The question of why the Women’s Center at LPTS observes the Transgender Day of Remembrance is still on my mind. It has been making me think this: When people suggest that the Transgender Day of Remembrance doesn’t have that much to do with women, and women’s issues, they seem to be suggesting that “women” is a clear, unambiguous term, and that it doesn’t include transgender people.
These questioners may be thinking that “women” denotes a group of people who have a particular cluster of bodily characteristics, desires, accepted roles, outward appearance and behavior, all of which match one another in a particular way. That way, any one of those things works as a sign or signal for everything else. To that way of thinking, it is a simple matter to know who and what counts as a woman, and by extension, what counts as a woman’s issue. A woman’s issue is something that affects those people who fit the label of woman.
To that way of thinking, then, when bodily characteristics, desires, assigned and accepted roles, outward appearance and behavior don’t all match, something is wrong. That seems pretty simple.
It is simple – and that’s the problem. Because the realities of our humanity are not as simple as that.
The Women’s Center itself was born in protest against other versions of that simple world, with its limited and limiting models of gender. It was born protesting the idea that Real Women would not, and would not even want to, study in seminaries, preach in pulpits, administer sacraments, and pastor churches. It was born protesting the old saw that “anatomy is destiny,” out of recognition that the problem was never as much with anatomy as with what patriarchy pronounced that anatomy to mean and to be entitled to. It was born protesting the idea that there is one right way to do “being a woman,” and its corollary that we know what that way is from the plain sense of Scripture.
Insisting that real life women think, feel, want, look, and are many different ways, are real people in all of those ways, and deserve to be recognized and valued as created and affirmed by God in all of that difference, has always been the Women’s Center’s program. So insisting that gender is a much more complicated reality than our rigid binaries lead us to believe seems like a women’s issue to us.
Someone might be thinking I am being coy to talk about roles and behaviors, as if they were [these days] constitutive of womanhood. Surely I know that being a real woman has something to do with bodily architecture; people are born with bodies, so they are born women or men. Well, not women or men, exactly, but girls or boys. Being a woman or a man comes down to having a particular kind of body.
But which kind of body is that? Can it differ from the ideal-typical or the paradigmatic female body? How much? Enough to authorize people who know themselves as women but whose bodies do not include breasts, or wombs, or are too big, or too old, or too hard, or too whatever? What permits who to over-rule the canonicity of those women’s claim to womanhood at any point? What permits who to say where that point lies? And what, in particular, does it allow us to say to the people who are born with bodies that are not obviously either a girl’s or a boy’s? Because the facts are that even at birth, this matter of gender assignment is more complex than simple male/female binary thinking makes it out to be.
My point here, which is not the only point that could be made on this topic, is that the issues at the heart of the Transgender Day of Remembrance are the ones that have always been at the heart of the Women’s Center. Transgender folk remind us, again, and vividly, that what it means to “be a woman” or to “be a man” is far less simple than people often think. Transgender folk challenge us to live with the complexity of gender in the real world. The reality of anti-transgender violence challenges us to live with that complexity more justly. Seconding that challenge couldn’t be simpler.