Lately, I am finding places of hopefulness in the expressions of concern, inquiry, and care that I receive regarding our transgender community that I receive. A primary line of questioning concerns best practices for accommodation and integration of transgender youth in the church.
Specifically, folks are asking about how to handle basic things they have not, before, really had to think about—things like, sleeping spaces; restrooms; shower/bath spaces; whether or not and/or how to “gender” spaces; etc.
I find these arising conversations to be boundlessly beautiful. And I rejoice in them for two big reasons. Firstly, folks are increasing awareness and are connecting to it in ways meaningful to our collective growth. Yes, it is true, we trans/gender-diverse folks have been in the church, participating in youth activities, singing in choirs, and going to camp for…well, as long as there has been church. Historically, however, we have been only partially present in those spaces—leaving our full sense of self somewhere else, participating in fragmentation, and suffering, in varying degrees, in silence.
Our current times, though filled with uncertainty, are bursting with Holy promise for new and life-giving ways to pitch our tents among one another.
Secondly, asking questions usually indicates some willingness to find and receive possible answers and, then, to apply those new possibilities. Simply asking is a marvelous thing—particularly, if it takes us to the hoped for place: a place of seeking, all of us together, to discern new and deeper ways to be and become more fully one sacred body. The answers are not universal or monolithic. And, the more we learn about each other as people in relational community together, the more the questions change. They can’t help but change. And, no one of us holds or can discern, alone, the whole of the answers. But, we can begin to seek potential answers and learn to ask more questions together. What a joy that is: God’s priesthood of holy questioners and answer-seekers!
So, I am currently working on developing a resource for churches to employ in deeper consideration of our transgender/gender-expansive youth.
I would love to hear ideas from you, my transgender siblings. Here are some basic ways of framing actual practices and general suggestions arising so far in the process. I am deeply interested in hearing directly from all of us, as trans people, any specific practices pertaining to each of these categories.
1) Privacy: being accommodating and integrating of gender diversity means re-thinking privacy
- wherever possible, single-use bathrooms are important for showering/bathing and other personal needs; (these need not be the only option, but is important to have the option)
- with regard, specifically, to toileting space, normalize “all-gender” or “gender-inclusive” spaces—just like we do at home. This is a common practice at conferences and other such spaces (and throughout most of Europe) and people do just fine.
2) Choice/agency: wherever possible, allow your gender-diverse folks to exercise agency, especially in regard to roommates/sleeping arrangements, respectful waking and sleeping attire, name on name tags, etc.
Avoid deciding for people where they would be “comfortable.” Allow everyone to choose as much as possible so it is a group norm and not special treatment
3) Normalize difference (Trans-queer the space): it is really important for gender-diverse folks to be free of feeling odd or out of place (any more than they already do as young people). One way to assure this is to reinforce that individual difference is actually normative to nature and, thus, to the human condition. Celebrate particularity as a norm: we find our common human ground through our particularity, not through a universalizing of our likeness.
- Have everyone put their name, pronouns, etc. on their name tags
- Allow for and encourage diversity in general: different color options for name tags, camp shirts, etc.
4) Affirm personhood: this means respecting a person’s stated sense of self, regardless of how we perceive them by appearance, by history, or by other preconceived notions. This means also avoiding some pitfalls. Specifically:
- Avoid terms like, “preferred” pronouns, names, etc. (We don’t have “preferred” pronouns, we have pronouns that are appropriate to us; we don’t have preferred names, we have names that distinguish us, one from another.)
- Avoid using minimizing frameworks like “trans-identified” or “people of trans-experience.” (We are not merely “identifying” as transgender or gender-variant, we are transgender/gender- expansive people. We do not have a “trans experience,” so much as we are transgender persons who have different experiences that are affected by or related to being transgender people.)
These are just some example of an emerging framework. I hope it is helpful for beginning to re-imagine a sense of beloved community that integrates transgender folks and our concerns into our church spaces.
I am equally hopeful I will hear from my transgender peers on this. Let me know what emerges for you as you think about these shared-space concerns. I’ll be looking for your thoughts, even as I continue to reflect.
Liam invites you to share your stories, wisdom, and experience with him directly: Please email him at liam
Liam Hooper lives in the deep south with his wife, Diana, a freelance publishing professional who keeps his calendar in line, and their teenage son, who keeps them on their toes.