Once again Peterson has written a particularly thoughtful blog post about being an ally to trans-folk. He mailed me and asked me to post a comment answering these two questions…
What have you learned from knowing transgender folks?
How has your life been enriched?
This was my response…
I am a straight woman.
I am an ally.
For me being an ally to trans-folk is no different to being an ally to gay men and women. Being an ally is a personal learning experience; one filled with pain and tears, but ultimately an experience that not to be missed. Being an ally has helped me change. My opinions and presumptions have shifted. My willingness to question what I believe to be true has increased and my belief in the goodness and the God in each person has become more and more important. A chance meeting with a gay man when I was 19 started this lifelong change, and more encounters with people who are different to me has continued this exciting journey. However, standing alongside those who are broken and weeping is hard, and standing as a shield to them when they are in the line of fire is even harder.
So, to answer the question, ‘What have you learned from knowing transgender folks?’ I probably need to change the question to ‘What have you learned from being ally?’ as it is more inclusive. The answer is simple. I have learnt to be myself. Their struggles have helped me find out who I am. Being an ally isn’t a selfish thing, but it has helped me to grow into the woman I believe God intended me to be.
To answer the second question ‘How has your life been enriched?’ – well that is easy! My life has been changed beyond recognition. Without meeting those people to whom I became an ally I would probably have married when I was 21 and be happily ensconced in a charismatic evangelical church with a quiver-full of children. My life has been enriched by the most wonderful people. Those who challenge my perception of what is right, or what justice looks like and ultimately what God looks like. Oh, and not to mention these wonderful people have the best parties and the most outrageous fun. Life would be distinctly duller without them!!!!
Being an ally is painful, but more than that it is a pleasure and privilege.
I wouldn’t change it.
I am not sure that being an ally is something you choose to do… it is much more organic than that. You meet gay/lesbian/bi/trans people and you defend them, support them and love them. It seems to me that being ally just means loving people enough to want to protect them, even if they don’t think they need protecting.
In my humble opinion being an ally means showing that you can love.
The very kind Dave Walker pointed me in the direction of the Anglican Mainsteam blog, and in particular a post by Lisa Nolland called Greenbelt, ‘gay evangelicalism’ and CMS: Summer 2009. One of the standout quotes is as follows…
Finally, perhaps most galling is the deeply discriminatory nature of the programme, which presents itself as the antithesis of discrimination. Given the resources and people which such recent events as Sex and the City, The Big Question, and the Moral Maze, showcased, there is no reason why Greenbelt should only push one ideological agenda and only grind one axe, unless it is wanting to slant the argument and deprive its audience of expert opinion on the other side. What about equal air time for it? What about poster boys or girls for the ex/post-gay movement being handed the microphone, instead of just Gene Robinson (again), with his sadly amaturish biblical hermeneutic? Given that Greenbelt has invited so many people who strongly promote a different sexual ethic to that of a traditional Christan sexual ethic, the least they could do is allow equal air time for traditional sexual views.
I found this especially interesting in, as she calls, the ‘discriminatory nature of the programme. It seems to be that Greenbelt over the last couple of years has actually decreased the amount of high-profile gay, lesbian, bi and trans people involved in speaking and performing at the festival. Certainly those who are focussing on sexuality as a primary issue anyway. It also irritated me that she describes Athlete and Royksopp as “gay bands”. For a start I didn’t even know they were gay. Surely a band is just a band, if they happen to be gay, lesbian, bisexuals or trans does it really matter? Most people will be going to see them play music, not because they are gay or whatever.
Interestingly conversations I have had with gay men and women have seemed to suggest that they feel that Greenbelt has actually built themselves a a gay ghetto with the creation of Outerspace. Instead of having LGBT people involved with every part of the festival they are kind of shunted into a corner and left to get on with it. The label sticks and rather than challenge it directly there is a rather more subversive feel to it. I am not sure how I feel about that perspective myself. I would like to see all parts of the festival being inclusive and I am slightly uncomfortable with the creation of specialist groups such as this. However, I also recognise that there is a need for individuals to be offered a safe space to discuss potentially difficult and emotional subjects.
I expect this is a subject that is going to run and run, especially with more mainstream conservative people getting offended with what they perceive as the ‘Gayification of Greenbelt’. Personally I say, BRING IT ON! Big parties, fabulous clothes and a deep sense of joy about a festival that is truly wonderful. The gayer the better
Today has been a very interesting day. Lots of talks which have given me plenty to think about, but the highlight for me tonight was seeing Peterson Toscano perform his new play Transfigurations – Transgressing Gender in the Bible.
Peterson took us on a very interesting journey, exploring a variety of different characters in the bible who may have been transgender, or who sat outside of gender-normative behaviours. Amongst them we looked at Joseph and his princess dress, Deborah and her big sword, Queen Esther’s eunuch and the part he played in her fulfilling her role in history and the man who was seen carrying water at the Passover.
It was undoubtedly a difficult audience. A mixture of lesbian women, gay men, transgender folk and a couple of straight people thrown in for good measure. Many people did not speak English as a first language and yet I sat and watched people processing what they were seeing and hearing. It seems to me that we are becoming used to hearing gay and lesbian stories told by people who have a variety of different experiences, both positive and negative. However, the stories of transgender people seem to be more invisible. What Peterson managed to do tonight was to bring some of these out, flesh out the people of the bible and provide them with a real and valid voice. Where history seeks to dull the colours of the picture, Transfigurations made everything more vivid for me.
Whilst I had heard snippets of this play, or precursors to it, the whole thing sent shivers up my spine. It is very different to Peterson’s other works, the humour is more subtle although it is still there, but the pace of the story is totally different. It reminded me of the first time I heard him read out Low-Carb Jesus at a meeting. It made me stop in my tracks, made me think and it even made me weep.
This play was beautiful. Centered. Quiet. Honest. Thoughtful. Challenging. Hopeful.
If you get the chance to see it please do. You will undoubtedly leave a changed person.