Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Beyond Adam and Eve

Religion Dispatches has this essay by Becky Garrison on Christians reaching out to the transgender community. Schell, Spellers, Varghese, and Fromberg are Episcopal priests:
The Rev. Donald Schell, founder of St. Gregory of Nyssa Episcopal Church in San Francisco recounts how this gay-positive church struggled with how to welcome a very attractive transvestite man who walked through their doors in the mid 1980s. Some straight men in the congregation felt odd when they learned the woman they'd felt attracted to was a man, while some women did not want to share the bathroom with a male—even though she dressed like a female. After a month or so this person ended up leaving the community because at this time, the church could not create a welcoming space for those on the outer fringes of the LGBT community. By the time distinguished evolutionary biologist and transwoman Joan Roughgarden came to St. Gregory's around 2002, the community had learned enough that she could call this church her home.

When the Rev. Stephanie Spellers, Priest and Lead Organizer for The Crossing in Boston tries to engage the church on this issue, she finds that the liberal churches tend to be silent on transgender issues, while the more conservative churches shout that transgender people are living “a lifestyle choice” that is patently “wrong,” “evil” and “an abomination.” She says the balance needs to shift.

Whenever religious leaders deny people their basic human rights using Christianity as their justification, then we need to stand up and make our presence known that we affirm all people as created and growing into the unique image of God.

Spellers says she feels sure that, if Jesus returned today, he'd be hanging out with transsexuals. “You don't have to stretch the Gospel to get to this place. We do this because Jesus was there first. Even atheists see this Jesus and comment that we're not the kind of Christian they can write off.”

Spellers states they didn’t get involved around transgender inclusion and advocacy because they were looking for the radical welcome edge. Rather, their outreach efforts were a pastoral response to the transgendered people who joined The Crossing community. Out of about 75 people who are part of their congregation, she estimates that about a half dozen are transgendered. “If we love those who are part of our community then we need to go out and stand by them and create more inclusive communities and start the conversation,” Spellers adds.
The Rev. Winnie Varghese, Priest in Charge at NYC's St. Mark’s Church-in-the-Bowery says that one of St. Mark’s gifts is to create a non-judging space that’s become a haven for artists and others in the community. They do outreach to the kids who attend Harvey Milk school, teaching LGBT youth to use art for self-expression. And they offer single-stall unisex bathrooms that allow transgendered people to use the facilities without trouble.

Varghese offers a different perspective noting that in some feminist circles, a female who transitions into a male is perceived as caving in to the patriarchal narrative. In these settings, straight women often find themselves ostracized as well because sisterhood becomes defined based on gender attraction.
While Varghese feels comfortable framing this debate using human rights terminology, she states that other progressives indicate a need to frame this debate using theological language. Phyllis Trible, professor of biblical studies at Wake Forest University School of Divinity, and other biblical scholars offer an analysis the Creation story (Genesis 1) that defines that the original ‘earth creature (ha-adam)’ is not a man, nor a woman, possibly not even sexual but a human being.” Such a holistic interpretation allows for the Christian community to explore what it means to embrace those who fall outside of the narrowly defined Adam and Eve story.


James said...

I certainly hope that someone kept in contact with the transvestite mentioned in the beginning of the article. At least I hope h/she found a loving community where her spiritual self could be cared for.

Anonymous said...

James - I don't have an answer for that question unfortunately - the good news is that the Episcopal Church (and some others) are really reaching out to this community so it's a better atmosphere overall than it was when this person walked through the doors of a very progressive church.

Minor point of correction - a transvestite is a he - these folks by and large are straight men who express a side of their sexuality by dressing like a woman. This is what they're wearing every day and just who they are as opposed to a drag queen, who is dressing up like a women as an "act" (and as I am learning drag queens tend to be gay men).

Love to see the day when we can just call people "human" - but as people have pointed out to me, sometimes distinctions are needed to help identify cases of discrimination.

Becky Garrison

JCF said...

As a TG person myself (GenderQueer, on the FTM spectrum, to be precise), I strongly relate to "male and female, God created them" (Gen 1:27, repeated in Mark 10:6).

Yup, "male and female", God created ME! :-)