Note from Jan: I invited my nibling Taylor to write a guest post for today in hopes of helping those of us in Church World learn something new. There are people in our communities who are unfamiliar perhaps, but they, too, belong. Here goes . . .
Y’all is my favorite gender-free way to address a crowd. That’s why my aunt asked me here to begin with — to talk about what I wish y’all as the Church knew about non-binary people. (Here, is a helpful short trans dictionary in case you don’t know some of the words I use). In no specific order there are some things I wish you knew.
I am only one person. My word is not every non-binary person’s word. I don’t speak for my entire group. My narrative is not every non-binary person’s narrative. For example, I do not experience being non-binary trans in the same way as a person of color would. So, this post isn’t really what I wish you knew about non-binary people but instead what I wish you knew about me as a non-binary person. Moreover, non-binary can be considered an umbrella term containing many identities, but is also an identity in and of itself. So asking me “what kind” of non-binary person I am will get you nowhere. This word works best for me because of the possibilities and ambiguity I attribute to it.
I am not “just like you.” As an anti-assimilationist, I have to say this is one of my least favorite things to hear. The fact of the matter is, I am not like you. If I was, I wouldn’t have to police my behavior in order to assure my safety. This assimilationist chorus most often, for me, manifests itself in church with the way some people frame Galations 3:26-29, “for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” I’m thinking “in Christ” is the most important part of this. In Christ’s eyes, we are no better or worse for our many intersecting identities. Christ might see us as all deserving of the same treatment, but society does not. We might be “children of God through faith” but on the street, some of us are treated as subhuman. Using this verse to deny the lived experiences of trans people — the fact that we are more likely to experience homelessness, alcoholism, abuse, unemployment, and the like — is not only oppressive to us as trans people, but it seems to be a gross recontextualization and application of the verse.
You can’t tell just by looking. You know nothing about a person just by looking at them. Just because someone is wearing a dress doesn’t make them a woman. Also, just because you’ve been told for years that dresses are feminine, doesn’t make them feminine. Clothes, colors, sports, and art don’t have a gender. Genitals don’t have a gender. (Hint: never ask anyone about their genitals. This should be obvious and easy.) On this note, not every trans person is looking to transition. Furthermore, transitioning means different things for different people. It might mean changing the clothes they wear or taking hormones. It might be seeking surgery. Regardless, it’s important to know that not every trans person is looking to make changes. Not every trans person experiences body dysphoria).
Call me a “sibling in Christ.” I can’t stress how easy it would be for pastors and laypeople alike to use non-binary inclusive language. Instead of “brothers and sisters in Christ” try words like “siblings” or “family.” Call someone you just met a “person” instead of man or woman. Call someone’s child a child instead of a son or daughter. Call someone’s spouse a spouse, a partner a partner, instead of a husband or wife, boyfriend or girlfriend, if you don’t know their gender. (Hint: You most likely don’t know their gender).
My pronouns non-negotiable: Most people don’t think about pronouns past first grade, but it’s an everyday thought for me as a non-binary person. My pronouns are they/them. (Used in a sentence: Taylor is running late, so they won’t be here until 9:30). Those are the pronouns you should and will use in reference to me, whether I’m in your presence or not. Wrongly gendered pronouns are a quick way to misgender somebody, which can be anything from a nuisance to a make-or-break moment in a trans person’s day.
Everything changes: In church, we are fond of words like “unwavering” and “steadfast.” We are drawn to their spiritual qualities, excited by their promise. I don’t blame you; they are stable words and most of us want stability. But here’s my reality — in any given day I feel a laundry list of gender feelings. I am constantly in flux. Part of this flux also means I feel zero gender feelings some days. I’m curious how a preoccupation with these words might affect the way people in church see my gender. Do they see it as weak? Wishy-washy? Do they write it off as eccentricity and new-agey hullabaloo? My gender isn’t static, but I’m met constantly by both cis and trans communities with the demands of Destination Gender — as if my gender is something final, something permanent. The truth is, I’m not God. I am not steadfast, unconditional, unwavering, constant, or forever. (And as my aunt pointed out to me, even God changes God’s mind sometimes. See: Jonah). Expecting or demanding me to embody words like that is just too much to live up to. It’s setting me up for failure. My gender isn’t a failure. Or a downfall. Or too complicated. Or invalid.
My gender is no destination. It’s more like a hike in the woods at night with a wet book of matches. But it’s not always scary. It’s actually kind of a blast, in a way.
Taylor M. Silvestri is a (f)unemployed writer, teacher, and activist, they spend their days writing cover letters and deconstructing Craigslist ads using various theoretical lenses.
Image is Spectrum Indigo by Leba Bovard