BEING A MORE EFFECTIVE ALLY TO OUR Q COMMUNITY FRIENDS
Rev. Kit Ketcham, PUUF, June 9, 2019
We noticed that Harold looked a little different that morning, friendly as always, a cute middle-aged guy with a little bald spot, and a ready smile. And eye shadow and liner. And foundation and blush. And mascara. We felt a little shy about asking about his new look, but we did ask, and Harold entrusted us with his story of transition. He was coming out a little bit at a time in places where he felt comfortable, and our church was a safe place for him, he felt, as he moved from being Harold to Carol.
This was a huge journey for him—and for all of us at Jefferson Unitarian Church. We loved this guy for his sweet nature, his many skills, his friendly ways, and we would not have done anything to hurt him. But we did. We hurt him repeatedly, mostly accidentally, but we were transitioning too—in our understanding of who the real person was. It was really hard to shift from loving Harold to recognizing that Carol was the same person and that she needed us not to let our discomfort with her changes override our love for her.
Carol was the first trans woman most of us knew. Several of Carol’s friends from the Gender Identity Center in Denver began to visit and our education as a loving community began to unfold, but it had its bumps and misunderstandings.
One of the hardest things for us straight folks was the pronoun problem. It was so easy to blurt out “he” instead of “she” and even though Carol reassured us that she knew it was accidental and not an intended insult, you could see from the look on her face that it stung every single time.
Carol had a wife and a child at home; her son was one of my students at the middle school I worked at. This was a family who loved each other but also were in transition. Carol and her wife eventually decided to divorce but remain friends and parents to their son. The divorce and the gender transition were hard on their son, as well, and this complicated the transition.
If you have trans friends, you already know some of this. You may have watched as loving couples struggled with a transition. Spouses and children have a different set of challenges, but they must be addressed. They are private and deeply personal.
I ran across an article that I’d like to offer a few points from. It’s about how to be most helpful when you want to be supportive to a trans person. I tried to pick out the ones that I found most relevant to my learning to be a good supporter, though Christina and Tessa may want to add their thoughts later.
1. For me, getting the pronouns right was critical. There’s a lot of discussion about the preferred pronouns these days and it can be tricky to sort out, but when I learned how painful it was for my friend Carol to continue to be called by male pronouns, that was a wakeup call for me. I learned--If you goof up, apologize and move on. Don’t make a big deal out of it.
2. Don’t pry. This is a deeply intimate and personal experience. And don’t assume that someone has changed their sexual orientation along with a gender transition. You don’t need to know. Gender and sexual orientation are not the same thing.
3. Don’t “out” someone. You need the person’s permission to say anything about their transition.
4. Not everyone is either male or female; many folks are both or neither.
5. Listen if a transperson chooses to talk to you about their identity. Be open and not judgmental, in both words and body language.
6. Transwomen experience sexism and misogyny daily, on top of transphobia, and it is often dangerous to be out as trans. Be respectful and offer help as requested.
7. Recognize that as “cis” persons (meaning normatively gendered, aka straight male or female) we have privilege that our friends may not have. Don’t take unfair advantage of it.
8. Educate yourself about all the letters of the Q alphabet, from “a” for asexual, “I” for intersex, “p” for pansexual and beyond. It’s much more extensive than we have ever realized. And do your own research into what transition means, rather than asking rude questions. You can find a lot of information online. Just be sure it’s not fake news!
These are only a few of the ways we cis folks can be helpful. Our transfriends don’t need us to run their lives and they don’t need to be a spokesperson for the trans community. They just want to be a regular person with the same needs and loves that we all have. And respect---they want and need and deserve respect, deep deep respect.
In closing, I’d like to thank the Q choir for singing with us and for us this morning, the Q center for co-sponsoring our after-church potluck across the street, and to Christina and Tessa and David for assisting me this morning in the pulpit.
CLOSING HYMN “WE ARE A GENTLE ANGRY PEOPLE
BENEDICTION: As David extinguishes our chalice, let’s pause for the benediction. Our worship service, our time of shaping worth together is ended, but our service to the world begins again as we leave this place. Let us go in peace, remembering that our acceptance of the inherent worth and dignity of every being is the foundational principle of our religious tradition. May we remember it as we go through our lives, treating each other with love and understanding and deep respect. Amen, Shalom, Salaam, and Blessed Be.