Transgender men, transgender women, and non-binary people all have our own particular sets of challenges and risk factors as we navigate the world. In a Western worldview, these are three major categories of transgender experience. Meanwhile, people with intersex variations may or may not be transgender, may or may not be identified with the binary (male or female), may or may not use “intersex” as an identity. OtherWise-gendered people may be “straight,” same-gender-loving, asexual, bisexual/pansexual, or have some other way to name their interests. Some may be open and public about their gender history, while others may be nondisclosing or low-disclosure. This is just a small sample of some of the kinds of diversity that you may encounter among OtherWise-gendered people in the Western world, before we even touch on language and culture.
This diversity of new vocabulary can be confusing and overwhelming to some as new shared understandings are being fashioned. Most of us have been raised in a culture that claimed that there are “two and only two, mutually exclusive genders, defined strictly and easily, based on biology at birth” (see Appendix A of this volume, as well as OtherWise Christian, chapter 2). For OtherWise-gendered folk, resisting that reductive gender ideology is not an intellectual question but, rather, a way of life in which we struggle to make our way through a world that tells us in so many ways that it would rather not be bothered with us at all. As you seek to understand our varied struggles, the language we use, and the way we conceptualize resistance, it is important to shift—away from simply trying to label and define us toward hearing our stories as testimonies of strength and resilience.
Imagine if you had been taught that “vanilla” and “chocolate” are the only kinds of ice cream that are possible. Would you be worried to learn about butter pecan and strawberry ice cream? Would you feel ill-prepared for Neapolitan, rocky road, or cotton-candy-flavored ice cream? How might you react to a soft serve cone dipped in chocolate, ice cream sandwiches, frozen yogurt, or gluten-free and nondairy vegan “ice cream”? With or without nuts? Whipped cream? And a cherry on top?
The variations are endless, but this complexity need not be threatening. You do not have to be an expert on every ingredient or every kind of ice cream just to enjoy a midnight snack or to take a grandchild out for a treat. In fact, questions to determine if your favorite confection qualifies properly as “chocolate” or “vanilla” are probably not so welcome when you are eager to dig in.
Similarly, I invite you to give up on trying to put people into categories. Instead, I hope that you will try to enjoy the testimonies of the authors in this volume—as if they were the first sweet treat that you have had in years. Please don’t waste your time worrying. Savor the flavors. Notice the sensations. Just enjoy!
In the opening chapters of OtherWise Christian 2, you will find testimonies of trans feminine, trans masculine, non-binary, and intersex encounters with the Holy, as well as their encounters with patriarchy, embodiment, and liberation. Several of these articles date as far back as 2001 and are some of the earliest published stories from transgender Christians (during what I call the “transgender spring”), though they have all been revised at least somewhat for re-publication here. These first offerings are intended to provide a very basic introduction to “vanilla.” You will have an opportunity to get a taste, but please know that there are many other delicious flavors to come!
In the remainder of this book, you will find yet more stories of resistance. We will not tarry with “transgender 101” definitions. There are plenty of other books, blogs, and webinars for that. You can go elsewhere to sort through arguments about whether OtherWise-gendered people actually exist. If you are worried about whether we should be treated as inherently sick or sinful, you might not be ready to hear the wisdom that we have to share. Yet, we are here, living our best lives. Truly, truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen (John 3:11a).
There are a wide range of (auto)biographical and anecdotal stories about transgender and intersex people to be found in the world already. This volume is different insofar as it assembles offerings that will make explicit connections between lived OtherWise experience and Christian tradition—and sometimes other traditions as well. Authors have been invited to offer a theological perspective grounded in their own magnificent lives. I have to warn you that we are boundary-busting folk who do not much like being confined in orderly boxes. But, we offer our testimonies just the same, drawing on our own histories, our own struggles, and our own relationships with the Divine. Let those accept it who can (Matthew 19:12b).
In a historic roundtable in the Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion (Spring 2018), Dr. Max Strassfeld, asks this question: “In what ways might we expand our analyses of prayer and ritual if we took the lives and resiliencies of trans women of color as religion?” (page 51). Strassfeld’s question was offered in an academic context, but, in this volume, I invite you to open yourself in that way. Indeed, what if we look to OtherWise-gendered people to teach us about practices that nurture survival and sustainability? What if we trust OtherWise-gendered people to tell us something about what is most sacred? What might we learn about what makes life worth living?
Instead of working to stuff transgender experience into pre-existing categories of religious or Christian experience, I invite you to open your heart to listen to what OtherWise-gendered folk might have to teach you about the Divine, about holy laughter, about our most intimate relationships, and about fighting back against the principalities and powers of this world that bring death and despair. Listen for the rhythms that resonate between authors. Attend to both the themes that connect with your own life experiences, as well as those that differ. There are suggested scriptures and reflection questions at the end of each offering to assist you in processing and integrating what you have read.
Of course, no one collection can ever be definitive. There will always be yet more stories to be shared from God’s gender-full goodness among us. Indeed, I am aware of some important gaps in this effort. Yet, I hope that this volume will give you a taste that will help you better to appreciate what is possible among God’s people. I am grateful for the diverse array of folk who have trusted me enough to edit and publish their insights here. I pray that you will be blessed by their testimonies just as I have been.
Please check out otherwisechristian.com where you will find additional content related to the OtherWise Christian series, including news about other projects by these authors, more resources, as well as opportunities for further conversation.
Mx Chris Paige
OtherWise Christian 2: Stories of Resistance will launch on March 31, 2020. Pre-orders are currently available on Amazon (ebook) and through the publisher. During the month of March, you can also get autographed copies of OtherWise Christian, Christian Faith and Gender Identity, and In Remembrance of Me, Bearing Witness to Transgender Tragedy at regular retail prices, with your pre-order of OtherWise Christian 2!
You can join in the excitement about “Stories of Resistance” by “claiming your story!” Use the #SacredOtherWise hash tags on social media: #TransAndSacred, #NonBinaryAndSacred, #IntersexAndSacred, #TwoSpiritAndSacred or your own variation.
We are also using #ClaimYourStory and #ClaimingOurStories to encourage celebration of our stories of faith and resistance.
You are especially encouraged to use these hashtags on #TransgenderDayOfVisibility / #TDOV on March 31, 2020!