The Transgendered Child of a Parishoner
Dear Rev. Hinrichs
I am the adult child of two of your parishioners at St. Georges. I am also a transgendered woman, a woman born male. I found your e-mail address on the CRISNY web-site.
This is not news to my parents, of course. They knew about this gender transgressive nature since I was very young, and I remember going to psychologists in third, fifth and eighth grade who asked leading questions that I learned to duck. This was all during the 1960s, when the options were limited. I knew what was expected of me, who my mother wanted me to be, in a way that I later found described in Alice Miller's "The Drama Of The Gifted Child," which talks about the relationship of bright kinds with narcissistic mothers.
I have lived my life as a man, but not very successfully. While I have never been a gay man, having no attraction to relationships where women are excluded, I have also never married. Part of that is the challenge of my sight and part of that is the truth that under scrutiny, I don't play the man very well to compliment a woman. It is a breeches role for me, sweet but not cocky.
Over the last 10 or 15 years I have examined transgender issues. In the last five I have become one of the most forward theorists in the "gender community," writing and thinking how to find a way to refigure the system of gender so it both serves the important purpose of regulating attraction & supporting child rearing ("family") and gives space for people to move beyond imposed roles and expectations.
The challenge in every life is the inner versus the outer, the call of the heart versus the strictures of society. We need to impose order, to keep society functional, but during the industrial age we seem to have done that at the cost of erasing the calling from people's hearts, trying to silence the voice of their creator that calls them with unique gifts. We have attempted to homogenize people on the surface so they can serve the machine of culture, rather than embracing the notion that we are all the same on the inside and our external diversity is just flavor.
This is changing of course. The information age needs more thought, people who think in innovative ways rather than just follow orders with their hands. The women's movement has fought against the notion that people cannot become whole except in pairs, and gay liberation says that God doesn't use a cookie cutter so society shouldn't.
As for me, my embrace of my own transgendered nature is a profoundly spiritual experience. I listen to the voice in my heart and fight to compare and contrast that with the voice of society implanted in me. The constant question is if the inner voice is God or demon, a truth or a lie, empowering or destructive. Many religions have found that the inner voice is both, both empowering to the individual and destructive to organizations that want to keep control over them. If we can be reborn on earth, as the Gnostic gospels say, can we really be kept in line by the church?
Anthropologist Anne Bolin says that "In cultures where gender is rigidly bi-polar, rituals of gender transgression remind us of our continuous common humanity." The transgendered remind people that the cultural walls between material objects, even between men and women, are illusions, that all is connected. Dr. Wm. Dragoin has even done cross cultural studies on gynemimetic shamans, who are common in tribal cultures, coming to the conclusion that they benefit society in many ways.
The problem today is, of course, that those gifts are stigmatized, devalued, erased, labeled as self-indulgent and demonic. When your souls code leads you to a calling that is stigmatized you spend time fighting stigma rather than doing the work you feel put on the planet to do, and society wins in the short term, keeping order, but loses in the long term, erasing some gifts that are part of the fabric of humanity.
The reason I am writing you all this is because I feel a strong need to go public with my own work. As Joseph Campbell writes, the challenge is returning the gift we find on our inner journey to the world. While my parents are fully aware of my work, knowing about the conferences I have addressed and such, I have maintained the presentation of the gender assigned at birth based on my genitals around them. They feel comfortable with this.
To go public, however, means that I have to expose the contents of my heart by symbolizing it in a public way, to speak it though my choices of words, dress and other symbols. As private people, people who have trouble trusting the larger world, this brings up fears, both for me and for themselves, because they see the stigma coming onto them.
If you have any interest or willingness to help them come to grips with this challenge, then I would appreciate working with you.
I know that acceptance of gender transgression is not universal in the Anglican church, especially after the recent Lambeth conference that declared homosexuality inconsistent with the bible. They chose to tell homosexuals that the desires of their heart are the work of the devil or a cruel trick played on them that can only be managed by lifelong celibacy, the denial of human sexual companionship.
I don't know what your position is, or even if you have thought about a position on these issues. I do know that you may well believe that sacrifice to follow Biblical precepts is more important than a willingness to explore the song that my creator seems to have put in my heart.
Thank you for your time in reading this. I would be happy to hear from you if you do have something to say.
Subj: Re: The Transgendered Child of a
In a message dated 11/3/98 12:14:44 PM Eastern Standard Time, XXX writes:
Thank you for taking the time to tell me your story and to share information that helps me understand an issue I know very little about. If you live in the area or come to visit in the area, I would be interested in sitting down and discussing this further with you. Among other things, I would like to know more of what would be involved in your "going public." Bill Hinrichs
Dear Rev. Hinrichs,
Thank you for your reply.
Yes, I live in the area and would be happy to schedule some time to meet with you.
One of the first questions many people ask about transgender is "Why do you have to symbolize transgender? Can't you just have your own thoughts and feelings while appearing normative? After all, isn't gender expression, like clothes, hair and adornment, just skin deep?"
Why do we have to embody our own unique gender? I believe it's the same reason an artist can't just think their art or a writer can't just think their writing -- the act of symbolizing who we are opens a conversation with the world both helps us discover who we are and allows others to see things in a new way, the goal of any art. To be silent is to be silenced and that is to be shamed.
It has been argued that somehow, people have an obligation to maintain the comfort of others. "Well, I don't care what people do in their bedroom as long as I don't have to see it." They don't want to have to have their assumptions challenged in public, want their children exposed only to a sanitized world, want social comfort at the cost of the silence of others. This has been the bane of uppity blacks and women, who have challenged the structures that keep them silent.
You ask what "going public" means to me. I write, and to get a book published and sold in these days, it has to be packaged and marketed. From book tours to speaking engagements, from agent visits to conferences, an author becomes a product, embodying their work. To have a voice in society one must be visible, to have effect one must be public and seen.
This is the issue of "out" that affects all transgressive (queer) people, finding the balance between not making waves, playing along to get what they want and making waves, being challenging to get what they need. The balance is different for every individual -- for some, they are comfortable being normative and only sending cash to progressive groups, while others embody progress and only are normative to get enough cash to survive. In fact, all people make this choice, it's just harder for those who have greater stigma.
The traditional models of transgender, those that came into favor in the 1950s and 1960s focus on how to fit in. These are transvestites who live as men but dress up in secret, transsexuals who go though major medical procedures to blend in by changing apparent sex and drag queens who are gay men who do shows.
In this decade, though, changes happen. We see many more people born female coming out as transgender, as female-to-male transsexuals, transmen or even drag kings. More than that, though, we see people who choose to express their gender as a man or woman without the massive medical intervention required to "change sex," which is a misnomer, as only cosmetic changes are made.
We have seen people say that what is in our heart is more important than what is between our legs in determining our role in culture, and symbolizing that role by embodying it, manifesting with gender symbols.
For me, as an author, I need to consider how I build an audience for my work, work that is necessarily honest about who I am and where I am from. I need to tell my story in a way that illuminates the human nature we all share, that allows people to see common connections in an entertaining, engaging and hopefully enlightening manner.
In any case, I would be happy to set up a time with you. Are there any times you can suggest that fit better into your schedule, when you keep office hours?
Thanks for your quick response.
(I never went
after he wanted me to disclose my family name via e-mail
rather than waiting to meet me.)
Subj: No Friday 7AM Mass
so, today was it.
for a month, I have been planning to hit a 7am Episcopal mass at the little stone church down the block, the one that dates to before the revolution.
the image of fire in my brain, i made it up and out -- long black skirt, long black jacket, money green slinky knit tunic under.
i got in the car and drove -- it's still about 33 degrees out there.
i find a parking space and get out of the car.
i walk by the small cemetery, some stones now affixed to the side of the church.
i get to the door, which is not even open a crack. there is a plastic sheet protector stuck to the door
No Friday 7AM Mass
All this work and bingo: the door is locked.
Hope Hope and/or hope
Your press release for the "Cathedral Of Hope" found its way to my in-box yesterday, picked up by a 'bot from Business Wire.
It was, as these things so often are, strangely fortuitous timing. Over the weekend, I had just changed my mind about why I am oppressed. (Yes, I know that's an odd thought, but it's all explained at http://members.aol.com/mscallan/text/hallo99.html if you care to look.)
Kate Bornstein, the noted transgender activist, is a friend. She sees me as her heir apparent, and has been pushing me to go more public with my writing. The problem is that I don't want to dedicate a life to talking about queer oppression. I want to spend a life talking about hope.
I have been working on that challenge with a private little website at http://www./calliehope On that site, I write a daily bit about what hope means, at least to me.
All this, and your press release pops into my in-box. I went to your site, and found a professional, powerful site for a professional powerful church. What was amazing to me is your focus on empowerment, on members as ministers, in growth. You have big dreams, from a million dollars in money or work in 2000 to a new church by Phillip Johnson (and I love The Crystal Cathedral & Dr. Schuller).
I listened to some of Rev. Piazza's sermons. No wishy washy MCC stuff here, nice and bland, pandering to the weakest of us. Instead, he calls us to come from our highest self, to claim our possibilities in service, not be victims in our oppression.
I was raised Anglican, but I don't usually identify as a Christian anymore. To me, Christianity has become like tofu, good stuff, stories and traditions, but taking on the flavour of the stew it is tossed in. Lots of not so good works have been done in the name of Christ over the years. I may enjoy C.S.Lewis, know the power of shared metaphor, and understand the truth that it's not the ladder we climb to find God that's the point, it's the climb, but still, Christianity has become what people make of it.
My freshman year in college we were given a test to determine our preferences, and the results were matched with people in a range of professions, to see where we might fit. My highest score was as a minister. I laughed at that then. Even though I have always had a theological bent -- my King Sano smoking confirmation teacher told my parents that even if 5th grade religion came easy -- and had preached a sermon or two in my teens, it didn't seem likely.
Today, though, the notion that who I am, transgender and all, is part of my calling, makes perfect sense. My mission statement for the past 7 years has come from Anne Bolin, an anthropologist who has studied transgender: "In societies where gender is rigidly bi-polar, rituals of gender transgression remind us of our continuous common humanity."
This week I see my challenge as embodying the calling God has put in my heart. She has given me talents and gifts, but they require I become visible and show them to a world that doesn't yet know they need what I have to offer.
Thanks for having your press release, web site and sermons out there for us. Thanks for becoming big in belief, acting in a way that shines light not on our shared oppressions, but on our shared possibilities, and allows me to remember that when I hide my light under a candle, it's not my indulgences that are hidden, but my beliefs, my religion, my spirit, my gifts from my cosmic mother.