Thursday, May 22, 2008

We Really DO Eat Our Own!

In the last 24 hours or so, my gay group at All Saints has been having a heated conversation. It started innocently enough with a proposed change to our mission statement. Currently, our mission statement reads:

Gays and Lesbians of All Saints' provides a welcome mat for persons of all orientations. We offer an environment for fostering community and reconciling issues important to our faith. Through our regular gatherings, special social events, annual retreat, and educational and service opportunities, our goal is to grow as beloved children of God.
At our annual retreat (which I couldn't attend due to holding the YDG Exec Retreat), the following mission statement change was suggested:

To be a visible and welcoming presence of the unconditional love of Jesus Christ that allows GLBT people to participate fully in the life and ministry Christ within the community of All Saints.
Not a huge deal, right? As a group within All Saints, we have certainly been maturing. We are no longer a group of mostly older gay men who survived the worst days of the AIDS epidemic in Atlanta. We are also generally NOT made up of single people anymore, much to my chagrin. (So I hoped to meet a nice boy at church...who knew that meant I'd first have to break up a happy home?!? Hence, I'm single with no end to that status in sight.) We are chock full of committed couples, and I'd also say that we are certainly in the middle of a "gayby boom" with male and female couples having children all over the place. As our needs change, the group should change.

Who knew that those four little letters would ignite such a controversy? G.L.B.T.

G.L. are no problem. After all, just about all of us are gays or lesbians. It's when we reference those pesky bisexuals and transgender folk that people back up and say "WHOA! Going too far there!"

The opening salvo came from one of our lesbian members:

However, I have some strong feelings about the new mission statement. In particular, the use of GLBT. I think it's confusing and misleading. To include Transgendered in a mission statement for GALAS would lead (albeit uneducated) people to think that transgendered people are gay. I've had a bunch of conversations with people along these lines and you'd be surprised how many people just don't understand what being transgendered means.

I also feel that it's misleading to a transgendered person who would come across it. Sure, we welcome them, but I feel it gives the impression that we in some way champion their cause or represent their issues. And let's be honest - we don't. We are working very hard toward full inclusion of gay people into the church and are taking steps to educate people of gay issues. But none of it has to do with gender identity.

I know this may come across as harsh and exclusive and I don't intend for it to be. I have great sympathy for the struggle of transgendered people, but I just don't feel that it should be included in our statement.
And with that, we were OFF to the races! Personally, I could not believe that we really had people suggesting "Yeah, we'd welcome them, but we certainly won't talk about them!" This from a group of people who largely grew up in churches that explicitly and HARSHLY excluded them for being gay or lesbian. I know I grew up in a church where it was clear that my pastor did not like gays, nor would he tolerate them in his congregation. He also made it perfectly clear that God didn't particularly like me either. It took me years to give church another chance, and I found a place in All Saints that accepted me for who I was, an openly gay man. That was a tremendous gift, and I didn't understand how others would argue we should deny that to others.

The same lesbian came back later to add:

I am not uncomfortable with transgendered people. And I do not wish to exclude anyone. I simply don't see a need to call out transgendered in our mission statement, for the reasons I stated earlier. Everyone is welcome at the table, but we aren't listing transvestites, cross dressers, etc. in our statement either. It's a question of clarity. We are gay people fighting for the inclusion of and education about gay people. Sexual orientation, not gender identity.

If we want to tackle these larger issues, that's a discussion for another day and a mission for a future group.

I wasn't sure how to respond, but I knew I had to. This is what I said:
By specifically excluding T when the popular press and the political world all recognize that we are part of one community (LGBT) is to really have a mission statement who's true meaning is:

To be a visible and welcoming presence of the unconditional love of Jesus Christ that allows gay, lesbian, and bi-sexual, but not those freaky transgender, people to participate fully in the life and ministry Christ within the community of All Saints.

Honestly, how could the underlying message be anything BUT that? It seems we have a strong sentiment that trans people are freaks and undeserving of the love of Christ or being able to participate fully in the life and ministry of of Christ in His Church. Of course, there is same fear that led Barney Frank to exclude the transgender from the Hate Crimes and ENDA legislation. There was a majority for protecting gays and lesbians, but certainly not "those people". But even then, there was a promise that the community would come back later and take care of the I am not even hearing that. I get the feeling that many of us would simply shun a transgender person who came to All Saints...and for those of us who have grown up with the shame of being gay in the church, been told that God does NOT love us, that we are unworthy of the community of Christ... how do we turn around and do the same thing to the Transgender person, if one was so bold as to step inside our church?

It was the crossdressers and trannies who rioted at Stonewall and launched the gay rights movement, if I have my history correct. Yet here we are being quite explicit about who in our community is and is not worthy of full participation in the community of Christ.

I do not think we have achieved full integration. If we had, then we would not have seen each and every gay or lesbian candidate for vestry voted down since we moved to mail-in ballots. We are integrating, but we have work we need to continue to do...and I think the gayby boom we are seeing in All Saints will help that tremendously, as long as the new parents continue to devote themselves to church service and then stand for election to Vestry.

I would agree with the sentiment below, but I would also add that we are to be a source of education for the rest of the church too, as we connect ourselves with other ministries.

> Personally, my interest would be more towards "evangelism." What I
mean by that is there needs to be some mechanism to help gays and
> 1. Know the grace and love of God expressed at All Saints' for
gays and lesbians
> 2. Connect with other gays and lesbians to feel comfortable and
> 3. Find ways of connecting gays and lesbians into the overall
community and ministries within the rest of All Saints'

I think it's good to have this conversation, even if by email. I am not comfortable with transgender issues myself, so I sympathize with the notion of excluding them to protect ourselves...but something inside me says that course of action is just not right. Whether that is simply my conscience or the Holy Spirit nagging at my soul, I cannot say. But the steering committee will follow the will of the membership, whatever that may be.
I got some emails back saying that I was full of anger and falsely attributing things to people who wanted to just name "gay and lesbian" to our group's mission. I thought I was just clarifying things, pointing out what we were REALLY saying by specifically saying we won't touch the trans or bi issue.

Then one of my fellow "Steering Committee" members got into the fun. You have to understand some background of this fellow to fully appreciate his contribution to the discussion. This is a man who has a history of imposing a storyline on his life, or at least TRYING to. The last couple of years since he turned 30, he's been on this kick of being part of a "perfect gay family". He will move heaven and earth to make this a reality too. In the meantime, his partner is in this country illegally, having overstayed his visa after the government turned down his application for permanent residency. They recently adopted a baby girl through open adoption, although how the illegal residency thing was missed by background checks the agency did is beyond me. During the process, this man went through more than a few shortcuts so he could get his child sooner than later. Both men have easy and ready access to recreational drugs (I know that's common in Atlanta, but if you're trying to be the picture perfect gay family, I'd think drugs would not be included), and up until the child arrived, they were ho9lding regular threesomes with God-knows-who and smoking up every chance they got! Now if he weren't trying to play like he's the gay version of "Leave it to Beaver" I wouldn't care less. But it's the hypocritical sanctimony that gets to me. Here was his missive:

Adding the initials “BT,” I believe is inflammatory and will not be received well within the parish. In fact, after a conversation with leadership at All Saints’, I don’t believe it will be accepted by the priests or vestry. Nor do I believe it is our decision to make—that is, adding it to our Mission Statement. I believe we can make recommendations to the leadership/rector/priests/vestry at All Saints’ but GALAS still functions within All Saints’ Episcopal Church and thus it’s internal group’s Mission Statements must be approved. Also, I want to again say I was very comfortable with the original Mission Statement even though I wasn’t even involved, at all, within GALAS at its origin. I think we need to pause and treat this dialogue as our recommendation for a new Mission Statement.

I am all for the process of dialogue and for respectfully sharing our opinions. Personally, I am against adding the “BT,” because again, I think it’s inflammatory and I think we should be cautious as the church is fatigued with these issues. I respect, have considered and acknowledge ’s comments on other issues the church has faced in the past and the results. Adding those initials is not something I am willing to stand up for and push hard for within our church. I believe our parish has taken significant steps already towards our support and yet also feel we are not fully affirmed and included yet.

To that end, my partner and I have respectfully told and requested of Geoffrey that when he and Vestry will stand behind us or “approve,” we want to have our commitment ceremony in the church – at the same altar (or table) as other parishioners. To use Bruce’s words, to be completely affirmed as beloved children of God in our church. Another GALAS member and I were discussing this today and considering that pets can be blessed at All Saints’ but Gay and Lesbian couples cannot. Step by step—true, but I have personally made it known to Geoffrey that my partner and I want to be affirmed as beloved children of God, at the altar, the same as our straight brothers and sisters who I sit beside in the pew at church.

I propose that we approach our dialogue towards refining our Mission Statement as a recommendation to the Rector/Priests and Vestry.

I also acknowledge I do not personally know any transgender people nor understand their issues. Because of that, I’m not personally comfortable adding their initial in our Mission Statement. Thank you for your well written and respectful email on the issue. That email has made me think a lot. Also, I take issue with the concept of bisexuality and believe it inhibits fully committed relationship with another. Because of that, I’m not personally comfortable adding their initial in our Mission Statement.
So, I was left with this apparent backlash by "upstanding, respectable" gays and lesbians against the more flamboyant members of our community. They were going so far as to say that Trans people aren't even MEMBERS of our community. That made me wonder how I could explain that they are. I am certainly not the perfect vessel. I have my own issues of transphobia and just plain not getting it. But I don't think that means I should turn around and suppress them! This is what I came up with:

The question of whether or not transgender people (or even bisexuals) really belong in our community is an interesting one and perhaps at the heart of this mission question. We are an affinity group, so our mission should be narrowly tailored to the community we intend to serve. So that begs the question: are transgender folks a part of our community or not?

Looking at the issue of sexual orientation, it's easy to see how at first blush, one could say "Maybe, maybe not" depending on the transgender person. An MTF (Male to Female) person who was always attracted to men will technically go from gay to straight after full transition. However, an MTF who has always been attracted to women will go from technically straight to gay! I could offer similar examples for women. Would we, therefore, include the MTF who "becomes" gay upon transition and exclude the MTF who "becomes" straight upon transition? Or do we say the question is too confusing, and we're excluding the whole lot?

I've thought a lot in the last day about how a transgender person is and is not part of our community. It goes beyond who that person falls in love with or sleeps with. The more basic question is what could possibly unite G, L, B, and T? Why does society disparage ALL of us? Why do so many in the worldwide church froth at the mouth at
the mere thought that we might be considered beloved children of God?

Biblical translations aside, ultimately, each and every one of us is violating the norms of our born gender. For gays and lesbians, we dare form our primary attachments to members of our SAME gender! Why, I was born a MAN...and everyone KNOWS a man is supposed to be with a woman! I'm spitting in the face of that by admitting I'm gay! Same goes for any lesbian. You and I know that is just how we are born and
wired. We couldn't force ourselves to fall in love with an opposite gender mate than we could survive underwater. The bisexual dabbles in this expression of noncomformity by being quite open to relationships with BOTH sexes.

Where does the Transgender fit into this? A Trans woman is born a man with XY chromosomes, a penis, and testicles. He's supposed to fit into the gender roles of a MAN. There's a problem, though. Everything tells him that he's really a woman, despite the physical evidence to the contrary. So if he comes to terms with that, he will transition into a SHE, and literally cut off the parts that "make" him a man. For society, this is MUCH MUCH worse than our transgression of merely having romantic and sexual relations with members of our own gender. A man that would multilate his own body in order to live as a WOMAN! Imagine it! And then you have a Trans man who is born as a female, and then cuts off her breasts and turns her vagina into a penis! A woman trying to be something she never can...a "real" man!
We will have NONE of that, thank you!

And then you have those in between folks...the ones who are NOT transgender, but who nonetheless have much in common with the transgender in that they live their life displaying characteristics of the opposite gender. By this, I mean the flaming queen who swishes down the street and the bull dyke is often mistaken for a teenage boy. For many of us, we are just as uncomfortable with them as we are with the idea of the transgender. If we decide that trans is certainly NOT a part of our community, do we also say that the flaming queen and the bull dyke really aren't either? If we insist on making room for them, how do we justify saying to the poor transgender person who dares walk into All Saints, "Sorry, we're not here to serve you. Form your own group." The trans person would probably expect that, sadly enough, and likely isn't going to go into church. The statistics on transgender folks are scary...most have no jobs, few friends, and they tend to live on the street. That's why you have so many "tranny hookers". Their suicide rate makes our 30% rate as gay/lesbian youth
look downright low.

We are certainly arguing over something that hasn't happened yet, and I doubt will happen in the near future. Transgender issues are far behind the rest of gay and lesbian rights. Declining to reference them is a conscious choice to exclude them from our mission and our community. The people in the church who would freak out at the mere thought of a bisexual or transgender person would also freak out at the flaming queen and the bull dyke. Most of us at All Saints are pretty mainstream and downright ordinary. As we approach our goal of full integration and equality in the church, should we consciously leave behind the more flamboyant members of our community to "seal the deal"... or do we betray ourselves in doing that?

Our society as a whole has not figured that out yet, but it's certainly underpinning our conversation.
I don't know what the result will be. I feel like I'm wholly ill equipped to make the Trans-inclusive argument, and I certainly understand the feelings of the other side. They sense trouble brewing, or stalling our movement forward in the church, so they are trying to get rid of anyone who might hold our cause of full acceptance back. But it just seems WRONG to do it that way.

I'm open to any thoughts....

1 comment:

Kelli Busey said...

Dear, dear Jason,
I wish I could hold your hand and comfort you. You are the reason that we transgender feel so proud of being called the "queerest of the queer". I love my community. Rock on Jason.
Please visit me