Friday, July 18, 2014

GFU & transgender

This week, a fairly public news item emerged, regarding George Fox University's win in a case with the Department of Education, allowing Title IX religious exemption for the university's housing policy and a transgender student, Jayce, who wanted to live in a male dorm. Here's a Register Guard article about the court decision, and here's an Oregon Public Broadcasting news spot on the issue, featuring Wess Daniels and my grandpa, Ralph Beebe. Both are supportive of Jayce and desire to make him feel welcome and like he can be himself at Fox. Here is GFU's statement about the case. I want to just write a brief post on this issue, what's going on, and my thoughts.

First, I wanted to note that there has been some misrepresentation of GFU's policy. Some news reports are stating that the transgender student was "denied housing," which isn't true: he was offered housing on campus housing in a single apartment. One issue is that he hasn't yet undergone sex reassignment surgery, it sounds like, making it a little bit difficult for the university to give him housing in one of the single-sex housing options. Fox cites similar difficulties deciding what to do at Smith College, an all women's college. Do they admit male-to-female transitioning transgender students? Such questions of sex and gender are far from resolved in society at large, let alone in a Christian context such as Fox.

Second, luckily it sounds like Jayce has been fairly happy with the way he's been treated by other students, staff, and faculty, besides this issue of housing, so that's good.

Third, GFU cited Northwest Yearly Meeting's policy to shore up its claim that this was a religious belief. As far as I can tell, NWYM doesn't have a real policy about transgender identity.

This coming week, Northwest Yearly Meeting will be discussing a revision to the Faith & Practice statement on human sexuality (p. 80 of that document). The major question really pertains to what sexual acts are consider "sinful," especially including homosexuality. There is quite a range of opinions about what should happen with the current statement, although the fact that we're discussing it this week probably means that a majority of NWYM Friends believe that it should be changed and does not represent current belief. I don't know if we'll even have time to talk about transgender issues this week in the limited time we'll have in meetings for worship for business.

Fourth, a few queries: Why is it so troubling to us when people don't want to remain within traditionally-defined gender boundaries?

Every culture has different opinions, practices, and beliefs about what it means to be "feminine" or "masculine," what roles and behaviors go along with each, and which attributes are considered "good" or "bad." There are different traditions and beliefs about what men and women wear, how they behave toward one another and toward their own gender, and what occupations or tasks belong to each. We can't really define, once for all, what it looks like to be "female" or "male." We can't even describe this physically, for many people, since many are born with secondary sex characteristics for both sexes, chromosomal differences from their "normal" sex, or other differences that make sex more of a spectrum rather than a duality. Moreover, due to both "nature" and "nurture," I'd expect, each individual displays traits that are more or less "feminine" or "masculine" in different areas. Very few individuals fall in furthest end of each category on all of the things we use to measure our own culture's understanding of what it means to be "feminine" or "masculine."

What does it mean to YOU to feel "male" or "female"?

Why is it more culturally acceptable, on the whole, for women to be relatively "masculine" (wearing clothes designed for men, or at least similar to those designed for men, portraying "masculine" traits like assertiveness, etc.), and less culturally acceptable for men to act "feminine"? What does it say about us as a culture and what we value?

What would it look like for us to not really care about who's male and who's female, and just to love one another for who we are, regardless of how we dress and which body parts we have? Would this not be more congruent with our understanding of who we are as part of the Body of Christ, in whom there is no male or female, because we are all one as children of God?

Hold us in the Light this week as we have our annual sessions. Pray for unity and that we will listen to the Spirit, that we will be slow to anger, and that the love of Christ will abound in our midst.


RantWoman said...

Thank you for this. I am certainly holding NWYM Annual Session in prayer.

Anonymous said...

Several years ago, I worked for the Yamhill Co. Sheriff's Office. My Sgt. was a gentleman that I'd known for several years prior to joining the force myself. He'd make his rounds...stopping by our office on a regular basis. Then...when I didn't see him for a few weeks, thought nothing of it, figured it was just "shift change" & that he'd be back in another few weeks. When he did return to make his normal visit, he now had long hair, eye-brows that were tattooed, Same for lipstick, and he had breasts. ALL of these things had not been visible prior to his "vacation". He proceeded to tell us that he was no longer a "he"...but rather had undergone all the surgical procedures to become a woman...and that his name was no longer ____ but rather ____. My face must certainly have shown the total state of shock that I was in. His statements literally made me sick to my stomach. He was probably one of THE LAST persons that I would have suspected of such. After our little "briefing" was completed and others had gone back to their assigned jobs, he came over to my desk and said to me "I may look different on the outside, but I'm still the same person inside". To me, he has never returned to being the "same" person he was prior to all of this going on. And...I've seen him several times over the years. He's no longer with the Sheriff's Dept. and the last time I saw him -- a little over a year ago -- he was an extremely sad/angry person. NOT the same person that I'd known for so many years. So sad.

owlfeather said...

The first biblical mention of male and female is in the first chapter of Genesis, in the same creation narrative as light and dark being separated. Morning and evening are times of neither dark nor light. The moon does not stay in its assigned realm. If we really read and accept the introductory Genesis narrative, why do we expect any lines of demarcation to be anything but a spectrum? Other than to say if God made it, it is good (but not fully comprehensible)? Which is why we ponder these things day and night.

Unknown said...

For Christians who hold the mistaken notion that this is all some modern nonsense, please read and think about Matthew 19:13. Do make sure you've got a good translation that says 'eunuchs' (not 'men who are unsuitable for marriage'). Becoming a eunuch for the sake of the Kingdom would have been what a male to female transgender could have done in those days to get right with the Spirit. In a society that doesn't have a role for eunuchs, it's hard to imagine how one can transition away from being male without going through surgery to become as close to female as possible.

Anonymous said...

I think this is just George Fox(via educational nomenclature) once again calling for "thee" and "thou" to humble socio-religious posers.

Unknown said...

Thanks for sharing your comments, everyone!

To the first "anonymous," thank you for sharing your story. I wonder if this person wasn't the same person on the inside more because of how s/he was being treated by others, rather than a personal, internal change? Also, might he have become an angry person if he hadn't attempted this change, too?

To the second "anonymous," I'm not sure what you mean. Are you talking about George Fox the person or the university? Also, are you saying that the university is attempting to be holier-than-thou and to get rid of people who are posing as religious people but who only care about social norms, or are you saying the university is trying to hold onto something outdated?

Clark said...

Hi Cherice, Thank you for taking the time to write about this and present some of the struggles.

We are all given intense social and cultural training about gender from the moment we are born. As we move through the world and try to grow into moral human beings, we listen to our training, messages from the media, friends, family, and religious leaders, in order to make sense of the world. Men are supposed to behave in certain ways and women in other ways, and that's what just makes sense - or so we are told and come to believe. When someone comes along and challenges that, it's disorienting and scary for most, at least on some level, and we resist.

I am a Quaker, and I am transgender. When I realized I was transgender, it was a terrifying moment that I had been resisting. I did not want it to be true. It was not some kind of decision I had come to, no, it was a revelation about my Truth. The only decision for me to make was to live authentically according to this Truth, to live into my whole self as I am called to be, or to resist and attempt to live a lie about who I am. Resisting my transgender Truth would require self-deceit, denial, and outright lying, and I am not called to do those things. I am called to Integrity.

Transition is an act of deep faith for me. I trust that my call to be whole is worth the risk of being socially ostracized, of being rejected and misunderstood. I took the Spirit's hand and I jumped off the cliff that is transition, and then I did it over and over again, because I am called to wholeness, and I cannot be a person of faith if I am not seeking transformation and wholeness. After all, did not Jesus embrace the ostracized, the rejected, the misunderstood? Are we not called to embrace those among us? If we are called to be among those, should we not accept that calling?

For me, this is what it means to be transgender. At the core, it is not about how others perceive me, it is not about my physical body, it is not about my sexuality, it is not some kind of weird decision that I made, it is about living into my Truth as it has been given to me. Others' perceptions and my physical body and all of that are not irrelevant - they greatly impact how I move through this world and how my Truth is received, but as long as these needs are taken care of, they are secondary to who I am.

To bring this back to the original cause of the post, by treating Jayce differently from other men on campus, the university is denying him part of his identity and his Truth. Imposing requirements about his genitals is disingenuous unless the university asks every single student about their genitals prior to making housing decisions. That they happen to know about his should be inconsequential if they believe him about his gender and are able to receive that piece of his Truth. Anything less is discrimination, even if all are well-intentioned and friendly. I hope that in time, the university and all Friends involved will come to see that.

I understand that this level of acceptance takes time, and that there is progress being made on many fronts. I am grateful that this work is happening now. Thank you again for taking the space to write about this. I am holding us all in the Light.


Anonymous said...

Other-Anon was speaking specifically of the recurrent-solution to contemporary "His and Her" nomenclature by crediting George Fox, the person. My answer to your "This or That" supposition regarding the University is "both-and", as individual Quakers(who make up the Univ.) are questionable now.

Anonymous said...

It's interesting that the Bible says "male and female He created them" in Genesis 1:27 and other parts of the Bible, yet you claim in the body of Christ we're all children. God specifically CREATED us differently for a reason.

Unknown said...

Clark, thank you so much for sharing your story. I admire your courage, and the heart with which you share this piece of yourself with us.

Other-Anon, I still am not certain of your meaning. I"m not sure if you're trying to write comments really quickly and so the meaning doesn't come through, but at any rate, your comments are ambiguous and could be taken multiple ways, so I'm not sure how to respond.

Last Anonymous, I'm not sure, but it sounds like you're saying that someone isn't a child of God if that person isn't male or female. For one thing, this would immediately knock out people who are born androgynous or in other ways different from the "norm." Do you think God loves God's children any less if they're born a little different? Would you love your own children any less if they were born androgynous? The Bible also says that there is no longer any male or female, because we're all one in Christ Jesus. To me this indicates that our worth and value to God isn't based on our faithful living out of our gender roles, but it's based on our adherence to the Kingdom of God, and the love that is found and expressed therein. (Gender roles change in each culture and time period, too, so if you're saying that we are created differently in order to fulfill a certain set of gender roles, which set? The ones prescribed in the Law of Israel? The ones that were common in Jesus' time? The ones that were common in the US in the 1950s? The ones that are "normal" now?)