Learning To Love Your Transgender Siblings (And Your Transgender Self)


Can I tell you a secret? The transgender people I know (myself included) are getting really tired of having to do transgender 101 talks wherever we go. And I’m not just talking about the ones that we do professionally or for our own churches, I’m talking about the ones that we have to do every single time we come out, the ones we do over coffee, and over Christmas presents, and over and over and over.

So this month, as Queer Theology focuses on transgender issues, I’m going to ask the cisgender folks to do all of the transgender folks a favor and read a few things. Like this article on transgender clobber passages, and this email exchange between a transgender man and his conservative mother, and these posts, too. If you want to dive deeper you can read Janet Mock’s Redefining Realness (which is what we’re reading in the Sanctuary Collective book club). If you need some help with terminology go here, or if you need some help understanding how sexual orientation and gender identity are different check this out.

By checking out these resources that have already been created, you free up the transgender folks in your life to do other things. Like worship in their own churches without having to always be “on” as an educator, you free us up to write theology (like my book Walking Toward Resurrection), and to do deeper work than just 101 stuff.

The 101 stuff is really important, we get that. There’s a lot to learn and for some folks it’s really overwhelming. So start with the stuff above!

Because when transgender folks are freed up to be their full selves the church (and our world) gets a really amazing gift. Transgender folks have so much to offer. We read Scripture with unique insights, many of us see life through a different lens that can broaden and deepen experiences of gender, of family, of binaries, and more. By doing your own work on the 101 you give yourself the gift of entering into deeper relationships with transgender people that are built on respect.

So that’s my message to cisgender folks. Now, to my trans folks:

Many of you have written in struggling with being your whole authentic self in the face of churches and theologies that tell you there is something wrong with you. Or you are living in families that refuse to acknowledge and honor you. I get it, my family is there, too. It’s hard and demoralizing and downright depressing some (most?) days. It can be hard to separate out what everyone else is saying from what your heart is saying. It can be hard to make space to hear your own soul speak to you when the noise of so many people close to you is so loud.

I want to encourage you to do something:

Step One:

Every time a negative thought about your gender identity or expression goes through your head I want you to stop for a minute and really examine it. Who’s voice is it in? When you hear it do you hear it in the voice of your mother? Or maybe your pastor? Maybe it’s your voice but when you sit with it for a bit you realize that it came from somewhere else first. Start identifying what voices are in your head. Maybe it’s time to set some boundaries around the people who are loudest. Can you get some distance from your family for a bit? Or from your church?

Step Two:

Next I want you to make a list of positive statements about your gender and identity. Here are a few to get you started: “I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” “I am whole and holy just as I am.” “I am created in the image of a God who defies gender.” Maybe you want to write down some quotes from people like Laverne Cox, Janet Mock, Tiq Milan, or others. Keep a jar of positive thoughts on notecards.

Step Three:

Now, every time you hear a negative statement, I want you to (immediately if you can) counter that negative statement with two positive ones. Every. Time.

Start to change the narrative in your own head from negativity to positivity. It’s the first step to wholeness and health and reclaiming your faith.

Other things you can do:

  • Make a list of all of the things you love about your gender expression.
  • Make a list of the things you love about being transgender or non-binary.
  • Write about how your gender changes how you see the world.
  • Make a video of yourself that celebrates who you are.
  • Wear something that makes you feel the most yourself and take a selfie. Share it if you want or keep it just for you if you need to.
  • Read about transgender people. Watch their videos online. Celebrate and embrace the amazing community you are a part of.
  • Read this love letter from me to you when you are feeling down.
  • Make a playlist of music from people who shatter gender expectations. Rock out to it.
  • Listen to Namoli Brennet, a transgender musician who’s music is peppered through with amazing religious imagery.

You are not sinful and sick. You are beautiful and holy and whole. I know it can be hard to believe it sometimes, living in a world that so often screams the opposite. But it’s true, you just have to convince yourself of the truth.

This article was published by Fr. Shannon Kearns