The Forward of OtherWise Christian: A Guidebook for Transgender Liberation was written by the Rev. Louis Mitchell, executive director of Transfaith.
OtherWise Christian, much like Transfaith, was born of a need for something that did not already exist. I have known them for nearly a decade and Chris Paige is a bit of a spiritual mid-wife—giving birth to new life in a variety of ways. Chris has a knack both for identifying critical needs and for finding the adjacent opportunities waiting nearby.
I am not an authority on all things biblical, but I do live in a world that often uses Christian teachings and texts to erase, disable, disparage, and demean me. I have a stake in this conversation because, as a Black transgender Christian, I nurse the bruises and count the scars of my various religious experiences. Yet, I find comfort more and more in the embrace of God—as I experience the All in my life. Like many of my friends and colleagues I am deeply invested in exploring, engaging, and even wrestling with the words of our ancestors in faith. I am both spiritual and religious, and this book gives me plenty to work with and work on.
I have spent time with many books and scholars, seminaries and Bible studies, reading, searching and listening for deeper, more nuanced ways to engage with biblical texts. I finally found what I was looking for and more in this book! I actually wept with joy a few times as I read.
One of the hardest things about being a Christian believer in modernity (or at any time, I imagine) is that we are discouraged from arguing with, wrestling with, dancing with—we are discouraged from having an honest relationship with the Bible. We have been fed interpretations, and unless we have read them in their original languages and studied the contexts in which they were written, we don’t acknowledge (or even know) that we are ingesting someone else’s biased understandings. We have taken in all manner of assumptions as “gospel” truth. Yet, these “truths” are not as well founded as they may seem at first glance.
In these pages, Chris Paige has done some initial digging for us—perhaps connecting dots we have always wondered about or maybe just pointing out that there are even dots there to be considered. Weaving together the works of other writers and scholars with their own analyses, Chris has given us a provocative tour through time, space, study, and narrative. OtherWise Christian provides a menu of sorts—explorations and queries more than answers or solutions. It is an invitation to continue seeking instead of resting on old ideas. Finally, I have a trans-affirming biblical resource that is clear, to the point, and accessible!
In the time I have known Chris, they have had the courage to be OtherWise in every area of their life: questioning, re-evaluating, wrestling, arguing, reconfiguring, and adjusting—all the stuff that makes most of us uncomfortable and that also allows us to deepen our faith and to grow as people. Not only does this book challenge those who are cisgender to be more trans inclusive, it also challenges those of us who are transgender but also deeply entrenched in the binary.
In their preface, Chris says they aren’t a “pastor or priest, neither… theologian nor professor,” but I disagree! In these pages, I have found deep pastoral care, powerful ministry, profound spiritual thought, and insightful teaching. When Chris asked me to write this forward, I felt honored and pleased. Yet, as I continued to read, my feelings shifted and exploded beyond mere pleasant connection. Page after page, chapter after chapter, I felt seen, taught, explored, and engaged with. From the exploration of what it might look like to have a “safer spirituality,” to the depth and breadth of a “genderfull” Christ, to the lagniappe of reminders that I am loved, every chapter and section offered a salve to my heart.
I find myself motivated to study more and further after reading this book—to question what I thought I knew about the Bible and what it says about gender. I am excited to revisit familiar characters and narratives with a new OtherWise lens. This is an extraordinary gift to the trans community and to those, whether transgender or cisgender, who wish to go deeper in the texts to see those of us who have been hidden, erased, and/or disparaged. Chris is my bestie and I am biased, but that doesn’t mean that I am wrong!
There’s a passage in the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous that bubbled up for me when reading this book. It stems from the ever-present feelings of aloneness in the world of religion, even in “affirming” religious settings. It says,
There is no more aloneness, with that awful ache, so deep in the heart of every alcoholic, that nothing, before, could ever reach it. That ache is gone and never need return again. Now there is a sense of belonging, of being wanted and needed and loved. In return for a bottle and a hangover, I have been given the Keys of the Kingdom. (Alcoholics Anonymous, page 276)
I feel less alone after reading OtherWise Christian. I feel seen, sought, valued… and LOVED. It is my hope and prayer that this book lands in every progressive seminary, every house of worship that seeks to understand and embrace the deep diversity of God’s creation, and in libraries where our young people may find it.
May every word of this book be a blessing to those of us whose lives often hang precariously on the margins.
Thank you, Mx. Chris Paige, for your courageous exploration and witness!
The Rev. Louis J. Mitchell
(c) 2019 by the Rev. Louis Mitchell. All rights reserved.