I never realized how truly complex gender could be until I had to try to explain it to my two-year-old. How do we know which pronouns to use for others? Why do we have all these other words like “woman” or “daddy” or “girl” when we’re all “people”? What does it mean to have long hair? As a straight and cis-gendered adult, it is all too easy for me to gloss over the full complexity of the gender and sexuality spectrum, or to forget that I ever asked the questions about sex and identity that confront us from such an early age.
And while my kid hasn’t asked us about race yet, we’re due for an awkward public comment about skin color any day now. We’re a mixed-race family, which means that we will always be navigating the inside/outside nature of racial dialogue and appearance. I often think about how I can help my son, lighter-skinned than I am, move through the world with deep awareness of both his personal heritage and of the brutal reality of race in this country.
One of the best things religious communities like ours can do is create a supportive environment for our kids to learn positive values about identity, love and families. The Our Whole Lives curriculum of sexuality education is a rightful source of pride for many Unitarian Universalists, affirming healthy, principled approaches to sexuality and relationships throughout the lifespan. As a faith tradition that has flown rainbow flags for decades, even when it represented more of the aspiration for inclusion than the reality, UU’s have been a public beacon of religious support for LGBTQ people.
But more than any program or initiative, it is the lived experience of queer and non-binary folx in our congregations that is the real measure of inclusivity. Here’s where the intersectionality of race, gender, age and sexuality play out, because the younger generations in our congregations (and the whole United States) are less straight and less white. The stories and statistics of violence faced by young, queer people of color are some of the most heart-breaking truths in our world. When our congregations can be safe harbors, even if it’s only for a Sunday morning, it feels like one of the most important things we can do live out our religious values. The queer youth groups, coffee houses, shelters and gay proms that our congregations host literally save lives.
My church has a practice of naming gender pronouns on our nametags. My son’s nametag says “He/Him (for now).” I have no idea where his journey will take him on the road of gender identity, but I am deeply grateful for a community that makes it normal to ask questions or imagine different ways of being who you are. Unitarian Universalism has much work to do to live up to its full promise of affirming the inherent worth and dignity of every last human being, and it is an urgent call to make that promise true for the faith we pass on to our children.