Gender Perception and Identity
As part of Rock Spring’s testament to our abundant and generous welcome, we are committed to the appreciation of diversity, including diversity of gender perception and identity. We offer community events where panelists come together to discuss gender identity, gender spectrum, gender non-conforming children, and transgender.
Click on the links below for the following events:
Conversation with Kye Allums, October 2013
Kye Allums was born Kyler Kelcian “Kay-Kay” Allums and grew up in St. Paul, Minneapolis. He says he identified from childhood as a man in a woman’s body. Kye made history as the first openly transgender athlete to play on an NCAA Division I college basketball team while attending George Washington University. Today, he is a transgender advocate, public speaker, mentor for LGBT youth, and one of the National Black Justice Coalitions Emerging Leaders. Visiting campuses, he spreads his belief that “I am enough — what I say, what I feel, that is enough. You shouldn’t have to tweak yourself to make somebody else happy.”
A dynamic speaker with a great sense of humor, Kye Allums spoke at Rock Spring Church on October 20 to an audience that included parents with gender non-conforming children. Rock Spring was the third church where he has spoken; he has visited dozens of universities.
Kye talked about growing up transgender, his experience in high school and at George Washington University, and how he came to be an activist for LGBTQXY. At several points on his journey Kye confronted the question, who am I, and even became withdrawn at times. “I knew I was lying to myself. I wanted to be myself full time.” But even as he came out to become “himself full time,” it took eight months each to get others to change his name―from "Kay” to “Kye” ―and his gender marker―from “she” to “he.”
He told movingly of his first home game, when the announcer announced, “Here comes GWU’s women’s basketball team … and Kye,” and referred to Kye as a “he” throughout. These words meant a world to Kye, and he scored 15 points in 12 minutes.
“Of course, you come out in your own time, but it shouldn't be that you can’t be yourself,” Kye stressed again and again. Kye was not seeking to be an activist, but when he began getting Facebook messages from even small children, telling him that they now felt they were OK, he said he hadn’t realized that his being visible could make so much difference in so many people’s lives. He started the “I am enough” project, which is a story-telling platform.
Some schools are nervous about what Kye has to say. He assures them, “I’m here to talk about respect, inclusion, and not bullying others.” Many people do not know or understand that not everyone has a burning desire to use the same pronoun all the time. Some people use X or Y. It is a learning experience. “It is not OK to exclude people because you don’t understand them.”
Asked what churches like Rock Spring can do, Kye replied never to assume anything about anyone. “There is always LGBTQXY in the space. Give people an opportunity to tell who they are. Ask, ‘Hi, what’s your name? What pronoun do you use?’ Some people don’t know it’s even an option. ‘What, I can pick my own pronoun?’ Some people think it’s a joke – what, these people don’t know who they are? But it’s OK to define yourself and your life.”
The T in LGBT and the Trans in All of Us, March 2013
Understanding Gender: The T in LGBT and the Trans in All of Us
Listen to audio excerpts from the forum.
About 130 people participated on March 3 in a panel discussion on transgender, which set aside an hour for presentations by the panel, followed by an hour of questions and answers. The panel featured five speakers:
Dr. Edgardo Menvielle, who directs one of the world’s few programs for gender-nonconforming youth at the Children’s National Medical Center in Washington DC. The New York Times has written about his work with transgender children.
Dr. Leslie Rodnan, who was trained in both pediatrics and medical genetics. For the past several years, Dr. Rodnan has been involved in the gender clinic with Dr. Menvielle at the Whitman Walker Clinic, seeing gender-variant children and transgender teens and young adults. Dr. Rodnan participates in two support groups for parents and for families of teens and young adults, many of whom have begun medical transition.
Ann Thompson Cook, author of And God Loves Each One: A Resource for Dialogue about Sexual Orientation, Made in God’s Image: A Resource for Dialogue about Gender Differences, and It’s Time for Trans: A Plea for Welcoming Movement, and co-director of Many Voices, an organization working to create a national movement for gay and transgender justice from within the black church.
A Baltimore mother of a transitioned adult.
A 14-year-old transgender teen from Fairfax.
The panel spoke about gender stereotypes and social conditioning that molds individuals, starting with “Congratulations! A boy or a girl?” when a baby is born and “Is this for a boy or a girl?” asked by shop attendants in toy shops, to mannerisms, clothing, and a host of other choices in life. When a person does not exhibit clear gender characteristics, as was the case with a teenage son of one of the panelists (who is not transgender but felt comfortable looking androgynous), people become confused and often insist on that individual identifying his or her gender.
Some in the audience wanted to see greater recognition of bigender individuals, who feel as comfortable being identified as men as women. Asked how we can support transgender children and teenagers, the panel and some members of the audience replied that providing a safe space is critically important. Asked if some parts of the Bible could be interpreted as questioning transgender, Ann Thompson Cook pointed out that there is no static interpretation of the Bible and our understanding about what the Bible says about other issues such as slavery, genocide, and the role of women has evolved over the centuries.
The questions and answers during the panel discussion are available as .mp3 audio files below:
The panel discussion offered some powerful personal testimonies, which helped deepen people’s understanding of transgender individuals and how we can better affirm and support them.
Conversation on Transgender with Denise LeClair, February 2012
Rock Spring welcomed Denise Leclair, Executive Director of the International Foundation for Gender Education, on February 12. Denise spoke about her personal journey during the 11 o’clock service during the Moment for Witness. Describing her upbringing as a Catholic, for years Denise thought that there was no way of reconciling her true self with her faith, no way of being welcomed in her church. She spent the first 30 years of her life without ever meeting another transgender individual. It was a very isolating experience. Then she found a support group, and everything changed.
Following this theme, Rev. Janet Parker in her sermon, “The Jesus Quandary,” asked what following Jesus might mean for us today, and argued that affirmation of transgender individuals is one of the actions that Jesus asks of us.
Summary of the conversation
Immediately following the 11 o’clock service, more than 30 Rock Springers and their friends joined Denise for lunch and a conversation about transgender. Denise explained that sex refers to the categories into which physical reproduction characteristics are grouped, while gender refers to the categories into which psychological and social characteristics generally corresponding to sex are grouped. Gender identify is a person’s innate sense of him or herself as being male or female. It is different from sexual orientation, a person’s romantic attraction to either or both genders.
In the broadest sense, anyone who is breaking the sociologically defined gender boundary is transgender, and many people do not like to see others crossing of this boundary. Denise suggested that gays and lesbians are attacked in society because they are gender non-conforming. For those who feel that their physical bodies do not match their gender identity, it was not until 1966 that a coherent framework emerged, proposing that changing the body to match the mindset would be the appropriate approach, and not changing the mind to match the body.
There is a long history of transgender across all cultures, including in the Americas, Indonesia, and Thailand. Denise cited two passages from the Bible and suggested that some texts could be interpreted as affirmation of transgender individuals. From the Old Testament, Denise quoted Isaiah 56:3-5: Neither let the eunuch say, “Bold, I am a dry tree.” For thus says the Lord, “To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths, and choose what pleases Me, and hold fast My convenant, to them I will give My house and within My walls a memorial, and a name better than that of sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name which will not be cut off.” From the New Testament Denise quoted Matthew 19:12: For these are eunuchs who were born that way from their mother’s womb; and there are eunuchs who were made eunuchs by men; and there are also eunuchs who made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. He who is able to accept this, let him accept it.
There is a wide spectrum in the transgender community. Some choose reassignment surgery, others not. The standards of care for young transgender individuals are evolving. Up to age 16, your puberty is monitored and you may be given blockers to postpone puberty. Hormone treatment is needed above that age. No reassignment surgery is performed on individuals below the age of 18 as a matter of practice. Above that age, the individual would see a therapist for three months before starting hormone treatment, and remain in treatment for at least a year before proceeding with reassignment surgery. To undergo the surgery, two letters from the medical profession are needed, one from a person with a Ph.D. Asked if all this wasn’t difficult for her, Denise replied, “Looking myself in the mirror and hating the person I saw was much more difficult.”
Denise came out at age 33. Citing that finding a support group was perhaps the most helpful, Denise told those joining the conversation that it would be appropriate to let a transgender person know that it is safe and that you are supportive. Responding to a transgender person is somewhat like responding to someone who is pregnant. In both cases, someone is being born (or reborn). There are ceremonies around pregnancies and weddings, so why not consider a similar ceremony for transgender individuals?
What else can we do to affirm transgender individuals? Fight for gender equality, because misogyny is driving many of the hate crimes against transgender people. Most transgender murder victims are women. There is much greater unemployment in the transgender community, so working to pass legislation banning discrimination against transgender individuals is also important. Currently 16 states have non-discrimination law. Even in Massachusetts, until January 2012, it was legal to fire a transgender individual.
See recent blogs on this topic:
Gender Creative, October 18, 2013
Empathy, October 15, 2013