Wow those United Methodists

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.

2009 PNW RMN Conference

2009 PNW RMN Conference

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.

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This post has 10 Comments

  1. Whittier on February 16, 2009 at 5:49 pm Reply

    I had a dream last night that I was trying to find a book that laid out in very simple terms what it means to be transgender, so that I could understand it better and not fool myself into thinking I understand it now. It was an interesting dream.

  2. Vincent Cervantes on February 16, 2009 at 6:03 pm Reply

    Awww I’m glad to know that some of us United Methodists are doing things right!! haha

  3. Mark on February 16, 2009 at 6:06 pm Reply

    Good stuff, Maynard.

  4. lower case paul on February 16, 2009 at 6:09 pm Reply

    I think part of the trouble of trying to understand anything arises when we feel the need to force who we are into a paradigm. I went and read the II Corinthians scripture that is noted above, and if I read it correctly it seems that the message of reconciliation is from ‘sin’ and why would a b, l, t. or g be placed in that category anymore than a s (straight)?

    It seems to me that since we all see through a glass darkly, we err when we try to live as though any of us has clarity. We have been given the tool to dealing with the murkiness of life and that is love, and faith and hope. I’m not sure faith hope and love can live in the same room as the judgement that comes from ‘knowledge’ and ‘understanding.’

  5. The Muser on February 16, 2009 at 11:56 pm Reply

    Okay, so blog awards might be silly, but getting one made me happy, so I decided to pass them along. Your blog inspires me, so you got the lemonade stand award…info here: http://musings-musings-musings.blogspot.com/2009/02/awards.html

  6. Sheriah-SA on February 16, 2009 at 11:57 pm Reply

    Peter, you just triggered something in me, and for the first time i agree with you for the most part, even if am not sure i agree with you on being gay and christian. People like Zinia (read my comments from your feb 15th, 2009 post) who were considered “different”, men trapped in women’s bodies, women trapped in men’s bodies etc, SHOULD NEVER be descriminated against even by the church! They did not choose to be born that way. Now you just revocked in me memories of my childhood, the things people said, the things i saw..I have vivid memories of Zinia, who must be dead now, she was quite old then….I can imagine the pain and suffering she must have gone through..the shame she carried for being considered different, as if she chose that..As a journalist and yes, a straight lady, i wil explore these issues even on my page at http://www.myspace.com/belasheria, http://www.myspace.com/bbellla. Am really so emotional, touched thinking about Zinia. If you knew her, you would have told her u are special the way you are…

  7. Sheriah-SA on February 17, 2009 at 12:18 am Reply

    You just reminded me again. When we used to play as kids, there was another young woman, she used to cover her head..She had a female name, but the community were quick to add that she was a man too..people would stare, thinking she is not normal. But she did her chores like everybody else, only she was rarely seen..Even if my looks fall into the category of what society considers normal, my heart aches for zinia and that woman as i look back..I feel their pain, their shame and suffering..You see, i am a black zambian girl from a conservative christian family, with strict parents. The issues of trans this, trans that are NEVER talked about in my country, including homosexuality..We just know these issues from the bible..keep your posts coming, i will passing by, whenever i can..ciao

  8. Sheriah-SA on February 17, 2009 at 12:43 am Reply

    For those passing by, peterson was my “boss”(i hate that word boss, its poisonous)! We worked together at christian voice radio in zambia; me and him were good good friends, thats why he can safely call me Sharia. No peter, its Sheriah (french)

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