Transgender State of Emergency

“RESOLVED, That we continue to oppose steadfastly all efforts by any governing official or body to validate transgender identity as morally praiseworthy (Isaiah 5:20); and be it further
RESOLVED, That we oppose all cultural efforts to validate claims to transgender identity; and be it finally”

-Southern Baptist Convention-On Transgender Identity 2014

“Every year since, growing numbers of trans people and advocates worldwide take a moment to pause and remember the countless lives lost around the globe to transphobic violence.”

-The Advocate on TDOR

This year, the Transgender community was heralded as reaching a “tipping point”. This was primarily because of the visibility of celebrities like Laverne Cox or Caitlyn Jenner. Perhaps it was because the national organizations decided that since marriage equality had been made legal, now  it was finally time to pay attention to the trans community. Yet it seems that this tipping point has instead created a State of Emergency- with the most marginalized of the transgender community facing the brunt of a transphobic backlash against the strides for progress that have been made. We have seen an increase in violence against trans individuals, but especially against Trans Women of Color.

There are very obvious groups who deserve the blame of furthering hate of Transgender individuals, such as the Southern Baptist Convention. Transphobia wrapped in false interpretation of Scripture is deadly; and many evangelical churches have played in role in creating a culture where 23 Transgender individuals were murdered this last year and where many more took their own lives.  Surely the words of 1st John resonate here: “Whoever says, “I am in the light,” while hating a brother or sister, is still in the darkness.” (1 John 2:9 NRSV). It is vital for these organizations to be confronted for their evil.

However, it is easy to blame others without reflecting on the ways in which I have participated directly or indirectly in oppression. This has led me to reflect on the ways in which I have failed to fight against racism and classism in both my own life and in the wider LGBT community. In my past years of activism in the Trans community I knew of the idea of intersectionality, but did not quite realize the ways that I was contributing to further marginalizing of oppressed groups. And because of this lack of realization about marginalization, lives have been put at risk because of lack of safe spaces.

As a leader in a faith community, I must look for action to address these problems. I believe God is a creator of safe spaces for the marginalized- as Isaiah states, “When the poor and needy seek water, and there is none, and their tongue is parched with thirst, I the Lord will answer them, I the God of Israel will not forsake them” (Isaiah 41:17). Am I making sure that no one is being forsaken? Am I forsaking others when I could be making a difference?

What can we do? What must we do? We must hear the stories of those individuals we lost this year. These are 23 lives taken from the Earth for simply living out their authentic selves. 23 families and groups of friends who lost someone important in their lives.  We must make sure there are safe places for people to not fear for their lives. We must work on making our whole society a safe space for people to live authentically.

However we must begin to realize that we must fight all forms of oppression. We must realize that simply fighting to “become normal” in the eyes of society, while pushing others away, will not bring anyone freedom. Freedom only happens when we are all truly free.

Am I My Brother’s Keeper? Reflections on the Eve of Columbus Days

Cain said to Abel, “Let us go out in the field,” When they were in the field, Cain turned on his brother Abel and killed him.  God asked Cain “Where is Abel your brother?” Cain Answered, “I don’t know. Am I my brother’s keeper?”
-Genesis 4:8-9 (Inclusive Bible)

“We are the party of independent individuals”
-Republican Platform from GOP.com

——

In coming out as a transgender woman, I saw firsthand the loss of my patriarchal privilege as I transitioned from being seen as a cisgender man to being seen as a transgender woman. I am fortunate that my experience opened my eyes to the varieties of other people in the world, and the necessity to be open to learning about other’s experiences. In doing this, I have had to confront the harsh truth that I am privileged as a white person, as a Christian, and as an American.

I have placed high priority on studying and learning about what has lead us to our current moment in history. I have slowly begun to learn about things like white supremacy, colonialism, the patriarchy, wealth inequality, and heterosexism. In learning about these things, I have tried to theologically reflect on them from my perspective of Christian Theology.

In these reflections, I have thought about our understanding of independence both as Americans, and American Christians. We are fed the ideas of the individuality, and our ability to make our own way in the world, we are told that our country has had some flaws, but that we are making progress. To me, I cannot as a Christian let these ideas stand without challenging them theologically.

Our nation and our own selves, are intrinsically linked with our past, and we must acknowledge it. We must acknowledge that we as white Americans, like Cain, have murdered our brothers and sisters. I have murdered my brothers and sisters. You have murdered our brothers and sisters. We cannot let the history of systemic genocide towards Native people and enslavement of Africans simply be a hiccup on our nations narrative of progress. These are sins that we have committed, and that must both be spoken of and repented of, then we must find true Justice to address them.

We must acknowledge that this nation is founded on colonial exertion of power over those who were different, and his been written into how our society functions. Our country operates on a false narrative of equality while ruining the lives of so many through institutionalized and individual racism and privilege.

It is these systems that decimated the Native American Population. It is these systems that have perpetuated slavery, Jim Crow, and Mass Incarceration. It is these institutions that cause us to now view Hispanic or Arabic Americans with suspicion as not belonging here. It is these systems that have led to the killing of queer people, and especially LGBT people of color.  These are not past sins, but sins that we are part of continuing today.  I am responsible for the death of Tamir Rice, Trayvon Martin, Mike Brown, Sandra Bland,  and so many others. All of us are, as we benefit from this system.

We may say “I’m not like those people, I would never…” or “I’m not racist”, but we cannot simply look past the fact that we have abandoned the Christian belief that we are our brother and sisters keeper, and instead have marginalized so many as “the other”. We cannot simply look for a scapegoat, it is all too common for us to talk about “those racists”, or “those conservatives” or “the 1%” instead of acknowledging that the whole system is guilty, but that we love the system and benefit from it ourselves. We eat food or buy cheap clothes without thinking of those who were robbed of the fruit of their labors in order to make us a $5 t-shirt or a $1 burger. We buy houses on land that was stolen from the people who lived here for centuries, while told narratives of Columbus discovering America.

Repentance must start with listening to others, acknowledging our part in these sins, and working to “decolonize” our minds- leaving behind the lies we are fed to justify these sins. We must become accomplices in breaking down this system, instead of simply allies in knowing about oppression (Wonderful Article About This Concept). We cannot let these systems simply sit as assumptions, but must be willing to confront them.

Please join me in acknowledging our sinfulness, in repentance, and in seeking justice.

Let us live a creed that spans all religions: we must love others as ourselves.

-Em
GoldenRule
(Picture Found at Link)

Sorry

Sorry folks. I disappeared from blogging. This summer has been hectic. But Seminary starts in 2 weeks and I am so excited. I will definitely be blogging to keep everyone in the loop.

To recap the summer:

  • Had an awesome mission trip with my youth group
  • Supported one of my best friends- Rev. Benjamin David Hutchison as he was ousted from his position as a pastor for being openly gay.
  • Visited family
  • Went on a personal leave from my position at Lowes with the intent of leaving officially by next summer
  • Have read a few books: New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander, Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates, and The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin. I’m trying to get educated on Racial Justice issues.
  • Started a GoFundMe for my transition: http://www.gofundme.com/z5g3a5n
  • Played a lot of Splatoon on the Wii U
  • Prepped for Seminary and completed online work
  • Really started to use twitter a lot (follow me- emkelley39 )
  • Officially am now a Member in Discernment in the United Church of Christ. One step closer to ordination!

Hope all are well. Will be sharing more soon!

Em

#CaitlynJenner : My Attempt At Reflecting on Pop Culture

I’ll admit, once upon a time my wife and I did binge watch some Kardashians on Netflix while we were both sick. I can’t pretend it was not a guilty pleasure. But we haven’t followed much of their lives since (besides the occasional Kanye & Kim news). But suddenly, the whole world was drawn in by the gossip about whether there was something going on in the family. Did a family member have a big secret?  The world has since gotten to know Caitlyn Jenner.

As I followed the story on social media yesterday, I couldn’t help but reflect. Anything that Fox News Correspondents link to the decline of the Civilization must be a good thing. And I also saw people on Twitter freaking out that Caitlyn was being called brave, and not the troops (honestly I don’t understand peoples logic about how calling her brave takes away from anyone elses bravery)- but if it was making people flip out on social media for stupid reasons, it also had to be a good thing.

So, everyone acts like some huge accomplishment happened yesterday.

What actually happened?
1) Caitlyn is now able to live her life authentically. Anytime anyone can do that I think it is a positive.
2) A Trans Woman made international news with her journey… It’s my hope that spurring conversation is a good thing.
3) Hopefully some young trans kids see that there is hope for their journey. Transgender people have a 41% attempted suicide rate… if Caitlyn gives any trans kids some glimmer of hope, it is good in my book. I wish I had seen visible trans women growing up.
4) Caitlyn is an example of the daily misgendering that many of us face. I know I am sick and tired of being called he, sir, and my birth name. She is dealing with the same. Hopefully people reflect and see that what they are doing is hurtful both to her, but also to friends and family members in their own life.

What did not happen?
1) Transphobia and our societies unjust treatment of Trans people did not suddenly end. Real work for social change needs to happen.
2) Trans women of color are not suddenly saved from the very high murder rate that they face.
3) Trans people every where are for the most part not extremely wealth, with most either living in poverty or barely making a living wage. We did not all suddenly come upon great wealth which would enable all of us to have our transitions make us fit societies expectation of what a man or woman looks like.
4) Trans youth are still proportionately higher in facing homelessness due to rejecting families. It is nice that Caitlyn has a good family, and it’s great to have them demonstrating to the world what acceptance is- but most trans people do not have that reality.

Overall- Best of luck to her. She has done a fairly okay job at her sudden expectation of being a trans spokesperson. I have seen her say “not everyones journey is like mine” and she has tried to discuss violence towards trans women of color. I hope she grows and uses her fame, and wealth, to help make a difference for the trans community.  How do you feel?

Mental Transition

So I’ve often talked with friends about how I feel I have noticed a mental transition from male to female. I will likely write a few blogs thinking about “Transition” and what that means, this being the first of them. There is the chance that this may end up being word vomit, but I hope it is not, and feel free to ask clarifying questions or say “wow thats brilliant Em”.

I am going through a transition this year- I finally have truly fully come out and am living my life fully as the real me. At home, at jobs, at church, and at my soon to be seminary. This has been amazing- to finally embrace the real me.

But I feel like over the course of the last few years of coming out that I also made a mental transition. I think that this was a very important step of my transition process, and one that people do not actively discuss as an element of transition.

Much of it has to do with a sense of leaving behind privilege, but also letting my mind embrace what it has always wanted to do instead of hiding behind a mask. Let me dive in a little.

Growing up, I heard from society loud and clear messages of what was expected both of men and women. And while many cisgender people internalize their assigned gender, I internalized both. I hated the fact that I was never going to measure up to being the woman I knew I was, but at the same time was also trying to put on the mask of being one of the guys.

While receiving male socialization was mentally torturing, I feel it is important to acknowledge that it happened, and that in fact it did shape me during my younger years, as much as I did not want that to happen. I could aim for whatever careers I wanted. I could say I want to be a pastor without people saying that women are not supposed to be in ministry. I could have unquestioned authority about topics I talked about just because I was born male. I hated being male, but it was so easy to stay in that privilege. I think that despite my gender identity being female, I grew into a very privileged male mindset in how I looked at the world.

When I hear people say that men have it hard, or that feminism is not needed, I can only laugh, because I had male privilege, and I have now felt the loss of it. It exists.

So as I came out (starting way back in May 2008), and began to be honest about who I was, I still often stayed in the same mindset. I had to control things. I had autonomy. To be fair, I had my male privilege still.

One of the greatest things my wife has done for me is to introduce me to thinking critically about gender and feminism. I was challenged so much. I had hidden my real self, and embraced this mask of male-ness that I had built up as a defense against being outed- but I had all the benefits that came with it. So as I transitioned and came out-I had to put that mask away, even if it meant losing the benefits it came with. And wow that was tough. I had spent so long trying to fit in to the guys club that it was difficult to break the habits I had set up to keep me closeted. But they were an act. They weren’t the real me. I had to get rid of them to find out who the real person was beneath the mask I had built. No need to be so macho. No need to repress emotions. No need to think that the world always had to be in my control.

I can not point to a specific day or even really a time frame, but I can just tell you that at some point my brain made a jump. Suddenly I was letting myself feel. I was not constantly repressing the way I thought, what I wanted to do, or how I wanted to act. I hear other trans women talking about how estrogen made them so much more in touch with their emotions, and while  I do not doubt that- I wonder how much of that is also just a mental transition happening since taking estrogen is also associated with having finally come out of the closet.

Of course thats not saying that embracing myself has all been easy and happy. Now, even more so, I feel the messages that society sends to women coming into my head. Telling me I must be skinny. Must be beautiful. Must be desirable. And heck these thoughts are hard on your average cisgender woman, but they are also torturous when combined with my gender dysphoria. I look at myself and see all the ways I do not measure up

I’ve had a lot of people tell me after coming out to them that they knew something was different about me. I have to think that it is partly due to this mental transition. Even before making my life transition this year, I was not fitting in as “one of the guys” anymore.

So yeah. This seems like a lot of random thoughts. I hope it made some sort of sense. I just wanted to write about it, and about the changes that have happened in my life bringing me to this point.

Thanks for reading

Em

The Basics of Ministry

So I have been thinking a lot recently about what are the core things I am hoping to achieve as a youth pastor. I have been pondering what ministry looks like- especially for myself as I move forward in seeking a call for ordained ministry.

I came up with 3 specific elements that constitute what I believe makes a healthy ministry/congregation/calling for the Church.

1) Community- People need to feel welcome. People want to feel safe. There should be activities going on so that everyone feels there is a place for them to be involved in the life of the Church. As many have said- Church should not only exist on Sunday. And Church can be fun. Having a Nerf War with high schoolers can build community in a unique way, just as having something like a quilting club could as well.

2) Discipleship- It is also vital that we be educating those attending our Churches or groups. I think the key to good discipleship is not forcing certain answer and doctrines on anyone, but rather guiding individuals on how to have good tools for interpreting the Bible and for being in relationship with God and the community of the Church. Acknowledge that most of us struggle with our faith. The idea that some people are always perfect in their faith is poisonous to good Christian community and towards the long term health of any Christian.  Sometimes we may feel that our discipleship is not making a difference, but we are called to just keep spreading the seed that God gave us and see what God will plant in the hearts of individuals.

3) Outreach- what are we doing in our community? In our country? In our world? Are we inviting our neighbors? Are we sharing in community with those outside of the Church? Are we advocating for change in the world instead of accepting things as they are? Outreach takes many shapes, but is vital, and is an obligation of everyone- not just the leaders.

So those are a few thoughts today. What do you find are elements of good ministry? I’d be curious for feedback and thoughts.

Em

#Privilege

I always thought I was fairly open minded growing up. I would have proudly said that I was not racist. That sort of stuff only happens in the South. I thought I was a good person with regards to racial relations. Luckily, I have had this challenged in my life, but many people still have this mindset: racism is not something they are capable of, it is something everyone else does.

The first time I can say I distinctly remember realizing that I was operating from a place of internalized racism came when I was about 20 years old. My wife’s family lives in what some in the city may call “the not nice part of town”. In other words, its the part of town where the African American community has been segregated into. I was driving down to visit, and realized that I suddenly rolled up my windows, and locked my doors.

And in that moment it hit me- I would not do this if it was a group of white kids walking past me, or if I was in a predominately white part of town. And in that moment I realized that I needed to begin to analyze my own mind, and start to deconstruct this framework that had been embedded in me as your average white American.

It has not been the easiest thing, and it is so important to remember that I always have room to grow. That is why being able to attend the Selma at 50 conference was so wonderful. I kept my mouth shut, and listened to other people’s experiences. My life as a white American is not the norm for the whole world. That was hard to step away from. But I have learned so much and connected with many wonderful people once I was able to step back and realize that there is no norm, and that I needed to listen and learn from other people’s lived experiences.

As I have transitioned as a trans woman, I have watched male privilege disappear, as well as cisgender privilege. I can attest that both of those were very real things. While I have experienced what it is like to be seen as an object, or seen as a “freak”, I also realize that Trans Women of Color are far more likely to be killed for living their truth than I am. I have no clue what it is like to have to worry that police will constantly harass me. I have no clue what it is like to be profiled as a thief when I walk in to a retail store.

Instead, as a white person committed to racial equality, I need to check my privilege, and share the voices of those who have had these experiences. It is not my voice that needs to be heard, but rather the voices of those who have lived these experiences. I cannot say “I am Freddie Grey” or “I can’t breath”- because those are not injustices that I face, but I can say “Black lives matter” and call out racism and privilege that I see in the white community and in my faith, and instead use my voice and faith to empower change and not embrace the status quo.

I hope this all made some good sense- battling a headache today.

-Em