One Trans UU's Story
If you are trans UU it’s possible the week has been pretty hard for you. So, I lift up this beautiful blessing by Rev. Theresa Inés Soto. Please soak it in, revel in it, and remember that while some may be hoping for education from you, the most important thing for you, and for us, is whatever you need to heal and get free. You do not need to educate anyone.
Since opening the March issue of the UU World, I’ve been thinking about Susan Davis. I met her when I joined the UU Church of Akron, Ohio. Susan was the kind of church lady involved in everything. She ran the local humanist group, was the treasurer of the Akron Interfaith Council, chaired multiple church committees, and was a white UU who showed up for every social justice movement. She carried herself with the kind of grace, dignity, and attention to appearance that reminded me of my elderly aunts.
Separated in age by almost 50 years, we had our differences. As a white, non-binary trans person, I have seen myself as genderqueer since I was 19. I am neither a man, nor a woman. One Sunday I picked up my order of service and saw a responsive reading between men’s and women’s voices. I turned and walked out. Being suddenly divided into two gendered groups is a pervasive fear of mine. In these moments I face a decision: to join a side and suppress who I am, stand out, or be invisible. I usually leave.
Susan wasn’t comfortable with me talking about the need for gender neutral bathrooms. After her successful career, she transitioned and she was a woman. She worried that the idea might make others think that she, too, belonged in an in-between category. We could have just disagreed. Instead we had long conversations so we could include the other’s perspective when we talked about trans issues. This week, I wish I could call Susan to talk, but she died in 2016.
I’ve also been thinking about my trans colleagues. Many have experienced far more hurt within our faith than I have. Many people just assume I’m lesbian. My heart hurts with all the stories I’ve heard over the years of inappropriate comments, invasive questions, hurtful microaggressions and outright discrimination—including from cisgender UU ministers. The greater the injury we have had within our faith, the more this article hurt.
Compounding past injuries are the new ones that trans people are already experiencing as a direct impact of this month’s UU World. I’ve already heard of inappropriate and invasive questions where the questioner cites this month’s UU World as giving permission.
For people whose gender identity aligns with the gender that society assumes goes with their birth sex, people commonly called cis or cisgender, it may seem like trans people have a lot in common. Actually, trans people have a wide range of gender identities and a wide range of ways of adapting, and being unable or unwilling to adapt, to a world that doesn’t often accept us. We come in the full range of human differences which impact how others respond to our transness. Like every group of humans, we are complicated!
The recent TRUUsT survey shows 72% of trans UUs "do not feel as though their congregation is completely inclusive of them.” Unsurprisingly, the number is higher for people of color, young adults, and non-binary people; and higher levels of marginalization are experienced by “people of color, non-binary people, and disabled folks.”
To tell the full story of us, as trans UUs, means telling not only these stories of marginalization, but also the stories of how we contribute. To tell the stories of lay leaders like Susan Davis and so many others who serve our faith well. To even tell of my week, I’d need to tell of so much humor, ministry, and insights from many trans UU’s. Our trans religious professionals and lay people continually bless me and lead me to new insights and growth.
I’ve been out as genderqueer for 21 years. After a few years of wrestling with my gender, I figured out how I wanted to move in the world, put on some metaphorical armor to protect my heart, and focused my energy on other things—employment, learning about racial justice, seminary, family. While I haven’t remained static, when I listen to stories from trans youth about their congregations refusing to learn their pronouns or constantly misgendering them, I realize how much I have simply accepted these injuries and used my armor to try to brush them away.
Really, if it weren’t for my vocation, I might not be in touch with more current trans language, identities, pronouns, basically anything. Even as someone who is trans and non-binary, I often find I need to consult with my colleagues who educate on gender so I can remain current.
I share all this to say, there is no one way that trans Unitarian Universalists are reacting to either this issue of the UU World or the dialogue since. Each of us can only speak for ourselves. And. Those of us whose range of identities mean we experience less marginalization are not the best people to name the full impact of this article or how well UU congregations in general, or yours in particular, actually welcomes trans people.
Please, especially if you’re a cisgender UU leader, dive in. Listen. Learn. Hear how much pain and exclusion many trans UU’s experience and how this article is but one example. As UUs we have a history of hurting people and failing to listen. I hope we can start learning without first causing pain, but it dishonors the pain already caused if we don’t at least learn from it.
Consider your role in your congregation. How can you help educate? How can you support the trans people already in your congregation and be better prepared to welcome others? Remember the next trans person to need your congregation’s ministry may hold different identities than the ones there already.
As a first step, some congregations are printing some of the resources below and distributing them within their congregations. In addition to the online resources, consider hiring one of the fabulous religious professionals from TRUUsT's service directory of religious professionals who really are experts in trans inclusion.
- Chris Walton, UU World’s editor’s, apology and link to the original article.
- UUA President Susan Frederick Gray’s apology
- Transgender Religious professional Unitarian Universalists Together (TRUUsT) published a response.
- Zr. Alex Kapitan explains how the article came to be.
- Transforming Hearts Collective published a piece to help cisgender UUs understand how to support people impacted by this article when they talk about it with other cisgender people. Zr. Alex Kapitan, Rev. Mykal Slack, Teo Drake, and LeLaina Romero, PhD make up the Transforming Hearts Collective who represent "a vision of a world in which queer and trans people can show up fully as ourselves in all of the places we call home” offering consultation and online courses.
- CB Beal explained, in detail, the issues with article in Medium. CB is a religious educator, sexuality educator, and justice consultant who works on inclusion through their lens of “pre-emptive radical inclusion” They will be the keynote speaker at our Seaway Gathering in Ithaca NY on May 4.
- Rev. Mykal O’Neal Slack who serves on the Black Lives of UU Organizing Collective Board posted a reflection.
- Zr. Alex Kapitan also writes on radicalcopywriter.com including on current guidance on writing about transgender people
- TRUUsT maintains a service directory of religious professionals who are trans and/or people of color who you can hire for leading worship, consulting, and much, much more.
- Links mentioned earlier:
- TRUUsT report on the experiences of Trans Unitarian Universalists
- Theresa Inés Soto’s writing this week mentioned in the first paragraph