Friday, May 22, 2015

Today’s Lament (on trans equality)



At times I feel like weary, bitchy and annoyed at my world.

It’s easier, if not safer and less painful, to keep it vague and generalized than to think of actual persons in my life. It’s like looking at a large, indifferent audience without trying to make out individual faces for fear I might see my friends in the crowd.

This is what evokes my lament today:

What brought it on was a friend’s innocent question of his Facebook post this morning. He shared an article from The Guardian entitled Church of England to consider transgender naming ceremony  and asked if I had any thoughts.

I was going to start out by saying, “Wow, that is amazing!” Then I remembered this idea is not really new. In fact, it’s been suggested for at least a dozen years. Why has it taken this long? Consequently, my response became more somber—and longer. This is what I said:
In 2003 Justin Tanis published "Trans-Gendered Faith: Theology Ministry and Communities of Faith." In the Appendix, he offers liturgical resources which include Baptism and a Service of Renaming for trans persons who transition. 
I agree with you, this is a beautiful idea, and I've heard of this being done in a few places. That the Church of England is considering this is also beautiful, but the reality is that trans people are, for the most part, non-church goers, only 1 out of 14 trans persons attend a church or remain in a church and less than 2 out of 5 identify as Christian, which is less than half of that in the North American general population. 
Let’s put this in perspective, when only .3% of the population is trans, and only 7% of them are in a church or hope to be in a church, they are only 1 out of 5,000 persons. But this .3% includes trans people who have yet to come out; so then the question is, how many trans people have come out and transitioned? That is a number that no one knows for sure, but even if we use 50% optimistically, then only 1 in 10,000 persons is 1) trans, 2) has transitioned, 3) attends or hopes to attend church. 
Yes, we are a pretty insignificant number to be sure, and perhaps that is why our voices are not heard enough. That is also why it becomes more important for non-trans persons—especially in the church—to speak out on our behalf. 
Yet, I wonder how comfortable non-trans persons are in speaking out in defense and support of trans equality? A good test is the "Trans Equality Now" pledge/petition that is circulating on Facebook since yesterday (May 11, 2015). It is meant to be signed and shared. How many of my non-trans friends on Facebook who saw my post have shied away from signing and sharing this pledge/petition because having it on their own wall may offend some of their friends, or they'll have some explaining to do? I'm grateful that as of this writing 22 persons have liked, 13 have commented on my post from 20 hours ago, but only 4 have shared it. 
So my point is this: we have a long ways to go before trans inclusion in church and society actually takes hold and becomes the new normal. What the Church of England is considering is pittance, but even that is better than nothing—it expands the conversation. What we need if for it to be shouted from the rooftops.
I fear I’m beginning to sound like a broken record. In my May 13, 2015 blog post I wrote about how trans people are not likely to attend church and explained why. That was preceded by a similar sounding blog post on January 13, 2015. Maybe I need to change my tone. How can I recruit non-transgender persons to join the battle? Would it make it more palatable if I called it “the chorus,” or “the party” instead of “the battle?” No. Unfortunately, it is a battle, lamentably. I won't bore you with examples and all the stats. Only one story: two days ago in “progressive” Vancouver, a transgender woman—a friend of mine—was spat on and elbowed as she walk down the sidewalk minding her own business. It appears the instigator hoped she would fight back, she didn’t. She walked away.

An afterthought three hours after the original post:
We all have down days. This is one of mine. But reading and thinking about all of this in a sad fog, I guess that what I look for is all kinds of change and recognition for trans persons that doesn’t come quickly enough. Like the Green Party wanting to immediately be the next government. It ain’t going to happen. A seat here and there, but a long wait for Big Change. This is not a copout, but you have seen the TG statistics and it’s not that there is a big ‘anti’ movement out there, it’s simply not big on the radar of interest. And I can appreciate that for most people this may be one of many causes nagging at them today. 


Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Herding cats might be easier.

This post was inspired by my friend Candace Chellew-Hodge’s opEd. The headline read: PEW CONFIRMS LGBT REJECTION OF RELIGION: WHY THAT’S A GOOD THING

Her piece was in response to the latest Pew Survey from the Pew Research Center, which found LGBT persons have abandoned religion big-time. This was also the finding of an earlier Pew Survey of LGBT Americans (2013). The problem with these two studies is the relatively low number of trans respondents, the latter only had 5% trans participants.

By comparison, the study I just completed for my Master's degree polled only trans persons; it found very few trans individuals interested in any kind of church participation, much lower than the Pew Research findings for LGBT. Only 15% include church involvement as one of their intentional spiritual practices. What this means for pastors is they don't have to worry about trans persons breaking down their doors if their church should ever become affirming.

Significantly, the study also found that trans people have not only shed dogmatic religious traditions, they are also more spiritual than the general population. What does this mean? It means that trans inclusion and affirmation as a means to draw them to churches might be a futile endeavor with a low ROI. How futile? If your hope was to have ten trans persons in your church, for example, you would need to canvass over 100,000 persons to find them; and you would still have the challenge of offering a style of worship in which these ten persons might feel comfortable with, despite your open arms. 

The fact is trans people are not likely to come anyway, not even if you hang banners outside proclaiming trans people are welcome. The reasons are quite obvious—nobody wants to become the poster child for trans inclusion, nor the elephant in the room, nor the panache factor, nor a special project. This does not mean that churches should not be preaching trans inclusion; the fact is there may be a trans person in their midst who is yet to “emerge” … it could be a child, a teen, a young adult, or even a grandparent. (According to the Williams Institute there is one trans person for every 333 "cisgender" persons in the general population.) Will these invisible-for-now trans persons in their midst have no choice but to shed their faith and walk away from their community, too? 

There is another important reason for being a trans-inclusive and affirming congregation, it is preparing "church people" to be accepting and affirming of trans persons outside the four walls of the church…the barista, the lawyer, the doctor, the hair-dresser, the clerk, the gardener, the police officer, the food server, the teacher, the nurse, or their neighbor.

What trans persons are watching and waiting for is for the church to stand up for their defense in the public square, when it’s not just trans voices advocating for trans inclusion that are heard at city council meetings, school boards, legislatures or in Congress. 

Until this happens, for trans persons, the church will continue to be irrelevant, if not the enemy. This is not to deny there are churches with trans persons, but these are the rare exceptions, rather than the rule. In the meantime, trans persons will continue to practice a very deep and personal form of spirituality, and sadly, the institutional church will simply continue to miss out on their giftedness and authenticity.