Crossing the T

Life at the intersection of Church and Trans with Rev. Allyson Robinson

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The very best

As I said good night to my six-year-old daughter last night, I told her, “You’re the very best daughter in the whole wide world.”

“And you’re the very best daddy-who-likes-to-be-a-girl in the whole wide world,” she replied.

God, but I love my kids.

(Cross-posted at the Family Equality Council blog.)

Can I Quote You? St. Thomas Aquinas on activism and anger

He who is not angry when there is just cause for anger is immoral. Why? Because anger looks to the good of justice. And if you can live amid injustice without anger, you are immoral as well as unjust.

St. Thomas Aquinas (c. 1225-1274), Italian Catholic priest and Dominican, theologian and philosopher.

And a comment from me: The challenge, of course, is to be moral in our anger. This is why I am so thankful for the teachings of Ghandi and Martin Luther King, Jr. on nonviolence. Paige Schilt recently wrote a wonderful essay on living out those teachings as a participant in Soulforce‘s American Family Outing at the Bilerico Project.

And an aside: This quote is widely attributed to St. Thomas, but after scouring the sections from Summa Theologica where one might expect to find it, I came up empty handed. Perhaps it’s from Contra Gentiles? If anyone can help me attribute this one, I’d be grateful.

The questionable ethics of “love the sinner, hate the sin”

“We have seen Satan, and he is us!”

Writing at EthicsDaily.com yesterday, Dr. Miguel A. de la Torre (director of the Justice & Peace Institute and associate professor of social ethics at Iliff School of Theology) reaches that conclusion after a concise deconstruction of traditional responses to the Problem of Evil and the development of the concept of Satan:

The early shapers of sacred text found themselves in the position of having to protect God from accusations of being the source of evil. As it became less acceptable to have aspects of God represented in evil elements or events, independent evil figures had to be birthed. If Satan did not exist, then they had to create one so as to vindicate God.

One problem with their strategy is that the texts often place responsibility for human suffering squarely in God’s lap. De la Torre notes the story of Job, the case of Saul, and the words of Amos (“Shall there be evil in a city, and the LORD hath not done it?“) as evidence. This is why systematic theologians have to walk such a fine line when they describe Satan. Attribute too much power to him, and you weaken your monotheism; too little, and you risk making God responsible for acts otherwise considered evil.

But there are other, more practical problems with our traditional conception of Satan as well, as de la Torre points out. (Emphasis here is mine.)

Here then is the ethical concern: seeing Satan in the other. It cannot be denied that evil was, and continues to be, committed. But to reduce the other to a representative of evil justifies cruelties and atrocities to be committed by those engaged in the battle to save humans from Satan’s corruption. No evil ever dreamed up by Satan or his demons can outdo the atrocities committed by good, decent people attempting to purge such evil forces from this world.

Hence de la Torre’s conclusion: “We have seen Satan, and he is us.” We unwittingly do evil when we see other community members as evil’s source and deal with them accordingly.

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Christians regularly face this kind of treatment from their brothers and sisters in Christ. A mother and father force a gay child into a harmful reparative therapy program against his will. A family gives a lesbian aunt the “silent treatment” for years. A church ejects a long-time member who chooses to transition from one gender to another. This is what “love the sinner, hate the sin” has tended to look like.

Like the traditional theological conception of Satan, the doctrine of “love the sinner, hate the sin” forces adherents to walk a fine line. Stray too much toward love, and you risk enabling behavior you see as sinful. Stray too much toward hate, and you risk… Well, what, exactly? Most Christians, I think, instinctively sense that hate is dangerous, but would be hard pressed to say why. God hates, according to the texts at least, and Christians are instructed to hate (Romans 12:9 being the most general example). But the problem we recognize intuitively lies in hating the wrong things or hating for the wrong reason. Here the texts are often ambiguous, and that’s where the danger is.

This ambiguity means that Christians will err in their application of this doctrine, and so we’re forced to make some calculated decisions to minimize the error. Unfortunately, many seem inclined to err on the side of purity, and as a result, LGBT people are excommunicated from churches, ejected from families, and made to submit to exorcisms or rehabilitation programs. But the hypocrisy of erring on the side of purity is obvious–as both Testaments proclaim, “There is no one righteous, not even one.” When we reprimand some for alleged impurity without recognizing impurity in ourselves, we show our ethic to be arbitrary and self-serving. This hypocrisy is increasingly off-putting to those outside the church, and the LGBT people who are forced to endure it often leave the church and their faith behind, never to return. Above all, God’s feelings about hypocrisy are clear: “Woe to you.” Eight times, “Woe to you.”

So then why do we choose to err on the side of purity rather than on the side of inclusiveness and welcome? Perhaps, when God asks us that question one day, we can say, “The Devil made us do it.” It would go better for us, I think, if we remembered that Romans 12:9, the verse that instructs us to hate what is evil, prefaces that instruction with these words: “Let love be without hypocrisy.”

(Image courtesy gapingvoid).

They call me “Daddy”

(Great news!  I was recently asked by the wonderful people at the Family Equality Council to become a regular contributor to their blog for LGBT families.  I’m thrilled at the opportunity to be associated with such a great organization.  Here’s my first post for FEC, cross-posted with their permission.)

In the most recent installment of their video blog “She Got Me Pregnant,” lesbian moms Dana and Helen laugh about the befuddlement many of their straight friends seem to feel over how their son addresses them.  I mean, the famous Heather may have two mommies, but she certainly can’t call them both “Mommy,” right?  That would be way too confusing for a child . . . wouldn’t it? 

Well, probably not.  It turns out our little ones are a lot smarter than we sometimes give them credit for being.  As Dana says, “Your kids are going to figure it out.”  And they do, don’t they?

But what about when one of Heather’s mommies used to be her daddy?

When I began my transition at home, my partner and I worried a lot about what our kids would call me.  Okay, to be perfectly honest, I was the one who did most of the worrying.  In fact, calling it “worrying” is a bit of an understatement.  Truth is I practically obsessed over it.  I even recall a particularly vivid nightmare in which I was out shopping with my kids and couldn’t get them to stop calling me “Daddy” in voices vastly disproportionate to their little bodies.  I kept ducking behind racks of clothing and trying to explain to them that they couldn’t do that–that people might find out I had once been a boy and would be mean to us–but it just didn’t seem to sink in.  It felt strangely like one of those dreams where you suddenly realize you’re naked in front of a crowd of people.  I woke up in a cold sweat.

As the time approached for me to transition publicly, we sat down at our kitchen table with the oldest two, who were eight and five at the time, to let them know what was ahead.  I would be living as a girl all the time from that point forward, we told them, and at the advice of my wonderful counselor, asked if they would like to pick a new name to call me.  A big part of the transition strategy my counselor and I developed together was to share control over things with my family as much as I possibly could, and so I wanted to offer the kids some say in the matter.  We suggested a few options and waited for their response.

I’ll confess that, as the question hung in the air between us for a moment, I was really hoping they’d pick something like “Mama,” “Maddy” (the fine conflation suggested by Jenny Boylan), or even my first name.  Kids call parents by their first name in all the really cool families, right?

My five-year-old daughter responded first.  “I like ‘Daddy.'”

“Yeah, me too,” my son agreed.

“Then ‘Daddy’ it is,” I told them.  Big hugs, sloppy kisses, and they were running into the back yard to play.

To my credit, I was so determined to respect their feelings that I didn’t feel all that disappointed.  I’ve never really wanted or needed to live a “stealth” life, in which nobody around me knew of my male history.  I had, however, been hoping to be able to go with my family to the grocery store or McDonalds without being outed all the time–but my children’s choice opened that desire up for a little much-needed inspection.  Why was this so important to me?  What was I afraid of?  What might be lost by being called “Daddy” in public, and what might be gained?

I wish I could say that it’s been an easy thing for me, that I’ve never flinched at hearing my kids call to me across a crowded playground or blushed at the strange looks I occasionally get.  It hasn’t, and I have.  And together we’ve learned that we have to be careful sometimes (in the ladies’ room, for instance).  But we’ve also discovered a few really important things about ourselves and others through it.  I’ve discovered that I really amproud to be a transgender woman–proud enough, in fact, to let the whole world know it.  And I’m proud of my partner and my kids, who are courageous enough in their love to own me for who I am.  I’ve also learned that most people aren’t nearly as judgmental as I once feared they would be. 

I’d be the last to imply that our way is the only way or even the best way for families with a transgender parent.  But it’s working for us.  And maybe it’s helping to change a few minds and hearts about transgender people and their families.  Call it “playground activism.” 

Merry Christmas!

I’ve traveled 1,500 miles since Saturday to spend the next few days with family, and my heart and head are swimming with thoughts and feelings about how difficult and wonderful the holidays can be for LGBT people.  For a day or two, though, I’m just going to focus on being, and being authentically.

As we celebrate the incarnation, I pray that each of us will genuinely be “made flesh,” that our spirits will express themselves without hindrance in and through our bodies.  May the world know the fullness of you, and may you know the fullness of the world, and may there be harmony between the two.

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