Let me introduce the second of my two guest bloggers today, someone I consider a true ally to the trans community. Emily McEwan-Fujita is a former college professor with a Ph.D. in anthropology from the University of Chicago. She grew up in Wheaton, Illinois and now lives in Halifax, Nova Scotia, in eastern Canada and is a member of the United Church of Canada. She is an author, researcher, and artist who specializes in Scottish Gaelic language and culture.
On this Transgender Day of Awareness, I’m asking what cis-gender Christians like me can do to make transgender people welcome in the Christian church.
Last summer I attended my 25th high school reunion in my hometown. I walked into the bar in a posh golf club that I had never set foot in before, and Meggan caught my eye right away. She was standing there alone, and she looked vaguely familiar. I decided to (re?) introduce myself.
As we talked, I began to put the pieces together. We circled carefully around one another in conversation, until I asked: are you the one who’s writing "the column"? Another high school friend of mine had shared a Trans Girl at the Cross column on Facebook and mentioned that a former classmate was writing it, and I had been intrigued.
That broke the ice, and Meggan and I began to triangulate our stories. We figured out which classes we’d had together, and whether we had ever actually had a conversation. Probably not; she was a band geek while I was an art geek, and Meggan said that she hung back quite a lot in high school.
We had a wonderful conversation lasting a good part of the evening, and I realized that I had more in common with her than with anyone else in the room that night: we had both grown up in a conservative, conformist town; we had both struggled with our identity, albeit in very different ways; we had both gone through painful divorces and seen our worlds crumble; we had both struggled for fairness in the workplace; we both endure chronic pain; and we were both still, through it all, and in spite of it all, Christian.
Our shared experiences struck a deep chord in me. Although we have so much in common, I am cis-gender and Meggan is transgender as you, her faithful readers, know. So what? According to our shared belief system, we are both children of the most high God, and she is a friend and a sister in Christ.
Meggan and I have bridged a gap of sorts, honouring what we share and enjoying fellowship. But what can we do to bridge the gap between trans and Christian communities in the larger society?
Personally I believe the burden to bridge this gap lies mainly with church members and leadership. Christians must start by sorting out the difference between our cultural prejudices on the one hand, and what Jesus asks us to do on the other hand.
On the cultural side of things, many people feel a profound uneasiness with individuals who appear to cross boundaries or create “category confusion.” We think that we need to place everyone in a box, or a series of boxes, according to their gender, sexual preference, race, class, and so on. And although our society is becoming more accepting of racial and cultural diversity, some people seem to think that the gender categories are the most fundamental or even biological.
And yet, my academic training has shown me that our gender categories are mostly constructed, and liable to vary across different cultures. Ideals of feminine or masculine behavior can vary radically, changing through time and across different geographical areas. Some cultures even have a “third gender” defined as neither masculine nor feminine.
This knowledge helped me to make sense out of one of the most memorable aspects of my high school experience -- “gender policing.” Gender policing is when someone is criticized, mocked, shamed, or punished for behavior that another person, group, or institution judges to deviate from “correct” expressions of gender identity: for example, a woman like me wearing clothes that are considered too masculine being mocked or threatened.
Savage gender policing is sadly a part of our culture. But what about Christians? Are we supposed to follow every whim of the culture? No, we are asked instead to be the light of the world.
How can cis-gender Christians be a light to their transgender sisters and brothers?
As it’s been explained to me, when a transgender person transitions, they are simply trying to make their outside appearance match their inside. They are doing their best to be the person they have really been all along. In Christian terms, they are refusing to hide their light, their identity, under a bushel. They are letting it shine for all to see. And that takes a lot of courage in this gender-policing society, obsessed with putting everyone in a box.
What is a real Christian cis-gender reaction to transgender people in our midst? Should we let our unconscious cultural conditioning, silly movies, and prejudiced jokes be our guide? Should we feel uneasy about these people whose outward appearance might indicate a crossing over from one category to another? Or should we instead let Christ guide us?
Last week in a Lenten sermon, my minister pointed out that the longest conversation Jesus had with anyone in the New Testament was with the Samaritan woman at the well. She was astonished that he, a man, a Jew, and a rabbi, was speaking to her, let alone asking her for a drink of water, or—ohh myyy—sharing his spirituality! But that didn’t bother Jesus in the slightest. Nor did it bother him to keep company with others who were reviled by the mainstream Jewish society.
Nor should cis-gender Christians let the bigotry of our mainstream society stop us from welcoming transgender people into the body of Christ. We must let Jesus be our example and our guide, and follow his instructions: treat others the way we would like to be treated ourselves. Can I hear an amen?
If you haven't already, I encourage you to continue reading by clicking over to The church should be a place of love not fear for the LGBT community by Bobbie Lang
and my own post for today, Transgender Day of Visibility - Bridging the gap .
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