Friday, September 26, 2014

Neutralizing Gender, Neutralizing God: Gender Inclusive vs. Gender Neutral Terminology in the Church

There are two key pieces of information you need for the following reflection to make sense. First, I am a genderqueer trans* person who spends an extremely large portion of their life explaining that:
                A) Yes, I do actually exist
                B) No, I don’t fit your boxes AND THAT’s OK
                C) “They” is grammatically correct as a singular pronoun.  

Secondly, the Episcopal Church in Connecticut has recently proposed a resolution that, as far as I can tell, endeavors to eliminate sexism by erasing gender through the elimination of gendered language.  The full text of this resolution is available at

Gendered language is by far one of the biggest obstacles in my life. No matter where I go, I am reminded that by living into the fullness I’ve been given I have stepped outside the bounds of culture and language. Every form I fill out, every public restroom I need to use, every time a stranger decides that I am “sir” or “ma’am” I am reminded that who I am is not supposed to exist.

I have been broken down under the constant onslaught of oppression our language entails. I am faded, the page of my identity is near worn through from constant erasure. I am also tired of shouting for the umpteenth time that God is bigger than the pink & blue boxes we create.

From this place gender inclusive language can be a blessing. When people take the time to ask what pronouns I prefer (they), open their restrooms to people of all body shapes and endeavor to address me as who I am they begin to undo the harm caused by the spaces that don’t. Their respect for my existence affirms my dignity as a human being, as person who was made to both love & be loved.

After years of being told that “you don’t exist”, “you’re a mistake”, “you can’t be”, I need spaces that include me. I need to hear time and time again that the God of all creation is the same God that made me. For these spaces to exist gender inclusive language is critical. I need to hear that it is ok to exist, and that our language has room for me to be. Names are important, for they represent things that are. When no words exist, the predominant message is that we do not exist. When words exist and are not used, the message of erasure remains the same.

But when I speak of gender inclusive language, I don’t mean neutrality because my gender isn’t “neutral”. I am not stuck in an in-between setting that isn’t male or female. My gender is the wonderful and painful existence of someone who has lived and does live as girl, boy, woman, and man all at the same time. I share the gifts and pain of each of those places. I am not genderless, but genderful, which is a great blessing.

I firmly support exploring how we can become more inclusive in our language. I strongly believe that we need to ensure the invitation we’ve been given to share isn’t just sent to the cis & binary gendered people we see, but to all people whom God has made. We need to reflect on our pronouns, titles and spaces, to consider how they affect those who different. (Hint: Try asking, the answers might surprise you.)

In this I support what I understand to be the intent of the resolution, the desire to be more conscious of what our words mean. The problem I have with their proposed action is that the elimination of gendered titles is a form of eliminating gender. This resolution is dangerous because it proposes to force all priests into a genderless model, eliminating the gift of their gender diversity.

As person who lives with a daily struggle to maintain my dignity, I firmly believe that dignity can never be gained by stripping it from other people. That is what I see proposed in this resolution. I see an effort to eliminate the challenges of gender by forcing everyone into a genderless model. My daily fight to live as Andy, who is simultaneously both a woman and a man, is incomplete without your ability to live as a woman, a man, both, neither, fluid, or any other understanding of yourself.  As such I must oppose any effort to force gender-neutral language on a binary gendered person.

Since I believe that merely opposing things is insufficient, I’d like to close by offer the harder and richer road of conversation. Rather than enforcing silence, let us take time to break bread together and share what our gender means to us. Let us explore how we live and reflect the greatness of a God who made us in God’s image, female, male, intersex, trans, queer and so many more. Let us spend time learning how we can lift up those who have been forgotten, spread wholeness among the broken, and share the hope of a Kingdom where we are all called by name. In short let us live as agents of Christ’s love among the gendered diversity of creation.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Asking Why: Doubt & The Episcopal Church (Acts 8 BLOGFORCE)

                When I was little I hated being asked “why” as much as I loved asking it. I delighted in exploring a new world every day, constantly trying to figure out why things came together as they did. I was certain there was a reason for everything…despite the fact I was singularly incapable of answering that question.

                As I’ve played with this question, this why, for the past few weeks I’m realizing I haven’t changed as much as I thought. I first came to an Episcopal Church to test out my New Year’s resolution to see if I could “tolerate” Christians.  After nearly seven years as an anti-Christian pagan the question I brought to the red doors was “what are you going to do with me, a misfit, a mistake, who doesn’t belong anywhere.” 

                The immediate answer was one of welcome and invitation. Yet these simple actions went beyond answering my initial question, they pulled me into the deepest question I’d discarded. A child I’d wondered “why the universe”. This was a question that I’d lost during my hasty flight from a religion that repeatedly torn me to shreds.  “Why” was the question that the Episcopal Church both asked…and answered. 

                In the Episcopal Church I was confronted for the first time with a faith that is as complex as my journey. I found a church that both accepted me as I was and then challenged me to grow in ways I’m still trying to figure out. The Episcopal Church introduced me to mysteries that defy all reason, yet when shared call forth an answer from within my soul.

                So I stayed. Beyond staying I joined the Episcopal Service Corps for a year, then the Lawrence House Service Corps. For two years in a row I moved across the country to join other young adults in a service oriented faith community. I didn’t stop to ask why. I simply had a sense of this being what needed to happen, and I went. 

                Arriving in South Hadley a few weeks ago I realized how uprooted I’d become. With all of my family and friends well beyond a reasonable journey away, a vague sense of what I’m supposed to doing for work and overwhelmed with the day to day discussions that building a community with five strangers entails I finally stopped to ask “why”. 

                The answer, a vague mix of God, faith, and it seemed like the right thing, triggered a massive internal argument. On the one had giving oneself over to a life of faith, an active ongoing discernment of where one’s gifts are most useful is considered a virtue, something to strive for. There was a part of me that longed to internally celebrate my new-found ability to hold onto God in the total uncertainty that my life has become. The other part, equally loud, reminded me I had no concrete reason to believe God is real. After all I’ve heard repeatedly that mental illness is just as likely explanation for the mystical experiences I’ve undergone. 

                So I was torn. On the one hand I find it impossible to believe that the fullness I experience at the Eucharist, the quiet voice that whispers I am loved, and the healing found in forgiveness is rooted in a delusion. On the other it seems completely fool-hardy to base my entire life on a God that is so irrational when compared with the reason I grew up with. 

                In the midst of this confusion, this internal struggle, I’ve clung to a ritual I grew into through St. Hilda’s House last year, the daily office. Days passed without connecting to the prayers, yet I made myself continue reciting them. Until one morning, prayerbook open, I found myself I drifting into thought, “why” bouncing around and around unanswered in my mind. 

                During that prayer I didn’t reach a resolution about the existence of God, or whether wandering from placement to placement based on faith is a good idea. What I heard was a gentle reminder that I wasn’t the only one praying the office that morning. A subtle nudge that even if I didn’t, couldn’t, believe the words I was praying, someone in this world at that exact moment had enough faith to share.  I had a sense that it’s ok to be where I am, because even if I can only pray with my hands and mouth at this moment, someone else’s heart and soul is full of the belief that currently eludes me. 

                This is why we need the Episcopal Church. We need to be shown, time and time again, to the Why of the universe. We all need to be reminded that while much of Christianity feels foolish to our modern consumeristic world there is a deeper wisdom. We need to be surrounded by people who fully live into the complexities of faith and reality. 

                Why the Episcopal Church? I’m here because this community dared me to live into the question of Why in ways that I will spend a lifetime trying to comprehend. Our dedication to both tradition and creativity, integrity and growth, lives the Gospel in a way that reaches out in a form that no other tradition can. The Episcopal Church is a unique space where both ancient and modern voices join the conversation, each valued for what they are. This is certainly worth preserving.