Transgender Day of Remembrance: Embracing Our Whole Human Family

It's heartbreaking to read the many reports of teens and young adults considering or committing suicide, or our young people bullied and victimized for being different. Many of these teens are struggling with sexuality and gender identity in a society that's not always accepting. With Transgender Day of Remembrance on November 20th, we remember all those lives who were brutalized or murdered for their difference. Since this is literally a life and death matter, as a religious people we ought to feel compelled to deepen our understanding of the causes of such pain.

Transgender and Gender Queer youth and young adults -- whether gay, lesbian or heterosexual -- are sometimes gripped in a vice that pressures them to conform to both sexuality standards as well as gender norms. This results in far higher than average rates of homelessness and suicide in our young people who identify as Transgender.

Transgender identities often elicit reactions of confusion, judgment and dismissal, even from progressive liberals. We sometimes hear people say that individuals undergoing these sorts of physical changes are dealing more with psychological problems than hormonal. That most of us have clear sexes, so we can have clear genders. That pushing the stereotypes around clothing, work and relationships are one thing, but pushing the boundaries around bodies are another. I will say to this that I have heard all of it before referring to gay and lesbian men and women. I have been told that my love for another man is a psychological problem -- that my hormones are not the real issue.

I imagine that most women may have heard the same sorts of things regarding their lives, their careers, their families. They are willful for seeking that job, or that position, or that relationship. They are disrespecting their family or their culture when they delay marriage, or move in with a lover before marriage, or postpone having children in favor of their career. Although some men certainly do hear the same sorts of critiques, I find that most males have another set of guidelines to live up to. Simply put, the rules are different for different genders. And while the situation is all the more confusing when gender isn't clear, we can choose to go a little deeper and find the commonalities to which each of us can relate.

Every generation has seen the gender line blur and break a little more. It is my hope and prayer that we've pushed against it hard enough that not only have glass ceilings started to crack, but also that our children are starting to grow up knowing that their gender or sex need not determine the scope of their dreams or the breadth of their lives, loves and hopes. Maybe we've finally reached a point where our own actions, responses and inclinations have ceased to place limits on one another.

But that's simply not true. Not yet. I'm not going to appear before my congregation in a skirt and blouse. Not only because it's not my style, but also because it would signal that somehow I'm less, or a freak, or that I've lost power. My ego couldn't handle it. Our identity as a religious community would feel shaken, and most of us still believe women's clothing diminishes men in a way that men's clothing doesn't lessen women but lifts them up. It's a shallow marker but a clear one for the malady that continues to plague us. It's a starting point for understanding why violence against Transgender communities continues.

I believe that American culture has been trumping our religious values of compassion and love. Transgender identity scares us because it suggests that maybe we've got it all wrong. Maybe women are just as good as men. Maybe relationships are defined by the horizon of our love. Maybe people ought to have agency over their own bodies. Maybe the world isn't all that clear right from birth. Maybe the phrase "men and women" is still leaving someone out.

Not fully understanding someone who is different from us isn't an excuse for denigration. My Unitarian Universalist faith tradition values personal human experience and reminds us that every soul has inherent worth and dignity. When we lack an understanding of another, it is a religious practice to seek to deepen our ties. It is a call to stretch our experience, widen our vision, and embrace our whole human family. In so doing, we reflect our own dignity and worth. This discipline speaks directly to the message of all religious scriptures - love is at the core of faith. When we know that cultural practices of dismissal foster environments where our young people feel unsafe and unloved, and we know that many of our youth are dying because of this, we are morally obligated to directly challenge attitudes, words, and actions that denigrate. Faith requires us to prioritize the safety of our young people over our opinions.