Seeking Trans Inclusion (A Guest Post From Freddie)

*The following was originally written for KAIROS, a student publication of Austin Seminary and published on Nov. 20th, 2013.

With a full month of Kairos dedicated partly to the idea of fellowship, I (Layton) have been thinking a lot about the voices in our community. But I have also been thinking about the voices who aren’t in our community right now and what we’re doing to see them and welcome them. Today, November 20th, is the Transgender Day of Remembrance, and I am particularly aware today of the absence of trans voices at APTS and all the gifts I believe that some of my trans friends could bring to this community. I am a cisgender woman and I cannot (and will not) try to speak for the trans people who are not here. Instead, I asked my friend Freddie Bell, whom I met earlier this year at the More Light Presbyterians Conference and who is a prospective seminarian, to share his thoughts about being trans in the church and how a seminary community like ours could be trans inclusive. Here is what he had to say:

My name is Freddie and I am transgender. I was born into a female body but identify as a man. A few years ago I began my physical transition. Today, I am typically recognized as male. Which is great – that’s what I wanted, right? It’s what I thought I wanted. It is nice to have my identity affirmed, but only partially so. I am proud of being trans and I want people to know. But that means I have to tell them. Which means I have to consistently face the fear and anxiety of how people will respond.

Transgender Day of Remembrance always reminds me that many people respond with hatred and violence. I am very lucky to not have experienced this, but it makes my fears all more real. This fear manifests in different ways in different communities. Where I work, my gender experience is considered an asset. Where I live, it’s seen as new and ‘strange’ but ‘totally cool.’

Ideally, church related communities should be the easiest to face. My God is my home and my home is where I should feel safest. My church should be a place where I don’t face these fears. Unfortunately, it’s typically the place where my fears and anxieties are strongest.

I feel called to share myself and my trans experience with the church. It’s sharing our stories that help us all grow as people and as the Body of Christ. I’d like to go to a seminary where I can share with ease that I am a queer transman. I believe that this ease comes when a community is fluid and open to change. When a community doesn’t focus on what is right and wrong. We must focus on love and love alone. We have to remember that the church is a living, breathing body that grows and changes everyday. I think it has little to do with accepting LGBTQ people and everything to do with just accepting that we are all people trying to figure out a way through this crazy world. Being trans is just how some of us have to do it.

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The Problem With “It’s Not A Choice” Rhetoric

Yesterday afternoon, I was reading the story of a University of Texas swimmer who came out to his teammates as gay via email. It was presented as a warm tale of risk and acceptance, but I found myself cringing (as I usually do in these stories) at this line from the email. He writes, “It is not something that I choose. It just is.”

This line, “it is not something I choose” seems to be the inevitable follow up to coming out as gay, lesbian, or bisexual. It has rubbed me the wrong way for years, but I have mostly kept my mouth shut because it is such a loaded issue within the LGB movement. It has historically, I think, been the strongest argument in favor of equality and acceptance of those who do not identify as straight and it is—at least in my own observation—where there has been the most evident shift in perspective among those who have traditionally opposed homosexuality. When someone comes to believe that being gay is not a lifestyle choice, but rather an inherent identity trait, they often find it easier to accept someone who identifies that way.

I get it. I am all about acceptance and equality. And I don’t particularly believe that I or anyone else chooses their sexual identity. But I do think that an argument that hinges on the “it’s not a choice” rhetoric is inherently flawed and dangerous.

I can feel the weight of a thousand angry glares from straight and queer friends alike for even suggesting this, so maybe the movement is not ready for this conversation yet. But I wish it would hurry and get there because I am tired of pretending that my lack of free will is all that is standing between me and eternal damnation.

The relationship between choice and my sexuality has been a challenging issue since I was a child. At fourteen, I tremulously admitted to my diary that I may not be straight, but only with the hastily added caveat that, if I ever knew for sure that I was gay, I would absolutely never choose to act on those impulses. These days, I am an out bisexual woman, and I am often confronted by gay and straight people alike with the question: “Why would you ever choose this, when you could just be with men and live a straight life?”

The tempting (and, I think, true) answer is that I don’t choose my attraction to both men and women anymore than a gay or straight person chooses who they are attracted to. But I am tired of that answer because I think it is beside the point.

Here is how I would rather respond, “Why is it okay if it’s not a choice, but not okay if it is a choice?”

I think this is a question we avoid answering because it points to something deeply problematic about how we, as queer people, are participating in a destructive cultural understanding of our own identity. It suggests that our sexual identity is some sort of unintentional defect that must be accepted and dealt with because it is unavoidable. The implicit assumption is that if it were a choice we would all have to concede that we’re doing something wrong. I daresay, it even allows that if it were a choice, others would have the right to mistreat us, undermine our humanity, and label us as disgusting, defective, and unworthy of respect.

Is that what we believe about ourselves? Is that what we’re working so hard for others to believe about us?

Here’s what I believe. I am attracted to women and men and as far as I know, that was not a choice that I made at any point. But I also make important choices all the time—about how I participate in relationships, about the way that I love others.

I understand the role that the “it’s not a choice” argument has played historically, and I am grateful for the progress it has won us.

But I am wondering when the time will come to move away from the claim that “being gay or bi is okay because it’s not a choice” and toward the claim that “being gay or bi is okay because there is just nothing wrong with it.

Maybe it’s just me, but in terms of my sexual identity, I am far less interested in acceptance and equality that founds itself on assumptions about what I am NOT in control of, and what I did NOT choose, than I am in a world that embraces and celebrates me for what I AM, and what I DO choose:

– I choose to be honest and vulnerable with myself about who I am.

– I choose to risk openness with others around me about my sexual identity. (Given that I am privileged to exist in a community where my being out is not overly dangerous to myself or others).

– I choose to embrace and celebrate the capacity within me to love beautiful, amazing women and beautiful, amazing men.

– I choose to engage in mutually respectful, vulnerable, loving relationships.

– I choose to work for a world that embraces myself and my LGB peers without condition or caveat, and where everyone can experience the same freedom to be out and open that I do.

– I choose love, day after day after day.

I am bisexual. It’s the way that I am. I am also happy about it. And that is a very important choice.