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Gender Diversity: Hijra

In India, there are centuries of traditions around hijras. Hijras are also called Kinnar, Kothi, Aravanis, Jogtas/Jogappas, Khusras, or Shiv-Shaktis, depending on the community. India is a very large country and conditions vary by geography. Hijras were previously respected as spiritual authorities in the region and frequently played a role in religious and spiritual ceremonies. They are understood to be connected to the half-male, half-female image of Shiva in Hindu teaching.

Language about eunuchs was imported by the British, during the time that the British were colonizing India (19th century). Hijras were criminalized. As a result, hijras were relegated to high-risk and low-paying economies such as dancing, entertainment, sex work, and begging. Hijras survived in part by creating their own communities with other hijras forming their own families complete with parental figures.

Conditions have begun changing since 2014 when India’s supreme court officially recognized the third gender, but conditions remain precarious due to continuing stigma, discrimination, stereotypes, and violence.

In a globalized world, there is cross-fertilization between Indian elements and Western transgender dynamics. The Al Jazeera video below (2014) includes activists and academics who use Western language as well as Indian terms. People with intersex variations and those assigned female at birth have historically been included in the category of hijra. However, those assigned male at birth continue to be the most visible and well-known segment.

It seems as complicated to sort through all of the diverse perspectives in India as it does in the West. Yet, the Indian context is fundamentally different insofar the role and culture of the hijras was never successfully eliminated by the colonizers. Hijras provide an important example of how OtherWise-gendered people have had to negotiate and renegotiate our roles in society as the culture has changed. That process continues, as does influence from the West.

More resources:

India’s Third Gender Rises Again (Sapiens, 2019)

We can’t erase our hijra culture (India Today, 2019)

The long history of criminalising hijras (Himal magazine, 2019)

How Britain tried to erase India’s third gender (BBC, 2019)

 The Zainab Salbi Project story (2016):

Al Jazeera (2013) story (Transfaith’s summary):

Compiled by Mx. Chris Paige on October 10, 2019.

Note: This blog is intended to be an on-going work in progress. Please contact us if you have additions, corrections, or concerns.

Gender Diversity: Two Spirit

Yesterday, I wrote about gender diversity around the world. “Two spirit” is a particularly important term in North America, but it is still an umbrella term.

Two spirit is a translation of an Ojibwe term, but the English translation was selected by Native Americans in 1990 as a Pan-Native term to be used instead of a pejorative, French word (the b-word) that had been used by anthropologists and other cultural outsiders.

While two spirit does not have the pejorative connotations of the b-word, the legacy of this intervention remains complicated, including:

  • Reduction of “two spirit” to LGBT Native people.
  • Non-native people claiming “two spirit” as their own identity without more than a superficial experience of indigenous culture (if any).
  • The “two spirit” umbrella term being confused with the actual, culturally specific gender identities. Obscuring specific traditions reinforces patterns of cultural genocide while playing into the  “noble savage” trope.
  • Mismatch between the implications of “two spirit” and some culturally specific  Native gender identities.

While there are many similiarities between the cultures of various tribes and nations, there is no actual pan-Native culture. As such, there is also no pan-Native two spirit identity.

Of course, people of indigenous ancestry may still identify as two spirit and it can be a useful category to talk generally about Native American gender diversity. Yet, it is important to understand the nature of term, with all of its limitations.

Indigenous peoples around the world have fought back against colonization and invested endless labor in bringing back terms and traditions that colonizers had tried to erase or demonize. Establishing “two spirit” as an umbrella term to replace the b-word and open up pan-Native solidarity has been an important part of that process.

Those of us grounded in European, Christian, and/or Western culture also have work to do in terms of reclaiming our roots and honoring our ancestors. It can be tempting to ride the coattails of others who have done this work in their own cultural context, but decolonization is not a project for the lazy. We must do our own work if we are to be in authentic solidarity with others.

Compiled by Mx. Chris Paige on October 10, 2019.

Note: This blog is intended to be an on-going work in progress. Please contact us if you have corrections or are able to contribute further context or reflections.

OtherWise Christian: What People Are Saying..

“This is the book that we need.”

The Rev. Terri Stewart

United Methodist Alliance for Transgender Inclusion (UMATI)

“The most exhaustive look at gender non-conforming/trans identities in the Bible that I have seen to date. Informative & accessible.”

Peterson Toscano

Transfigurations: Transgressing Gender in the Bible

“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.”

The Rev. Louis Mitchell

Executive Director of Transfaith

“…a truly incredible book. Mx Chris’ writing is clear, elegant, and prophetic, and the book’s intertextual readings of scripture and popular culture are very insightful. This book beautifully answers the deepest possible question: how can we imagine and practice our spirituality in ways that are truly just and liberatory, especially as it concerns our gender.”

Cleis Abeni/Upāsikā tree

Transgender elder

“…a wonderful resource… This is a faith text that CANNOT be ignored.”

The Rev. Shanea D. Leonard
Associate for Gender & Racial Justice for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)

“…a brilliant yet down-to-earth, supremely compassionate and practical guide for how religious people who don’t fit binary categories can engage with and draw strength from the Bible… Though addressed to those who identify as Christian… it does a marvelous job of reaching out toward non-Christian religions, particularly Judaism.”

Dr Joy Ladin

The Soul of the Stranger: Reading God and Torah from a Transgender Perspective

Gender Diversity Around the World

Wednesday night, we went over Chapter 3 of OtherWise Christian: A Guidebook for Transgender Liberation in my OtherWise Self-Defense course. One of the most common questions I get in readings is about the non-English terms that I list in this section. People want to learn more.

In considering this topic, it is important to be clear that terms from other cultures and languages are almost never an equivalent to “transgender” or other modern terms that are based in a Western worldview. Each term is embedded in a cultural context that has its own assumptions about gender and sexuality–and which may have been influenced in various ways by violent colonization. Sometimes these terms may be considered pejorative in the modern world, even if they were honored identities historically. Continue reading “Gender Diversity Around the World”

Our Bible App

My seven-day devotional series called “Christian Faith and Gender Identity” just launched on Our Bible App (OBA for short). OBA is a progressive, LGBT-inclusive app launched in 2017 that:

started as an alternative to devotional and Bible apps made by large, conservative, and destructive “Christian” media organizations. … These popular Bible apps celebrate and propagate purity culture, weaponizing Christianity to reinforce the “value” of straight, cisgender marriage and dating. Additionally, these apps don’t talk about Christianity’s long entanglement with racism, colonialism, and white supremacy.

Continue reading “Our Bible App”

OtherWise Ambassador: Rev Louis Mitchell

OtherWise Christian Ambassadors are transgender (or OtherWise) Christians who are available in your local area to share both OtherWise Christian: A Guidebook for Liberation and their own stories and testimonies. I believe that books are important, but our communities also need the opportunity to be in real-life community with folk who can tell their own stories.

Louis Mitchell wrote the forward for OtherWise Christian, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that he is also an OtherWise Ambassador! He also authorized to sell copies of the book and you ought to have him sign his forward (though he tries to be shy about that).

Rev Louis Mitchell is frequently in Massachusetts, Philadelphia, Seattle, and Southern California. He travels frequently, so be in touch to find out more about his availability. Reach out to invite him into your community. You’ll be supporting me, the book, and his ministry.

Don’t forget to compensate him for his time with you, if he’s leading an event or preaching in your congregation. His time and expertise are valuable. Continue reading “OtherWise Ambassador: Rev Louis Mitchell”

OtherWise Christian on the Bible Bash!

Well, this was a heck of lot of fun!

Literally, while I was marching at the National Trans Visibility March yesterday, my episode with Liam and Peterson on the Bible Bash podcast was released. We talked about Jesus and the eunuchs and Matthew 19:12 in particular, including three excerpts from OtherWise Christian: A Guidebook for Transgender Liberation. Peterson did a pretty great edit to get all my talking to fit into the 30 minute time slot!

They always include a reading from an additional text on the Bible Bash, but they let me pick that selection this time. So I read a word from Dr Audre Lorde, which was a great honor at several levels.

Continue reading “OtherWise Christian on the Bible Bash!”

Transgender Liberation: Beyond Pink or Blue, 1998

Today was the (first) transgender visibility march. Seems like a great day to pull out a classic!

Leslie Feinberg is one of three OtherWise prophets that I honor around the edges of OtherWise Christian: A Guidebook for Transgender Liberation. Leslie Feinberg was talking about gender-benders and intersex folk long before most people were educated about those topics (recognizing that we still have a long way to go, even today).

Transgender Liberation: Beyond Pink or Blue is Feinberg’s 1998 book. It is a collection of speeches, with a few individual profiles of transgender people woven in. It’s a great resource for thinking about how things were back in 1997 or 1998, during the “transgender spring.” While Feinberg is not writing from a Christian point of view, ze push on all of the edges of what organized back then.

What makes Feinberg especially prophetic is that zir writing is still timely today. The politicians are different, but the issues are very much the same. Feinberg coined the term “Transgender Liberation” and did important work connecting the dots with other kinds of liberation, making the case that broad based solidarity is important for our survival.

Our lives are proof that sex and gender are much more complex than a delivery room doctor’s glance at genitals can determine, more variegated than pink or blue birth caps. (page 5)

And if you do not identify as transgender or transsexual or intersexual, your life is diminished by our oppression as well. … So the defense of each individual’s right to control their own body, and to explore the path of self-expression, enhances your own freedom to discover more about yourself and your potentialities. (page 6)

To me, gender is the poetry each of us makes out of the language we are taught. (page 10)

We… don’t have to explain why we are the way we are. We have to explain who we are. How we see ourselves. (page 29)

The real burning question is: How did we ever find the courage? From what underground spring did we draw our pride? How did each of us make our way in life, without a single familiar star in the night sky to guide us, to this room where we have at last found others like ourselves? … I think we have the whole world to give back to each other. (page 34)

The way in which people express themselves is a very important part of who they are. It is not possible to force all people to live outside of femininity and masculinity. Only androgynous people live comfortably in that gender space. There’s no social compulsion strong enough to force anyone else to dwell there. Trans people are an example of the futility of this strategy. (page 53)

What is the bedrock on which all of our diverse trans populations can build solidarity? The commitment to be the best fighters against each other’s oppression. … Unity depends on respect for diversity, no matter what tools of language are ultimately used. (page 60)

I live proudly in a body of my own design. I defend my right to be complex. (page 70)

I recently put that question to Puerto Rican drag queen Sylvia Rivera–a combatant at Stonewall: “Were you fighting against police brutality? Were you fighting racism? Or for your right to be gay? Did you fight because so few of the queens could produce the military draft cards government agents demanded that night? Or because so many of you were homeless and hungry and embattled on the streets?”

Sylvia replied with quiet dignity, “We were fighting for our lives.” (pages 96-97)

What unites us is not a common sexuality or experience or identities or self-expressions. It’s that we are up against a common enemy. (page 102)

That’s why we must ask everyone who puts forward theory: Which side are you on? … History is recorded from the point of view of the hunter or the hunted. … So the question we must demand of historians is: Which side are you on? (pages 115, 119)

So perhaps the greatest contribution that any of us can make who excavate history, and who develop and clarify theory, is to ensure that our history and theory is relevant and accessible to all those who are ready and willing to take action. (page 124)

Leslie Feinberg also has a 1992 pamphlet, titled Transgender Liberation: A Movement Whose Time Has Come, which is available as a free PDF from Workers World. Pieces of this pamphlet would make their way into Feinberg’s equally important Transgender Warriors: Making History from Joan of Arc to Dennis Rodman (1997).

Feinberg writes with a strong class analysis born of their involvement in Marxist and communist organizing. The 1992 pamphlet actually has a very nuanced assessment of the role of Christian tradition in gender oppression (incl. transgender as well as women’s rights).

Feinberg’s classic Stone Butch Blues is also available for free as a PDF (or at-cost through Lulu) at Feinberg’s website.

Compiled by Mx. Chris Paige on September 26, 2019.

Note: This blog is intended to be an on-going work in progress. Please contact us if you have additions, corrections, or concerns.

Transgendered

In chapter 11 of OtherWise Christian: A Guidebook for Transgender Liberation, I use “transgendered” as an example of the way the meanings of words can change over time.

When I started exploring my gender identity in 1998, we were saying “transgendered” (among other things), but somewhere around 2006 “best practices” evolved and that particular word went out of style.

I reference some reflections by Julia Serano on related topics. She gives meaningful treatments on a number of fronts, which I recommend:

In particular, I reference that first article and the dynamics around “word-sabotage” and “word-elimination” campaigns that Serano brings up.

I agree with Serano that dismissing another person’s word choice out of hand is problematic, even as I respect efforts to develop coherent “best practices.”

My treatment in OtherWise Christian is necessarily abbreviated because these nuances are only relevant insofar as I am wrestling with the nature of language used for gender diversity over time (e.g. eunuchs). Serano’s book Outspoken includes much of this materal and may be worth your time if these topics around modern language intrigue you.

The bottom line is that word meanings change over time. A word that is perfectly acceptable at one point may be anathema at another. This is true even before we get to dynamics like colonization that may demonize certain aspects of a culture as a way of discrediting the opposition.

Understanding these historical shifts are important when we look at contributions from the “transgender spring” and books like Omnigender or Trans-Gendered, which use language that was appropriate at the time, but which might be dismissed out of hand today.

As I was pulling together yesterday’s post and this (unedited) interview footage with Kate Bornstein and Leslie Feinberg from an In the Life episode (1996), which touches on the development of language and the role of the internet in transgender organizing.

Compiled by Mx. Chris Paige on September 25, 2019.

Note: This blog is intended to be an on-going work in progress. Please contact us if you have corrections or are able to contribute further context or reflections.