About 15 people, not counting panelists and others, gathered in the Women’s Center Tuesday to talk with 3 panelists from the local area about the relevance of transgender issues to people in general and to members of faith communities in particular. The Women’s Center is deeply grateful to Beth Harrison-Prado and colleagues who took time from their schedules to make the panel discussion a reality.
One point that came through particularly clearly in the discussion was that transgender people are not the only people who chafe under a rigid binary gender regime, in which there are two and only two genders, masculine and feminine, which are supposed to be determined by a clear and unambiguous physical or anatomical profile, and which in turn are supposed to determine lots of other things in turn – behaviors, attitudes, interests, sexual attractions, skills and aptitudes, . . .
Transgender people demonstrate the inadequacy of that gender regime pretty dramatically, but many many other people and phenomena demonstrate it in smaller ways. Little girls who want to be boys because “boys get to play sports.” Well-wishers who want to know immediately whether the child on the way is a girl or a boy “because we want to know what to buy” – since there are girl gifts and boy gifts, and it would be wrong to give a girl gift to a boy and vice versa. Little boys who want to wear pretty, colorful clothes, which for some inexplicable reason always turn out to be girls’ clothes. Women who are in various ways unfeminine, men who are in various ways unmasculine. . . .
The witness of trans-folk shines a bright light on all the variance masked by the culturally approved gender standard. Which difference is permitted, which prohibited varies from place to place and time to time, but the differences that challenge the simplicity and ruliness of gendered humanity surface over and over.
Transgender people don’t create the inadequacy of the rigid gender binary, but transgender people do bring that inadequacy into sharp focus. And the Transgender Day of Remembrance reminds us, among other things, that we all live in a world in which some people would rather commit murder than permit the inadequacy of the notion of the clear, natural male-female structure of reality to be seen clearly as such. Trans people die because they call attention, in a particularly vivid way, to something that most people could observe in their own lives: the limited, restricted models of gender that we work with do not describe most people. Instead, they seem to operate to keep people within bounds, to keep things simple (easier to understand; easier to administer; easier to ignore).
Another theme that surfaced in the discussion was honesty. Transgender awareness and openness to transgender information, learning, and acceptance, has to do with building communities in which people can live safely and at the same time openly and honestly, rather than having to sacrifice safety for honesty, or honesty for safety. The reality of domination – who makes what rules, for what reasons, about what is allowed and not, what will be acceptable and what not, to what end – lies not-always-so-clearly behind and below the question of who may live their particular path in life out loud, and who must remain silent, or else risk much, perhaps even life itself.
Faith communities have, at times, participated in setting some stringent and rejecting rules around gender. Faith communities have also, at times, participated in breaking down rigid barriers and transforming the world so that more lives can be embraced and lived humanly and fully, in relationship with others. Faith communities always have to make a choice.
So we learned again that there is a deep connection between the values people affirm at the heart of their faith, and the practice of accepting transgender people, learning about the particular struggles and choices faced by transgender people, and having the conversations necessary to meet one another as human beings with reciprocal demands, responsibilities, gifts, and qualities.