Much gratitude to the Rev Victoria Kolakowski (retired) for providing the Foreword to OtherWise Christian 2: Stories of Resistance with such a significant historical perspective!
By Victoria Kolakowski
The book you are reading is long overdue. I know, because I have waited sooooo long for it—decades, in fact. Please bear with me as I introduce myself, for context.
I spent most of my teens and twenties trying to reconcile my firm belief in God and my firm belief that I was really a woman inside, notwithstanding what my body and the rest of the world told me. It was a difficult journey, made more so by the lack of information about transgender issues available to the general public.
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 1990’s 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.
I quickly followed up with two essays published in anthologies of queer theology, boldly trying to address biblical “clobber passages” used to attack transgender people and attempting to show some of the ways that gender nonconforming people are present in the scriptures.
Since those days, a few transgender spiritual leaders have written books about transgender-positive theology, liturgy, and their own personal spiritual journeys. The output has been just a trickle and only a fraction of what we all know is out there waiting to be shared.
Frankly, there has been little interest in the publishing world in exploring transgender people’s spiritual experiences. We are still told that we are too small of a niche audience. Meanwhile, many religious people are openly hostile toward us. Still, others think that everything important on “the issue” has already been said!
I went on to be ordained in 1998 as a minister in the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches. Even though it is a transgender-affirming denomination and had several prominent clergy who transitioned after ordination, I was the first person to go through the ordination process as an openly transgender person. It was rough. I tried so hard not to be pigeonholed as “the transgender minister” that I actively avoided the work on transgender perspectives that I had begun in seminary. There are so many ways that our voices get silenced.
When I met Chris Paige, well over a decade ago, there was a real spark of excitement. We discussed how we could create a community of people to share more deeply about transgender spiritual experience. I joined the board of the Interfaith Working Group, which was home to the Transfaith project. One of our goals at the time was to create a safe space to share our stories—stories which are so often overlooked or ignored. We wanted to create a true multi-faith spiritual community for transgender and gender non-conforming people.
That was so much easier said than done. It takes a lot of work to create and moderate such a forum, and I certainly lacked the gifts to contribute much to that effort. Moreover, I became distracted with my secular career as a judge—first as an administrative law judge and later as an elected trial court judge.
However, Mx Chris never wavered from their commitment to this mission of giving our voices a place to be heard. More recently, they wrote OtherWise Christian: A Guidebook for Transgender Liberation, which is novel in its scope, covering 25 years of transgender-affirming theological developments. It is the book that I always told myself that I would write, someday. However, I didn’t. I couldn’t. I got stuck in the 1990’s.
In the time since I did my work, the world has changed, and our spiritual institutions have not kept up. People like Mx Chris who do not fit within the binary gender structure that we inherited have remained largely invisible in both the academy and the church. As a personal aside, my former spouse now identifies as non-binary, but I am the same, old-fashioned, gender-conforming femme that I was decades ago. I used to be cutting edge, but now I am passe!
Otherwise Christian 2: Stories of Resistance is yet another ground-breaking contribution from Mx Chris Paige. It is a book that brings together many different voices in one anthology, each one talking about a different lived experience, each one resisting what society has told us we should be. It accomplishes in book form the best of what we were striving to create online—a gathering of disparate voices, diverse stories, rallying in support of one another. This is so important (and still much needed today) because even the wisest among us has only our own limited experience to draw from. Each one of us benefits from hearing someone else’s story. This is one of the best ways for us to learn.
Indeed, I discovered that one of the most important things about sharing our experiences is that it inevitably demonstrates that spiritual communities are not as homogeneous as we have been led to believe. We are both homogenous and heterogeneous. We are alike in so many ways, but different in others—all of which are important. For too long, we have hidden our differences in shame. Yet, balancing an understanding of both our similarities and our differences is the key to creating a modern spirituality that can enrich us all.
I am deeply honored that Mx Chris invited me to contribute to this important work. I am sure that you will find it as enlightening, encouraging, mind-stretching, and challenging as I do.
Blessings and Peace,
Rev. Victoria S. Kolakowski (Retired)
Bio: The Reverend Victoria S. Kolakowski received her M.Div from the Pacific School of Religion in 1998. She was the first person to have a transgender-positive article published in an academic religious journal in 1997. She was ordained in the Metropolitan Community Church as the first person to start and complete the ordination process as an openly transgender person. She served as clergy at several churches, and on the board of the California Council of Churches. She retired from ministry when she became a judge in Alameda County, California, in 2011.
OtherWise Christian 2: Stories of Resistance will launch on March 31, 2020. Pre-orders are currently available on Amazon (ebook) and through the publisher. During the month of March, you can also get autographed copies of OtherWise Christian, Christian Faith and Gender Identity, and In Remembrance of Me, Bearing Witness to Transgender Tragedy at regular retail prices, with your pre-order of OtherWise Christian 2!
You can join in the excitement about “Stories of Resistance” by “claiming your story!” Use the #SacredOtherWise hash tags on social media: #TransAndSacred, #NonBinaryAndSacred, #IntersexAndSacred, #TwoSpiritAndSacred or your own variation.
We are also using #ClaimYourStory and #ClaimingOurStories to encourage celebration of our stories of faith and resistance.
You are especially encouraged to use these hashtags on #TransgenderDayOfVisibility / #TDOV on March 31, 2020!