Pilgrim Press, affiliated with the United Church of Christ, played a remarkable role in the time period that I call the “transgender spring” (1996-2006). These five books were an unprecedented and unparalleled contribution to the emergent conversation about transgender experience:
- Omnigender: A Trans-religious Approach, by Virginia Mollenkott, 2001
- Crossing Over: Liberating the Transgendered Christian, by Vanessa Sheridan, 2001
- Trans-Gendered: Theology, Ministry, and Communities of Faith, by Justin Tanis, 2003
- Transgender Journeys, by Virginia Mollenkott and Vanessa Sheridan, 2003
- Transgendering Faith: Identity, Sexuality, And Spirituality, edited by by Leanne McCall Tigert and Maren C. Tirabassi, 2004
These books were published at a time when the internet was still young and transgender communities remained disjointed. The growth of Facebook, blogging, YouTube, and other online resources would literally change the world for transgender people. Yet, Pilgrim Press changed the game for transgender people of faith at a pivotal time. Omnigender and Trans-Gendered remain classics to this day.
That said, Pilgrim has not continued as a trendsetter in this area. Trans-Gendered went out of print and was re-printed with Wipf and Stock. None of the books from the transgender spring are acknowledged on the current Pilgrim Press website. No additional books about transgender experience by transgender authors have followed.
Even in the transgender spring it is odd that Pilgrim passed over Transgender Good News, a book by Pat Conover who was a UCC national staff member and the first openly transgender clergy in the UCC that we are aware of.
Many transgender people in the United Church of Christ were particularly surprised when they came out with The Bible and the Transgender Experience: How Scripture Supports Gender Variance by Linda Tatro Herzer in 2017. It seemed odd that such a historically trans-inclusive press would launch a new phase of publishing on transgender topics with a non-transgender author, when the United Church of Christ has so many transgender clergy that they could have collaborated with.
I don’t have a detailed back story on any of these publications, but I know how dynamics such as these land among transgender faith leaders. Certainly, they are connected to why transgender faith stories are frequently self-published and gain limited exposure. Those dynamics definitely contributed to the founding of OtherWise Engaged Publishing (for which perhaps I should be grateful).
To be fair, Pilgrim has published a couple of books by the Rev Emily Heath who identifies as gay and gender non-conforming, but you really have to know them or dig around to figure that out. Rev. Heath has even blogged about how they couldn’t find a book deal through a professional agent and eventually ended up with Pilgrim after a piece of writing later went viral.
I know that business is about making money, marketing, and sales in an increasingly competitive marketplace. I just believe that our people are worth more than being treated like a passing fad (the latest “a hula hoop,” as Louis Mitchell likes to say).
It’s not just Pilgrim. The entire non-profit industrial complex follows the dollars. They show interest when there is funding and so often let our folk slip through the cracks (and gaping holes). We’ve seen numerous organizations fall back from important programming for transgender people over the last two decades. Community members inevitably pick-up the slack and stretch to fill in as best we can because it is our community. We know what it means to be told we aren’t “marketable” or “profitable.” We deal with it in every area of our lives.
The publishing field is changing, though. A proper publishing house can expedite certain kinds of marketing, but we don’t need them to reach our own grassroots. I’m grateful that we could benefit from Pilgrim Press’s investments while they lasted, but OtherWise Engaged Publishing is ready to carry on.
Will you join #TeamOtherWise and join us in making OtherWise independent publishing possible?
Mx Chris Paige is the author of OtherWise Christian: A Guidebook for Transgender Liberation the first book from OtherWise Engaged Publishing.
Compiled by Mx. Chris Paige on September 4, 2019.
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