Transgender Concerns

Society gives us mixed messages all the time. Sometimes opposite messages hit us more-or-less simultaneously. This is especially true of the partial wisdom distilled as proverbs. For example, It’s the thought that counts vs. The road to hell is paved with good intentions. Someone gets you a gift that you don’t like, and someone will remind you, “It’s the thought that counts.” And in some ways that is perfectly true. Maybe you never let your gift-giver know that ceramic frogs remind you of a person with a negative impact on your life. But then, maybe the person got you the wrong gift because they thought only of fulfilling the relationship obligation but didn’t think about what you like.

And sometimes it is more serious than gift giving. I have often tried to explain it this way: if someone runs me over with their car, sending me to the ER, the ICU or worse, there is a very real sense in which I don’t care whether they intended to do it or it was “just” negligence, whether they wanted to do me harm or simply thought that answering their text took precedence over others’ well-being. The harm done is not mitigated by intent.

So why on earth is this on my mind right now? In the most recent issue of UU World (Spring 2019) an article appeared titled “After L, G, and B.” Its blurb says, “Listening to transgender and nonbinary people is about respect, relationship, and whether we can be a truly inclusive faith.” The article’s author Kimberly French is a contributing editor of UU World and has written for other well-respected publications. Her article is about her experience of learning from her family about transgender issues. There is no question that her intent in writing this article for the Unitarian Universalist reader was good. She wanted her process of learning to help people who had not yet had the exposure she had through her family.

But was it her intention that counted? Transgender, genderqueer, nonbinary, gender nonconforming, and agender Unitarian Universalists and their cisgender allies quickly responded with hurt and anger. The responses are too many to begin to summarize, and many responses I have seen were offered in confidential spaces and cannot be shared. But I invite you to read one particular response written by CB Beal, a genderqueer and nonbinary seminary graduate, sexuality educator and activist. It is titled “Centering the Marginalized: symphony and triptych.” CB Beal carefully and even gently explains what is wrong about Kimberly French’s article and leads the less knowledgeable reader into better understanding of facts, issues and feelings around gender. I will not try to summarize but please do read it. It is important.

And if you are looking for some guiding points for thinking through or discussing the issues the UU World article causes to rise, there are “Tips for Talking about the UU World Article” by the Transforming Hearts Collective, a collective of four trans and queer faith leaders that supports congregations in becoming radically welcoming spiritual homes for queer and trans people of all races, classes, abilities, sexualities, and ages.

Our Fellowship voted to become a Welcoming Congregation in 2004. In 2016 we started regularly including words in our welcome statement intentionally drawing attention to the explicit commitments we made in claiming the mantle of Welcoming Congregation. We started saying on the cover of our order of service that we are “An LGBTQ-Welcoming Congregation.” And we permanently displayed the rainbow flag to signal the commitments this Fellowship had voted to make a dozen years before. In those dozen years, knowledge and activism in the area of gender had exploded. What many cisgender UUs knew about transgender issues in 2004 was a small part of what is available to know now. So many, naturally, have a lot of learning to do. And as always, it takes spiritual work to grow our compassionate action along with our understanding.

In the past few years, this Fellowship has had a transgender member who decided to leave because they did not experience this as a welcoming place for them. We have had transgender attendees who, in the end, did not find a home here. We do not need to approach this with defeatism or condemnation. There are many factors that affect such decisions. But we should not dismiss these experiences, and we do need to improve the response transgender people feel in this congregation. And there is the January 2018 report on the experiences of transgender UUs put together by Transgender Religious professional Unitarian Universalists Together (TrUUst) that merits our attention.

In this church year, our Team for LGBTQ Concerns has been inactive. Would you be interested in reviving it to help facilitate learning and commitment around transgender issues? You do not need to be an expert to participate in this growth and learning. The Fellowship needs your participation and leadership. Please contact me if you feel a pull toward helping this congregation recommit to the work.

Peace and Blessings,
Rev. Paul