Tag Archives: trans

Three Queers of the East: Thought for the Epiphany

Earlier, I wrote that some Bible stories are so familiar, we do not stop to consider their significance. I could also add, that some others are so familiar, we do not stop to ask if they are accurate. A case in point is that of today’s feast of the Epiphany, which we routinely celebrate as the visit of the three kings of the East to the infant Jesus – but the Gospel text does not specify that there were three, nor that they were kings.

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”
 

It is the term “magi” that has been traditionally adapted to “wise men”, or corrupted in popular imagination to “kings”. Astrologer-magicians, in the Zoroastrian religion, would be a more accurate translation. (Note the obvious linguistic connection between “magus” and “magic”). Kittredge quotes Nancy Wilson and Virginia Mollenkott, to suggest that the Magi were probably either eunuchs, or trans.

Sister Mary Elizabeth Clark. transsexual nun

 b. 1938.

The world’s first transsexual nun also deserves a mention in military history. She served twice, once as a man and once as a woman, before being honourably discharged (for the second time). It was then that she entered religious life as an Episcopal nun.

From Matt & Andrej Koymasky:

Born in Pontiac, Michigan, Clark was christened Michael by his parents. But he soon realized nature had made a horrid mistake.
“From the time I was 3, I felt that I was different from other boys. I felt more comfortable in the company of girls. I tried to talk and act like a girl instead of a boy. I believed I was one of them – even though I knew I had a male anatomy. When I started going to elementary school, the other boys called me a sissy because I walked without ‘macho’ stride and carried my schoolbooks like a girl.”
When he reached junior high school, Michael tried to talk to his parents about his mental torment. It didn’t work. After finishing high school in 1957, Clark went on active duty with the Naval Reserve. Two years later he entered the regular Navy. Within a few months he took my greatest step to show everyone he was ‘normal.’ and got marreied. The marriage was very painful for both because he couldn’t satisfy her needs and desires. It was further complicated by the fact that they had a son.
During this disastrous marriage he threw himself into Navy career, serving in Hawaii and Vietnam as an instructor in anti-submarine warfare, scuba diving and sea survival. In 1972, after 11 frustrating years together, Clark and his wife divorced. He hasn’t seen his son since. After the divorce he married again. He was still desparately trying to be ‘normal’.
“My new wife was a girl that I really intensely loved as a person. I still lover her today. We liked the same things – hiking, concerts. But she needed more from me than I could give. And she started having a guilt trip over our situation, thinking she was at fault. Finally I said to myself: ‘My God, I’m reining this beautiful woman’s life by keeping my secret from her.’ So I broke down and told her I was a transsexual – a woman trapped in a man’s body. Instead of making me feel ashamed, she talked about what we had to do.”
She convinced Clark to tell his parents. Incredibly, they understood – a vast relief for him because he’d feared rejection. Then, with the encouragement of his wife and parents, Clark underwent psychological evaluation. It showed he realy was a woman inside. When the Navy found out about the evaluation, Clark was discharged. He had been an enlisted sailor in the U.S. Navy for 17 years, and rose to Chief Petty Officer. The discharge, though honorable, left him “angry and bitter” because he’d often been commended for outstanding service, he said.
Clark underwent hormone therapy, and then, in June of 1975, had a sex change operation – emerging as Joanna Michelle Clark. Joanna divorced her wife moved in with her parents in San Jaun Capistrano, California, and began a new life as a clerk-typist. But in August of 1975 a Reserve recuiter visited her office and urged her to enlist again. She revealed to him that she was a transsexual, but he said he didn’t think it would be a problem. And is wasn’t. She was accepted, becoming a supplys clerk as a Sargent First Class in the WACs…. but 18 months later she was booted out of the Army Reserve.
Ms. Clark fought the charges and discharge. The case was eventually settled out of court with a stipulation that the details of the settlement not be discussed. However, she received an honorable discharge, with credit for time served in the Reserve. The Army had capitualated on its charges… however, Ms. Clark had won a battle but lost the war. It remains unlawful for transsexuals to enlist in the services to this day, inspite of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy.
As Joanna Clark she lobbied successfully in 1977 for a law that allowed replacement birth certificates in the state of California. She later wrote Legal Aspects of Transsexualism, an important early document on the subject, still referenced twenty years later. She founded the ACLU Transsexual Rights Committee, serving as chair for several years, seemingly tirelessly working to improve the legal status of TS persons. Joanna served with Jude Patton as a TS advisor with a Gender Identity Clinic during the early ’80s.
She decided to become a nun; the world’s first transsexual Episcopal nun, founder and sole member of the Community of St. Elizabeth, a nonprofit religious organization. She took her vows at St. Clement’s by the Sea Episcopal Church in San Clemente in 1988. She transferred to the Order of St. Michael in 1997.
In 1990, as Sister Mary Elizabeth, she founded and continues to operate the largest AIDS and HIV online information BBS and website – ÆGiS (AIDS Education Global Information System; http://www.aegis.com), a definitive and comprehensive web-based reference for HIV/AIDS-related information, to meet the need for access to up-to-date HIV/AIDS information by people in isolated areas.
“Of all the things I’ve done in my life, military-wise, or working with children, I don’t think I’ve had anything in my life that I’ve had more passion for. I really can’t put it into words. When you see letters from people and you know that you’re helping them, that’s what it’s all about.”
Enhanced by Zemanta

Pauli Murray: Episcopal church votes on queer saint / activist for gender and racial equality.

Human rights champion Pauli Murray, an unofficial queer saint, will be voted on this week by the Episcopal Church at its general convention in Indianapolis.

Murray (1910-1985) has been nominated for inclusion in the Episcopal Church’s book of saints, “Holy Women, Holy Men.” If approved, she will be honored every July 1 on the church calendar.

She is a renowned civil rights pioneer, feminist, author, lawyer and the first black woman ordained as an Episcopal priest. Her queer orientation is less well known.

Murray was attracted to women and her longest relationships were with women, so she is justifiably considered a lesbian. But she also described herself as a man trapped in a woman’s body and took hormone treatments in her 20s and 30s, so she might even be called a transgender today.

via Jesus in Love Blog

Enhanced by Zemanta

Jemima Wilkinson: Queer preacher reborn in 1776 as “Publick Universal Friend”

Jemima Wilkinson / Publick Universal Friend (Wikimedia Commons)

Jemima Wilkinson (1752-1819) was a queer American preacher who woke from a near-death experience in 1776 believing she was neither male nor female. She changed her name to the “Publick Universal Friend,” fought for gender equality and founded an important religious community. This fascinating person died almost 200 years ago today on July 1, 1819.

Wilkinson is recognized as the first American-born woman to found a religious group, but is also called a “transgender evangelist.” The breakaway Quaker preacher spoke against slavery and gave medical care to both sides in the Revolutionary War.

It’s especially appropriate to consider the Publick Universal Friend now with Independence Day coming up on July 4. In 1776, the same year that America issued the Declaration of Independence, Wilkinson declared her own independence from gender.

– full report at Jesus in Love blog

Wilkinson was 24 when she had a severe fever leading to a near-death experience. Upon waking she confidently announced to her surprised family that Jemima Wilkinson had died and her body was now inhabited by a genderless “Spirit of Life from God” sent to preach to the world. She insisted on being called the Publick Universal Friend or simply “the Friend.” From then on, the Friend refused to respond to her birth name or use gendered pronouns.

The preacher and prophet known as “the Friend” defies categorization. The Friend has been labeled a “spiritual transvestite” and is on lists of “famous asexuals” and “a gender variance Who’s Who.” As a gender nonconformist whose life was devoted to God, the Friend fits the definition of a queer saint. The androgynous Friend was many things to many people.

Jemima Wilkinson was born to a Quaker family in Rhode Island on Nov. 29, 1752. She showed a strong interest in religion while growing up. On Oct. 13, 1776, the Sunday after her rebirth, the Friend’s gave a public sermon for the first time. Quaker officials rejected the Friend as a heretic, but s/he went on to preach throughout Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Pennsylvania.

The Friend blended traditional Christian warnings about sin and redemption with Quaker pacifism, abolitionism, plain dress and peaceful relations with Native American Indians. Women had no legal rights in the United States, but the Friend advocated equality of the sexes. The Friend was a firm believer in sexual abstinence.

People were drawn not only to this progressive message, but also to the Friend’s forceful personality and genderbending appearance. S/he rejected standard women’s attire and hairdos for a unique blend of male and female. The Friend commonly wore a flowing black male clergy gown with female petticoats peeking out at the hem. The Friend’s long hair hung loose to the shoulder. The rest of the Friend’s outfit often included a man’s broad-brimmed hat and women’s colorful scarves.

The first recruits were family members, but the Friend soon attracted a diverse group of followers, including intellectual and economic elites as well as the poor and oppressed. Known as the Universal Friends, they upset some people by proclaiming that the Friend was “the Messiah Returned” or “Christ in Female Form.” The Friend did not make such claims directly.

The Friend founded the Society of Universal Friends in 1783. Members pooled their money and started a utopian communal settlement in the wilderness near Seneca Lake in upstate New York in 1788. As the first settlers in the region, they cleared the land and became the first white people to meet and trade with the Native Americans there. By 1790 the community had grown to a population of 260.

Hostile observers put the Friend on trial for blasphemy in 1800, but the court ruled that American courts could not try blasphemy cases due to the separation of church and state in the U.S. constitution. The Friend was a pioneer in establishing freedom of speech and freedom of religion in American law.

Like other isolated utopian communities based on celibacy, the Society of Universal Friends dwindled. The Friend “left time,” as the Universal Friends put it, on July 1, 1819 at age 61. The organization disintegrated within a few years of the founder’s death.

The Publick Universal Friend continues to fascinate people today. One of the most authoritative biographies of this mysterious person is Pioneer Prophetess: Jemima Wilkinson, the Publick Universal Friend by Herbert A. Wisbey Jr. In recent years the life and work of the Friend has been examined by feminists and LGBTQ scholars, including gay historian Michael Bronski in his new Lambda Literary Award-winning book, A Queer History of the United States.
___
Related links:
Chapter on Jemima Wilkinson from “Saints, Sinners and Reformers” by John H. Martin(Crooked Lake Review)

The Assumption of Jemima Wilkinson by Sharon V. Betcher (Journal of Millenial Studies)
____
This post is part of the GLBT Saints series by Kittredge Cherry at the Jesus in Love Blog. Saints, martyrs, mystics, prophets, witnesses, heroes, holy people, deities and religious figures of special interest to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) and queer people and our allies are covered on appropriate dates throughout the year.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Christina of Sweden (1626 –1689)

b. 18 December 1626
d. 19 April 1689

Queen regnant of Swedes, Goths and Vandals, Grand Princess of Finland, and Duchess of Ingria, Estonia, Livonia and Karelia, from 1633 to 1654, Christina was the only surviving legitimate child of King Gustav II Adolph and his wife Maria Eleonora of Brandenburg. As the heiress presumptive, at the age of six she succeeded her father on the throne of Sweden upon his death at the Battle of Lützen. Being the daughter of a Protestant champion in the Thirty Years’ War, she caused a scandal when she abdicated her throne and converted to Catholicism in 1654. She spent her later years in Rome, becoming a leader of the theatrical and musical life there. As a queen without a country, she protected many artists and projects. She is one of the few women buried in the Vatican grotto.
From the moment of her birth, Christina confounded sexual and gender stereotypes. Her parents had been anxious for a male royal heir, and astrologers had confidently predicted a boy would be born. When the robust baby arrived, it was first thought to be a boy, on account of a hairy body and strong voice. After it had been recognized that she was in fact a girl, her father the king was undeterred, and proceeded to raise her as the boy she had been expected to be: with an education education of a prince. Thus, her lessons included languages, political and military science, riding, and shooting- all of which suited her much better than women’s traditional activities such as needlework, for which she claimed to have no aptitude whatsoever.
After her father’s death, she was proclaimed “king” by the Swedish parliament – not queen. During the regency until she began to rule in her own right, she continued to receive an excellent education.
As an adult, she continued to resist all gender conformity. She showed no interest at all in fashion and adopted mannish styles of dress. She ignored traditionally approved “feminine” interests, and instead continued to pursue and promote her love of scholarship, books and culture. She also resisted marrying, and rejected several proposals. Immediately after abdicating in favour of her cousin Gustav, she left Sweden for Rome, dressed as a man.
Details of her sexual relationships, if any are not known conclusively, but she did have close personal friendships with both men and women. Some frank letters to her lady-in-waiting Ebba Sparre suggest that their relationship may have been sexual. The question of her biological sex is also unclear. In addition to the confusion around the matter at birth, other physical details suggest that she may have been intersex. However, it has not been possible to confirm this, in the absence of soft tissue remains.
What is clear, from the evidence of her rejection of marriage and feminine pastimes, ambiguous love relationships and cross-dressing, that in modern terms she should be thought of as either lesbian or trans.
Enhanced by Zemanta

Greg Voakes: Study Finds Increasing Support for Transgender Rights in the U.S.

Until recently, the struggles that transgender individuals face in both public and private institutions have been discussed primarily in the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) community, but not by the wider public. Thankfully, a November study conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) has found that the majority of Americans support strong rights and legal protections for transgender individuals. This positive change in public opinion proves that civil rights movements have finally caught on with the general public. Whatever the case, it appears that the attitude of the majority of American toward transgender individuals is changing for the better.
The results of the poll have been reported widely in both LGBTQ and mainstream media sources. The historically queer magazine The Advocate wrote in its analysis of the study that the majority of Americans support transgender rights legislation at the federal level, an important change from previous attitudes. A handful of gender-studies Ph.D. commentators have suggested that support has cropped up even in traditionally conservative communities as awareness of trans issues has been raised in the media. For example, Chaz Bono appeared on the popular show Dancing with the Stars during the 2011 season, offering millions of television viewers the opportunity to see that trans people are not so different after all. Increased awareness of the presence and struggles of the trans community has no doubt led to wider support for these individuals in America on the whole.

Agnes Hernandez, Mexican Transgender Activist, Brutally Murdered

Nearly 2000 individuals congregated outside a civic plaza in Puebla, Mexico on Tuesday, demanding justice for slain Mexican transgender activist Agnés Torres Hernández, whose body was found on Friday by neighbors who reported the crime to local police.

Mexican Attorney General is considering the investigation of Torres’ murder as a hate crime, according to the newspaper El Universal (in Spanish).

She was last seen on Friday night when she left her home to attend a party in Chipilo, a small town in the state of Puebla. She was found clothed only in underwear, a blouse with suspenders and a brown jacket on Saturday in a ditch outside the city of Puebla. Her throat had been slashed and their were several burn marks across her body.

Torres, a 28 year-old psychologist and educator, is remembered as an activist and ardent defender of human rights in Mexico’s LBGT community. She was an important figure in the strive for acceptance for the transgender community in her native country.

via  Huffington Post

Enhanced by Zemanta

Apollinaria/Dorotheos 5/01

According to the LGBT Catholic Handbook, this week sees the feast day of St.  Apollinaria /Dorotheos of Egypt (5th, 6th January). She is said to have been one of a group of transvestite saints – women who took on men’s clothing  in order to live as monks.
For the specific story of Apollinaria, we turn to the Orthodox church, who take these female monks rather more serioulsy than the western church.

This is from the Orthodox website, “God is Wonderful in His Saints”

She was a maiden of high rank, the daughter of a magistrate named Anthimus in the city of Rome. Filled with love for Christ, she prevailed on her parents to allow her to travel on pilgrimage to the Holy Land. In Jerusalem she dismissed most of her attendants, gave her jewels, fine clothes and money to the poor, and went on to Egypt accompanied only by two trusted servants. Near Alexandria she slipped away from them and fled to a forest, where she lived in ascesis for many years. She then made her way to Sketis, the famous desert monastic colony, and presented herself as a eunuch named Dorotheos. In this guise she was accepted as a monk.
Anthimus, having lost his elder daughter, was visited with another grief: his younger daughter was afflicted by a demon. He sent this daughter to Sketis, asking the holy fathers there to aid her by their prayers. They put her under the care of “Dorotheos”, who after days of constant prayer effected the complete cure of her (unknowing) sister. When the girl got back home it was discovered that she was pregnant, and Anthimus angrily ordered that the monk who had cared for her be sent to him. He was astonished to find that “Dorotheos” was his own daughter Apollinaria, whom he had abandoned hope of seeing again. After some days the holy woman returned to Sketis, still keeping her identity secret from her fellow-monks. Only at her death was her true story discovered.

The Handbook lists some scholarly references in support, while a look at some orthodox websites corroborates the story and confirms her feast on 5th January.  The Advent Catholic Encyclopedia. however,  dismisses the tale as ‘hagiographic fiction.’

Apollinaria’s story and motives are remote from our time, and ‘transvestite’ is not to be confused with ‘transgendered’. (UPDATE: After I first described this group of women as “transvestite”, I was taken to task by a reader, who pointed out that these days, “cross-dressing” is more appropriate terminology). Still, whatever the full historic truth of Apollinaria/ Dorotheos specifically, it seems to me this is a useful story to hold on to as a reminder of the important place of the transgendered, and differently gendered,  in our midst.
Many of us will remember how difficult and challenging was the process of recognising, and then confronting, our identities as lesbian or gay, particularly in the context of a hostile church. However difficult and challenging we may have found the process of honestly confronting  our sexual identities,  consider how much more challenging must  be the process of confronting and negotiating honestly a full gender identity crisis.

Let us acknowledge the courage of those who have done it, and pray for those who are preparing to do so.

Related articles

 

Anson, J., “”, Viator 5 (1974), 1-32

Bennasser, Khalifa Abubakr, Gender and Sanctity in Early Byzantine Monasticism: A Study of the Phenomenon of Female Ascetics in Male Monastic Habit with a Translation of the Life of St. Matrona, [Rutgers Ph.D Dissertation 1984; UMI 8424085]

Enhanced by Zemanta

Three Young Men in the Burning Fiery Furnace: Dec 17th

Today, the church celebrates the feast of three young men, Shadrack, Mesach and Abednego, the companions of Daniel the prophet: they are important for highlighting a much neglected group in the church – the transgendered.

We are probably all familiar with the stories of Daniel in the lion’s den, and of his three companions in the burning fiery furnace. What they don’t tell us in Sunday School, is that as slaves captured and taken to service in the king’s court in Babylon they were almost certainly eunuchs – castrated males. This was the standard fate of slaves in the royal court, as Kathryn Ringrose has shown, and as anticipated by Isaiah:

And some of your descendants, your own flesh and blood who will be born to you, will be taken away, and they will become eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon.

-Isaiah 39:7
If there is any group more likely to have the bible-pumping conservatives frothing at the mouth more than gay and lesbian Christians, perhaps it is the trans community. Yet this is entirely misplaced, as Isaiah makes clear elsewhere:

4For this is what the LORD says:

“To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths,
who choose what pleases me
and hold fast to my covenant—
5 to them I will give within my temple and its walls
a memorial and a name
better than sons and daughters;
I will give them an everlasting name
that will endure forever.

-Isaiah 56: 4- 5
The three young men, forcibly castrated as slaves, are clearly not directly comparable to the modern trans community, but there are nevertheless lessons to be learnt, from them and from others in Christian (and non-Christian) history. In the Gospel of Matthew, we read

But he said to them, “Not everyone can receive this saying, but only those to whom it is given. For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let the one who is able to receive this receive it.”

The Babylonian slaves were clearly among those who have been made so by others. Those who made themselves so for the sake of the kingdom of heaven may be a reference to the common religious practice in the societies surrounding the Jews of men who castrated themselves to serve as priests, especially in the cult of Cybele , and also in some other religions. (Some commentators believe that is this practice of castration that is meant by the words mistranslated in some of the clobber texts as “homosexuals”, lines which more accurately refer to castrated gentile priests. In this view, it is the association with pagan idolatry, not the sexual practices themselves, which made them taboo). The idea of making oneself a eunuch for the kingdom of God later led some early Christians to adopt the practice, notably the early theologian Origen, who castrated himself in. Metaphorically, it is the same idea of emasculation which underlies the Catholic church’s insistence on compulsory celibacy for priests in the Roman rite.
Modern trans people are also not directly comparable to this third group – but they are arguably included in the first group:  made so by birth. Less directly, some scholars argue that the biblical term “eunuch” is the closest parallel in biblical language to the modern term “homosexual”, and so the welcome promised by Isaiah may be said to apply to all who are queer in church –

a memorial and a name
better than sons and daughters; 

I will give them an everlasting name
that will endure forever

Even if we reject this connection, there remains a fundamentally important lesson for us all in the story of the three young men, a story that has relevance and resonance for us today that goes way beyond the children’s illustrated Bible pictures of men who could not be burned by the flames. To see this, remember why it is that they are commemorated. They were commanded by the king to eat the forbidden meat – to conform. It was for their refusal to knuckle under and give in to the pressure to abandon their fundamental religious identity that they were sentenced to death by burning.
But in their faith and loyalty, they were protected from the flames. Centuries later, it was the Christian Church that again turned to burning as a punishment for those who refused to conform, either to orthodox religious belief, or to heteronormative sexual standards. We continue to live with the legacy of that prejudice, which masquerades as religious obligation. Like the three men in the Babylonian fire, we too must stand firm in our commitment to the truth. In our steadfastness, the flames of prejudice and religious bigotry will likewise be unable to destroy our queer Christian community.
(The image used is a window by John Piper as a memorial to Benjamin Britten, whose “Burning Fiery Furnace” told the story of the three young men as one of his three “parables for church performance” – one act operas, although Britten himself avoided the term).

Related articles