July 16, 2019 at 5:46 pm #5015
Greetings friends and welcome to week two of our discussion. I still hope Bert can join us soon. Melanie has done an outstanding job facilitating our sharing and questioning. Mary, Joy, and Trish have added to our collaborative learning.
As we enter week 2, I would encourage us all to post in reflections from Part 1 and 2 in Bert’s book. As the week unfolds we will consider Parts 3 and 4.
Here are a few of my initial thoughts about Part 3.
P. 63 Bert concludes, “Social customs, family values, and religious expectations often restrict natural curiosity: they often hinder the asking of questions; and sometimes they threaten to punish with exclusion (or worse) those among us who associate with “the wrong people.”
Recently, we took the Oates Spring Symposium: An Interracial Dialogue to my home town Jackson, MS in the Civil Rights Museum. We had author and producer, Yvette Johnson, an African American and Myra Ottewell, a Caucasian documentary producer engaged in a dialogue about racial issues that still separate us. My senior year in high school was the first year forced integration occurred in my school. There were many who opposed this cultural shift. While I didn’t participate in the hatred perpetrated against these 16 brave African Americans, I was complicit by not speaking up. This was my small attempt to circle back around and do something positive today. As I promoted this event with my family and friends who still lived there. Some just kept quiet, some where outspokenly negative and some were supportive of the attempt to address the ongoing issues. Many of those who were supportive privately and said they would attend and support this effort simply didn’t show up.
I suspect that if we were to do something similar around LGBTQ issues there or any place for that matter would be supportive of the idea but wouldn’t show up.
The held the annual Pride parade here in Louisville and I offered to walk with my grandson but he wasn’t ready for that public leap.
On page 69 Bert quotes Steve Thompson, “like the Apostle Peter, we often hide our identities, pretend to be something we are not, deny who God created us to be.” He shared two things Thompson said we could do about this. First, we need to remember “that we’re created to give our selves in humility and sacrificing for the good of others rather than to live for our own preservation at the expense of others.”
“Second, we are called to live without fear.” … “it is about no longer putting on masks to please others or protect ourselves.”
While I agree with this, I admit that it sometimes hard to do. I am still a work in progress.
Mom page 73, Bert quotes Anne Lamont, one of my favorite authors, “The damage this culture does to children who are different. And how the love of God…slowly helps us be restored to the persons we were born to be.” Lamont reminds us that in Christ we are all becoming resurrection stories.
This gives me hope!
And finally he talks about “No-jo” vs “Mo-jo” being the religious opposite. I hope as a person and as a hospital chaplain that promoting the Mo-jo as described on pages 75 and following.
Enough for now…
I look forward to all of your reflections…
July 17, 2019 at 2:43 pm #5022
Thank you for these reflections, particularly raising up the part about living with out masks. I agree with you this is so hard to do, but vitally important.
I also gravitated to the part about mo-jo and no-jo. I immediately identified mo-jo as being an important part of what I do as a hospital chaplain.
July 17, 2019 at 6:44 pm #5024
Here is my initial response for week 2 – part 3 & 4
I was struck by the first sermon and the focus on John 3. I found it very compelling his reflection on pg 65 “The greatest threat to our ‘sincerely held religious beliefs’ is rooted in our favorite Bible verse: For God so loved the world – the whole entire world and every one in it!” This struck me because it underscored what I have come to understand God loves – end of sentence.
Like others here have indicated the conversation on pg. 69 around the masks that we put on was also very compelling. I greatly appreciated his paring the idea of removing masks and becoming our authentic selves with the fact that this process is very much a spiritual journey. Keeping the spiritual component I believe helps keep God and Spirit at the center of the process, and thus love I would hope would stay central.
Oh how I loved the sermon about no-jo and mo-jo. It really resonated with me because I am doing a 30 minute presentation to some trauma nurses about non-judgemental wholistic care. The whole judgement thing seems to fit right in with the no-jo concept. Hopefully I can move some towards more mo-jo.
The Chic-filet reflection really helped me understand the importance of where I spend my dollar. It also opened my eyes to the wide spectrum of belief in the LGBTQ community in regards to these kinds of things.
And the final one that impacted me greatly was the one on the journey toward affirmation. The idea of the God being bigger is so helpful. I wrote in the side margin of the book in the first paragraph of this my thought that God really is bigger than the human institution of religion.
Looking forward to others reflections.
July 18, 2019 at 4:12 pm #5034
Thanks to everyone for getting Week 2 conversations going. I am having some conflicted reactions to the sermon about taking off masks.
Bert’s sermon about taking off masks draws a parallel between a challenge that is unique to the LGBTQ community and a challenge that is common to all people trying to live authentically in the world. However, I think we have to be cautious in drawing this parallel. Encouraging LGBTQ individuals to take off masks can be a dangerous thing. Some LGBTQ people have lost a lot more than rejection–including their lives. I believe the injunction for people to take off their masks must be balanced by creating an environment where it is safe for people to do so.
I have previously read that passage about Peter much like Bert’s sermon presents it on page 68–Peter, the big, bold, first-to-jump-in cowers behind the truth when it really mattered. But today, hearing LGBTQ “hiding” equated to Peter’s denial of Jesus, that feels different to me. It somehow feels punishing to tell me that my years in the closet are the same as Peter’s denying of Jesus on the day of Jesus’ crucifixion. That carries with it the assumption that martyrdom is the highest of callings, and that protecting one’s self is shameful. That just doesn’t work for me. I can’t preach a gospel where self-protection is shameful.
I think if I were to preach about this passage in relationship to LGBTQ issues now, I would focus on Jesus’ response to Peter (“Peter, do you love me?”), which has been interpreted as a conversation of redemption and forgiveness. But what if it wasn’t about forgiveness? What if instead it was Jesus’ way of affirming Peter for doing what he needed to do in the moment of crisis?
One might say Jesus was aware of what was coming for him, and he chose to speak his truth anyway. But I don’t know that he intended for all 12 of his disciples to ask that they be executed right next to him. If that had happened, we may not have any Christianity today. While martyrdom is fine for a few select souls, I don’t think all of us were intended to sign up for premature deaths.
I am truly perplexed in a renewed way about our religion’s preoccupation with martyrdom, and considering anything less to be shameful. That just doesn’t square with my understanding of Jesus’ values. I, for one, aspire to being a person of integrity, who is living my life as fully and genuinely as I can–understanding that to be a moving, shifting target based on the environment, my own personality and development, and the amount of support I have around me.
These are not well rehearsed arguments, but more the ponderings of my heart as I try to reconcile a difficult Scripture and a difficult interpretation of it.
July 18, 2019 at 5:38 pm #5036
Thank you for this thoughtful response to that particular sermon about masks. My place of relative privilege interpreted it from a much different lens. Your perspective is very helpful to realign my own thoughts with need for safety – physical and spiritual safety.
I also greatly appreciated your reflections on martyrdom. It is a concept that I myself have wrestled with, especially after I became a mother and responsible for an amazing little or not so little any more human.
Your interpretation of Jesus’ response to Peter is so very affirming to me and some of the decisions I have had to make in my own life to get through a crisis in a whole and healthy way. I have not heard this particular passage interpreted this way, and it is refreshing.
So I hear your heart and your wrestling and thank you for opening my own perspective.
July 19, 2019 at 11:21 am #5038
I, like Joy, appreciate your responses. I am not a fan of martyrdom although I have lived that stance for much of my life. It was stoic, expected, and life draining. Especially as a pastor’s wife (who was also an ordained minister), I felt the need to hide my true feelings. But I can see that is a different kind of “mask” than you are talking about. Taking off the mask of being heterosexual had to be freeing and terrifying at the same time. I also love what you said, “I can’t preach a gospel where self-protection is shameful.” Wow! I lived with a verbally and emotionally abusive man for 33.5 years and I felt shamed to divorce him. He is an extrovert and narcissist and the life of the party. But our lives at home were very different. And he was a pastor, at least for a while. He was terminated from our last church and went into the loan officer business for home mortgages, but always said “I have a pastor’s heart.” He is now back in the UMC as an associate, a role I had long encouraged him to check out but he felt it was beneath him. Interesting that he remarried about a year and a half after our divorce, which made me wish I had done it much sooner. All of that to say sometimes I still feel shame around this, but it is getting better with time.
I am now more aware of protecting myself and speaking my truth. Rick called that “living without fear.” As I have been on this cancer journey, my kids do not want me to express any fear or difficulty. One of my girls even gave me a plaque that reads “No More Bad Days.” I told her that might not be possible right now, or truthfully ever. We all have bad days, and I don’t need to be shamed for my fear or struggle with the treatments and disease. I think it is THEIR fear that brings this on.
July 19, 2019 at 2:55 pm #5039
I think you hit on something important here – and that is the validity of fear and the need to affirm the feeling as valid when we hear others express it to us. I think it takes more courage to step out into our bad days that are filled with fear and struggle and to claim those feelings. You are right about working to change the conversation and make fear and struggle a normal thing rather than a shameful thing.
July 19, 2019 at 3:36 pm #5040
Thanks, Trish, and Joy, for your affirming comments. I’m glad to know I am not the only one out there questioning the presumption of martyrdom! Joy, hearing your support and resonance with my post really helped me feel less alone. Thank you for your openness and your sensitivity!
And Trish, wow! I have heard mention of your abusive relationship before, but this is the first time it really registered on the acute scale it must have been for you. I know that many pastoral homes are nothing like the public persona presented to the congregation, but it certainly sounds like yours was an extreme version of that. I’m so glad you were able to speak your truth and honor yourself by getting the divorce.
I love your reflections on shame. I am not fond of shame, as I feel it does not serve any useful or constructive purpose whatsoever. I was dumbfounded by your comment that you were shamed for divorcing your abusive husband! Something has gone seriously wrong with our culture when we shame the oppressed/victimized person and glorify the oppressor! But that is so often what happens, isn’t it?
And I very much appreciated what both of you have said about fear and its importance. Anxiety is one thing, and it can be pathological at times. But fear is a very useful human response, and one we should pay attention to and honor. I feel badly for your daughter, Trish, who perhaps out of her own fear needs you to refrain from having any negative emotions, about cancer, no less! I think we need the negative and the positive experiences to dance with each other. And we need to have the self awareness and the honesty with ourselves to recognize that we all have a mix of both positive and negative emotions. I’m a big believer in paradox. If we have never had a bad day, we would have absolutely no frame of reference for a good day, and might never be able to fully appreciate it when it shows up.
I’m more in the vein of “Be afraid, and live your best life anyway–through the fear, around the fear, (sometimes) overcoming the fear, listening to and learning from the fear.”
Thanks again to both of you for your wisdom, gentleness, and finding your own paths of truth and integrity in your lives. I believe we are lighting the path for each other when we do that.
July 20, 2019 at 10:28 am #5051
I have a question as we continue this dialogue? And it might be rather dumb, but I will ask it anyway. What does the Q for queer mean? And I have heard that there is now a + and wonder what that includes? I also have a lesbian friend who says she is “polyamorous.” What is that about? Anyone that can help would be appreciated…
July 20, 2019 at 5:13 pm #5052
Very good question Trish. Perhaps we should have started the course with a basic alphabet soup of what all these initials stand for. I’ve included some references below, and I will take a stab at this, although I am by no means the expert.
The “Q” has at various times referred to either queer or questioning. Queer has an oppressive and derogatory past of being used by straight, cis people to denigrate people who are not straight or cis. However, in more recent years it has been “reclaimed” by some sexual/gender minorities and is used as a point of pride. I would not recommend that straight/cis people use the term, as it still may be offensive in certain circles. But in the LGBTQ+ community, it now has a connotation of being an umbrella term for anyone who falls outside the traditional hetero-cis norms. Angela Yarber, a Baptist theologian and minister who formerly taught at Wake Forest Divinity School, teaches a workshop in “queer theology.” You might also hear the term used as a verb–queering a community, or queering a congregation–meaning to challenge heteronormativity in literature, film, or communities.
Polyamory (from Greek πολύ poly, “many, several”, and Latin amor, “love”) is the practice of, or desire for, emotionally intimate relationships with more than one partner, with the consent of all partners involved. It has been described as “consensual, ethical, and responsible non-monogamy”.
And finally, the whole idea of being “non-binary” is prevalent and accepted among many young people and millennials these days. When I went back to our local university to earn a master’s in counseling, we often in introducing ourselves were asked to say our name, and which gender pronouns we preferred. Some would say, “My name is Melanie, and I use pronouns she, her, and hers.” Some would say “My name is Ocean, and today I am using they, them, theirs.” Another common replacement for gendered pronouns is ze, sie, hir, co, and ey . I more frequently hear the they, them, theirs, which requires that we get over the grammatical incorrectness of using a plural when referring to a singular person. Even some churches have adopted this practice during seminars and workshops, where introductions by everyone includes their preferred pronouns. That makes me as a cis person more aware of my privilege in using the standard or expected pronouns, and also allows the trans or nonbinary individuals not to stick out as being different (since we are all introducing ourselves that way).
By the way, trans-sexual and transgender are not the same thing, and in some circles trans-sexual is not considered appropriate to use. Technically, transgender people have a gender identity or gender expression that differs from their assigned sex. Some transgender people who desire medical assistance to transition from one sex to another identify as transsexual. Transgender, or trans, are preferred in some circles. Transgendered is not a word. Rather than sex-change surgery, the accepted term now is gender affirmation surgery, or gender re-assignment surgery.
Below is a link to an article from the New York Times, and another brief list of definitions. Others feel free to jump in here if I’ve missed on something.
WHAT DOES “LGBTQIA+” STAND FOR EXACTLY?
If you’re just learning about sexuality, gender, and all these other things, they can be a little hard to remember. This acronym not only serves as a symbol of our movement for rights, but even as a memory tool for those who need a little help.
L – Lesbian. Lesbian is a term used to refer to homosexual females.
G – Gay. Gay is a term used to refer to homosexuality, a homosexual person, or a homosexual male.
B – Bisexual. Bisexual is when a person is attracted to two sexes/genders.
T – Trans. Trans is an umbrella term for transgender and transsexual people.
Q – Queer/Questioning. Queer is an umbrella term for all of those who are not heterosexual and/or cisgender. Questioning is when a person isn’t 100% sure of their sexual orientation and/or gender, and are trying to find their true identity.
I – Intersex. Intersex is when a person has an indeterminate mix of primary and secondary sex characteristics.
A – Asexuality. Asexuality is when a person experiences no (or little, if referring to demisexuality or grey-asexuality) sexual attraction to people.
+ – The “+” symbol simply stands for all of the other sexualities, sexes, and genders that aren’t included in these few letters.
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July 21, 2019 at 9:51 am #5055
Thank you for this. This helps clarify some of the definitions that I had a vague understanding of. This also helps me understand my young adult nieces a bit more, both of which fall within some of these identifiers. They live openly and authentically but don’t broadcast their identifiers loudly so I’ll respect that by just leaving it at this.
July 20, 2019 at 7:44 pm #5053
Trish, You beat me to it. I had been wondering along the same lines. Melanie, your explanation was very helpful. I ran across a presentation that was done for the NACC by Rev. Claire Bohman and Emiliano Lemus, MD who are with the Trans Spiritual Care Initiative. I will share some for what it is worth. This information is about persons who identify as transgender.
About 0.6% of the US adult population or 1.4 million people identify as transgender. 12% of millennials ages 18 -34 identify as transgender or gender nonconforming.
4 times as likely to have an annual household income of less than $10,000; 4 times more HIV than the national average; 41% of transgender adults report having previously attempted suicide compared to 1.6% of the general population; discrimination is pervasive, especially people of color
Negative Experiences in health care – 50% of trans patients had to educate their providers about transgender care; 33% delayed preventative health care due to discrimination by healthcare providers and 50% due to the inability to afford it; 28% experienced verbal or physical harassment in a medical setting; 19% were outright denied medical care by a provider due to transgender status
Spiritual care for trans patients – get the pronouns right; don’t make assumptions about the faith and the patient or family member’s relationship to their faith community; appropriate touch (with permission); don’t assume that gender is the most salient issue in a trans person’s life; don’t expect the patient to educate you about their medical history or life choices; connect with the patient and meet them where they are; don’t assume that a trans person sees themselves as male or female identifies as lesbian, gay, bisexual or a part of the LGBTQ community
Chaplain as an advocate in the organizational – EHR procedures to document patients chosen name and gender; trans-inclusive signage in patient areas; hire transgender people; gender-neutral restrooms; create an organizational culture supporting chosen names and pronouns, pronoun pins, pronouns in staff email signatures
What makes a good apology? Don’t say…I’m sorry I couldn’t tell… Do say… I’m sorry I called you by the wrong name. I didn’t mean to disrespect you…
Others feel free to correct anything here that doesn’t seem appropriate
July 21, 2019 at 9:59 am #5056
The transgender population is one I struggle the most to wrap my head around from the simple perspective of there are so many different terms some preferred others not preferred but still being used main line floating around. I have not ever felt like I have had a good handle on this. So what you have shared here is very helpful.
Your comments on the struggle of the transgender population in receiving health care reminded me of a situation I encountered several years ago. We had a patient in our critical care unit, nothing was said about the fact that this person had gone through gender affirmation surgery and so the care team was clueless until part way through the critical care stay when it became known. The nurses were very concerned that this information was not known from the beginning because they realized this person had most likely not received any of the hormones or other medicines that were necessary for maintaining the authentic gender. I was actually impressed that the horror was not because the person was transgender, but because the nurses realized they were not being complete in the needed and necessary care. This incident opened my eyes to the danger and lack of safety that the information Rick shares here speaks to.
And what you share here for health care interactions is so very helpful to me.
July 21, 2019 at 5:43 pm #5059
July 21, 2019 at 8:35 am #5054
This is fantastic Rick. Thank you so much for sharing. This information seems spot-on to me, based on my own learning and reading. At the same time, I have to acknowledge that my lived experience is not as a transgender person, so I am not an expert in that field.
I have a friend who could share some personal experience with these challenges with healthcare. The partner of one of my PRN chaplains is transgender, and my chaplain (a millennial, who identifies as gender queer / nonconforming) has shared that she has a hard time getting her partner to request health care services due to the oppressive environment healthcare has created. It’s really quite devastating to understand the level of abuse and harassment and discrimination that still goes on. It’s like we finally make some progress for the L and the G, and now the huge inequalities experienced by the T in our list is really beginning to surface. In some ways, it seems silly to include the T in with LGB, because the issues are so different and they are really very different experiences.
Also, Rick, I like what you included about not assuming the sexual orientation of transgender people. As I understand it, sexual orientation is completely separate from gender identity. So just as cisgender people can be straight, lesbian, gay, bisexual, asexual, pansexual, etc., etc., a transgender person may be any of these as well. But it does seem clear that our younger generations are leading the way in moving beyond the strict binary categories our society has set up.
My hospital’s ethics committee recently dealt with a situation where a member of our Wellness Center, who transitioned from one gender to another during her membership, was requesting her membership to be reinstated about the time North Carolina government was passing HB2, the “bathroom bill,” that made people use the restroom that corresponded to the gender they were born with. Our Wellness Center still has not resolved all these issues in terms of providing respectful treatment of all its members while still abiding by the law.
July 22, 2019 at 10:05 am #5061
Thanks for all of this great information, Rick and Melanie. I need to digest it and make sense of it. Another stupid question – what is cis? And what does it mean when someone wants to use the pronoun them, they, etc. Are they saying there is more than one person in them, which sounds kind of like a split personality to me? I have a friend who gave me a book on transgender issues – will try and look it over for our conversations this week. I also wonder what it means that “sexual orientation is completely separate from gender identity.” How is that possible and what does that mean? I guess I can see that if a person identifies as a woman but is a lesbian – is that what this means? Also, I appreciate Rick saying to be sure to get the pronouns right, but what if you don’t know the person is transgender? Do they always identify themselves in an intake questionnaire this way? And do we even have questions to address this upon intake? I work in a hospital and have to say I see all people as just people who need care, listening, and compassion. I probably am not as “attuned” to these issues, which concerns me. Thanks for being a safe place to explore all of this,
<span style=”color: #737373; font-family: Lato; font-size: 12px;”>Trish </span>
July 22, 2019 at 12:10 pm #5062
Wow, Trish. You have raised a lot of questions here, and they are not stupid! Thanks for doubling back on some issues I could have been more clear about.
Cisgender means that a person identifies their gender via the anatomy which which they were born. So if I was born with female genitalia and I identify as female, then I am cisgender (which I am). If I were born with female genitalia but feel myself in actuality to be a male, then I am transgender. I may or may not actually go through gender affirmation surgery to change the anatomy to fit with my gender identity, and that is dependent on a lot of factors. So according to Rick’s statistics, 0.4% of the population is transgender, and the other 99.6% of the population (you and me, presumably) are cisgender. On a very simplistic level, cisgender is to transgender as straight is to gay–they are opposites. But as Rick has also pointed out, many people in younger generations are also identifying as “non-binary” or “gender non-conforming.” Folks who support a non-binary perspective may focus on the fact that we all have some masculine characteristics and some feminine characteristics, and it is a “false dichotomy” to consider male and female to be opposites, with no gray area in between. Most transgender people I have met are very clear that they are not the gender they were born into, and in fact they were born into the “wrong” gender. They generally don’t change their name to something androgynous, and are not trying to trick people. But people who are non-binary may change pronouns from one day to the next, based on which gender they are feeling more connected to. Or they ask that we use “they, theirs, them,” not because they are more than one person, but because they are neither exclusively male or exclusively female, and a “genderless” pronoun feels more appropriate. The only other genderless pronoun we have in our current vocabulary is “it,” and that is dehumanizing, for sure. So taking the plural, which is also genderless, feels better to people who do not identify either as exclusively female or exclusively male. Plus, it is in our vocabulary already, so presumably it is easier for cis people to get used to than new “made-up” pronouns.
(An interesting aside, in my feminist theology class way back in the 1990s, in a Baptist seminary, we had a discussion about changing the pronouns for God. I HATE that we use only masculine pronouns for God–how limiting! So we actually played around with making up new pronouns that might work for God…)
Gender identity is a different animal than sexual orientation. Gender identity is who you feel yourself to be, deep within yourself–male, female, or something else. Sexual orientation is about who you are romantically attracted to–the same gender, the opposite gender, both genders, everyone, no one, etc. So I can be straight and cis–meaning I feel myself to be a woman, which matches the anatomy I was born with, AND that I am attracted to the opposite sex. Or I can be straight and trans, meaning I feel strongly that I was born in the wrong gender. So even though I was born with male genitalia, I feel myself to be a woman, and am attracted to males, which is the opposite sex. Or I can be gay and cis. Or I can be gay and trans. or +++++
And, getting the pronouns right matters–a lot! Just like it is an insult to girls who are tomboys, or who don’t like frilly dresses, to get mistaken for boys, it is considered insulting and disrespectful to use the wrong pronouns for trans people. It’s OK to ask them which pronouns they prefer. And usually their preferred name (maybe not the one on their DL, though) will be a big hint in the right direction. You are certainly right that people often do not identify this personal information on intake forms–sometimes for safety reasons, but also because our forms are not set up to accommodate people who are outside our carefully constructed check-boxes, so we never know these important aspects of who a person is.
And, just to mix things up a little more, every year 1 in 2000 babies are born with a set of characteristics that cannot easily be identified as male or female. This is known as “intersex.” While it is not the same thing as transgender, I raise this because many people of faith state that gender is not fluid, that God gave you a gender and you are supposed to stick with it, embrace who you are, etc. But the fact that people are born with both sets of characteristics, or missing essential elements that would confirm one gender or the other, reminds me that even in the “natural, God-ordained” order of things, anomalies and gray areas abound.
One more thing to consider. In some indigenous communities, gay and/or trans individuals have been recognized for years as being “two-spirit” peoples, who have been held in high esteem for their spiritual gifts. That’s quite a different take than what we have in mainstream America right now! I’ve included an excerpt on this below, in addition to some more terms that might help distinguish between gender identity and sexual orientation.
Hope this helps. I do more than anything want this to be a safe place for respectful dialogue!
An inherent or immutable enduring emotional, romantic or sexual attraction to other people.</p>
One’s innermost concept of self as male, female, a blend of both or neither – how individuals perceive themselves and what they call themselves. One’s gender identity can be the same or different from their sex assigned at birth.
External appearance of one’s gender identity, usually expressed through behavior, clothing, haircut or voice, and which may or may not conform to socially defined behaviors and characteristics typically associated with being either masculine or feminine.
An umbrella term for people whose gender identity and/or expression is different from cultural expectations based on the sex they were assigned at birth. Being transgender does not imply any specific sexual orientation. Therefore, transgender people may identify as straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual, etc.
The process by which some people strive to more closely align their internal knowledge of gender with its outward appearance. Some people socially transition, whereby they might begin dressing, using names and pronouns and/or be socially recognized as another gender. Others undergo physical transitions in which they modify their bodies through medical interventions. Read more.
Clinically significant distress caused when a person’s assigned birth gender is not the same as the one with which they identify. According to the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), the term – which replaces Gender Identity Disorder – “is intended to better characterize the experiences of affected children, adolescents, and adults.”
Native Americans have often held intersex, androgynous people, feminine males and masculine females in high respect. The most common term to define such persons today is to refer to them as “two-spirit” people, but in the past feminine males were sometimes referred to as “berdache” by early French explorers in North America, who adapted a Persian word “bardaj”, meaning an intimate male friend. Because these androgynous males were commonly married to a masculine man, or had sex with men, and the masculine females had feminine women as wives, the term berdache had a clear homosexual connotation. Both the Spanish settlers in Latin America and the English colonists in North America condemned them as “sodomites”.
Rather than emphasising the homosexuality of these persons, however, many Native Americans focused on their spiritual gifts. American Indian traditionalists, even today, tend to see a person’s basic character as a reflection of their spirit. Since everything that exists is thought to come from the spirit world, androgynous or transgender persons are seen as doubly blessed, having both the spirit of a man and the spirit of a woman. Thus, they are honoured for having two spirits, and are seen as more spiritually gifted than the typical masculine male or feminine female.
Therefore, many Native American religions, rather than stigmatising such persons, often looked to them as religious leaders and teachers. Quite similar religious traditions existed among the native peoples of Siberia and many parts of Central and southeast Asia. Since the ancestors of Native Americans migrated from Siberia over 20,000 years ago, and since reports of highly respected androgynous persons have been noted among indigenous Americans from Alaska to Chile, androgyny seems to be quite ancient among humans.
July 22, 2019 at 2:59 pm #5066
This is such a helpful clarification piece. I find it interesting the point about Native American and other native peoples holding these “two spirit” people in high regard. It makes me wonder about what we can learn from their way of looking at life through a spirit lens rather than a dogmatic lens and how that might help us as a society. It seems so much healthier.
The other thing I appreciated was how this raised for me the difficulty of words. What I mean by this is we have many words that get used interchangeably (sex/gender for example) that really I don’t think are as interchangeable as we think. Add into this the fact that there is no true gender neutral pronoun in the English language leaving us with the best pronouns being gramatically incorrect (and therefore confusing and difficult for many to wrap minds around) for referencing a single person (there was a good segment on this exact issue on CBS Sunday morning (https://www.cbsnews.com/video/faith-salie-on-preferred-gender-pronouns/) the segment was fairly surface but it was out there creating this as part of the public conversation. Perhaps we need to become less lazy with our words? Just a musing here.
July 22, 2019 at 4:48 pm #5068
Joy, I agree. Our words are very powerful and can allow us on to someone’s holy ground or push us off. As a Chaplain – I weigh my words carefully, not just with my patients and family, but with staff who are from different backgrounds and different faith traditions. I want them to hear acceptance, openness, and desire to learn. The study that Oates offered a couple of months ago on Barbara Brown Taylor’s book “Holy Envy: Finding God in the Faith of Others” was a great resource for that very thing.
July 22, 2019 at 1:12 pm #5064
Good morning all,
I’m just getting caught up with all the discussion over the last few days. So much to absorb. Thank you Trish for asking my questions as well! And to Melanie for your help in clarification. Our hospital does not address any of that in the admission phase. I want to believe our nursing staff would also address any issues that are needed like the ones Joy talked about, but my fear is they might not know what to do. Don’t know how much this is taught in their training.
I have to admit – this is a little overwhelming. I am a born female straight woman who never wrestled with any of those issues. I cannot begin to understand how difficult that must be for those who feel differently than their birth gender, who have to struggle with their sexual orientation because of those who are not willing to try to understand. I have a niece who at 38 is identifying as polyamorous. She is raising 3 boys (ages 10, 8 & 5) with help from their father (who does not live with them). So it is a topic that I need to have some knowledge about to understand her better.
It is my heart’s desire to treat all with respect and to carry the love of God. It is overwhelming to feel the need to get it right so I don’t offend or reinforce the idea that “God just doesn’t care” because I haven’t gotten it right and I’m “God’s representative”.
So Melanie… with my desire to be respectful, what is the best way to ask those questions of name, identity, pronoun preference?
Thank you for helping me learn. I’m still trying to figure it all out.
July 22, 2019 at 3:06 pm #5067
Like you I wonder how much of these issues are really taught in nursing training – I don’t think they are taught much. And there is then the gap between recognition of the issues and being able to advocate for and provide the needed and appropriate care.
Like you I want to get it “right” but I wonder if the only “right” way is like we do so many other things know what we don’t know, know how to respectfully enter the space that we are asked to go where we don’t know everything we feel we need to and respectfully enter the conversation with questions that allow the other person to control the conversation with us so that they feel safe and they feel valued and acknowledged from someone who might represent God to them.
Just some other thoughts.
July 22, 2019 at 7:17 pm #5071
I so appreciate and hear your heart’s desire shining through your post–your compassion, your desire to do your job well, your fear that the stakes are so high if you make a mistake. I want to hasten to say that I am not the expert in all of this. I am a person with lived experience in some of these areas (but not all). And each of you is a person with particular lived experience as well. We are all “living human documents” and as such we can all relate on that most basic of human level, which is how we truly connect with each other. In the end, the connections are more important than the differences. We still of course need to recognize and honor the differences, especially as they represent different spiritual needs. But the commonalities are the most crucial.
I guess my biggest concern is that you fear making a mistake as a representative of God. None of God’s representatives are God, for sure! But as I read what you have posted today, I am convinced that no one would get the impression that “God must not care” even if you used the wrong pronoun or made some other faux pas. Because your heart is one of compassion and care. I think the difference is all in how we make the errors, and how we deal with the errors once we realize we made them.
In answer to your question, I go back to what Joy said: We use our best skills that we employ everyday. Asking everyone what name they go by is generally a safe and good practice. If someone gives us some clues in conversation that they may be a trans person, you could say “I’m very much a learner, but I want to be respectful. Help me know what pronouns you prefer, and whatever else I/we can do to make you feel safe and supported here.” Beyond that, I think we all are called to just be the best chaplains we can be.
July 22, 2019 at 7:04 pm #5070
I agree, Joy. There is no way any one person can be an expert in everyone’s religion, culture, and life experience. The difference is in how we approach that person–with sensitivity, respect, humility, the ability to say “I’m sorry I called you by the wrong name.” The very skills we spend our careers honing are the things that matter most. I think we have spent a lot of time in this course focusing on the “right” interactions. But certainly that is no substitute for the “compassionate” interactions that we already do. Saying and knowing all the right terminology is like a clanging gong if we don’t have love…
July 23, 2019 at 10:36 am #5075
Melanie, thank you for your affirmation! And for your willingness to be open in helping us understand this topic. It’s a tough one. I am most grateful.
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