I have a fourth cousin who is moving to Orlando, Florida. She landed a job as an “imagineer” with Disney. It’s her dream job. Good for her! She happens to be white, cisgender, and straight. Because I am a trans woman, I cannot go to Florida. There are multiple states to which I cannot travel including North Carolina, Texas, Georgia, and Tennessee. They want to erase us.
When I moved to the Bay Area in the late summer of 2017, my plan was to take I-70 out of Pittsburgh to St. Louis, pick up I-44 to Oklahoma City, then I-40 to California. The “southern route.” Along the way I wanted to hop on and off the iconic Route 66 as I got my kicks cruising into Winslow, Arizona slow enough to take a look at the Glenn Fry statue. O my! That didn’t happen.
Days before I left for California, the NAACP put out a travel advisory for anyone who was African American not to travel to Missouri. Too much hate there. The travel ban was expanded to include Muslims and the LGBTQIA+ community. Simply put, it was not safe to travel to Missouri. I would be putting my life at risk. Frankly, I was scared. Instead, I drove to State College, Pennsylvania and took a left at I-80.
There are thousands of transgender people all over the country who are not safe right now. In states like Florida, Texas, Mississippi, Arkansas, Georgia, North Carolina, Virginia, to mention only a few, transgender youth and adults are being targeted. In 2015 there were 19 anti-trans bills. Last year there were 174 anti-transgender bills with 26 that passed. According to the Trans Legislation Tracker (https://translegislation.com), there are 497 anti-trans bills in 49 states. Forty-three restrictions have passed, 91 have failed, 363 remain active.
Like Oklahoma’s SB129, Missouri has just jumped on the same anti-trans band wagon. In an article from Yahoo News, written by Christopher Wilson, “Missouri’s Attorney General Andrew Bailey issued an emergency ruling on Thursday. It requires adults [up to the age of 26] to receive 18 months of psychological therapy and to demonstrate ‘a persistent and intense pattern of gender dysphoria’ before they are allowed to undergo gender-affirming care.” Medical professionals who offer professional help to trans people could be convicted of a felony.
This, along with other anti-trans bills are disastrous for our emotional and spiritual health. The targeting of trans youth, and trans people in general, is causing despair, depression, and anxiety. Suicide ideations are going up. Fifty percent of trans youth have considered suicide. Abuse and bullying have escalated. The point is cruelty, and the goal is total erasure. Right now, AB1314 is working its way through the California Assembly in Sacramento that would require teachers and school officials to notify parents of a student’s use of name change and pronouns.
There is a reason why trans youth do not feel safe telling their parents. Twenty to forty percent of trans youth are homeless, compared to 5-10 percent of the general population. Many families are simply not safe spaces for trans youth.
An agenda is being pushed that is based on lies and fiction involving words like “lifestyle,” “choice,” and “grooming.” This is not the trans narrative. Even as each trans person has a different story, just as cisgender people have different life stories, there are certain threads that run through our lives. One thing that is quite common is that we know at a very early age our gender identity and our bodies are out of alignment.
My own experience is that I knew when I was five years old my life would be better if I were a girl. I was five. I was in kindergarten. It was December of 1959. Dwight D. Eisenhauer was the President. The interstate highway system had just begun let alone an internet system that would be decades in the future. I had never heard of Christine Jorgenson. I had no information. Yet, at the ripe young age of five, I was aware my body, my clothes, my hair, and even my bedroom furniture didn’t line up with who I am. I thought I was the only one.
Being transgender is internal. Every person on the planet has a gender identity. Our gender identity is not based on a particular set of body parts. Our gender identity rests deep inside our brains. Our gender identity has nothing to do with our biological sex, or our sexual orientation.
We do not choose the color of our skin, the color of our eyes, our dominant hand, where we are born, or who our parents are. Nor do we choose our gender identity. Even before social assimilation, before any medication, and before any surgery, a trans person is born transgender. The body and the identity just don’t line up. My own life seemed like a double exposure that would never line up. There comes a time when a trans person can no longer put one foot in front of the other without becoming their true, whole, and authentic self.
Through the options of clothes, hair, make up (for trans women), through hormone replacement therapy and voice lessons, through surgeries, through name changes, and driver’s licenses that reflect our true identities we align our bodies and our lives with our inner identities. Wholeness and a sense of completeness begins to emerge. We become.
There are multiple systems of injustice in this intersection of power and hate. The elephant in America’s room has a lot of wrinkles. I am convinced that the same forces of hate that nailed Jesus to the cross are the same forces attacking the most vulnerable populations now. As the Church, the incarnated body of Christ, we need to hear the voices of our transgender siblings.
I leave you with this: in Isaiah 56, the exiled community is returning from their Babylonian Captivity to Jerusalem to rebuild their temple, their culture, their lives, and begin anew. In addition to the inclusion of the immigrant, in verses 4-5 our Still Speaking God says:
To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths,
who choose the things that please me
and hold fast my covenant,
I will give, in my house and within my walls,
a monument and a name
better than sons and daughters;
I will give them an everlasting name
that shall not be cut off.
There is a monument in the house of God with my everlasting name on it.
Why in the world would we allow anyone to erase the names of trans people off God’s monument?
Christ is Risen! Indeed!
Rev. Barbara K. Peronteau, Pastor
First Congregational Church of San Rafael, CA