This is the Preface to OtherWise Christian: A Guidebook for Transgender Liberation by Mx. Chris Paige.
During times of trouble
I called on the LORD.
The LORD answered me
[and] set me free
[from all of them].
God’s Word translation
I offer myself, not as pastor or priest, neither as theologian nor professor. If anything, I am an “Irreverend,” who is seeking to disrupt the oppressive ways that even well-meaning Christians talk about transgender liberation. It matters little whether I have studied Latin or Greek (though I did), whether I can properly cite scripture or format a footnote (though I could). What matters most (to me) is that I am a witness to the resurrection. I am a witness to the wisdom and resilience of my people. That commitment is at the core of this book.
I offer myself as a fellow traveler, interested in journeying with you for a little ways through these pages. In OtherWise Christian: A Guidebook for Transgender Liberation, I hope to share from what I have learned over twenty years as a transgender and non-binary organizer of European descent and Christian upbringing. I write with thanksgiving for the many gifts I have been given by others on this journey. I write as a way to pass along the generosity that I have received.
If this book helps an ally or accomplice to gain some perspective, then I welcome it. However, I write primarily for my trans siblings, for my intersex cousins, for my non-binary and gender non-conforming kindred, and for all who resist the reductive ideas about gender that so many of us have been taught in the Western world. I write in praise and gratitude for all those who are OtherWise in all our shapes and sizes, all our manifestations and traditions. May past, present, and future join hands as we hold close our ancestors and the elders who have gone before us, our children and the young ones who are yet to come. May each of us know the joy of this lineage that we share.
OtherWise Christian is a love letter to transgender communities, a self defense manual against Bible abuse and Christian trans-antagonism, and the beginning of a historical record of how far we have come. It is an offering of love for my companions and comrades in the struggle because we are worthy, because we are beloved, and because we belong to one another.
A Love Letter
Too many people of transgender experience have had to travel this road alone. Even after finding community that seems to care, many of us go through seasons of feeling abandoned and wandering in the wilderness. In twenty years of organizing among transgender people, I have found no more important resource for transgender people than our finding one another in the fierce tenderness of friendship and community.
The world finds a plethora of ways to tell us that we are unworthy of love, even when we know better. Christianity is particularly known for casting judgment and condemnation. It is a powerful practice for us to remember that Love remains with us at all times. After the 2016 Republican National Convention (in the United States), I started writing “You Are Loved” posts on my Facebook page as a form of resistance. These simple daily reminders seemed to land in a raw spot for many of my friends—especially those of transgender experience.
With that in mind, each chapter of OtherWise Christian will include some sort of short reminder that you are loved, that you are valuable, that you are worthy, and that you are not alone. No matter what you may be going through right now, please take a moment to breath in that loving care at each opportunity.
May our children know hope. May our elders know dignity. May our ancestors draw near. You are loved.
A Self-Defense Manual
In many ways, I learned the Bible as a form of self-defense in the 1990s as the “religious right” came into the mainstream. We live in a world where the language and traditions of Christianity are too often used as weapons against people of transgender experience, not only in church settings but also in legislatures, in social media, and even at family gatherings.
Often the weapons used are actually little more than outdated, ill-informed cultural assumptions and “alternative facts” that have nothing to do with “what the Bible says” at all! OtherWise Christian provides practical biblical literacy to equip and support our people. The Christian Bible is actually full of an amazing array of gender-diverse characters doing God’s work in the world. I invite you to celebrate their testimonies with me.
Where possible, I will also point toward where you can find more in-depth scholarship and/or expanded reflection (especially when I can give recognition to those who labored to bring us these insights). However, in aiming for a brief and accessible starting point, I will leave detailed scholarly arguments for other writers who can afford such luxuries.
That said, more rigorous scholarship would reveal that there is no singular definitive interpretation of any text. There are only the stories that we tell about the stories that we hear about the stories that we read. This is especially true of writings that span more than two millennia, multiple original languages, and the disparate worldviews of at least two major world religions. I certainly concede that alternative interpretations exist, though I am not motivated to argue about it. That said, if I am ever pressed to choose among orthodoxy, academic rigor, and life-giving inspiration, I choose Life.
All this to say that I am not at all concerned with somehow making you a “proper” Christian or convincing you of the “proper” form of Christianity. It is fine with me if you disagree with the options I offer here. I trust you to make your own informed assessment and look forward to what future generations of OtherWise-gendered people may bring to the conversation. Yet, in the short-term, I want to make sure that trans-affirming Christian interpretations of scripture, such as these, get at least as much airtime as the trans-antagonistic alternatives that are so often hurled at our people. We deserve to be well-armed when facing opposition from those who wish us harm.
May the Love of God guide us. May the Living Christ inspire us. May the Holy Spirit move through us. You are loved.
When I began exploring my gender identity in 1998, I was well-connected to national lesbian and gay Christian organizing across several denominations. I reached out to many of those LGBT organizations for resources and turned up almost nothing that related specifically to transgender experience. The most extensive Christian resources I came across at that time were published by a cardiologist named Rebecca Allison, MD. The most relevant transgender books I could find were from Kate Bornstein and Leslie Feinberg, writing from a primarily secular perspective (though both Jewish in background). The only prominent transgender religious leader I could identify was the Rev. Erin Swenson, who had recently transitioned from male to female and retained her Presbyterian clergy ordination in the Atlanta area.
It is hard to overstate how little material on transgender religious experience was available, even from the far left. Except perhaps in hidden informal enclaves, there were no transgender religious books; no transgender religious organizations; no networks of transgender religious leaders; no events dealing with transgender religious issues. There were just starting to be a few individuals, almost exclusively volunteers, sharing from their own experience.
For my part, I gathered what resources I was able to find and detailed them on a free Angelfire website called Transfaith Online. I asked LGBT Christian organizations to link to the resulting resource. Transfaith Online would eventually become the #1 Google search result for “transgender Christian.” At the time, I did not know that I was knee-deep in what I have come to call the “transgender spring” (from 1996 to 2006) in Christian organizing, as transgender religious voices began to blossom.
Unfortunately, most of that early history is already obscured, if not erased, as transgender communities have been swept up in a world of terribly short-attention spans and an opportunistic non-profit industrial complex. Yet, this book is very much indebted to that community of friends and colleagues, elders and ancestors, path-makers and ground-breakers. OtherWise Christian seeks to capture at least a little bit of that important Christian (and Jewish) history, through this book as well as my companion blog (http://www.otherwisechristian.com).
May we remember that we have already come a long way. Come what may, let us not forget one another, nor the grace that has brought us together. You are loved.
Beloved, like these many others before me, I offer you my despair and weariness, my defiance and my resolve, my love and my encouragement as we face this world together. There will be ample time later to review credentials, check footnotes, negotiate politics, defend the faith, find middle ground, repair the breach, and build bridges. There will be time for us to compromise.
But, first let us dream our dreams, rejoice in our gifts, take time for healing, claim our communities, and dance in defiance. Only then will we be truly ready to face all the world has in store for us. If nothing else, I hope you remember this: We do not need their permission—to exist, to sing, to dance, to love, to survive, or to read, write, and interpret. We are already here. We have existed since the beginning of time. We are extraordinary. We are powerful. We have so much Wisdom to offer.
Amen. Blessed be. Thanks be to God.
Transfaith at http://www.transfaith.info
OtherWise Christian at http://www.otherwisechristian.com
Rebecca Allison at http://www.drbecky.com/grace.html
Kate Bornstein at http://katebornstein.com
Leslie Feinberg at http://www.lesliefeinberg.net
Erin Swenson at https://erinswenson.com
(c) 2019 by Mx. Chris Paige. All rights reserved.