I am a cisgender man. When I speak about transgender issues, that fact should make you less likely to listen to me than when a transgender person speaks on the same subject. Unfortunately, too often the exact opposite is the case.
Yes, we must all speak out about issues that matter. Cis folks on trans issues, straight folks on queer issues, white folks on issues of race. It’s not right to make the already-victimized do even more work. AND ALSO, the work of liberation must always be led by the oppressed, not by the oppressors.
It was Moses, an Israelite himself, who led the Israelites out of slavery… it wasn’t a benevolent Egyptian. TWEET IT
And so when it comes to “transgender issues” and “the Church,” we must first, always, turn our ears and hearts toward what transgender people are actually saying. Because they are saying a lot.
Austen Hartke has an entire YouTube channel dedicated to transgender Christian issues.
Justin Tanis literally wrote a book on it.
Articles “about trans issues” are becoming more and more popular in progressive circles, even in progressive Christian circles. That’s great progress, but it’s insufficient. You can’t hope to even come close to understanding the trans experience — or how to support trans people — or what you might learn from trans people — just by reading an article or two, whether that’s a long-form essay or a listicle.
Instead, you must do the work. And the work isn’t always glamorous. The work won’t necessarily get you Facebook likes or Twitter retweets (and it might not get you a “Yaass queen preach!”). But the work is necessary. The work saves lives.
And what is that work? Fr. Shay spelled it out last week:
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.
I’ll use that as a jumping off point and break that down into some actionable steps you can take.
Read books by transgender people. Like a lot of them.
Here are a few:
- Redefining Realness by Janet Mock
- Surpassing Certainty by Janet Mock
- Trans Bodies, Trans Selves edited by Laura Erickson-Schroth
- Transgender Children of God by Megan Rohr
- Walking Toward Resurrection by Fr. Shannon TL Kearns
Show up at trans events (that are open to cis folks)
Look up your local LGBTQ, feminist, and/or radical bookstore and attend readings and workshops by trans presenters. Check in with your local LGBTQ center to see if there are any groups or events you can attend. If you have a question and trans folks are in the audience, maybe wait awhile to let them ask their questions first since this may be one of a few spaces carved out for them. If your question might make trans people uncomfortable, maybe hang back and ask the presenter one-on-one or take some time to Google it first to see if you can gather any information that way (or can find a more considerate or nuanced way to ask the question).
Attend a Trans Day of Action event and put your body on the line for trans justice. Attend a Transgender Day of Remembrance service and sit silently to witness.
Do the “boring” work of making your church more inclusive
Update the language on your website, change the bathrooms to be gender neutral. Work through this checklist and this article. Have the tough conversations with the lead pastor or the head of your board or the director of operations to explain why this is necessary.
Hire trans people
Go out of your way to share job postings on trans-specific message boards, listservs, and Facebook groups (and make sure your organization is prepared to fully support trans staff). Trans people are just as skilled as cis folks, but much more likely to be discriminated against so you’ve got to go out of your way to make sure you reach them.
Bring trans pastors, authors, and experts to speak at your church (and pay them)
The gifts that trans speakers have to offer your congregation or organization are valuable, pay for them. Don’t just expect trans people to work for free, or for “exposure” or “experience” or because it’s important or because if they don’t work for free then there just won’t be a speaker. (We’re happy to work with you on bringing Fr. Shay to speak, reach out).
But the most important step in all of this is to actually DO it.
Don’t just read this article and move on. Don’t just share it and consider the job done. Don’t just tweet about trans issues. You’ve got to invest time and energy in this process. As cis folks, we have a choice to engage in this process or not. It can be disorienting and sometimes uncomfortable and, honestly, it’s a life-long endeavor. But it’s worth it. And it’s the right thing to do. And just like LGB folks don’t have the luxury of “choosing” to think about whether or not it’s OK to be queer, transgender folks don’t have the luxury of engaging in or disengaging from this struggle. So cis folks, let’s choose to engage.
Photo by Peter