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.

Finding Our History; Outlaw (1994)

I am just so delighted that this popped up on my Facebook feed. Leslie Feinberg is one of the three OtherWise Prophets who I specifically acknowledge in OtherWise Christian: A Guidebook for Transgender Liberation. However, their impact is mostly tangential to my (first) book and so they only appear in the preface and acknowledgements. Still, this video shows just a glimpse of how Feinberg tilled the soil of history for all of us.

Continue reading “Finding Our History; Outlaw (1994)”

Transfaith (2012)

Louis Mitchell and I started corresponding after Bishop Yvette Flunder assigned us to lead the advocacy committee of TransSaints late in 2009. Louis and I then shared a room at a Fellowship of Affirming Ministries event.

I don’t think it was quite a brother-sibling relationship from the start, but we were certainly kindred spirits, who were somehow in orbit around one another at event after event (both TFAM and other faith-based spaces) that were collecting transgender volunteers.

Let’s just say that, by the end of 2010, Louis and I had already shared many frustrations in these various venues. We began discussing what it might look like to build an organization by and for transgender people–instead of continuing to volunteer for organizations whose interest in transgender leadership seemed… uneven.

I had inheirited the 501c3 structure from the Interfaith Working Group, so we were able to skip over the hassles of incorporating. Louis and I started working to expand the board of directors during 2011 and I was eventually named founding executive director of Transfaith beginning January 1, 2012.

Transfaith had been a website since 1999. Meanwhile, a constellation of transgender leaders had been working together informally under a number of different banners for particular events leading up to our 2012 launch. Transforming Transfaith from an informal group of colleagues to an organization allowed us to set our own priorities, though it came with its own challenges.

While we built an organizational structure and have pursued many projects, our strength has continued to be in the relationships that we have built, prioritizing multi-tradition, multi-racial, multi-gender collaboration. I stepped down as executive director of Transfaith at the end of 2017 and Louis Mitchell became executive director of Transfaith at the beginning of 2018.

Additionally, those relationships have informed pretty much everything about OtherWise Christian, from the content of the book itself to my perspectives on race, Judaism, and especially my self-understanding as a transgender person.

Compiled by Mx Chris Paige on September 14, 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.

Transgender Religious History

Even our most prominent transgender religious history is often obscured by our culture’s (and the LGBT movement’s) overwhelming emphasis on the politics of sexual orientation. Yet transgender religious folk have been making history for quite some time.

There are so many ways the world organizes to erase us–to pretend that we don’t exist, to forget about us. Remembering our histories is one small, but important way that we can claim our identities and our agency as sacred. We can honor our own elders and ancestors. We can celebrate all of the times that we have come through, somehow, when away was made out of no way.

Continue reading “Transgender Religious History”

Catholic and Orthodox Transgender Timeline

As I was researching the United Methodist Transgender Timeline yesterday, I remembered that I know of several transgender Catholic priests! Now, given the nature of the Roman Catholic Church, not all of them are Roman Catholic.

In any case, I got carried away and got a good start on a timeline for transgender Catholic and Orthodox traditions. Will you help me to add additional details? Please be in touch!

Continue reading “Catholic and Orthodox Transgender Timeline”

United Methodist Transgender Timeline

I’ve created a United Church of Christ Transgender Timeline, but I would love to develop parallel resources for other denominations and movements. I have some lived experience around the United Methodist Church, so I thought maybe I would start there…

That said, I need your help to expand this list! This is a decent first draft, but I am sure there are more details to be added. In particular, the polity of the UMC, with Bishops appointing clergy to churches, means that many situations are quietly handled behind the scenes. I assume that there were earlier cases that were handled in this manner and I would be delighted to include them.

Please be in touch, if you have details to add to this timeline (corrections are also welcome)–or if you would like to help me create timelines for other denominations or movements.

Continue reading “United Methodist Transgender Timeline”

United Church of Christ Transgender Timeline

As we launched the Trans Still Speaking initiative in 2017, I compiled a timeline of transgender history in the United Church of Christ. It was initially published on Transfaith’s website. Today, I’ve moved it over to my blog at otherwisechristian.com and updated it with a few new details.I look forward to continuing to expand this resource with more details, past, present, and future. What do you notice that needs to be added?

I would also love to find collaborators who might help me create similar resources for other denominations and movements, as a historical record. Please be in touch!

Continue reading “United Church of Christ Transgender Timeline”

The Transgender Spring, 1996-2006

I call the period from 1996-2006 the “transgender spring,” that is, the first decade of transgender Christian publishing. While not intended to be a detailed history, I do want to highlight a bit about what it meant to be writing about transgender concerns in that period. Every sighting of a transgender Christian was precious through those years. Continue reading “The Transgender Spring, 1996-2006”