One year ago, at our 2016 Generous Space retreat, we had a panel of trans participants share their stories with the community. The feedback we received was overwhelmingly positive with the plea for more. The landscape of gender identity is complex and there is so much to learn. For those of us seeking to be allies to our trans siblings, the onus is on us to educate and equip ourselves. So we are deeply grateful to the four people who willingly invested the energy and vulnerability to share with our community at this year’s retreat and to give permission for us to share the video of this panel conversation with our wider community.
A few notes before viewing…
If you have never participated in a Generous Space experience, this panel may have a bit of an in-house feel. Our retreats are like family reunions and even as we grow in numbers, we intentionally cultivate a very relational space. We hope that the gems of insight and wisdom shared will shine through.
Part-way through the video, one of the panel participants disappears from screen though their voice continues to be heard. At our retreats, people wearing red name tag lanyards prefer to not have their photos taken. This panel participant is wearing a red lanyard and our videographer part-way through thought it best to not have them visually in the frame. We have received enthusiastic consent from this participant to use the whole video – including the portion where they are visibly present.
If you are new to conversations about trans realities, then some definitions may be helpful:
- transgender or trans (adj.) Describes someone whose gender identity does not conform to the sex assigned to them at birth. This is a minority experience and carries vulnerability in many social contexts.
- cisgender or cis – (adj) Describes someone whose gender identity conforms to the sex assigned to them at birth. This is a majority experience and carries cis-privilege.
- non-binary (adj.) Describes a person who does not experience their gender identity as male or female. Some may present more androgynously (not clearly recognizable as traditionally masculine or feminine) and some may present more masculine at times and more feminine at others.
- transphobia (n.) Describes a variety of negative attitudes, language, and behaviour towards transgender people. May be experienced as emotional disgust, fear, violence, anger or discomfort or more subtly as a lack of acknowledgement of transgender people’s existence, equality of personhood, or honouring language preference including chosen name and pronouns.
- queer – (adj) This term was once used as a slur, but more recently, the LGBTQ+ community has reclaimed it as an umbrella term to describe any sexual and/or gender minority, ie. someone who is outside the heterosexual/cisgender norm.
- privilege – (n) A set of unearned advantages possessed by people in certain social groups.
- ally – (n) In this context, an ally is a cisgender person who actively supports transgender people.
Things to listen for:
- The four people on the panel would present their gender in the binary of male and female, with two embodying a female gender identity and two embodying a male gender identity. On future panels we hope also hear from non-binary individuals. Nonetheless, listen to the unique experiences these four individuals share. One size most certainly does not fit all. The panelists encourage us to ask consent (permission) from transgender people to ask them questions so that we can learn more of their story – recognizing that they will choose what and how many questions they want to answer. When we make assumptions, we inadvertently perpetuate transphobia. Becoming an ally to transgender people begins with deeply listening to their story.
- Listen for their journey with God. Each panelist shares very specific encounters with God in their journey to understand and make decisions about their gender identity. What a sacred trust they have offered to us by sharing these intimate spiritual experiences. Perhaps you’ve had similar experiences when you’ve faced big questions and big decisions. As Caro reminds us, we all experience transitions.
- Listen for practical ways that you can offer support to transgender people. How can you accompany trans people in spaces that feel vulnerable for them? What questions do you need to do some more homework on? And what language patterns and habits might you need to pay more attention to?
- Listen for the good fruit that is evident in our trans friends’ lives. Jesus said that you would know a good tree by the good fruit that it bears. What virtues do you hear? What ways do they describe their character maturing in their journey? What do you admire about these individuals?
- Transgender realities can feel intimidating to many who have limited experience engaging with transgender people. But as our panelists remind us, people are people. We hope you’ll watch this video in a posture of openness and desire to learn. After all, the more we learn to love people in their unique journeys, the more we all grow in the grace and knowledge of Christ.