CW: This post discusses right wing Christian fundamentalism and may cause a reaction in those who have been, or are part of it
On Monday night I came across an article discussing the failure of the Oroville Dam in California and how right-wingers are blaming it on sex-change operations and bathrooms for transgender people. As the Pink News article points out, this is the latest in a long line of conservatives who blame disasters on LGBT people, with transgender people now having fully equal status with gays and lesbians in this realm. While many of us find this equal parts amusing and scary, it has, at its roots, a view of religion that is apocalyptic. This is a fundamentalist view of religion that states we are living in the end times, and the sins of humanity are going to bring about the end of the world, the coming of the Antichrist or Satan, and the second coming of Jesus and/or the messiah. However, to paraphrase Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life, there’s a mess on this planet, but no messiah.
Before going further, yes, I’m using the term apocalypse for the end of the world and the end times rather than the more correct term of eschaton. My theologically inclined friends and others will know the difference, but when it comes to the conservative fundamentalists they do not seem to grasp the difference. I’ll leave it to the reader to look it up.
The overall premise at play stems from a literalist reading of the Bible and an expectation that the book of Revelation can be taken as a literal text rather than an apocalyptic work that is full of metaphors and imagery that is critical of the Roman Empire of the day. This literalist view, along with the promise of a messiah coming to save the faithful, has led to branches of Christianity that believe that the end of the world is coming. News flash: according to Christianity it has been coming for almost 2,000 years. The interpretation being spread by right-wing conservative fundamentalists is that if one doesn’t believe and practice Christianity in the way they say one should, one is going to hell. Not only that, one is hastening the end times.
Whenever there is a natural disaster, conservative religious leaders start saying this again. The disaster is God’s punishment on whichever country or region is being impacted. If it’s a hurricane, flooding, mudslide, or other weather-related event there is no acknowledgement by them that it might be a result of climate change. Nope. No way. It’s punishment, and they love to blame those of us who are under the LGBT umbrella.
We have caused, in no particular order, earthquakes, tornadoes, flooding, hurricanes, the unravelling of society, and most recently the failure of a dam. Dam we’re powerful!
The only way to stem this rampant destruction is, according to them, to shut us down. Force us all back into the closet. Ideally we would all just die and go away. This is, in all probability, the goal of legislation that legalises discrimination against LGBT people, forcing transgender people to use the bathroom that corresponds to their birth assigned sex, forbidding access to medical transition, and not allowing documentation to reflect who a person truly is.
While in North America these attitudes are, for the most part, spread by conservative Christian literalists they are not limited to Christianity. The “us vs them” mentality is common among fundamentalists, regardless of their religion. We just hear more about the Christians in North America because they are the majority. We do not hear as much about ultra-orthodox Jews who practice the most strict interpretations and observances of Jewish law (halachah). We hear a little bit about Muslims, but only in the context that they are a terrorist threat.
In North American politics this has led to the marriage of the Republican party in the United States to fundamentalist, conservative Christianity. The theology being promoted is that Jesus was a good capitalist and supporting anyone other than conservative Republicans is “un-Christian”. A subset of this theology is the “Prosperity Gospel” movement that says if one believes and practices in the way that they say to one will be rewarded with worldly riches and prosperity. From what I can tell, the ones with worldly riches are the pastors and leaders of this movement.
What does all this mean for LGBT people, and particularly transgender people? Nothing good.
This type of religious fundamentalism is one that cannot be appeased through reasoned argument. Their belief system is so entrenched, anything that deviates from it is seen as a threat to them and their religion. For transgender and other LGBT people this usually means the person is expected to pray away the gay, to use the language of the fundamentalist. If one prays hard enough, one will no longer be gay or transgender. Or, if the person refuses, they are often ostracised and kicked out of their community. Young people as young as 12 or 13 are kicked out of their homes. Families and communities cut off all contact with the person. Some will go so far as to kill their child who is transgender or LGBT. Suicide is the escape that many transgender and LGBT people take as a way to end the suffering caused by their supposedly loving families and communities.
Religious fundamentalism of this nature is not satisfied with policing their own communities. The nature of their belief requires them to proselytise and propagate their version of their religion. This means protesting and spreading their gospel at Pride marches and events. It means fighting against anything they perceive as promoting the transgender or gay agendas. In Ontario we have seen this in the fight against the changes to the provincial curriculum for Physical and Sexual Health in schools. We are seeing this in the fight against Bill C-16, a bill currently before the Senate to add protections for transgender people to the Canadian Human Rights Code and Criminal Code. We see it in the United States with legislation framed as “religious freedom” bills that are, in reality bills designed to allow people the freedom to discriminate against transgender and other LGBT people.
We see this fundamentalism playing out its patriarchal system in its ongoing battle against women and women’s right to control their own bodies, to be free from sexual assault, and to have access to reproductive and other health care. We see it in legislation aimed at reducing the rights of low income workers. These moves are, like the ones against transgender and LGBT people, framed as protecting the rights of the unborn, and as freedom of religion.
All of this is, in fact, a way of imposing a state religion and religious law.
This can be quite depressing and demoralising to watch. Especially in places where the conservatives have gained significant political power and control of legislatures and law making bodies. What do we do about this?
What Can We Do?
First and foremost, we take care of ourselves. The constant negative messaging is harmful and takes a toll on our mental health and overall wellbeing. Take breaks from social media, the news, and find activities that re-energise. This is an ongoing struggle and it is important to pace ourselves.
Second, be as active as we can be in standing up for our rights. As we have seen in the United States, the political climate and control of law enforcement and legislative agendas can change quickly. When we get complacent this take-over becomes easier. Here in Canada we need to take an intersectional look at our politics and keep pushing to ensure that we do not get thrown under the bus—again. Regardless of party affiliation it is important to pay attention to what the politicians and leadership of all parties are saying.
Third, take breaks. Oh, did I say that already? It bears repeating. When we are constantly examining these things it is easy to be hard on ourselves because we are not doing enough. It is okay to do what you can. We can only do what we can do. When we put unrealistic expectations on ourselves we run the risk of causing ourselves harm. I am as guilty of this as the next person.
Fourth, be prepared to have friends who are disappointed. Some friends, and I have one or two who do this from time to time, may come to you and ask that you help them smite their enemies by summoning a tornado or lightning strike. It is a disappointment to them to find out that we really can’t do all these things, especially not on demand.
Fifth, for those in faith communities, I urge you to be as active as you can. What this looks like will be unique to who you are. Just by showing up we can influence others and be agents of change. We do not need to appease the status quo to do this, either. It can be as simple as stating what our basic needs are. Or, it can be an examination of theology, halachah, or other religious practices that comes from our experiences and lenses. It may be the trans woman singing deep bass in the choir, or the trans man singing soprano. It may be the genderqueer person being in the space and defying traditional gender expectations and appearances.
We live in interesting times. For those of us who are transgender it is exciting and terrifying at the same time.
Go forth, be your best self, and remember this: Many of the people in the Bible that the fundamentalists profess to follow were deeply flawed humans. Many of the heroes were outcasts and those deemed unacceptable by their society, yet they were the agents of change.