Many years ago, I heard a transgender woman speak about the fear and intolerance she faces on a daily basis. When fearful people ask her why she’s choosing to go “against God’s creation” and the “natural order of life,” she responds with a simple question that has forever changed the way I think:
“When did God stop creating?”
This past year, with this question ringing in my ears, I slowly and surely began to name what has always been true for me. In my spirit, mind and body, I have never felt male.
While I was assigned male at birth, my earliest memories include the recognition that I wasn’t a boy, even (and especially) when placed in a group of boys. Through study and learning, I have come to name my experience and claim the identity of “third gender” (a gender other than male or female) or “genderqueer,” part of the Transgender spectrum. Six months ago, with lingering fear, I made this part of my reality as public as possible, a decision to be known that has blessed me in more ways than I could have imagined.
At the same time, inviting people into my reality has not been a cure-all remedy for the many ways that I still seek to be more fully known and named in my communities, including Germantown Mennonite. This requires continued work in asking my friends and family to refer to me with the gender-neutral pronouns they, them and theirs and not refer to me as a guy, man, brother or son. In doing so, it didn’t take long for me to realize that male and female gender labels unknowingly permeate our everyday speech. In order for me to feel more fully known and named by my communities, I have to speak up to correct loved ones when they misgender me, a task that takes constant energy, courage and shared respect.
While important, the desire to be more fully known and named goes deeper than pronouns and labels; it is a desire to share in the fullness of community life as a genderqueer person. The limitations of our language reflect a societal lack of awareness in allowing and creating space for people who identify outside of the strict and defined “gender binary.” Even among my queer communities (populated mostly by cisgender* gay and lesbian folks), I have to continually create space for myself as a genderqueer person.
What becomes clear is that gender (as we have understood it) is a construct, and an oppressive construct at that. We have given meaning and social capital to concepts of “male” and “female” without allowing for variance, exceptions or a full array of gender identity and expression. I grew up with a construct of gender that wasn’t built for me, nor could it allow space for me as a genderqueer person. Those who identify outside of the binary have to continually create that space for themselves in a society unprepared to understand their experience. This is an exhausting and time-consuming task.
If you’re reading this, I encourage you to continue questioning your constructed view of gender. Who are you excluding with gender binary speech? Can you commit to asking and using the preferred gender pronouns of the transgender people in your congregation, your family and your communities? How does stretching your view of gender stretch your conception of who God is?
Can you open yourself to the possibility that God is still creating — on earth, in creation and in you?
Though Germantown considers itself a single community, we are all individuals with our own backgrounds, and therefore any opinions expressed in this blog should be read as the opinions of the author, and not the official position of GMC. We encourage positive discourse, so all comments will be moderated before posting.
*Cisgender is a term used to refer to someone whose gender identity matches the gender they were assigned at birth.