The Open Hands, Fall 1996 issue marks the beginning of what I calling the “transgender spring“–a season of blossoming interest in transgender faith experience.
This issue was truly a landmark for expanding the conversation around transgender experience. The one and only outside, faith-based resource cited was The Cross and the Crossdresser by Vanessa S. [sic]. It was not an oversight. Faith-based conversations about transgender experience were almost non-existent in 1996 outside of deeply hidden networks of transgender people (at the time, “TG/TS” for “transgendered and transexual”).
The Opening Invitation from Open Hands, Fall 1996 itself serves in some way as an acknowledgement of this gap between church communities and visible transgender experience:
For TG/TS folks, we hope that this issue of Open Hands will in some way be an aid for sharing yourself with your religious community, however open or limited that interaction might be. As God’s community, we are not whole without you.
While the publisher was Mark Bowman and the editor was Mary Jo Osterman, Open Hands was the early collaborative project between the Reconciling Congregation Program, Inc. (UMC, later rebranded Reconciling Ministries Network) and key ecumenical partners:
- Open and Affirming Program (UCC) — part of what was later rebranded the UCC Open and Affirming Coalition
- Reconciled in Christ Program (Lutheran) — later rebranded as ReconcilingWorks
- More Light Churches Network (PCUSA) — later rebranded (after merger) as More Light Presbyterians
- Welcoming & Affirming Baptists (ABC/USA)
This season of growing awareness was when “lesbian and gay” organizations started adjusting names and mission statements to “LGBT,” though the substance of that shift would still be several years away. Indeed, the Claiming the Promise curriculum (due out January 1997 from this same collective of organizations) was advertised in this Fall 1996 issue, but included no material on transgender issues outside of a passing reference in the glossary.
The Fall 1996 issue of Open Hands featured a variety of voices, though only a handful of transgender-identified writers:
- Nancy Nangeroni (writing from a secular point of view)
- Rica Ashby Fredrickson (as interviewed by Jim Kocher-Hillmer)
- Gloria R. Terrill (writing without reference to religion)
- Tiffany S.
- Deirdre McCloskey
- Tony Ryan (pen name)
- Vanessa S.
- Kate Bornstein (quoted briefly from a Chicago Tribune article)
I count 11 cisgender writers alongside these 4 faith-based trans-identified writers, 1 interviewee, and 3 secular writers. Among those, there are several anonymizing references (using “S.” as a surname, using a pen name, or changed names to avoid disclosure), indicating the high levels of stigma experienced at the time.
As I write this in 2018, it’s also worth noting that the content is overwhelmingly binary except for the Bornstein quote.
The Fall 1996 issue of Open Hands is now available online through the LGBT Religious Archives Network. However, at the time, it was only available for purchase in print form from the publisher, Reconciling Congregation Program (at a time when Amazon.com did not yet dominate the market). The cost was $6 plus shipping.
Many thanks to Mark Bowman and the LGBT Religious Archive Network for preserving the Open Hands Collection and making it accessible online.
Compiled by Mx. Chris Paige in October 2018.
Note: This blog is intended to be an on-going work in progress. Please contact us if you have corrections or are able to contribute further context or reflections.
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