Queering Winter Holidays: Reclaiming Hanukkah and Christmas to Build LGBTQIA Unity

For those of us cast out of our faith communities, jobs, or families for our LGBTQIA identities, a queering of the liturgical calendar - from Transgender Day of Remembrance on November 20 and World AIDS Day on December 1 through Rainbow Bridge on New Years Day -- allows us to redefine everything in between: Together, we can reclaim our faith and practices (whatever they may be) even as they are actively being desecrated by those who attempt to colonize our faith with hatred, preaching their narrow-minded judgment and casting people like us out of our own rightful places of worship - even threatening our deaths as their way of celebrating Christmas. In candlelit celebrations of Hanukkah and Advent (both of which commemorate resistance to Empire), the use of rainbow colors becomes a coup d'état, a queer refusal to be marginalized in our own faiths, a celebration of diversity and inclusion from WITHIN a place of faith!

Hanukkah especially is a season to celebrate not only faith and hope in God's continued lighting of the world but also in turn to practice "tikun olam" (Hebrew for healing / repairing the world). Connecting this practice with Hanukkah (the commemoration of an eight-day resistance to colonial invasion through renewal of authentic worship) helps us focus on causes that support free speech and religious freedom. Though I happen to be a Christian, I celebrate the refreshing contrast of this Jewish practice especially at this time of year, when narrow-minded bigots in my own faith tradition conduct an imperialistic attack of their own, insist that all people (even those who don't share their beliefs) must celebrate their particular winter holiday -and in THEIR way using THEIR preferred terminology for it. My own wider family includes a wide range of faith, gender, race, national, and sexual orientation identities: Our Hannukiah's rainbow candles and the rainbow-colored dreidls we play with are a way to teach my children in an interfaith way tikun olam (healing or repairing the world) with God's light, talking as a family about what we believe in, what it means to stand up for those beliefs (in the spirit of those who reclaimed and restored the Temple desecrated by colonializing imperialists in the events commemorated in this holiday).

Christian celebrations at this time of year often include a retelling not only of the birth of Jesus but his entire geneaology as a direct descendant of the prostitute Rahab (Matthew 1), whose own revolutionary resistance to foreign conquest saved her community as recounted in the Hebrew Bible (Joshua 2). Those who celebrate Christmas without religion still commemorate the ancient saint (Nicholas, from whom "Santa Claus" is derived) whose use of church funds to rescue three young women from prostitution is one of the main reasons Christians revered him in antiquity. To queer this holiday is another revolutionary act. Rather than mourning our own exclusion from family and religious gatherings, we celebrate our solidarity with and work harder to protect the lives of those that St. Nicolas too protected, one of whom even Jesus was descended from and another of whom he praised as having a faith greater than that of his respectable religious dinner host (Luke 7:36-50). December 17, the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers falls during Advent, after World AIDS Day and St. Nicolas Day but before Christmas.

Since awkward media attention to my own gender complexity over a year ago, so many other trans* people have reached out in friendship, some of whom have been or still are sex workers. Trans* sex workers are exposed to the highest rates of brutal violence of any sex workers: According to HIPS, a cooperative extension of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, attacks against trans workers are 2.5 times more likely to involve a gun. With an unemployment rate at least twice as high as that of other groups (and over 40% of those employed only able to find part-time work), and with a disproportionate number of our families rendering us homeless and the medical procedures we need to live as ourselves so expensive, sex work becomes for some trans people the only option. One of my young transwomen friends who is both a gifted scholar and yet also a sex worker for economic reasons shared with me this December 17,"The studies I've personally read showed 2/3 of transwoman of teenage or college age in Chicago and L.A. having engaged in Sex Work/Survival Sex. Another study estimates 1/4 of female prostitutes in San Francisco to be transwomen." As a chronically underemployed transgender minister, I have lots of time for volunteer work with my community, and I now count as close friends just as many sex workers as I do other priests and ministers. Though Jesus himself might have shared that kind of community, I lament with the friend quoted above that Christians today generally don't think of their holidays or faith community as being THAT inclusive, gracious, welcoming, and incarnational (literally meaning "enfleshed," "embodied," "meaty").

Queering the winter holidays, let's celebrate our uniquely inclusive community where deep and real friendships cross every boundary -- without judgment or fear between us: We bond together as comrades in arms, veterans whose shared battles with others' phobias (trans- or homo-) and our own personal bouts with internalizing such poisons can far outweigh individual differences of faith, HIV status, race, social class, gender, or work background if we choose.