Good Morning! I’m River. My name comes from two Rivers that were present with me during significant life changes. I’m a seminary student in Hyde Park; I was the first out transgender student at that school, and I remain the only out transfeminine student there. It is such a delight to be with you today. This weekend as we pray for Transgender Justice, I want to share with you a bit about my story – and a bit of my own struggle with the question I ask in the title today: Can a Trans Person Give Birth?
Each of us has a gut understanding of what it means to give birth. We’ve each participated in giving birth as a birther, one being birthed, or as someone present to care for those involved in the birthing process. In humans, the assumption is that only certain people can give birth. That birth happens only in certain ways, and only for certain reasons. Transgender people are frequently excluded from these markers, collectively excluded from the class of individuals who can give birth.
In the text for today, we read the wisdom of Paul, who equates the suffering of life with birthing pains, for a utopian new world. In his context, Paul’s hope was for the newly forming communities of faith who endured government persecution. Today, thinking about these same birthing pains, I reflect on the communities of transgender people that struggle with surviving, thriving and being.
Every week trans people are killed or harassed, or otherwise oppressed because of their transgender status, or because they were trying to live life on their own terms. Their stories are important, so I’ll share with you some of their stories along with some ideas about what transgender justice might look like for them. And what transgender justice might look like here at Lake Street Church.
Alphonza Watson was killed in Baltimore early Tuesday morning; very little is known about her story, beyond how it ended. Yet, she was the seventh black transgender woman killed, and the eighth transgender person killed this year – keeping 2017 on track to be the deadliest year yet for transfolx in this country and around the world. Two weeks ago, two black trans women were harassed and beaten when they tried to go to a McDonalds. Last year, for the parts of the world that there are non-profits to do this tracking, two-hundred-ninety-five transgender people were killed in transphobic hate crimes. In the United States, the third deadliest country for transgender people, nearly ninety percent of transfolx experienced harassment because of their gender identity or perceived gender identity. Transgender Justice looks like a world where transgender people are free to live, to exist free from harassment and threats to safety.
Symone Marie Jones was a young black trans woman who sought out transition-related healthcare. Because of the cruel intersections of transgender status, community affinity, and poverty she sought out an unlicensed provider for services. The services ended with complications and death. Similarly, in a recent blog post, Sam Dylan Finch talked about being held in an inpatient mental health unit for the hope of stabilizing his mental illness without requiring him to stop his medical transition. He speaks of medical providers misgendering and misnaming him. The posting reads like a formal accusation of what mental health care is unable to do for transgender clients. Sam didn’t die a physical death because of his stay in the mental health unit, but the violence of being misgendered and misnamed sows seeds of doubt and distrust that will last. In the US, over half of transgender people have either had negative experiences in health care or avoid accessing health care for fear of negative experiences. For both Sam and Symone, and for those who are afraid, Transgender Justice looks like accessible, trans-competent healthcare in the places where we live—which is everywhere.
Considering Sam’s story and your place here as a faith community which cares about transgender people, you must face reality: 41% of transgender people have attempted suicide in their lifetime. Transgender Justice looks like a lower rate of suicide attempts among trans people.
Related – Nearly 80% of trans people leave faith communities because they fear or experience rejection. Even when presented with trans-competent and affirming faith communities, those who leave rarely return to their same tradition. Health Justice is important, but so are welcoming, trans-inclusive and competent communities that know how to welcome people like me, like Sam, like Symone, like K, like E, and like S. Transgender Justice includes faith communities – praying for transgender justice and then also engaging the people around them and their communities to make Trans Justice a reality.
When I consider educational and employment justice, there are so many stories that I have heard – most of which would put people at risk if shared, but they usually go something like this: I went to school for years and years with the hope that a job waits at the other side. Yet, here I am unemployed or underemployed. Transgender people have some of the highest educational accomplishments in our society – with nearly a quarter having some form of graduate education, and 98% completing high school. Yet, trans people are twice as likely to experience poverty and three times as likely to be unemployed as the general population. Transgender Justice includes economic justice and employment non-discrimination.
We as a society like to talk about bathrooms – they are the scary places where transgender people hang out to cause trouble, or so media reports would have us believe. Yet; people like me must take care of nature’s call just like everyone else. In my bio, I mentioned that I was the first out transgender student at my current school, and I remain the first and only out transfeminine student at my school. When I began my gender transition, there were no discussions about bathrooms, until a professor noticed that I would run home during breaks – and asked why. That conversation led to the relabeling of additional single-stall restrooms as All-Gender restrooms – bathrooms for anyone to use. Often for transgender and gender non-conforming people, these restrooms for anyone are life savers: the most recent data suggests that nearly two-thirds of trans people avoided public restrooms because of fear of harassment—and this data comes from 2015 – well before the recent spate of bathroom bills. Nearly 10% avoided public restrooms to the detriment of their own health. Transgender Justice looks like Bathrooms that we all can use. Transgender Justice looks like trusting Transgender people to know which accommodations are most appropriate for them.
As a society, we are afraid of what is different; and since transgender people are less than half of a percent of the US population – we’re not very common. Yet, our sacred witnesses call creation Good. With you, and with all people we are good. Transgender people need justice; we need allies and accomplices to join us in this struggle. This struggle is part of the birthing pains Paul talks about: transgender people, and we as a society are giving birth to a new world where we are each acknowledged as beloved ones of the Divine Spirit of Love.
The whole creation is crying out for a new world filled with Justice for people of color, for transgender people, for the poor and the outcast. The whole creation is in labor pains. Transgender people are in labor pains – society is on the cusp of something new, and we are all bringing it about in our actions. We are each giving birth to a new, more just reality.
In the hymn, “Midwife Divine Now Calls Us,” by Jann Aldredge-Clanton, we are reminded of this task:
Midwife Divine Inspires Us/ Through Holy Darkness Deep/ Moving through Realms of Mystery/ To wake all dreams that sleep/ The Loving Plan Unfolds/ As Tenderly She guides us through Pathways New and Bold.
Here at Lake Street Church, you have the opportunity to journey on new and bright pathways that include Transgender Justice in all its forms. Justice to live, Justice to heal, Justice to learn, Justice to earn, Justice to survive in society.
My call to ministry is rooted in Trans justice. I’m ready for more people to engage both the work for Trans Justice and work for justice more generally. To make choices for a more just world. To participate in the world the way I want it to be with justice for all.