I don’t make religion, of any sort, an issue in the things I post here because there’s simply too much potential for alienating rather than speaking to the reader. I continue to believe that’s true but I hope to this commentary doesn’t cross that line.
One of my major pass-times is exercising my desire to be activist on behalf of trans issues by engaging in discussion and debate (and occasional polemic) online. This – the online part – is necessitated by the fact that I live in the heart of rural Southern America where there’s virtually no opportunity for face-to-face hands-on activism. Honestly, I have trouble even finding other trans people around me. The closest one I know directly is 50 miles away and I only know him via Facebook.
But I feel like it’s my calling to try and make things better for those who come after me and if online is the only place I can advance that, then so be it.
In order to engage in effective debate (in an informal setting) you need two things in relatively equal measure – passion for the subject and knowledge of the subject. There’s a third critical factor too, but Ill reserve that for later in the column. There’s a broad spectrum of critical issues trans people need to be addressing, from violence (particularly against women of color) to employment to health care and insurance to equality in the military and so forth. In general we’re drown to that segment of the cause the hits home most for us – the trans veteran campaigning for open service, the victim of job discrimination tackles employment rights and so forth. For me, the issue that sparks my passion is the hostility of many of those who claim the label “Christian” towards trans people and our concerns.
Before I go further let me clarify a usage issue. If I use the word Christian without qualifier I would give the appearance of speaking of all people who hold that faith, even though far from all Christians are so vitriolic in their reaction to trans people. But to qualify it (i.e. Evangelical, Catholic, Charismatic and Mormon Christians – most of them) is unwieldy. So I’ve come to refer to such beliefs, when I’m in a kind mood, as “Traditionalists” because this segment of Christianity is very given to allowing human cultural traditions provide the lens through which they interpret their faith. Going forward, that’s the term you’ll see.
So in light of that passion and calling, I make it my business to engage in discussion with the often uncooperative denizens of the comments thread which typically follows some inflammatory article about how trans people are the latest incarnation of the most evil thing ever(tm). A word of caution, if you are prone to being emotionally triggered by the random hostility of others – do NOT read the comments. You have to be able to steel yourself against a lot of abuse before you wade in.
Yesterday, on one such thread, a commenter asked me, in essence, “Why do you bother?” He said to me that by even being trans I’d essentially conceded my credibility in that crowd (this particular site is of the Charismatic form of Traditionalism) and that I was simply in the wrong place because no one there would take my comments seriously. It was a god question and it deserved a serious answer.
I do this (the debate) because for much of my life i WAS one of them. I thought what they think, said what they say – even while knowing in my heart I was condemning my own self. I was raised (and still live) in a place (and a time) completely saturated in tat “ol’ time” Traditionalist religion It wwas, quite literally, the only worldview I ever knew during the first 20 years or so of my life. My first exposure to the concept of transsexualism came in 1977 with Rene Richards, when I was 13, but even then that was something those “nuts out in California” did, not good god-fearing Southern boys. The subtle but inescapable message of the culture was it was “sinful” and “perverted” and “deviant” – who wants to be any of THAT?
I won’t go three times too long here giving you even a brief autobiography, but the point is that having come out of that culture, I know WHY they think what they think and say what they say, and at the root of it is ignorance. 25 years ago that ignorance could have been forgiven because so much of what we know now we didn’t know then. But the traditions formed in ignorance are VERY hard to overcome, particularly when they are often in a church that will turn on THEM if they waiver.
I feel burdened for these folks. Not just the ones who make the nasty comments but the silent majority who read the thread but never comment themselves. I know how to speak that language because it’s my native tongue, and I show them the respect of debating within the precepts of their Biblical (they think) worldview rather than, as some do, trying to attack their entire faith system. I feel it’s my place to use my gifts, not to sound arrogant, but I do what many can’t or won’t. I don’t think there are many on the pro-trans side who both have the stomach for debate and speak the language of the Traditionalist and also can keep a calm and clear head.
Which brings me to the other vital skill for these discussions. To the Traditionalist Conservative, if there’s anything true in life it’s that “Liberals” (i.e. anyone who dissents at all from their views) are inevitably angry, profane, bitter attackers who want to tear down the entire Faith brick by brick – sworn enemies. EVERY time a trans person or ally wades into one of those threads with righteous vitriol they confirm that stereotype. Don’t do that. you’re so not helping your cause, no matter how good it feels.
So why do I bother? First because I’m equipped to do it and I’ve seen minds changed because of it (in that same thread I changed the mind of a woman who started off very angry about trans girls scouts particularly because of the bathroom myth) and am convinced I at least plant seeds with many other readers; and second because they need to know that our side has more to offer than anger in support of our view.
Keyboard warrior? Yes, in what – I hope – is the best sense of the phrase.
Photo by: Premasagar Rose