“Get out!” said the wife, her eyes blazing with fury. “Get out of my house. Get out of my life. Get away from our children. I married a husband. A man, not a woman. If coming out as trans is more important to you than your family, then fine—you do that. But not here. Not with us. You are on your own.” And she started flinging her husband’s belongings out the window onto the lawn. The son and daughter, both in middle school, watched in shocked silence.
This was the experience of one of my seminary friends when she came out as trans to her wife. I don’t know where she spent that first night, or how she started her life over without family and in a new gender. By the time I met her, she was firmly established as a trans woman. We shared the women’s restrooms during breaks in classes, and that was fine. She was one of the gentlest, kindest people I’ve met. She had a heart for service, for ministry, and for caring for people no matter their circumstances. I’ve lost touch with her now, but I imagine that she made an excellent minister.
The apostle Paul writes, “We, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us.” Imagine realizing you are trans and finding that your minister not only doesn’t condemn you to hell but points you toward resources, helps you celebrate your transition to your most authentic self. My seminary friend has that gift because she has lived it. What a powerful ministry she can offer.
On this Pride Sunday, as we celebrate the whole fabulous spectrum of gender and sexual diversity, I am particularly saddened to see how supposed Christians are targeting the trans community with hateful laws. This is an organized effort, with 500 laws, nearly identical, popping up around the country. Trans kids being banned from taking puberty blockers. Parents of trans kids being treated like criminals for helping their kids transition. Trans people being blocked from getting hormone treatment. Trans performers being banned from performing anywhere where children might be present. Books about LGBTQ people being pulled from libraries. And trans people have always been in physical danger, mostly from bullies who want someone to beat up.
“There is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” We are members one of another. Paul tells us to welcome the stranger, to live in peace and harmony together, to weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice. Nowhere do I see that sense of support and togetherness and celebration of our diverse gifts in these hateful laws.
Of course, people are pushing back. In Montana this spring, when the legislature passed a law that made it that much more difficult for trans youth to get access to the resources and health care they need, Zooey Zephyr, a trans woman legislator, said she hoped her colleagues who voted for this bill would see the blood on their hands. They didn’t appreciate hearing this and turned off her mic, refused to let her speak for the last few weeks of the session, when all the bills were coming up for a vote. They disenfranchised not only her but everyone she represented.
When Melissa Harris Perry interviewed Zooey Zephyr on the NPR program “The Takeaway,” she asked what Zooey hoped any trans youth hearing that interview might take away. Zooey said, Know that we’re fighting for you.
Diana Butler Bass, a progressive Christian scholar who has written many wonderful books, recently interviewed Paul Raushenbush, the head of the Interfaith Alliance and founder of the Religion page of the Huffington Post. I’m grateful to Stacy Chilberg for bringing this interview to my attention.
Raushenbush says that the Interfaith Alliance gets to stand up, show up, and address the targeted attacks on the LGBT+ community.
And then he said this, which strikes me as a great way to gauge whether our faith journey is on the right track:
We get to ask ourselves if our religion is actually good. Are you doing good things with it? Are you liberating or are you subjugating? Are you celebrating or are you discriminating? Is your religion a bridge, or is it a bludgeon? Did we bring more love and justice to the world?
We are living in fearful times for our LGBTQ+ siblings. Raushenbush notes that Paul DeSantis is putting on the armor of God. He has replaced “the devil” with “the Left.” He wages spiritual warfare with anyone who disagrees with him.
Raushenbush is also aware of a freedom of expression case coming before the Supreme Court. If that case wins, it would allow people to discriminate against LGBTQ+ people legally.
He says that people can believe whatever they want to believe about homosexuality as a sin. He’s done arguing about that. But people’s beliefs should have no bearing on the civil rights of the LGBTQ+ community.
Here is Paul Raushenbush’s challenge to us, both as Christians and as Americans:
Cast a vision that’s beautiful. We actually have a beautiful vision for this country that every single person will feel respected. Every single person will be able to live life and thrive and we’ll try to build communities, both within religious communities and outside, that reflect that diversity and that respect it and that celebrate it.
Can you hear the words of the Apostle Paul here? Welcome the stranger. Celebrate the diversity of the body of Christ. Weep with those who weep. Rejoice with those who rejoice. As best as you are able, live together in peace and harmony.
And I think that [celebrating our diversity] actually is the promise of this country. It’s the promise of America: that people of all different religions would be able to thrive here. And that’s the gift that we give and we’re pretty good at it…. I consider myself a deeply patriotic person…. This idea that we can become out of many one and continue to reform and continue to grow and continue to progress—I view myself as someone who is deeply invested in the American project and to achieving our country, as James Baldwin said….
We have our work cut out for us. As we approach the Independence Day holiday, it is not easy to feel deeply patriotic when others are wrapping themselves in the American flag and spouting hate. It is not easy to own in public our Christian faith when so many heinous, hateful things are being done, especially to our trans siblings in the name of God. And yet we need to claim that space. Lives depend on knowing that there is a Christianity that welcomes them just as they are, in all their diverse glory and with all their gifts. Raushenbush says:
One of the things I’m really passionate about is that we don’t cede religion. We don’t cede the inspiration that religion can offer. We don’t cede the spiritual sustenance that we know religion can offer. And we don’t cede the rhetoric. And because we will not cede it, we will have the authority to speak into the moment as representing a really important tradition of religious influence on American progress, which has been there in the abolition movement and other moments that we can really lean into that power and celebrate it.
And so we send members of our church to march in the Pride Parade, carrying our church banner and bedecked in rainbows. We celebrate the diversity in the body of Christ. We refuse to let the haters have the last word. We preach and practice liberation. We build community. We build bridges. Our work is cut out for us, and it is life-giving, loving work.
I opened with a story about one seminary friend’s traumatic initiation into their transition to being a trans woman. I close with another story about a couple I knew, also in seminary. Before I knew them, they were a lesbian couple, Margaret and Kathy. Margaret read the biography of a trans man and realized that this was her. She was not lesbian; she was trans. She sat in the backyard sobbing, because she thought her partner, Kathy, would reject her. That’s where Kathy found her when Kathy got home from work. And Kathy, God bless her, said, “I’m not going to reject you. I don’t care what the packaging is. I love you for you. We will figure it out. Together.” So Margaret and Kathy became Mark and Kathy. Their friends asked whether they were now straight. “We’ve stopped trying to think in those terms,” they say. They don’t fit into neat categories, and they don’t care. They just love each other, and that’s all that matters. Amen.