Oppression in LGBTQ “Communities”

Since my epiphany, transition and my coming out as a woman who is also trans I have been following, and I have been involved in various levels of activism. One of the areas of activism that I find particularly poignant and important centers around oppression and the intersectionalities of oppression. I also tend to get rather irked when I see situations of injustice, which usually involve people who are oppressed in some way. With a number of Pride events taking place around the world through the month of June issues around oppression within LGBTQ ‘communities’ have occasionally been raised. The issues that get raised center around issues of poverty, race, and transmisogyny – usually, but not exclusively, directed against trans women of color – in LGBTQ communities. When these issues are raised, the responses by those in privileged positions often takes the form of gaslighting, erasure and dismissal of concerns without any real hearing.

Reflecting on these through the various lenses with which I view the world I have noticed that these systemic oppressions tend to follow that of the ‘straight’ patriarchal world. Those who are masculine, particularly cis male and masculine, are privileged over those who are female or feminine. Those who are white are privileged over people of colour, those who follow gender norms and / or are cisgender are privileged over those who are not, and those with money are privileged over those of us who are struggling to get by. As one friend posted when some of these issues were pointed out with regard to how Pride events tend to be organized the response is commonly, “please don’t talk about these things, we just want to party and never talk about the problems that many LGBTQ people still face.” Once Pride events are over many, if not most, of those in privileged positions then go back to their normative lives that fit in nicely with mainstream society and still want us to be quiet about the injustices we face. We only need to look at how many, if not the majority, of mainstream articles refer to LGBT stories, either we’re all lumped under the “Gay” umbrella (for example blogs about trans issues under the “Gay Voices” section on Huffington Post), or those who are not Gay or Lesbian are not part of what is categorized as an “LGBT” story. Read the rest of this entry »

Nuances of Self Identification

When I’m asked for a biography of myself there is always the question of how I want to identify, a woman, a trans woman, a transgender woman, and the list goes on. In the most recent version of the self identification portion of my biography I state that I am “a woman who is also trans.” I do this knowing that it is an unusual way to self identify, the two most common self identifications for those on the transfeminine spectrum that I have seen lately are “trans woman” or “transgender woman.” So why this way of putting it, after all, it might confuse people. I describe myself this way because I am more than the trans part of my identity. In terms of my gender identity I am female, a woman, and a rather femme woman at that. I also happen to be trans, have a trans history. There is also more to my identity beyond the trans aspect. All too often people think that if one is trans, and especially those of us who are also activists on trans issues, that being trans or transgender is the entirety of our existence. There is an implication that being trans rules all aspects of our lives. I am more than the trans part of my identity. Read the rest of this entry »

The Equal Marriage Debate and Those it Leaves Behind

Across North America we are seeing a general move toward marriage equality. Canada has had it for almost ten years, various states within the United States of America have either passed legislation or their laws against equal marriage have been struck down by the courts. On the religious side there are a number of Christian and Jewish denominations that have come to recognise and perform same sex marriages. Currently the Anglican Church of Canada has a commission that is seeking submissions on changing the marriage canon with a mandate to propose a canon amendment to be voted on in 2019 at General Synod1. While I fully support marriage equality I find myself conflicted and somewhat critical of the extreme focus that has been placed on this issue resulting in other issues that face LGBTTQI* people in their daily lives being mostly ignored.

What we have seen in the history of the gay rights movement, and that is what it has primarily been until relatively recently, is a disproportionate focus on the rights of gay men, and a focus on the right to get married. The general argument has been that once these rights are achieved focus would shift to the rights and needs of others under the broad umbrella of queer or LGBTTQI* communities. Those who would not directly benefit were expected to, and mostly did, support the push for these rights. With the focus on the marriage canon in the Anglican Church of Canada we are largely seeing these patterns play out again within the context of the Anglican Church of Canada. While there has been a big push for recognition of same sex marriage in the church, acceptance of gay and lesbian priests who are in long term committed relationships or married we have mostly ignored the larger picture. We have tended to ignore the spiritual and pastoral care needs of those who fall under the umbrella, their families and their friends. It is time for this to change.

There have been many news reports and studies that show the challenges faced by those who fall under this broad umbrella. The challenges include, but are not limited to, rejection, homelessness (particularly for LGBTTQ* youth), inability to find adequate employment, suicide, mental health challenges, and the list goes on. These issues are often compounded by other factors within their lives. Within the church there seems to be a lack of understanding about these issues and whatever pastoral care takes place is often on a case by case basis with each community struggling as the issue comes up for them. While some training exists there is often a lack of training or discussion of pastoral care training with those who are members of oppressed groups. Indeed, there is often no training at all around issues of oppression and safer spaces.

How do we move forward and improve the situation? First and foremost avoid allowing the issue of the marriage canon to dominate the discussion within the church. Yes, the discussion is important, but it is only part of a broader discussion. It gives us the opportunity to start discussing the very real pastoral issues going beyond marriage. Further, the discussion needs to include the people who are most affected and able to speak from personal experience, LGBTTQI* people. One of the key points made in pastoral care is that the most important thing a person providing pastoral care can do is listen and witness to what someone is saying. This also applies when listening to the needs of various communities. When discussing the needs of First Nations people we listen to what they say, or at least we should be listening, white people haven’t been very successful at this over the decades and in the case of the current Federal Government still don’t. The same goes for other oppressed groups that have faced systemic discrimination and erasure and often continue to do so. So far we have had some baby steps on this journey of understanding around the needs of LGBTTQI people in the church. In many places the church still does significant harm to people who are under this broad umbrella.

The future, however, can be bright. We can choose to live out the love taught in the Gospels, welcoming the outcasts, listening to their stories, helping them to thrive in their life journey. In the end we will find that as a community we too have grown.

 

Notes:

1: Invitation for submissions to the Commission on the Marriage Canon (http://www.anglican.ca/about/ccc/cogs/cmc/)

 

Transition: “You’re doing it wrong!”

One of the more interesting things I found when I started my transition and investigating the various ways one can transition was the predominance of one way of looking at transition. The expectation of both the medical professionals and from a large percentage of the trans community is that it’s like following a roadmap. One just has to follow all the steps and one will have transitioned and be a whole person. For some, yes, their transition does follow a relatively straight path. The expectation from others in the trans community often follows this same pattern and many people say that one can set a hard and fast timeline. In reality transition is not so simple. As Kat “Kyosuke” Callahan stated in a recent post on Jezebel, “Transition doesn’t come with a fucking GPS.”1 Yet the pressure is that there is this GPS that one is supposed to follow or one is accused of “doing it wrong.” Critisism that one is doing it wrong comes from multiple sources, psychologists, medical doctors, psychiatrists, other trans people and cis people to name a few. All think that they know better than the individual trans person what the person’s transition or non-transition should look like. Read the rest of this entry »

Harmful Tropes and Aggressions

This week we saw, in all its painful glory, the arrest of Justin Bieber. As is the nature of the Internet a number of memes and jokes quickly started making the rounds. One of the most troubling to me is one that shows Bieber side by side with Miley Cyrus. The implication being that they may be the same person, or that it would be funny if Bieber was trans. Once more trans women are made out to be jokes. On the surface one might be tempted to say, “well, it’s only a joke.” The problem is that it is not a joke. It is one more microaggression that adds to the very real challenges and microaggessions that trans women deal with on a daily basis. The giggles or laughter at a trans woman who doesn’t meet what society expect women to be, or all thy can see is “a man in a dress”. These ideas are entrenched in popular culture. Read the rest of this entry »

2014 Begins with Tragedy and Hope.

Trigger Warning – Discussion of Suicide.
I haven’t been posting or spending much time at all on social media or blogging lately. In large part this has been a self-care move with the start of the Winter school term, other things going on in my personal life, and also a lack of energy for social media.

Early in the week I also saw a post about another trans person who took their own life. I suspected the person was someone I was acquainted with. I had this confirmed late on Thursday.

I pray that Amanda has found peace and that her suffering has ended. I also pray for those whom her life has touched and are hurting at this time.

I know some of the particulars and issues that led to her taking her own life, but will not go into them at this time. The issues are too important for me to write about before finding out more information and putting a lot of thoughtful consideration on how to frame things. They do need to be discussed, and not just by those in trans communities. Read the rest of this entry »

Advent: Preparation and Waiting

For many Christians Advent is a time of preparation. It is the time of the year when we are preparing to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. It is also a time where we are expected to prepare ourselves for the return of Jesus. The preparation that we are called to do is internal. We’re supposed to look at ourselves and ask ourselves if we are the best person we can be. Are we living up to the image of God within ourselves. Then we are supposed to wait. We don’t know when, where or even if Jesus will return in the foreseeable future. From the perspective of someone who has transitioned later in life I see a lesson that can be learned from the idea of Advent. Read the rest of this entry »

Coming Out [of the Closet] Day

Today is Coming Out Day, which is short for Coming Out of the Closet day. I have quite mixed feelings and thoughts about it as a day. As someone who tends not to see things in black and white, or even shades of grey, but in the full spectrum of the rainbow, my mind considers many factors. This post reflects my own thoughts and musings regarding the day. You will find that each person who identifies as LGBTQ* has their own feelings and opinions on it. I do not speak for them, even if we share some of the same opinions.

Read the rest of this entry »

Practically Creating Practical Queer Theology

This post is my contribution to the Queer Theology Synchroblog 2013. The topic for this year’s synchroblog is “Queer Creation” and is rather open ended in terms of what it covers. In this post I am speaking from a Canadian Anglican perspective and this reflects my own views, observations and experiences.

For me queer theology is also very much a practical theology that we are creating as we learn, grow and experience faith in our own ways. On a very practical level my own view of faith and theology changed as I went through my transitions. When I began my transition one of the people I went to for support was the priest at the church I attend. It has become clear to me over the past four plus years that support for those who come out as trans, lesbian, gay, bi etc. is very ad hoc in the Anglican Church and is highly dependent on which church one is a member of. It’s also my impression that this is the case in other denominations and faith traditions. In many cases faith communities do harm, often irreparable harm, to those who come out in their communities.

So, what does this mean from the perspective of one who is studying theology and is concerned about the pastoral care that people receive?

First and foremost it comes down to education. Education for clergy, education for those providing pastoral care, and education for our faith communities. What does this education look like? It begins by providing a space that encourages people to open their minds, hearts and spirits to something new. While many Anglican churches see themselves as being open and accepting to those who are gay and lesbian, many are still struggling with the issue of what to do with gay and lesbian people who are part of the church. For these communities and people it is important to begin to work with them where they are at. Recognise that they are struggling with these issues and people within the communities are at different stages in their understanding, and have varying degrees of openness to learning about the issues.

When the issue of those who are trans comes up we are starting from a point that is noticeably lagging when compared to gay and lesbian issues. Thanks to increasing coverage in mainstream media of trans issues many people have some awareness, but it is in a secular context and not a faith context. What does this mean in a faith context? What does it look like? To discuss, and hopefully answer part of these questions, I am going to use my own experience transitioning as my primary example with some reference to what I’ve heard from others. It is my opinion that these observations and needs are not limited to one community, denomination or faith. There are lessons to be learned by all.

When I had my epiphany and began my transition my marriage also ended. This is not uncommon for those of us who are older when we realize that we really do need to transition and that it isn’t a choice. The priest at church was, naturally, my primary pastoral support. I had also been a member of the church community for less than six months and had only been in Ottawa for the same length of time. I did not know many people outside of work, and I had not yet begun to get to know people at church as I was still getting used to both Ottawa and the church community. The support I received from the parish priest was quite good. They were helpful in terms of my feelings toward God and affirming that it was okay to be angry with God. With regard to the church community I ended up mostly not attending on Sunday mornings. I isolated myself from the community and the only contact I had was with the priest. I do not recall any other contact from the community to find out how I was doing, even though I know that there were some who knew my marriage had broken up, but not necessarily why.

What would I like to have seen in order to make this time easier and more manageable for me during this part of my transition? What would the church community need in order to be more open to the needs of its trans members?

Firstly, more pastoral support than just from the parish priest, and in the case of some communities support from the priest may also be inadequate to non-existent. In order for this to happen we need to create educational tools for the pastoral care team to gain the knowledge and resources to work with trans people. There will be many issues that arise that are common to people in other situations as well as issues that are unique to the trans experience. Care must also be given to the friends and family of the person transitioning. This may include the trans person’s spouse and children. There are resources available to assist with these things, but as with most resources for pastoral care it is necessary to tweak them and alter them for use in particular settings, denominations and communities.

Secondly, some sort of support network for the person transitioning, as well as a support network for the families and friends of those transitioning. This may take different forms and needs to be a living structure that meets the needs of those transitioning. It should also include a wider list of resources outside one’s parish, particularly others who can provide knowledgeable support. This is probably one of the most difficult things to implement on a practical level. I don’t have a quick answer to this, and am certainly open to suggestions on what has worked in other contexts.

In the Anglican context the first step, in my opinion, is to actually engage in open conversations about trans issues both in the church. Currently it feels like it’s mostly okay to be trans, but discussing what that means for one’s faith and spirituality is off-limits. Likewise talking about one’s past and life prior to transition. This is an unspoken rule that feels very present. Yes, these are uncomfortable topics for many people. At the same time the message that is sent to trans people and other LGBT people when they are not permitted to discuss their experiences is that we do not count. We are not really members of the community.

It is when these discussions and education begins to happen that we will be creating a real queer and inclusive practical theology within our church communities and enrich the life of the church.

Trans*Formation Retreat: Trans Religious Leaders Coming in From the Wilderness

TransFormation-2013-08-23-1024x544An important event took place for trans people studying to be religious leaders from August 22nd to August 25, 2013, the event was Trans*Formation: A Retreat for Transgender Students Training for Religious Leadership held at Holy Wisdom Monastery in Middleton Wisconsin and was organized by the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies in Religion and Ministry at the Pacific School of Religion. In many ways this was a way for us to come in from the wilderness that is the isolation of being trans people in seminary and training to be religious leaders. A recurring theme that came up during discussions was that we all feel our isolation to varying degrees. There was also recognition of the isolation that those who are genderqueer and trans women face in particular. As one person said, they had no idea there were other trans people who felt a call to ordained ministry.

The retreat consisted of two days of formal programming with evenings and travel days providing time for participants to get to know each other in an informal setting. The formal agenda was such that the participants had the opportunity to get to know each other, their backgrounds, current place in their journeys and where their journeys are leading. Participants also shared stories that were very personal and moving. There was also discussion about an ongoing curriculum and future retreats for trans people studying to be religious leaders.  Participants were asked a number of questions regarding what should be included in a curriculum, challenges and barriers to becoming religious leaders, as well as what the ideal would look like. Overall there was a general consensus that participants were just getting to know each other and really starting to discuss various issues in an in-depth way when the retreat ended and it was time to leave.

This retreat was, hopefully, just the first of many to bring trans religious leaders and those training to be religious leaders out of the wilderness and into a diverse community of mutual support, education and fun.

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