Trigger warning: anti-trans hatred, violence.
Today is the 13th annual Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDoR), a day set aside to remember people who have been killed due to anti-trans violence. The numbers are staggering. This year there are 221 people to be mourned, and those are just the murders that have been recorded. The actual toll is certainly higher. Most of the victims of anti-trans murders are women of color. Most of these murders go unsolved.
And then there’s the additional violence that victims of anti-trans murders often experience after death – like news reports and family reminiscences (or condemnations) that deny and erase their true gender, refuse to recognize their true names, sexualize or fetishize their gender, and implicitly or explicitly blame them for somehow bringing their deaths on themselves.
We live in a world where any kind of gender nonconformity is, in many if not most societies, violently marginalized and suppressed. Where orthodoxies of gender are so tightly held to that anyone who challenges them is painted as somehow less than human, deserving of humiliation and ostracization, simply for existing. This is ultimately what transphobic violence and prejudice are about. Anti-trans murders, and the misgendering and lies about trans lives that so often follow them, erase in different ways the existence and experiences of trans people. They are actions informed by the belief that trans people simply can’t or shouldn’t exist.
TDoR is about fighting that erasure, and the ease and silence with which our society accepts the murder of trans people. It’s about saying that trans people exist, on their own terms. That the lives and deaths of trans people matter. That trans people are human beings and every human being deserves full and equal rights and dignity.
Combatting anti-trans hate and the violence and oppression it spawns takes more than one day a year. Indeed, it’s a fight that trans people face head on every single day. But if you are cis and don’t know much about trans issues, or haven’t thought much about it – you can start changing that today. You can start by taking some time to mourn and feel the loss of people society claims are dispensable. Read a post about TDoR. Educate yourself by seeking out and listening to (not demanding an education or special attention from) trans people. Learn how you can come alongside trans people, not as a savior riding in to rescue anyone from oppression, but from a place that respects and centers them as the experts on their own lived experience, and the leaders in their own struggle for equality.
Listening to people who actually live with an oppression is a good first step. Here are a some of the voices I’ve been listening to on TDoR today:
National Center for Transgender Equality: Remembering our Dead
Janet Mock: A Letter of Blessings to my 16-Year-Old-Self
The names continue to scroll in my heart and the hearts of other trans people, their loved ones and allies. I can’t forget their faces. They remind me in an instant how lucky I was to get out of that car (and many others to come) as I navigated my journey to womanhood, as I became the person I am now counting my blessings that I never came face to face with this type of wretched, deathly hate and ignorance and intolerance. And it also makes me mourn, mourn the fact that I have to say that I was lucky to have survived that date, to acknowledge that we live in a world where a 16-year-old girl would have to fear being beat for being exactly who she is.
I’ve come out – after years of people telling me to stay stealth, to live in anonymity, to safely hide where I’ve been – because we are not shadows, we are not bodies, we are people. These young girls were people’s daughters, young people who were loved. And in an instant, a lethal mix of transphobia, misogyny and our society’s disposable culture took them away from people who loved them.
Transgender Day of Remembrance is about never forgetting, never forgetting that Gwen, Stephanie, Ukea, Shelley and hundreds of others are you. You can’t really know where you are going until you know where you’ve been.
I saw this video a while back. It was a bit of fundy propaganda, starting with the phrase, “This is what you will see all across the country, unless this radical movement is stopped!” This was followed by footage of trans people, at a trans conference, doing… well, extremely mundane things, really. Walking around, riding elevators, going to the bathroom, eating, and so on.
I wish I could express to you just what it is like to go through life knowing that society itself doesn’t want either you or the people you love the most to exist. Knowing that your own (biological) family doesn’t want your kind to exist. Knowing that some of the most powerful religious and political institutions in the world don’t want you and yours to exist. Knowing that even many queer people don’t want you and yours to exist, because your existence is politically inconvenient for them. Knowing that (if you’re a woman) patriarchy won’t even allow you the few small dignities it usually leaves to objectified women, instead allowing you to exist as nothing more than a fetish to be enjoyed in shame by men and destroyed if there’s any chance of anyone finding out.
Sass Rogando Sasot, via Transgriot: Let Each Name
These names represent lives that matter and they should matter, for these names represent people who were somebody’s children, partners, friends, siblings, students, teachers, workers, citizens! So as we recite these names, we are calling on all institutions – from the families to schools to religions to governments, from Amsterdam to Ankara, from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe – we are calling on everyone, everywhere to reclaim compassion from hate, to reclaim care from apathy, and to reclaim everyday kindness from transphobia.
I’m participating in National Blog Posting Month – which means I’m aiming to post at least once a day for the month of November. Most of these will be my posts, but there’ll also be a few guest bloggers, which I’m really excited about!
AWH Reader Faith has generously shared some of her writing on growing up trans and Christian, and her Christian faith now as a transsexual woman. This is the first of two posts. – Grace
Like most of these notes, this one was triggered by a question. “Why didn’t you transition sooner?” There are all kinds of reasons (excuses) I could give, but here’s the real reason: I wasn’t a woman until recently. OMG! Did she just say that out loud? Transsexual heresy! o_0
OK, pick your jaw up off the floor and listen for a few minutes. I wasn’t able to be a woman until I grew up. Long before I was a woman I was a little girl. I craved approval, others’ opinions of me were much more important to me than what I thought of myself. Actually I didn’t have much of an opinion about me apart from what others said about me. My self worth was mostly controlled by my parents, teachers, and peers. I was terrified of conflict, I never wanted to disagree with anyone or have them feel that I was in the wrong. I learned fairly young that being a girl was something that I should only do secretly. Playing the boy everybody told me I was kept me out of conflict and sheltered me from at least some disapproval.
But the little girl kept dreaming and praying and wishing she would grow up to be a woman. As her body changed and betrayed her, she retreated into a fantasy world where she was somehow magically transformed into a beautiful woman (who, crazy as it sounds, could build a mean racing engine). On the outside, she tried to fit into the role that was expected but she wasn’t very good at it. And how could she be? A little girl is not able to be a man, even if she can grow a foot-long beard.
Years went by, and the little girl told her secret to her brother who she trusted more than anyone else in the world. Rejected! God, how that hurt! But we don’t grow without pain, and even though I didn’t know it at the time I was starting to grow up. The hurt healed, and I grew into the new freedom and responsibility I had thrust upon me. At 35, it was way past time for this girl to grow up!
Like kittens always grow up to be cats, when little girls grow up they become women. This woman didn’t care what people thought about her, she cared what God thought about her. She learned that with God’s help she was able to do anything God called her to do. This woman was no longer willing to live a lie in order to win approval and avoid conflict.
Growing up to be a woman was painful at times, but now that I’m grown up I can see that it had to be this way. Without that pain the little girl would have been a desperate fantasy in a dark basement instead of growing up to be a real live woman with the sun on her shoulders, the wind in her hair, and joy in her soul.
Since Mark Driscoll’s last round of public queer and trans baiting, I’ve wanted to make a bingo card of some of the ridiculous excuses some Christians make for why Driscoll’s behavior is either acceptable or just not a problem they should have to deal with. Alas, I couldn’t find a bingo card generator, and I didn’t have the HTML skills to make one myself. But now! I have mediocre n00b HTML knowledge to
inflict on share with my readers :-D
And the timing couldn’t be better, since Driscoll appears to have gone and stuck another homophobic foot in his mouth yet again, like clockwork [eta: Molly points out in the comments that Driscoll wrote this in 2008, but it’s just getting attention now]:
First, masturbation can be a form of homosexuality because it is a sexual act that does not involve a woman. If a man were to masturbate while engaged in other forms of sexual intimacy with his wife then he would not be doing so in a homosexual way. However, any man who does so without his wife in the room is bordering on homosexuality [sic] activity, particularly if he’s watching himself in a mirror and being turned on by his own male body. (Dangerous Minds)
There’s really nothing that needs to be said about that, right? The man clearly has some personal issues to work through.
So, here it is: a handy guide to the absurd defenses of Driscoll fanboys and people who just find his public comments too inconvenient and embarrassing to handle honestly. What did I miss? Share your favorite example of ridiculous Driscoll apologism in the comments!
Mark Driscoll Apologism Bingo:
|No one respects women more than Mark. He hates violence against women.||Mark is just a provocateur.||People hate/persecute Mark because he preaches harsh bible truth.||You’re giving non-Christians excuses to slander and hate us!||People have come to Christ through Mark. Don’t lose sight of the big picture.|
|“Jesus wasn’t just a gentle peacemaker.”||This is sinful gossip and slander.||You’re turning Christians against each other and destroying our unity.||Mark is just rough around the edges. He’s refreshingly blunt.||Mark loves his wife and celebrates femininity, just not in men.|
|Mark really loves Jesus.||Mark isn’t in my/your church; he’s not my/your problem.||FREE
|You’re supporting worldly criticisms of Mark by unbelievers.||Why are you so emotional/angry/bitter?|
|Mars Hill is growing. God is really using Mark.||You haven’t listened to every sermon Mark Driscoll has ever preached.||You should share your concerns with Mark privately. Matthew 18!||Just pray for Mark and pay more attention to your own sin.||Mark just wants men to feel comfortable in church.|
|If we ignore him he’ll just go away.||You should be working towards love and reconciliation with Driscoll.||People who call Mark out are the real bullies.||You’re just as much of a sinner as Mark.||Mark is doing God’s work in godless, unchurched Seattle.|
Trigger warning for anti-trans and misogynistic gender policing. In a development that will come as a shock to exactly no one, Mark Driscoll has once again indulged in misogynist, bigoted douchebaggery. This time he invited his Facebook followers to mock “effeminate” worship leaders:
Text: “So, what story do you have about the most effeminate anatomically male worship leader you’ve ever personally witnessed?” [Screencap from Homebrewed Theology]
Well, I have many thoughts. The first being that this would be an excellent candidate for a post at Tea Party Jesus. Can’t you just see those words issuing from the lips of Jesus himself? I know I can.
Second thought: This dude is epic fail as a pastor even by his own supposed standards of faith. Honestly, what kind of a pastor invites people to MAKE FUN of worship leaders because of how they look or act? Isn’t leading worship supposedly an act of service to God and a ministry to the congregation? Isn’t worship a sacred time of expressing love and reverence for God? So how exactly is it acceptable to “lead” people to mock worship leaders based on external appearances or presumed anatomy? Isn’t that blasphemous? Doesn’t God judge the heart? Explain this to me, conservative Christians. I am baffled.
Also. There’s the whole part about how worship leaders are human being like anyone else, with real feelings and all that. Not to belabor the whole Jesus thing, but I’m missing how it’s repping Christ to talk about people like this under the guise of being a shepherd of souls. ETA: Joy makes a similar point here.
A further thought: When he calls “effeminate” male worship leaders anatomically male, he clearly means that they are only “anatomically male,” i.e., not really male. It’s quite amazing, really. Mark Driscoll is so obsessed with this gender role nonsense that he’s now taking it to the level of genital policing. He might as well have said that effeminate male worship leaders are male in penis only.
This raises all sorts of questions. What makes him think that anatomy determines gender identity or should limit gender expression? Again, again, a penis is not what makes someone male. The colors or clothes a man wears or how he talks or walks are not what makes him a man. A man is someone who identifies and understands himself as a man. Period.
Perhaps even more confusing… what makes him think he can tell what someone’s anatomy looks like beneath their clothes? More to the point, why on earth does he CARE so very much about what’s going on with other people’s genitals? And what’s up with his FB followers and defenders elsewhere who seem to think he’s making a harmless joke, or worse, a really profound point? I get the feeling if he had put his comments in plain words and actually used the word “penis,” those same people would be up in arms.
Text: Mark Driscoll providing the definition of effeminate: 1: having feminine qualities untypical of a man: not manly in appearance or manner 2″ marked by unbecoming delicacy or overrefinement. [Screen cap from Jesus Needs New PR].
People who defend Driscoll. Let me break this down for you. This isn’t clever or funny or insightful. It’s stupid and juvenile. Let me translate for you.
Driscoll: “I think that person has a penis! But he moves and talks funny! This makes me feel vaguely unsettled and insecure! I don’t want to think about what this means for me as a man so I will mock him mercilessly instead! Har har, look at that guy with a penis who looks funny!”
Ask yourself, Driscoll defenders, why you tolerate or even expect this kind of immaturity from a pastor. From a leader. Ask yourself why this man is so clearly unsettled about his own gender identity that he needs to take potshots at other people’s gender to make himself look and feel more manly.
And ask yourself the excellent questions that Dianna Anderson asks of Driscoll:
I want you to ask yourself this: You are a married man. You have (according to the info I could find) five children, a couple of whom I imagine, by sheer probability, are female [Driscoll has at least one daughter – G]. So think of your wife, think of your daughters, and ask this: Is being female a bad thing?
I know the response already: being female isn’t a bad thing for girls, but it’s a bad thing for a man to display female characteristics.
Ask yourself how this kind of incessant degrading of feminine behavior and appearance makes women and anyone whose identity is in any way “feminine” feel. How it hurts us.
Let’s say that we live in a world where women are in charge. Instead of male pronouns to describe God in the Bible, it’s all female. There’s a zealous writer named Pauline whose words about pastors don’t talk about the pastor having a wife but rather a husband. Her instructions about being quiet in the church are directed at men. Now say you go to a church – you’re faithfully trying to live your life following a savior named Jesus, a woman, who preached great love and sacrifice and spreading the word of her Gospel through the world. You’re doing the best you can to follow what she said in a broken world.
You go to church with your wife and family. She works while you stay at home with the kids, because it’s what men do in this world. And your pastor preaches time and time again about a “feminine” Christianity, about a womanly savior who exhibited all the good things about being female, and she complains about a church that is masculinized, of a church too taken over by men that it’s uncomfortable and wrong and even, possibly, sinful.
You, however, have a complex sense of your own gender identity. Sure, you like doing “manly” things, but you equally feel fine when you do feminine things. You never felt like you quite fit into that subservient role in this Matriarchal world. How does hearing that it’s a bad thing to be masculine, that it’s awful for your wife to share some of your burden as a man, that it’s sinful to the point of keeping [her] from heaven to be masculine?
Does that make you good and angry? Do you think you should be allowed to be masculine or feminine if you wanted because God created you that way? Do you think those archaic gender roles, which aren’t even clearly laid out in the Holy Scriptures of your religion, might just be wrong? Do you feel like who you are as a person is being ignored because of what you happen to have between your legs? [Dianna Anderson, Dear Mr. Driscoll, at Jesus Needs New PR]
When Mark Driscoll pulls stunts like this he’s sending a clear message that anyone who challenges gender hierarchies that place patriarchal masculinity above all else is to be isolated, shunned, and mocked. Men who are not stereotypically masculine. People of nonbinary gender. Trans women. Cis women. Women whose behavior , identities, or personalities at all challenge male assumptions of dominance and superiority. It’s inevitable that there are people in each of those categories who look up to Mark Driscoll as a leader and who read his comments.
Try to see, just try, how this kind of daily, ceaseless attack on femininity makes the many, many people who don’t fit into the patriarchal model of gender feel. Try to see how it makes us feel like we have to embrace an identity of inferiority to be part of the church, or leave.
Christian and former cage fighter Matt Morin has a fantastic article on mixed martial arts (or MMA, the technical title for cage fighting) and its implications for thinking about masculinity from a Christian perspective. It’s a brilliant and thorough takedown of Mark Driscoll’s absurd fetishization of violence and domination as the epitome of “real” masculinity. Morin systematically unpacks misogyny, the homophobia, the harmful assertions about “real” masculinity, and the deep-seated insecurity about gender and embodiment that underpin the current trendiness of MMA in some complementarian circles.
And he does it all from a perspective informed by Christian anthropology! It’s very heartening to me to see challenges to Christianized toxic masculinity from within Christian circles. It drives home the ridiculousness of complementarian assertions that gender essentialism and bigotry are inseparable from being a “real” Christian. And it’s extremely powerful to have a Christian man explicitly reject Christian patriarchy and call it out as misogynist, homophobic, and harmful to everyone.
Seriously, it’s an amazing article and an absolute must-read. Check it out – The Confessions of a Cage Fighter: Masculinity, Misogyny, and the Fear of Losing Control [discussions of physical violence].
Morin particularly takes apart this clip of Driscoll claiming that MMA represents “pure” masculinity:
And I don’t think there’s anything purer than two guys in a cage, no balls, no sticks, no bats, no help, no team, and just see which man is better. And as a pastor, and as a bible teacher, I think that God made men masculine, he made humanity male and female. And men and women are different, not that one is good and the other’s bad, that’s why I married a woman, I’m very glad to be married to her [laughing].
But i think men are made for combat, men are made for conflict, men are made for dominion, and it doesn’t matter what you do to a bunch of guys, I mean, you could put ’em in the worst public high school, and tell ’em that they need to just be into their feelings, and talk about their feelings, and cry a lot, and fingerpaint their inner life, but at the end of the day, they’re still gonna want to throw down. And when they go out to recess, two guys are gonna go at it and see which one is the dude.
And that’s just the way that men are made. So we either allow that in way that is violence [sic] and inappropriate, which is what a lot of guys do, through criminal activity, or we put it together as a viable, legitimate sport, and let men be men and do what men do, and let the other fat, lazy men sit around and criticize them while watching.
Driscoll appears to have a talent for packing lots of wrongheadedness into a small number of words. Where to start? Perhaps with his statement that humanity was created “male and female,” a launching point for much of complementarian theology. Driscoll takes for granted – as do most people, to be fair – that all humans fit into binary categories of sex and gender: male/female, masculine/feminine. But both sex and gender are far more complicated than a binary system can account for.
In biological terms, what we boil down to the single word “sex” is actually made up of several different paramaters (e.g., genes, gonads, genitals, secondary sex characteristics like body hair and breasts, etc.) These factors are interrelated, but don’t always correlate with each other as we expect, and don’t always easily add up to an answer of “male” or “female.” Intersex is the most obvious example of this, but there’s also a tremendous among of variation in sexual characteristics between people who fit “typical” expectations of male or female sex, as we can plainly observe by huge differences in appearance (and specifically sexual development) between men or between women.
Gender is perhaps even more complicated than sex, with incredible variance in both gender identity and gender expression. We’re all assigned a gender at birth based on what our genitals look like, or are prematurely surgically altered to look like, as is sadly the case for some babies born intersex (trigger warning). But the gender we’re assigned at birth doesn’t always fit with our actual gender identity (i.e., some people are trans), and there are many people whose gender identity is nonbinary: neither male nor female, or not entirely one or the other. And in addition to gender identity (what we feel internally), gender expression (how we express our internal gender) also varies widely. Many cultures past and present have recognized this.
Perhaps Mark Driscoll doesn’t know – or doesn’t want to know – that gender variance is in the bible. The very same bible he quotes as evidence that humanity was created male and female features eunuchs – not just people who were castrated, but also people who in Jesus’ own words were born eunuchs – and others who challenged binary sex and gender categories. Peterson Toscano, creator and performer of the play Transfigurations, points to some of these examples:
(I’ll try to get a transcript of this up later.)
Of course, there’s a lot more wrong with Driscoll’s comments than the assumption of binarism (which, again, is widespread), and I’ll get to those and some of Morin’s criticisms of them in subsequent posts.