The Rev Victoria Kolakowski is also known as the Honorable Victoria Kolakowski. In her current career, she is a lawyer who became the first elected, openly transgender judge in the United States. She has also served as the first openly trans trial court judge in the United States. She has been widely profiled in regards to her historic accomplishments as an attorney and you can Google her for more of those details.
However, in a former career phase, Rev Kolakowski received a Master of Divinity degree from the Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley, California and was the first openly transgender person to go through the ordination process in the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches (UFMCC). She now identifies as retired MCC clergy.
I like to call the Rev Kolakowski the Queen Mother of Transgender Theology. She wrote three articles in the late 1990s before just about anyone was writing on the topic. At the time, notable gay and lesbian theologians like John McNeill and Nancy Wilson had laid claim to eunuchs as gay and lesbian characters in antiquity. Kolakowski’s intervention was a critical turning point in terms of reading eunuchs in a more literal way–as analogous to transgender people. I outline these various trajectories on eunuchs in Chapter 12 of OtherWise Christian: A Guidebook for Transgender Liberation.
Vanessa Sheridan had a book published in 1993, but it was written anonymously, published privately, and circulated at transgender conferences and gatherings, not so much in the broader church or academy. Sheridan’s second book came out in 1996, but she was still writing primarily for a diaspora of isolated and non-disclosing transgender people.
Kolakowski’s 1997 “Toward a Christian Ethical Response to Transsexual Persons” in Theology & Sexuality was the first transgender theology published in an academic journal. Kolakowski writes:
When I entered seminary at the Pacific School of Religion in 1992, I never expected to be writing about transgender issues. However, I soon learned that there were no transgender-positive articles in any reputable academic journals of theology. Not any. I know because I did an exhaustive literature search using every tool that the 1990s could provide.
It took a few years, but my article “Toward a Christian Ethical Response to Transsexual Persons” was published in the journal Theology and Sexuality in 1997. I tried to keep a neutral voice, so as to be academically appropriate, while still offering affirming interpretations.
Victoria Kolakowski in “Foreward” in
OtherWise Christian 2: Stories of Resistance
(forthcoming in spring 2020)
While much of that article may seem rather remedial to us in 2020, transgender people were barely on the radar of even LGBT (sic) organizations in the 1990s. In “Toward a Christian Ethical Response to Transsexual Persons,” Kolakowski boldy asserts that Jesus identified as a eunuch and that
the post-operative transsexual is agonado, sexually sterile. A post-operative male-to-female transsexual is thus considered according to [the Western binary] model to be a castrated man, a eunuch. (page 17)
This was a first!
In “The Concubine and the Eunuch: Queering Up the Breeder’s Bible” (Our Families, Our Values: Snapshots of Queer Kinship, 1997), Kolakowski gets even more explicit with her intervention. Published in an anthology along side popular activist clergy such as Nancy Wilson and Janie Spahr, Kolakowski wrote:
As a lesbian transsexual Christian, these New Testament stories are extremely powerful statements of validation and acceptance from Jesus and the early Christian Church. This is unlike the message that well-meaning gay and lesbian biblical scholars have been sending—that the Christian Scriptures are simply neutral rather than overly negative about us. I believe they paint a very different picture, one which I am not inventing just to feel accepted. We need to take ownership of this radical message. (page 47)
In “Throwing a Party: Patriarchy, Gender, and the Death of Jezebel” (Take Back the Word: A Queer Reading of the Bible, 2000), Kolakowski talks about the dangers of assimilation and writes about her own trepidation:
I need to acknowledge that I am completing this essay well past the deadline, partly because I was paralyzed by fear. At what cost to my own (patriarchal institutional) prestige do I write material such as this? Will a patriarchal power system appreciate my analysis? (page 111)
Justin Tanis also contributed to Take Back the Word as an openly transexual author in 2000. Virginia Mollenkott’s Omnigender would be published the following year. The 21st century brought an emergence of several publications as the “transgender spring” blossomed with more fruit.
I met Kolakowski at the second Transgender Leaders Summit in 2008, shortly after I relaunched Transfaith Online and started connecting with transgender people in real life. She joined our board of directors and served faithfully until she became a California judge–which meant severing involvements that might present a conflict of interest or appearance of bias.
I am honored and pleased as punch that Vicky has come out of retirement, even if ever so briefly, to participate in OtherWise Christian 2: Stories of Resistance.
Compiled by Mx. Chris Paige on January 7, 2020.
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