By Austen Hartke 1-15-2016

This past weekend I had the honor of attending the Gay Christian Network Conference in Houston. This conference is, for many, a once-a-year opportunity to speak to other LGBTQ+ Christians about the joys and struggles we experience in our churches. We ask each other questions like “how do you find common ground in your non-affirming community?” and “does your denomination ordain LGBTQ+ folks yet?” and even “how long has it been since you’ve been allowed to take communion?” As I spoke to other transgender Christians, I found that many expressed frustration with the lack of education on trans issues in their churches. They told me that even though trans people are being recognized in the media, real and relevant conversations are just not happening in the sanctuary or at Bible study. Maybe folks are worried about saying the wrong thing, or perhaps our churches don’t make space for discussion. Whatever the reason, we as Christians are called into fellowship with one another, and real fellowship takes education and communication. In that spirit, here are seven things that transgender people in your congregation wish you knew.

1. We exist.

And we’re already a part of your church! Whether you know us, it’s very likely that there’s a transgender person in your congregation. This likelihood, of course, increases with the size of each community, but with transgender people numbering about .3 percent of the U.S. population — or, three in every thousand people — even a fairly small church has a good chance of including a trans person. And no, we don’t all look like Caitlyn Jenner. Some of us do dress or present in ways that you may read as definitively transgender, but others don’t, and the reality is that there’s no real way to know without asking someone directly.

2. We’re human, and in many ways, just like you.

It may seem obvious to assert that transgender folks are human, but unfortunately recent politics has come to see us as more of an “issue” than a group of thinking, feeling, individual people. We have families and friends, meals and bedtimes, work and hobbies, concerns and plans just like you do. Granted, many of our plans for the day include things like “don’t get yelled at for just trying to use the toilet in a public bathroom,” and our hobbies may include working for the rights of transgender detainees stuck in the immigration system, but at the end of the night, those of us lucky enough to go to sleep with a roof over our head still dream, just like you do.

3. We’re waiting to see if you’ll make space for us.

Despite being more like most people in our congregations than we are different, there are still several things that churches can do to intentionally welcome trans folks into the community. Because we have to spend more time than most worrying about our safety in public spaces, we may not believe that we’re truly welcome until you make it explicit. This means unpacking the sentence on the front of the bulletin that says “All Are Welcome,” and instead being openly supportive of trans people specifically. This may include adding a little section with “my pronouns are ____” to your nametag on Nametag Sunday, or designating one of the church bathrooms as unisex or all-gender. The bottom line is that silence can be as bad as condemnation, so speak up!

4. We’re NOT waiting for you to tell us we’re OK.

There’s a big difference between being supportive and being patronizing. Trans Christians aren’t standing around waiting to hear whether or not you think it’s alright to be trans. We’re too busy doing theology and feeding the hungry and standing with the oppressed to spend time tallying the opinion of every person we meet! So don’t feel like you need to stop us to give us your take on the “issue.” Instead, join us in the good work of the kingdom!

5. We’re diverse.

As they say in the community: once you’ve met one trans person … you’ve met one trans person. Transgender folks have many different identities that all intersect—identities related to race, class, disability status, sexuality, citizenship, age, and many more. In fact, it’s more accurate to say “transgender communities” than “transgender community.” So get to know as many of us as you can! Your life will be richer for it.

6. We long to lead, share, give, and love in community.

And speaking of a rich life, trans Christians are just bursting with skills and blessings that we’d love to share with our churches. From those of us who go to seminary or Bible college hoping to be ordained, to those with financial skills who would be happy to take a turn passing the plate, to the many talented musicians and artists who would love to perform during worship — we all have something to give. If your church has rules that prevent this, now might be a good time to start asking why.

7. We can’t answer all your questions, but we’re almost always happy to share resources.

We all know how it feels to get caught in conversation after the service by a friend who wants to talk about that one thing you were hoping to avoid. Trans people often experience this feeling of being buttonholed into trying to explain everything about being trans to someone who has wonderful intentions, but who may be just a bit too invasive. So don’t take offense if a trans person in your community responds by offering you a resource instead. Take them up on it, and share it if you find it helpful!

By being aware of these seven points, you’ll be a much better ally and sibling in Christ to the transgender folks in your congregation. Let’s work together to continue educating each other, and building each other up in love.

Austen Hartke is a writer, speaker, and creator of the YouTube series “Transgender and Christian,” which seeks to understand and share parts of the Bible that relate to gender identity and the lives of transgender individuals. Austen is a graduate of Luther Seminary’s Master of Arts program in Old Testament/Hebrew Bible Studies, and is the winner of the 2010 John Milton Prize in Old Testament Writing from the same institution.

Don't Miss a Story!

Get Sojourners delivered straight to your inbox.

Have Something to Say?

Add or Read Comments on
"7 Things the Transgender People in Your Congregation Wish You Knew"
Launch Comments
By commenting here, I agree to abide by the Sojourners Comment Community Covenant guidelines and acknowledge that my comment may be published in the Letters to the Editor section of Sojourners magazine.

Must Reads

Subscribe