OtherWise Ambassador: Dawn Sorensen

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. Every OtherWise Christian Ambassador is also authorized to sell my books.

I’ve known Dawn Sorensen for roughly 20 years from LGBT+ Christian circles. We go way back to when there was a lot less language available for people like us who don’t quite fit into “male” and “female” expectations exactly. Dawn identifies as non-binary or “OtherWise” and answers to any pronoun that is offered with respect and good intentions.

Dawn lives in the Boston area and has a presentation based on OtherWise Christian: A Guidebook for Transgender Liberation, which has already been tested in their local community. It is ready to roll out (complete with power point). Meanwhile, Dawn enjoys preaching, teaching, designing liturgy and worship spaces (for example, the altar), and leveraging technology to benefit the community. They also like working with children and youth of all ages.

Dawn is willing to travel, more or less, throughout the New England area as their schedule allows. Reach out to invite Dawn into your community. You’ll be supporting me, the book(s), and Dawn’s ministry. Don’t forget to compensate Dawn for their time with you, if they are leading an event or preaching in your congregation. Their time and expertise are valuable.

Continue reading “OtherWise Ambassador: Dawn Sorensen”

The Rev Victoria Kolakowski (retired)

The Rev Victoria Kolakowski is also known as the Honorable Victoria Kolakowski. In her current career, she is a lawyer who became the first elected, openly transgender judge in the United States. She has also served as the first openly trans trial court judge in the United States.  She has been widely profiled in regards to her historic accomplishments as an attorney and you can Google her for more of those details.

However, in a former career phase, Rev Kolakowski received a Master of Divinity degree from the Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley, California and was the first openly transgender person to go through the ordination process in the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches (UFMCC). She now identifies as retired MCC clergy.

I like to call the Rev Kolakowski the Queen Mother of Transgender Theology. She wrote three articles in the late 1990s before just about anyone was writing on the topic. At the time, notable gay and lesbian theologians like John McNeill and Nancy Wilson had laid claim to eunuchs as gay and lesbian characters in antiquity. Kolakowski’s intervention was a critical turning point in terms of reading eunuchs in a more literal way–as analogous to transgender people. I outline these various trajectories on eunuchs in Chapter 12 of OtherWise Christian: A Guidebook for Transgender Liberation.

Vanessa Sheridan had a book published in 1993, but it was written anonymously, published privately, and circulated at transgender conferences and gatherings, not so much in the broader church or academy. Sheridan’s second book came out in 1996, but she was still writing primarily for a diaspora of isolated and non-disclosing transgender people.

Kolakowski’s 1997 “Toward a Christian Ethical Response to Transsexual Persons” in Theology & Sexuality was the first transgender theology published in an academic journal. Kolakowski writes:

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 1990s 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.

Victoria Kolakowski in “Foreward” in
OtherWise Christian 2: Stories of Resistance
(forthcoming in spring 2020)

While much of that article may seem rather remedial to us in 2020, transgender people were barely on the radar of even LGBT (sic) organizations in the 1990s. In “Toward a Christian Ethical Response to Transsexual Persons,”  Kolakowski boldy asserts that Jesus identified as a eunuch and that

the post-operative transsexual is agonado, sexually sterile. A post-operative male-to-female transsexual is thus considered according to [the Western binary] model to be a castrated man, a eunuch. (page 17)

This was a first!

In “The Concubine and the Eunuch: Queering Up the Breeder’s Bible” (Our Families, Our Values: Snapshots of Queer Kinship, 1997), Kolakowski gets even more explicit with her intervention. Published in an anthology along side popular activist clergy such as Nancy Wilson and Janie Spahr, Kolakowski wrote:

As a lesbian transsexual Christian, these New Testament stories are extremely powerful statements of validation and acceptance from Jesus and the early Christian Church. This is unlike the message that well-meaning gay and lesbian biblical scholars have been sending—that the Christian Scriptures are simply neutral rather than overly negative about us. I believe they paint a very different picture, one which I am not inventing just to feel accepted. We need to take ownership of this radical message. (page 47)

In “Throwing a Party: Patriarchy, Gender, and the Death of Jezebel” (Take Back the Word: A Queer Reading of the Bible, 2000), Kolakowski talks about the dangers of assimilation and writes about her own trepidation:

I need to acknowledge that I am completing this essay well past the deadline, partly because I was paralyzed by fear. At what cost to my own (patriarchal institutional) prestige do I write material such as this? Will a patriarchal power system appreciate my analysis? (page 111)

Justin Tanis also contributed to Take Back the Word as an openly transexual author in 2000. Virginia Mollenkott’s Omnigender would be published the following year. The 21st century brought an emergence of several publications as the “transgender spring” blossomed with more fruit.

I met Kolakowski at the second Transgender Leaders Summit in 2008, shortly after I relaunched Transfaith Online and started connecting with transgender people in real life. She joined our board of directors and served faithfully until she became a California judge–which meant severing involvements that might present a conflict of interest or appearance of bias.

I am honored and pleased as punch that Vicky has come out of retirement, even if ever so briefly, to participate in OtherWise Christian 2: Stories of Resistance.

Compiled by Mx. Chris Paige on January 7, 2020.

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

Reading the Bible as a Trans-Affirming Ally

Thank you to Will O’Brien and Lydia Wylie-Kellerman for suggesting that I write for the Radical Discipleship blog! This is a blog connected to many of the communities that were also connected to The Witness magazine as well as The Other Side magazine. In other words, (primarily) Christian folk who care about the Bible and justice. This is in some ways a circling back for me, since I worked at The Other Side magazine for nearly 10 years and the folk at The Witness were colleagues and friends.

In any case, the article I came up with is in some ways processing some of the pushback I’ve received from folk who read Christian Faith and Gender Identity on Our Bible App, as well as from internet trolls after my visit to Minneapolis. This isn’t actually a “self-defense” article so much as a “helping allies do better” article, but still it falls in the same category. Continue reading “Reading the Bible as a Trans-Affirming Ally”

Our Bible App: Trans and Non-Binary Chat

I’ve reported previously on my new devotional series and Our Bible App. It has been lovely to connect with trans and non-binary folk in the Our Bible App setting.

With the support of CEO Crystal Cheatham, we’ve launched an intentional space in the OBA chat area where trans and non-binary folk can connect with each other. Like many LGBT spaces, trans and non-binary people are in the minority in the OBA community. So it is great to have the support of management to create this space for us to support one another.

Once you download the OBA app, look for the “Let’s Chat” feature. If you identify as trans and/or non-binary, then just ask to be added to the Trans and Non-binary chat room! We’ll see you there!

In this chat space, we brainstormed about an important group agreement that was missing and offered that feedback to Crystal. Now the group agreement is in place for all of OBA.

In a diverse community, things don’t always go perfectly! It makes a difference when those in positions of authority or decision-making are responsive to requests from transgender and non-binary folk in the community! Thank you, Crystal!

Compiled by Mx. Chris Paige on October 17, 2019.

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

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”

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”