This weekend I am attending Trans*Formation: A Retreat for Transgender Students Training for Religious Leadership being held at Holy Wisdom Monestary just outside of Middleton, Wisconsin. The site asking for people to apply to attend the retreat says, “Join other transgender-identified students for spiritual renewal, community building, and personal growth”. When I saw the description of the retreat I knew that it was important for me to apply to attend the retreat. All too often it is expected that our primary identity is that of a trans person and that we don’t have a religious or spiritual identity and that when we do have a religious or spiritual identity that we don’t discuss it in trans, queer or LGBT communities. On the other side of the coin, in many faith communities we are expected to keep our discussion of our trans identities to the surface level only, or not discuss it at all. It is supposed to be separate from our faith. There are a growing number of us who are rejecting this dichotomy and openly embracing both of these aspects of our identities. Further, we are feeling a call to taking on leadership roles, including ordained ministry, in our faiths and responding to this call.
My own experience being in seminary is, in part, one of being alone. I am currently the only openly trans person in the programme. As far as I know there are no other openly trans people in studying and in discernment towards ordained ministry in the Anglican Church of Canada. (I would love to be wrong about this) Further, there aren’t all that many trans people in ordained ministry generally. This retreat is an opportunity for trans people studying to be religious leaders in a variety of faiths to get together to explore and discuss our faiths, experiences and challenges that we face. Like me, most of the other people attending this retreat are also the only trans person in their seminary or program of study. This retreat has sent a message to those who are here, as well as those who are not here, that there are other trans people studying to be religious leaders, or are already in leadership positions in their faith communities. For those of us currently studying establishing connections with others who are on a similar journey is important.
As a trans woman there is the added reality that trans women are in the minority when it comes to trans people in religious leadership, and especially ordained ministry. When one looks at the breakdown of those who are out in Canada and the United States most either transitioned after ordination or were stealth when they were ordained. In addition most out trans clergy are trans men. This also seems to be true in terms of the number of trans people studying to be religious leaders and this was reflected in the number of applications to attend this retreat. In addition, there is little or no acknowledgement of people who fall under the umbrella of ‘genderqueer’ religious leaders. This retreat has people attending who are trans women and genderqueer. The organizers also acknowledged this disparity of numbers overall.
I began the day by participating in the Liturgy of the Hours with the monastic community at Holy Wisdom Monestary, a service that is somewhat similar to Morning Prayer in the daily office of the Anglican Church. The retreat itself began with the usual introductions and preferred pronouns. As part of our introductions we also described a bit about our faith journey and where we are in our formation to be religious leaders. While we are all from different faith communities, not all of us Christian, I found that there was a great deal of overlap in our experiences. We also spent a good part of the day discussing what the word “spirituality” means to us – we did not come up with a single definition. This afternoon we built an altar with items that each of us brought to the retreat that have a sacred significance to us. I found this to be particularly moving as people shared the meanings that the items held to each of them. As an afternoon art project we were given small boxes to be “God boxes”, that is a small box where we deposit thoughts, worries or concerns after writing them on a small piece of paper and leave them to God. These boxes began as plain, white cardboard boxes and we decorated them according to our own desires. During the decorating of the boxes we had a variety of discussions and got to know one another better. After supper we had free time and a few of us took the opportunity to go for a walk on the trails that are maintained on the monastary property.
Overall, the day was a good one and there were quite a few good discussions, as well as ideas for various projects in the future. I also had some ideas that will be presented as future posts on this blog. In the mean time, it’s getting late – I’m one time zone behind where I live – and it’s time for me to be heading to bed so I can be ready for what awaits us tomorrow.