In my last post I discussed what it means to be invisible, to not be seen. Today I’m going to look at what it means to be visible in a wider context. I am approaching this from my own perspective and experiences to date. I have mentioned in this blog that I am back in school, but I haven’t really discussed what I’m studying or what my long term journey is moving towards. My studies and my long term journey directly relate to my being visible, not stealth and being open about who I am. Being visible means, for me, being visible in two contexts that are often seen as being mutually exclusive. I am a queer person, a woman who is also trans and lesbian studying theology and in a process of discernment towards ordained ministry.
In the LGBTQ* community many people have been badly hurt by organized religion and by people espousing to follow the tenets of their faith and using it as a justification to discriminate against, assault, abuse and make life miserable for those who fall under the LGBTQ* umbrella. For many, any mention of faith or religion will trigger a strong reaction. Is this reaction justified? Absolutely. This means that it any discussion of faith, or lack thereof, needs to be undertaken with care. In my own journey in faith I have questioned my belief in God, and have been quite angry with God at various times. At the same time, when discussion of studies come up in discussion I choose to be visible and not hide that I am Christian and I am studying theology. Does this mean that others must be Christian? No. Will I force my beliefs on others? No.
What about on the flip side, I do not hide that I am a woman who is trans and lesbian when I am in my faith community, or at school. The problem in the context of school is that being visible is fraught with many risks. There is a constant worry about whether or not this will affect my grades in a negative fashion if the instructor has prejudices that are allowed to come to the fore when marking assignments. Do I think that any of my instructors would do this? No, but it still niggles at the back of the mind. Outside of school, in my faith community, I am most certainly in a minority. As far as I know I am the only trans person in the programme and there may or may not be others in similar programs in other universities and in the same denomination I am in.
So why am I choosing to be visible when it seems so fraught with emotional turmoil and difficulties?
On one side I can show that it’s possible to be a Christian and not spout a lot of hate. Hopefully I can also help people who have been hurt to heal. Hopefully I will also help those who are struggling to reconcile their faith and religious tradition with their personal identity wherever they fall on the gender spectrum or sexual orientation spectrum.
On the religious and faith side of my life I can show that those of us who are trans or queer do not need to hide. There has been progress for those who are gay or lesbian. A number of denominations allow for same sex marriages and allow for clergy to be in same sex marriages. The Episcopal Church in the United States has explicitly added “gender expression and identity to two canons that prevent discrimination.” (Episcopal News Service: Gender identity should not be basis for exclusion, convention agrees) Even with this progress there is still much more to do.
There is still a prevalent expectation that women who are transsexual should just blend in and not discuss the experience and struggles that transition entails. This expectation is in society as a whole. In short:
- I will not pretend my past did not happen.
- I will not pretend that transition was without its trials and tribulations.
- I will not hide that there is good and bad that goes with transition.
- I will take on a leadership role in education, support and promoting social acceptance.