“I can’t remember a time that I didn’t know that I was a girl.” Janet Mock, on HBO’s “The Out List”
When I came out of the closet as a Mom of an LGBTQ child and an ally,”T” was not really part of my experience. I had never met a trans person (that I knew of) in my life. In the last year, on this circuitous route my life has taken, I’ve come to know quite a few people in the transgender community.
They are lovely human beings. Beautiful. Flawed. Messy. Perfect. On this journey called life. Just like you and me.
I say this because some people are so threatened by trans people that the judgement and hate and violence we see towards gays is increased many times over towards transgender men and women. Why?
Human beings naturally withdraw from people we don’t know or can’t identify with, because the unknown may be unsafe. (We do this with different ethnicities, genders and appearance.) But withdrawing from “different” — or worse, condemning them — or worse, physically attacking them — does not work in a multifaceted society with people of all types.
I have always loved being female. That is called cisgendered — when the gender one is born with matches their internal identity. [Cis means in alignment; trans means across.] The majority of people are cisgender, and to many of them, anything other than that seems, well, weird. I admit it was that way for me in the past. But then I’d never lived the overwhelming sense of being trapped in the wrong-gendered body.
As I began this journey to love in line with the truth and heart of God – specifically the LGBTQ community – I had to be willing to love even those unlike me , those I didn’t yet understand .
What a fascinating experience, to be born one gender physically and know in the deepest places of your heart and soul that you should have been born the other. How could this be? – I’d never even paused long enough to wonder. To discover trans people, as people, opened a completely new world for me.
What about gender roles?
Now let’s step back to view an even bigger picture. What about traditional gender roles for our behavior?
My Christian friend once said to me, “I listen to the male/female roles described in church, and they don’t fit me.” They clearly don’t. As an accomplished woman with brains and a career, and a husband and kids, she did not fit what was laid out at church for women. As a conservative churchgoer her entire adult life, she found the roles described from the pulpit didn’t fit her. Likewise, a male friend grew up completely out of step with his rough-and-tumble brothers and father.
Both these people are held to a gender binary that doesn’t fit them. [Gender binary means the either/or of male/female, including roles and attributes]. Far, far too many of us are hamstrung by expectations put on us by a gender binary.
A reader asked me what we should do about transgender persons: do I think that they should be allowed to present as a different gender? Or to physically change their gender? What about public bathrooms? I understand the questions. I really do. They reflect a desire to make sense of things we cannot grasp. We like life black and white because it seems so much easier.
Did God make a mistake?
And then the ultimate question: did God make a mistake? And if someone has sex-reassignment surgery, isn’t that playing God?
Well, look at it this way. To draw lines God did not draw is to play God. I’m not going to call a transgender individual’s desire for surgery to match their physical gender with their internal gender a mistake. If the concern is about playing God, then what about doctors ‘playing God’ for years — not only repairing sight and transplanting hearts, but surgically choosing a gender for babies born with a uterus and a penis.
Is it playing God any more to turn a male body into female than to turn someone with both genders into female at birth? As it turns out, doctors have come to realize that sometimes the gender they ‘assign’ does not fit that person’s internal identity. Then what?
We are not in a position to say, “You don’t fit the binary, so you’re out. You’re stuck as you are.”
Fortunately, it’s not up to that reader, or me, or you to determine what happens.
What Jesus thinks …
We know that Jesus is about inclusion and love and treating others how we want them to treat us, not doing what least threatens our view of God as we understand him.
We are all God’s creation. We are all people on a journey – a journey where we are to love God and love others. A journey where we fall and get up and keep going. A journey where we struggle.
A journey where we need each other.
We were not meant to go through this life alone. Maybe it’s time to just let go of all these things we find in each other to argue about and divide over – and instead find our common humanity and love each other as we want to be loved.
Relax, rest. We need not recoil from these larger questions, from things we don’t understand, as we tend to do.
Janet Mock said: “I was so blessed in my life. I had parents who loved me and a family who loved me, and I had great teachers who believed in me, and I don’t think that I had all those things dropped into my life to live silently.”
I also have been blessed too greatly to sit silently.
And I am mindful of the haunting words of Martin Luther King, Jr.: “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”
She is the Vice-President of PFLAG Austin, and her “Mom, I’m Gay” book has been endorsed by The Human Rights Campaign and others. Sharon Groves, PhD, HRC’s Religion & Faith Program Director says, “I often get asked by parents for resources that can address the struggles of raising LGBT sons and daughters without having to leave faith behind. Susan Cottrell’s book, Mom, I’m Gay, does just that. This is the kind of book that parents will love.”
She and her husband have been married more than 25 years and have five children – one of whom is in the LGBTQ community. She lives in Austin, Texas.