Guest Blogger: What I Wish Y’all as the Church Knew about Non-Binary People

spectrum-indigo by Leba BovardNote from Jan: I invited my nibling Taylor to write a guest post for today in hopes of helping those of us in Church World learn something new. There are people in our communities who are unfamiliar perhaps, but they, too, belong. Here goes . . .

Y’all is my favorite gender-free way to address a crowd. That’s why my aunt asked me here to begin with — to talk about what I wish y’all as the Church knew about non-binary people. (Here, is a helpful short trans dictionary in case you don’t know some of the words I use). In no specific order there are some things I wish you knew.

I am only one person. My word is not every non-binary person’s word. I don’t speak for my entire group. My narrative is not every non-binary person’s narrative. For example, I do not experience being non-binary trans in the same way as a person of color would. So, this post isn’t really what I wish you knew about non-binary people but instead what I wish you knew about me as a non-binary person. Moreover, non-binary can be considered an umbrella term containing many identities, but is also an identity in and of itself. So asking me “what kind” of non-binary person I am will get you nowhere. This word works best for me because of the possibilities and ambiguity I attribute to it.

I am not “just like you.” As an anti-assimilationist, I have to say this is one of my least favorite things to hear. The fact of the matter is, I am not like you. If I was, I wouldn’t have to police my behavior in order to assure my safety. This assimilationist chorus most often, for me, manifests itself in church with the way some people frame Galations 3:26-29, “for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” I’m thinking “in Christ” is the most important part of this. In Christ’s eyes, we are no better or worse for our many intersecting identities. Christ might see us as all deserving of the same treatment, but society does not. We might be “children of God through faith” but on the street, some of us are treated as subhuman. Using this verse to deny the lived experiences of trans people — the fact that we are more likely to experience homelessness, alcoholism, abuse, unemployment, and the like — is not only oppressive to us as trans people, but it seems to be a gross recontextualization and application of the verse.

You can’t tell just by looking. You know nothing about a person just by looking at them. Just because someone is wearing a dress doesn’t make them a woman. Also, just because you’ve been told for years that dresses are feminine, doesn’t make them feminine. Clothes, colors, sports, and art don’t have a gender. Genitals don’t have a gender. (Hint: never ask anyone about their genitals. This should be obvious and easy.) On this note, not every trans person is looking to transition. Furthermore, transitioning means different things for different people. It might mean changing the clothes they wear or taking hormones. It might be seeking surgery. Regardless, it’s important to know that not every trans person is looking to make changes. Not every trans person experiences body dysphoria).

Call me a “sibling in Christ.” I can’t stress how easy it would be for pastors and laypeople alike to use non-binary inclusive language. Instead of “brothers and sisters in Christ” try words like “siblings” or “family.” Call someone you just met a “person” instead of man or woman. Call someone’s child a child instead of a son or daughter. Call someone’s spouse a spouse, a partner a partner, instead of a husband or wife, boyfriend or girlfriend, if you don’t know their gender. (Hint: You most likely don’t know their gender).

My pronouns non-negotiable: Most people don’t think about pronouns past first grade, but it’s an everyday thought for me as a non-binary person. My pronouns are they/them. (Used in a sentence: Taylor is running late, so they won’t be here until 9:30). Those are the pronouns you should and will use in reference to me, whether I’m in your presence or not. Wrongly gendered pronouns are a quick way to misgender somebody, which can be anything from a nuisance to a make-or-break moment in a trans person’s day.

Everything changes: In church, we are fond of words like “unwavering” and “steadfast.” We are drawn to their spiritual qualities, excited by their promise. I don’t blame you; they are stable words and most of us want stability. But here’s my reality — in any given day I feel a laundry list of gender feelings. I am constantly in flux. Part of this flux also means I feel zero gender feelings some days. I’m curious how a preoccupation with these words might affect the way people in church see my gender. Do they see it as weak? Wishy-washy? Do they write it off as eccentricity and new-agey hullabaloo? My gender isn’t static, but I’m met constantly by both cis and trans communities with the demands of Destination Gender — as if my gender is something final, something permanent. The truth is, I’m not God. I am not steadfast, unconditional, unwavering, constant, or forever. (And as my aunt pointed out to me, even God changes God’s mind sometimes. See: Jonah). Expecting or demanding me to embody words like that is just too much to live up to. It’s setting me up for failure. My gender isn’t a failure. Or a downfall. Or too complicated. Or invalid.

My gender is no destination. It’s more like a hike in the woods at night with a wet book of matches. But it’s not always scary. It’s actually kind of a blast, in a way.

Taylor M. Silvestri is a (f)unemployed writer, teacher, and activist, they spend their days writing cover letters and deconstructing Craigslist ads using various theoretical lenses.

Image is Spectrum Indigo by Leba Bovard

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8 responses to “Guest Blogger: What I Wish Y’all as the Church Knew about Non-Binary People

  1. “Those are the pronouns you should and will use in reference to me, whether I’m in your presence or not.” Get over yourself.

    • Hi Marcus – I don’t know if you are a follower of Jesus or not, but my hope in this post is that our ability to share grace would be enhanced. As recipients of immeasurable grace ourselves, we hope to offer that same grace to everyone in God’s love.

      • I tend to think that the way to share grace is not to issue daffy authoritarian commands to others: “Those are the pronouns you should and will use in reference to me, whether I’m in your presence or not.” But since I’m Catholic let me give it a shot: “You should and will refer to the Eucharist as the real, true, and substantial presence of our Lord in body, blood, soul, and divinity. You shall cease and desist referring to the offering as bread or wafers after the point of consecration, but should and will always refer to the same as “our Lord” “the Real Presence” “our Eucharistic Savior” “the Most Blessed Sacrament” or other Vatican approved appellation. You should and will genuflect when passing a tabernacle and double genuflect if the Most Blessed Sacrament is exposed. Should necessity require that you speak to another in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament, you should and will preface your words by first turning to the Sacrament and saying, “Only by your leave, my Lord Jesus …”

    • Steven M. Rodgers

      Hey Marcus!

      Firstly…how much of a change in your life would it be to refer to Taylor in the pronouns they have chosen? My guess would be very little to none…

      Second…what you are actually doing right now is attacking someone and showing a lack of respect. Taylor identified how they wish to be called and you should be able to do so….change a word…that is all you have to do…one word…them/they.

      Thirdly…As someone who has struggled with pieces of my identity i can tell you from experience that your comment can be the breaking point…your comment could be the difference between another day or someone taking their life…all anyone in this world wants to do is be respected for who they are…to not have to constantly fight to belong or at the very least be deemed worthy of being considered a person…and you’re just causing a divide that does not need to be there…

      Respect…that is all it comes down to…Respect

    • Steven M. Rodgers

      Romans 12:10
      Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves.

      Shouldn’t you be honoring people’s identities by using the pronouns that they have presented are the correct ones?

      Titus 2:7
      In everything set them an example by doing what is good. In your teaching show integrity, seriousness

      Shouldn’t you be setting an example for others by respecting the appropriate pronouns presented to you? And also…you are trying to teach about your chosen religion but it lacks seriousness…in fact it is dripping with sarcasm.

      John 8:7
      So when they continued asking him, he lifted up himself, and said unto them, He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.

      Romans 3:23
      For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,

      So if we read John 8:7 and Romans 3:23….we can say that everyone has sinned and therefor no one can cast judgement and no one can cast a stone.

      I believe your “get over yourself” comment would be casting a stone would it not? but according to the bible you are basing your battles off of you are not supposed to do that…stop accepting the Eucharist and stating others must comply by it unless you can live the teachings it represents…

  2. Thank you for this. Very helpful.

  3. Read this article over the weekend: http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/when-no-gender-fits-a-quest-to-be-seen-as-just-a-person/2014/09/20/1ab21e6e-2c7b-11e4-994d-202962a9150c_story.html

    It was new to me and Enlightening. And now here today is Taylor telling a similar story. Many thanks for continuing my education!

  4. Indeed. This offered some real practical and useful information. Thank you.

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