Uplift: Uplifting LGBTQ+ Experience Within and Beyond Unitarian Universalism

The Ghost at Church

By J Mase III

After I got done with my sermon, white people approached me in droves. Many with tears in their eyes, thanking me for my message. Many regaled me with stories about what they did to address racial injustice in their lives, or moments they wish they did more. I looked around the church and saw only one other Black face, and one white trans person. An older gentleman came towards me and pressed a card into my palm with the church’s tenets written in white letters while saying, “This is why you’d be welcomed here.” I wondered what welcomed meant.

There is a spiritual loneliness when looking for your people in the eyes of a congregation that is well read, but not well practiced in the art of addressing racial and trans justice. As a Black trans person whose history has been stolen, erased, and gaslit I had to take intentional steps to piece together a faith practice that didn’t just acknowledge me as a full being, in all my Blackness and transness, but also the reality of the world I exist in at this current moment in time.

I exist in a world in which Black trans people are consistently physically assaulted, denied jobs, excluded from healthcare, houseless and with a life expectancy decades lower than that of our cisgender counterparts. Yet, in polite conversations all across this country, I am asked to hold space for folks who often have so much safety and space already; for people who love to hear my voice tremble as I share memoriams for friends who have died early and the call and response of my cultural ambience; for those who yearn to be told the emotional pain of knowing they have played a part in the oppression of others can somehow compare to the reality of experiencing anti-trans and/or anti-Black violence.

For many people, the act of searching for a theology that sees them fully is a luxurious practice; it comes accidentally and with little effort. They have this pleasure of feeling seen and understood. For folks like us, having an understanding of where one’s faith practice waxes in tandem with white supremacy/transphobia and where it diverges is a matter of survival.

It was a matter of survival when some family members disowned me; It was a matter of survival when I was leaving a violent relationship and the faith leaders I reached out to couldn’t see themselves getting involved; it was a matter of survival when I found myself at churches with rainbow signs on their doors but no room for Black beings in their pews. It continues to be a matter of survival as the numbers of Black trans people I encounter who have experienced violence and disenfranchisement, always outweighs those who have not.

I know the theology we hold sacred can shift conversations into action. However, many of us come from a theology that focuses on us feeling like good people without the responsibility of doing good work by those around us experiencing harm. I want to be part of a faith practice that changes that. As a co-editor of the #BlackTransPrayerBook, I am committed to collecting the prayers, spells, poems and reclaimed history of Black trans spirit workers who always make a way out of no way.

Every year, as we continue to bury those whose very existence seems a defiant act, we must become more honest about the legacies our religions play in arming their enemies with our indifference and inaction. I seek to re-establish a concept of faith that demands we center the most marginalized and make space for their methods to lead. For me, the #BlackTransPrayerBook is one step on that journey towards using faith to dismantle anti-Black and anti-trans violence simultaneously. I hope you are invested in the same.

#BlackTransMagick, is a cohort of Black trans poets and musicians seeking to answer this very question. Through the creation of the #BlackTransPrayerBook, we are seeking a place to hold and process our spiritual pain as a community, hold faith spaces accountable to the anti-Blackness and transphobia they perpetuate and fuel the resiliency of Black trans people needing spiritual space. To make this happen, we need the help and support of anti-racist and trans affirming faith spaces.

If you would like to support the #BlackTransPrayerBook please give at https://www.gofundme.com/black-trans-prayer-book.

About the Author

J Mase III

J Mase III is a Black/trans poet & educator based in Seattle by way of NYC. From a Christian and Muslim upbringing, he has worked with community members all over the US, UK & Canada on the needs of LGBTQIA youth and adults in secular and faith spaces. His musings and work have been featured on...


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