Mixed Feelings–Part 2, Mostly the Feelings

After receiving the initial proposed Action of Immediate Witness, I didn’t think about it again until the President’s Report at General Assembly. (I’ve looked for a transcript or other record and can find none, so this is based on my recall only.) When President Sinkford began talking about the new efforts to find and retain ministers of color, Latino/Latina/Hispanic ministers, I felt my guts clench. He compared the association’s successful support of our “Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender” ministers to what he hoped to accomplish for ministers of color. As the association’s only openly trans minister settled in a congregation, I wanted to shout, “There’s been no insititutional support of bisexual or trans ministers!” Of course, I didn’t. But I did say to a friend who is also a part of the UUA staff, “I’m tired of being the symbol of institutional success when the institution has done nothing.”

Later, I realized something else. As much as I unequivocally support the effort to better support my colleagues of color, it was hard for me to listen to Rev. Sinkford and the whole plenary get so excited about it. It was hard for three reasons: first, I’m not sure we want these ministers for the right reasons; second, I’m not sure we know how to support them and I fear we’re setting them and ourselves up; and third, no one is out there working to get more transgender ministers into our movement. In fact, whenever people ask me how many transgender folks are in our seminaries and I say, “I know about ten or twelve,” a fleeting look of panic crosses their faces. I don’t mean to act out of some internalized sense that all the “oppressed” have to compete for the crumbs from the table, but I did feel it. “At least they want people of color.”

Anyway, the report went on, the people cheered, and all was well in our Assembly, if a little unsettled in me. The ENDA AIW passed, as did the responsive resolution. And afterwards, a whole lot of people approached me for hugs, most of them saying something like, “You must be so pleased.” I was pleased, but I was also sad and tired.

Imagine with me, if you will, that some identity that describes you was put up for a vote before the General Assembly. Let’s say the General Assembly voted to “affirm its commitment to the inherent worth and dignity of every human being, including ________________.” (white guys…youth…Christians…) I’m glad they voted “yes” but I’m sad they had to vote at all. The whole process was hard on me and the other genderqueer and transgender folks I spoke to. Even though we “won,” it was a hard and sometimes incredibly discouraging process.

Knowing that even after several hours of conversation the Commissioners (on Social Witness) did not understand the significant difference between being “folded in” to ENDA and having an AIW that specifically spoke to gender identity discrimination was very hard. Having people speak in favor of the resolutions that clearly didn’t even know the terms (speaking of gender “dysmorphia” instead of “dysphoria”) or from those who had opposed the Gender Identity AIW (Jan Carson Bull, Chair of the CSW saying something about how we are flowers that need to be allowed to bloom in order to make the whole UU garden more beautiful…) just, well, sucked. Oh, and the woman who after speaking about how churches needed to put this into action and hire more transgender people, managed to mix up a tall red-headed and bearded transgender minister with a short, bald, dark transgender seminarian. My cynical side is just reveling in all the support. Sigh.

What I’m trying to say is that while it’s easy for us to get all self-congratulatory about how progressive we are and how we’re all out on the cutting edge of anti-oppression work, from my perspective we have a long, long, long way to go. It’s my hope that by sharing how all this felt to me, there might be a chance that these resolutions and all the hard work that Revs. Janamanchi and Mishra did might be a beginning of real change.

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2 thoughts on “Mixed Feelings–Part 2, Mostly the Feelings

  1. Sean, thank you so much for articulating your feelings through these processes. This kind of writing is immensely helpful for people like me, who just don’t know enough or have not experienced enough with transgendered individuals to really understand the depths of the issues and how we might unwittingly contribute to the pain of another. I freely admit my ignorance, and appreciate the opportunity to listen and learn more.

  2. As much as I want to support the inclusion of more clergy of all kinds in our ministry, it is less than sensitive to make unwarranted assumptions about how well others have been included in our ministry over time. I have heard over and over again assumptions that the road to inclusion was easy for women or gays and lesbians or —- when that simply was not the experience. As a woman in the early 80’s I was confused constantly with my female colleague in the same district — although we don’t look alike. The UUA discriminiated against women in sending out names. Some churches openly told us that they weren’t hiring women or preferred someone “stable” (which meant a married guy with kids, even though the last married guy with kids they called ran off with the organist). Some just didn’t ask for packets from any female. Some said they were looking for balance on staff and since they already had a female DRE they needed a male minister. Younger female ministers were harrassed by older male colleagues while others stood by. Members of churches who didn’t want a female presiding at a rite of passage, frequently found sympathetic male ministers willing to substitute. I really don’t remember significant support from the UUA — and frequently quite the opposite. I remember a drunken member of the Fellowship Committee being critical of one of the best known women in ministry for being “unfeminine” — he later chaired the committee and had a role in settlement. One could go on and on. I just think we can be happy that the UUA wants to support ministers of color without supposing that the road has been easy or supportive for the rest of us.

    Indeed, if we admitted to the troubles of the past, we might be able to learn something about what people did to overcome the obstacles and what kind of help was effective.

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