My UU Church is officially a “welcoming church,” something I am enormously proud of. I don’t think I’d ever be a member of any church or congregation that wasn’t a welcoming church. I just roll that way.
But until recently, I think that just meant for us that we accepted gay people and gay relationships. With the addition of a new developmental minister and his ministerial intern, I believe my UU church has broadened its definition and focus regarding transexuality, gender identity, and fluidity.
The ministerial intern is highly active in trans issues — something I immediately noticed when she used the term “cisgender.” Not a term widely known about, but one that I was recently introduced to and was incorporating into my vocabulary. Learning about these issues is very new to me and I am in that awkward phase where I’m still kind of old school about the binary gender identification — I like to categorize people one way or the other — and alternatively understanding and accepting that people can be anywhere on the spectrum. And that spectrum is probably both a choice and a biological issue? (I don’t know — would have to find out! Would welcome someone discussing it with me!)
Any ways, I am on that fulcrum of accepting and embracing people on the spectrum, and yet being befuddled and confused when interacting with people on the spectrum. Because my need to categorize the person kicks in. What pronoun do I use and if I am not sure, is it okay to ask? Is it okay to be confused? How do I be respectful and is there a “one way” to be respectful or do I have to go through a unique process with each person to determine respectful behavior?
My church’s ministerial intern has introduced our congregation to a lot of her friends. I found myself interacting with one of her friends in a way that I am not very proud of. I looked at this person and just blurted out, “I’m so glad you are here, so glad to meet you, but I am getting mixed signals on your gender!!” After saying that, I felt bad! Ashamed and out of sorts with myself. Because perhaps I wasn’t living up to my UU values???? Wasn’t “accepting”? (And does “accepting” mean “not saying anything?” another question for another time perhaps).
So what I did was go “confess my sin” to the ministerial intern. Oh I was so devastated with myself and so hard on myself and so in doubt with myself about my acceptance of people in all their forms and all their fluidity and all their spectrum!!! (This is an example of what I term “UU Guilt” which is probably yet another blog post!!!)
Later the intern had a lovely conversation with me about this and wanted to work with me about how to handle situations that confused me. She was worried about me — but I was not worried at all about myself, I was more worried about her friend. Because my supreme value and trait that I care about most in myself is caring about how the other person feels. I did not wish her friend to be offended, hurt, feel unloved or unwanted, or somehow questioned. Her friend was totally welcome there and my own reaction and confusion was entirely my own.
Further Reading: http://www.apa.org/topics/lgbt/transgender.aspx
Postscript: I just realized that I started off by mentioning what The Bible has to say about gender, and then never pursued it….so maybe a more in depth topic for the next post???