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: https://petersontoscano.com/portfolio/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.

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)”

Queer Theology

Queer Theology launched a big giveaway today, which gives me a great excuse to blog about them more generally.

First things first. The giveaway includes a signed copy of OtherWise Christian: A Guidebook for Transgender Liberation (signed by the author), as well as Transforming (signed by the author), Trans-Gendered (signed by the author), Walking Toward Resurrection (digital), as well as 5 other queer Christian books. This mega-pack also includes stickers, t-shirts, and a one-year subscription to the Sanctuary Collective including online courses, their monthly digital magazine Spit & Spirit, and an archive of past webinars.

Yeesh. I need to take a nap now! That’s a lot. Total value $304 (which seems low to me, especially given the priceless autographs, but ok…). They just want your email address so they can send you loving and supportive perspectives on LGBTQ Christianity. Seems like a win-win to me.

The giveaway ends October 10. Now, more about Queer Theology:

Continue reading “Queer Theology”

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”

Call Me Malcolm, 2005

“Call Me Malcolm” is 90-minute feature-length documentary following a twenty-five year-old seminary student as he explores faith, love, and gender identity. It was developed by the United Church of Christ, Office of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Concerns and released in 2005.

There are two study guides to accompany the film. At this point the entire film is available on YouTube, making it a super-accessible resource for personal reflection or group study.

Continue reading “Call Me Malcolm, 2005”