ALL Christians Must Speak Up About Violence Against Trans* People
Posted on June 24, 2014
This week, a woman named Yaz’min Shancez was murdered in Florida. Her body was set on fire behind a dumpster.
Here is a list of twelve transgender people murdered in 2012. The Transgender Day of Remembrance honors the memory of murdered transgender men and women every year, and their lists (like this one from 2013) are haunting.
Ireland has been in the news recently because trans people are speaking out against the violence and aggression they have faced their on a regular basis, usually being met without sympathy or support from authorities.
At a rate much higher than any other sexual orientation- or gender-based group, transgender people suffer abuse from their peers, a culture that often pushes them toward suicide or self-harm, and dehumanizing language from politicians and religious leaders, not to mention bloggers.
Most of the time, when Christians talk about transgender men and women, they are only doing so to condemn them, describe them as sexual deviants, or paint them as threats to society.
I am issuing a plea to two groups of Christians.
To group one, which is made up of people who view transgender people as confused, living in sin, or deceived: Please speak up about violence against trans people. You may not understand or approve of the decisions made by trans men and women, but surely you must believe that they do not deserve to be verbally attacked, sexually assaulted, or murdered. No one deserves that. For all its faults, I believe the Christian church has a rich history of serving those that society has rejected. This should extend to transgender people, who are often excluded by their families, communities, churches, and employers. Think about the fact that one of our faith’s first converts was an Ethiopian eunuch–someone who didn’t conform to traditional cultural gender norms.
I am not asking you to change your mind about trans people, even though I would like you to. What I am asking you to do is recognize their humanity. When you hear people talking about laws that would allow transgender students to use the bathroom of the gender they identify as, think about how that law protects their safety. When your friends talk about trans people, speak up and tell them about the constant threat that transgender people–especially trans women of color–are under, simply for existing. When a story breaks about the murder of yet another trans person, share that story with your social networks with humility, not with “This is what happens,” but rather, “We need to stop this.” Challenge your friends not to use discriminatory and hurtful words like “tranny” or “he-she” or “it.” When a movie features a cheap punchline about a man having sex with a prostitute who “turned out to be a dude,” criticize the dehumanizing nature of that.
I realize this may be a lot to ask if you really do view being transgender as a sign of psychological problems or sin. I believe you’re in the wrong on this one, and I think you need to reconsider your understanding of gender identity. I think your beliefs are inherently hurtful to transgender people. That said, you have an opportunity to be a voice of compassion toward people you fundamentally disagree with. Your voice matters. Simply by saying, “People deserve compassion,” you are doing more than the average Christian on this topic.
To group two, which is made up of cis (that means non-trans) Christians who view being transgender as perfectly acceptable and normal: Please speak up about violence against trans people. We cis men and women benefit from our bodies matching our spirits, and we need to speak up to benefit those who don’t have our privilege. We also benefit from the social privileges of being part of the predominant faith tradition in America, and our voices are automatically given a certain degree of weight. Use that to do the things I mentioned above, but with the intention of normalizing the trans experience and supporting transgender people in our communities and churches. Even better than speaking up is providing a platform for trans voices. Spread the word about things like Transfigurations, a play by Peterson Toscano about gender-nonconformity in the Bible. Read interviews, Twitter feeds, and books by public trans figures like Laverne Cox, Janet Mock, Toni Newman, and Calpernia Adams. Read blogs like American Trans Man, Becoming Hailey, the Post-Transition Tumblr, the Tumblr trans tag, and Lawrence Richardson’s writing for The Salt Collective. Share their writing. Confront transphobia when you see it.
Violence against transgender people is real, and it is a constant threat. Our beliefs on whether or not it’s a sin to be transgender shouldn’t matter when it comes to challenging a culture that responds violently to people who are vulnerable. What can you do to help stop this violence?