen a nearly militarized zone rigidly enforcing an orientation binary to the exclusion and denial of bisexuality.
Oh, and I met lovely people. Some who read this blog came up to me. One young woman recently saw my YouTube video on Sex in Ex-Gay Programs which led her to other videos, then my web site and eventually the event yesterday. I also got to see Asher who I first met at Gender Odyssey. Peggy and Arthur Campbell picked me up from the airport in the morning and let me crash on their couch in their sweet cottage in the Weslyan Retirement Community. How thrilling to see these parents of a lesbian daughter open to learn more, to become more effictive and informed allies.
In regards to being an ally, one thing we need to acknowledge–we will get it wrong. We need to understand and accept this reality. We will be corrected, and that can smart, especially when I feel I have done so much of my homework. But the work of an ally requires agility and the willingness to be corrected and not get pissy about it (easier said than done.) It takes work and resililence. It takes deep listening and then more listening.
Today I head off to Spokane, WA to do a Variety Show at a United Methodist Church. In that part of Washington, they have not yet set up a chapter of PNW RMN. Tomorrow I return to Portland.