“Here in the absence of words to defend myself, without examples, without models, I began to believe voices in my head - that I was a freak, that I am broken, that there is something wrong with me, that I will never be lovable.”
Hearing those words from anyone ought to give us pause.
The deep-seated pain and hours of tormented anxiety that lead one to devalue one’s own life and to consider oneself unlovable ought to cause our heart to break. It ought to move us to do what we can to protect the vulnerability of one who has felt ostracized from society.
Put these words into the mouth of a transgender individual, however, and all too often our response is less Christ-like.
Many Christians are uncomfortable or unfamiliar with transgender identity. When the city of Gainesville, Fla., proposed and later passed an ordinance in 2008 guaranteeing freedom from discrimination for transgender individuals, the response of the Christian community was to run a sensationalized media campaign about the dangers of lecherous men using the women’s restroom.
What if, instead of responding out of our fear or anxiety, we learned to listen to the heart of those who make us uncomfortable?
The quote above is from a speech by Lana Wachowski, formerly Larry Wachowski, and co-director with her brother Andy of The Matrix films and recently Cloud Atlas. She goes on to describe her close encounter with suicide and ongoing struggle for self-acceptance.
In perhaps the most powerful moment in the speech, Lana states, "Invisibility is indivisible from visibility; for the transgender this is not simply a philosophical conundrum - it can be the difference between life and death.”
Can we move past our own discomfort, past our unfamiliarity and past our fear to hear what Lana is saying?
When we refuse to give space for those who struggle with gender identity, when we draw clearly demarcated lines of male and female and demand that everyone fit within those boxes, when we try to ignore the very real questions of so many young people, we force people like Lana to live in invisibility, in a world where death can seem preferable to life, where being loved by another is an unattainable ideal.
Can we hear what Lana is saying?
What does it look like for the church to have a theology of gender that leaves room for those who struggle with gender expectations? What does it look like for the church to have a doctrine of humanity that incorporates not only “standard” XX and XY chromosomal men and women but also those whom we regularly deem anomalies? What does it look like for the church to be a place that welcomes the discussion over gender identity? Are our churches a place where a man or a woman can share their struggles to fit in to cultural expectations of gender norms? What would it look like for the church to stand up to the gender stereotypes in marketing and advertising that help to perpetuate gender roles and cause inner turmoil for those who don’t somehow fit in?
I suspect that if we’re going to get there, we first need to learn to listen. We need to hear what Lana and others like her are saying.