MLK in Memphis

I was grateful to be involved in an observance at Cooperman Barnabas Medical Center on January 19, 2023 in remembrance of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr and his legacy for an interfaith audience. These were my comments invited on behalf of the LGBT+ community, where I highlighted the campaign in Memphis where MLK ultimately would be assassinated.

Good afternoon. As a long time transgender religious organizer, I love reading civil rights history. Not just the highlight reels, but the back stories. Not just the quotes you see on social media, but whole speeches. It’s such a rich legacy that still has so much to teach us about the work of love and justice 

Read more: MLK in Memphis

When the Rev Dr King was assassinated in 1968, he had been working in Memphis, Tennessee. If you check that history, you’ll find that it was a campaign that was about racial justice, yes. But it was also a campaign about economic justice–and at it’s core about the right to basic human dignity.

If you read or listen to his words in Memphis, all of his words, not just the highlight reel, You’ll find he was saying that even though some work is valued more than others, all work has dignity. On March 18th, 1968, he said, “Whenever you are engaged in work that serves humanity and is for the building of humanity, [that work] has dignity and [that work] has worth.” That’s a word I think we all deserve to hear.

Dr King literally said that the work of sanitation workers is as significant as that of a physician. He was saying that whatever our job may be, whatever our lives may look like, whatever pronouns we use, whoever we count as family, whatever neighborhood or country we may have been born in, whatever faith we may or may not have, we are all human. We are all worthy of respect. We all deserve to be treated with dignity.

And Dr King urged us to know our place–that is to claim our value as children of the universe. He encouraged us to invest the time and energy it takes to see one another, not just as cogs in a machine, but, to recognize that each and every one of us, is beloved and worthy of care. And so I invite you to lift your spirits with me, in the name of all that is good and right.

We pray that everyone who enters this campus will know that they are welcome , that they are beloved, and that they are worthy of care. We pray that everyone who works here , that everyone who provides care, from environmental services to our medical professionals, will be celebrated for the important service they provide toward the building of humanity. May we find the wisdom to seek healing for our own broken places at least as much as we do  for those we serve. As we remember the legacy of Dr King, may we find the strength to carry on his legacy and all those who labored with him. May even our hallway greetings be a kind of Prayer for the Beloved Community to be sustained in our midst.

Amen. Ashe. Blessed be.

Compiled by Mx Chris Paige on January 21, 2023 (follow on Facebook). Please be in touch with corrections and feedback. This blog is a work in progress!

Transgender and Religious Curriculum Guide

I’m looking over past blog entries and realizing that I didn’t yet have a landing page for curriculum options. I’ve already posted about several options, but there are more that I’ll be adding as this isn’t yet a complete list! Most (but not all) of these are oriented toward Christian audiences. I would love to learn about additional resources to support conversation in other traditions!

Continue reading “Transgender and Religious Curriculum Guide”

Diamond Stylz on Supporting Black Transgender Women

There is so much talk about Black transgender women and death that I compiled an appendix in In Remembrance of Me, Bearing Witness to Transgender Tragedy on how we can be better allies to them. For all the talk about the statistics, allies (other trans folk included) are often almost entirely irrelevant to transgender women of color too much of the time.

Diamond Stylz is a well-known podcaster, both under her own YouTube channel (also here) and through the Marsha’s Plate podcast. Diamond was recently profiled by The Root and I quoted from that interview as a part of my appendix on supporting Black transgender women. I also recommend Diamond’s numerous podcast entries as a wonderful (and fun) was to build cultural competency.

Continue reading “Diamond Stylz on Supporting Black Transgender Women”

Resilience Through the Practice of Lament by Dr. Koach Frazier

In Remembrance of Me, Bearing Witness to Transgender Tragedy unpacks deep wisdom around themes such as grief, self-care, repentance, and our ancestral traditions. Mid-way through the body of that project (chapter 5), I pause to consider the wisdom offered by Dr Koach Baruch Frazier in his May 2019 offering, “Resilience Through the Practice of Lament,” at Speak Torah to Power.

Continue reading “Resilience Through the Practice of Lament by Dr. Koach Frazier”

We Gather by Louis Mitchell

My friend and co-conspirator wrote this invocation for the 2013 online Transgender Day of Remembrance service that we did as TDOR Unite. That project was co-sponsored by Transfaith, the Trans People of Color Coalition, the Trans Latin@ Coalitions, and The UU Church of the Larger Fellowship.

Everybody knows that I love me some Louis, but I think this is one of his best things–on a topic that is so difficult to do well. I am grateful that he agreed to let me properly publish it as a part of In Remembrance of Me, Bearing Witness to Transgender Tragedy this year. Review the Table of Contents for links to additional content previews!

Continue reading “We Gather by Louis Mitchell”

Review: Stories of Intersex and Faith (film)

I’m honored that the producers invited me to screen Stories of Intersex and Faith, but I’ve been struggling to put appropriate words to what I feel about this important film. The contrast that I am struggling with is that it is both accessible and deep, simple and insightful. So, I am going to break my review down into two parts in order to try to do justice to both aspects without trivializing the other.

Continue reading “Review: Stories of Intersex and Faith (film)”

Stories of Intersex and Faith (Film)

Stories of Intersex and Faith (2019) is a feature-length film from the Intersex and Faith project:

Stories of Intersex and Faith tells the extraordinary stories of five intersex people, allowing viewers to experience what it feels like to be invisible in our culture and subject to abuse and shame simply for being born different. These stories illuminate unique perspectives which are particularly timely for a culture conflicted by questions about sex, gender and religious faith.

from the Intersex and Faith website

If you are unfamiliar with intersex experience, the two-minute trailer itself may provide significant new insight.

Caught in the crossfire at the intersection of medicine, politics and religion, perfectly healthy intersex bodies are mutilated by American surgeons. Consider the stories of five intersex people who found healing and hope in faith. Walk with them. Hear their plea: It’s society that needs to be fixed, not us.

Vimeo trailer description

The film has been showing at film festivals and is currently available for institutional screenings or by special arrangement through those connected to the film. It is not yet available to purchase outright. Visit the film website for news about upcoming screenings.

“[People’s] fears and prejudices could be instantaneously relieved if their faith community could normalize and bring familiarity to the healthy variant that intersex represents. How much suffering could be averted if the leader of the local faith community came to the parents of newborn intersex kids and told them: ‘God knows your healthy intersex child, and they are not sick, and they don’t need surgery.'”

Dr Tiger Devore
on the Stories of Intersex and Faith website

That quote reflects my opinion, too! Faith communities have a great opportunity to educate parents at a time when they are not under so much pressure as they will be when they first learn of an intersex diagnosis. Watch for my review of the film coming soon!

Compiled by Mx Chris Paige on January 18, 2020.

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

The Black Trans Prayer Book (2020)

In addition to the #TransphobiaIsASin campaign, today is also the first day to pre-order The Black Trans Prayer Book. The current timeline is that the book will ship February 1, 2020.

I have served as administrative support for the TBTPB project through my role at Transfaith, so I have been watching and waiting on this project for more than a year now. Obviously, J Mase III and Lady Dane Edidi have been working even longer than that on this labor of love! I seriously don’t even have that kind of patience (as you can see by how I’m popping out books), so I have big respect for the way that they have done this work and am confident that the finished project is/will be phenomenal.

While I cannot review the book (yet), I have been only one step removed from their process in several ways and am super excited about the collaboration that it represents, not only by the co-editors, but by all of the contributors. In early 2019, they held a retreat where most of the contributors gathered to discuss the themes of the book. So, even when individuals have written parts of the book, there is a deeper collaboration that preceded that writing.

There is so much heart and brilliance and love … poems and prayers and spells and theological narrative and personal journeys…

J Mase III, 1/15/2020

What’s more is that today they announced that they have received funding for a DOCUMENTARY! This is a super exciting development for the entire community, but especially for Black and Brown Trans Folk.

The Black Trans Prayer Book: A Performative Documentary explores the lives, reflections, performances, and spiritual journey of the contributors to the Black Trans Prayer Book—a collaborative text, co-edited by J Mase III & Lady Dane Figueroa Edidi, that explores the healing needs of Black trans people.

Here is the Facebook Live with J Mase III (from snowy Seattle from the looks of it!). Since I can’t review the book yet, I want to highlight more of the analysis behind these projects.

[To address] the religious based trauma that we experience all the time… knowing that we have a right to healing, that we have a right to disrupt that type of violence, and that we have a right to hold religious institutions accountable. … to dismantle religious-based violence, and to reframe conversations about what it means to be a trans person (particularly a Black Trans person) and our right to healing.

J Mase III, 1/15/2020

Congratulations to Dane and Mase, to the many contributors, and to all of us who will benefit from this important, ground-breaking work!

Compiled by Mx Chris Paige on January 15, 2020.

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

Joseph and the Hypocrisy of Biblical Literalism

I want to talk about the hypocrisy of biblical literalism today, but, first, I want to get you caught up on the story of Joseph of Genesis. Peterson Toscano brought us one of the biggest breakthroughs in transgender biblical interpretation (ever) through his work on Transfigurations: Transgressing Gender in the Bible. If you already know about Joseph and his “princess dress,” then you can skip the next paragraph.

In Transfigurations, Peterson tells the story of Joseph (Genesis) through the eyes of his uncle, the uber-masculine Esau. While the live production has been retired, you can get it on DVD or streaming on Amazon. The excerpt about Joseph is even available as a YouTube video in support of the DVD.

To the best of my knowledge, this interpretation was first offered by Theodore W Jennings Jr in his 2005 book, Jacob’s Wound: Homoerotic Narrative in the Literature of Ancient Israel, but Peterson traveled the country (and the world) making this Good News known.

I spent Chapter 19 of OtherWise Christian: A Guidebook for Transgender Liberation talking about Joseph(ine). Hint, hint: It’s not just about the “princess dress.” I also spend a much shorter chapter on Joseph in Christian Faith and Gender Identity: An OtherWise Reflection Guide.

To my mind, the bottom line is that the most literal reading of Joseph’s coat is that it was a “princess dress.” The phrase is ketonet passim. In 2 Samuel 13:18, it literally says, a ketonet passim was the kind of garment the virgin daughters of the king wore.” We don’t need queer theory or historical-critical exegesis. This is just plain and simple use of the Bible to interpret the Bible. This is a literal reading of the text.

Still, in online discussions of my work and Peterson’s work, I have repeatedly heard folk argue that this interpretation is not “credible.” Granted, there are other viable interpretations. It may have been a unisex royal cloak or an ornate garment with long sleeves, as scholars have long proposed. However, that less specific interpretation is not what 2 Samuel says. 2 Samuel 13:18 literally says that this cloak was a princess dress. It is a rare example of scripture specifically providing a definition. It is simple and straight forward.

Now often when we see masculine language in scripture, we take liberties to shift toward “brothers and sisters” or the people–to make the reading more gender inclusive. Masculine language has often served as a default and this is a legitimate shift from a masculine to a “unisex” reading.

Many languages have gender built into the language in this way. For instance in Spanish, hijos can mean “sons” or it can mean “children.” While the masculine reading is “literal,” it is an question of context and interpretation to decide when that masculine word indicates “sons” and when that masculine word means “children.” Hebrew operates similarly.

However, it really doesn’t work the other way! In Spanish, hijas always means daughters (never children of diverse genders). In Hebrew, feminine nouns are not used as generic, un-gendered words for people. In this text, it specifically says a ketonet passim is for the virgin daughters of a king. Virgin and daughter are both feminine words.

But they are not just feminine words. They are feminine words that really mean something in terms of gender, in terms of the power, significance, and care that are passed along to the children of royalty (in a variety of cultures). Virgin daughters would be available for a political marriage to a prince in another country as a way to secure an alliance. This availability was important and would often be made visible through clothing and jewelry, just a like a ring on a particular finger represents marriage in Western cultures.

There is plenty more to this text and to Joseph’s story, but the Bible literally says that the garment Jacob made for Joseph was a princess dress.

Still, people resist. There is a similar dynamic around eunuchs, where trans-antagonistic trolls (Christian or not) admonish transgender people to read Deuteronomy literally yet refuse to take the affirming words about eunuchs from Jesus in Matthew seriously. These are some of the most obvious examples, but the tendency is widespread.

For all the moaning about “biblical literalism,” anti-transgender forces pick and choose what passages to take literally and what passages to ignore as much as anyone does. Remember that “Because I Said So” is not a reasonable argument for a particular biblical interpretation. If someone is not willing to be consistent in their reading of the Bible, then there is good reason to suspect their motives.

Obviously, we have all been conditioned to read the Bible in “traditional” ways. That is, in accordance with the ways we were taught to read it by others. Just remember that those “traditions” also include white supremacy, anti-Semitism, and gender oppression. They are perspectives shaped by human readers who themselves had an “agenda” — even if it was simply an agenda to make Bible characters look more like the cisgender, heterosexual, men that they were most familiar with.

More OtherWise Self-Defense blog posts:

Order Transfigurations:

MORE RESOURCES: Transgender and the (Christian) Bible

Compiled by Mx. Chris Paige on January 4, 2020.

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.