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.

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