By Alex McNeill
Friends, we have a lot of work to do. As an openly transgender inquirer for ministry in the Presbyterian Church (USA), I continue to be pleased as punch that amendment 10A is now the law of the land. However, I am writing from the trenches to tell you that there is a lot of work to be done until we can celebrate the day that lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people are fully welcome in our denomination, let alone into our pulpits. Our victories are still bittersweet. For as many of us who have been ordained since 10A, or had charges dismissed for marrying our spouses, there are countless others who can’t find a call despite being certified and ready, or who face preparation committees or Presbyteries that use an open question time as a free invitation to abuse or berate us.
Last month I came out as a transgender man to my CPM where I’ve been under care for seven years. I had no idea going in what sort of questions I might be asked about my transition process or what might happen to my ordination possibilities. I am extraordinarily grateful that they were polite and that their questions weren’t asked inappropriately. I am one of the lucky ones. I am lucky not just because my committee affirmed my calling to ministry last month and kept me in the ordination process. As a transgender person, I am also reminded on this Transgender Day of Remembrance; I am lucky to be alive. To achieve a world where no transgender person is murdered for living as God calls them to be, and where LGBT people are truly welcome in our congregations, we are going to need a lot more than luck.
To achieve God’s vision for our church and world, we are going to need each one of you. Fortunately my proposal for how to affect this shift starts at home. It can even start right now. Transgender folk, like myself, are unique in that we have changed our gender presentation from what was expected given our assigned sex at birth. I was born female so conventional wisdom said that I was going to grow up to be a woman. After a lot of discernment, prayers and courage I am now living as a man.
Transgender people are unique because we’ve altered our gender very consciously over time. However, every single person has a gender. Each one of us makes choices about how we appear to the world. Either you are the sort of man who wears a tie to church every Sunday or you aren’t. Either you are the kind of woman who wouldn’t be caught outside without lipstick, or you aren’t. No judgment about any of these choices, but each of us takes a moment in the morning to decide how we want to look to the world today.
Secondly, everyone has learned to present their gender in their unique way over the course of their life. Maybe your dad insisted that ties were the only appropriate church attire or you started wearing lipstick to be taken seriously as an adult. In the best circumstances we grew up free to make choices about how we became women or men without scrutiny.
However, here is where I think we have the opportunity to be revolutionary: so many of us learned about how to be women or men by being told we can’t do something because men don’t do that, or women don’t do this. Think back to the first time you learned about your gender. I’ll bet one of the things that sticks out in your mind is someone, a peer, a parent, or advertising telling you “No. You can’t…”
Each one of us could tell a story about how we learned to be the women, men, or genderfabulous people that we are. This is where the conversation starts. These stories, your story starts to break open a place for transgender lives to exist. Our congregations and communities need plenty of Transgender 101 kinds of facts, but what we need more of is a general understanding and empathy with our quest through our transition to live fully as ourselves.
Being transgender is about much more than the ties we choose or the lipstick we wear or don’t. But every human has had a moment in his or her life where one of those choices didn’t feel right, or you were told we couldn’t try something because it went against the convention of your gender. For transgender people, the feeling that something isn’t right and experiencing shame at how we look or act is much bigger than a single occurrence. It is a daily struggle until we finally start privileging peace within ourselves over societal expectations. Telling your gender stories allows you to stand in solidarity with those whose gender story is still being written.
On Transgender Day of Remembrance I hope that we do more than just honor those who were brutally killed. I hope we also remember that we are one human family, each of us struggling to follow God’s call to our full authenticity, in profession, practice, or gender identity. I hope each of you find the courage to tell your story to start making the kind of church that honors and welcomes those weary travelers with dust on their feet from the hard road of self-discovery.