Maine theologian calls transpeople a blessing

Anytime I touch on religion or spirituality as related to transpeople or the transgender community, I tend to get some pushback in the commentary, but spirituality is a part of our lives, if only because the people who are the most offended by our existence tend to view themselves as highly religious and use religious themes to denigrate us.

So bear with me, okay?

The Reverend Marvin M. Ellison wrote an opinion essay for the Bangor Daily News on Friday, entitled Transgender people are a blessing.

The essay begins with…

Thank God for transgender persons and their families, who exemplify the amazing beauty of the divine creation in all its complexity and rich diversity.

It is a blessing to share community with our transgender sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, and fathers and mothers and to work alongside them to assure that each and every person, including each and every transgender person, has what they need and deserve: respect and a secure sense of personal dignity and worth, a fair share of resources, a life without fear, and the freedom to live in the world as one’s authentic self.

Those are not words we transpeople hear often from religious folk.

More often we hear the words which are currently typifying the conservative response to the recent DOJ/DOE opinion about the treatment of transgender students in public schools.

Eric Holder needs to reread the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and find out that civil rights are based on an unchangeable, immutable characteristic. You cannot change your genes or your gender. You have chromosomes and they are either XX or XY. This is a girl who has been environmentally warped to believe she is a boy, and, instead of coddling this confused child, her parents should have gotten her into counseling with an expert on gender confusion.

--Randy Thomasson, president of

It is definitely a situation where we have compassion for that child and the child needs help. But you can’t ignore the rights under the constitution of California, and arguably under the United States Constitution, of all the other students of the school.

--Bob Tyler, an attorney at Advocates for Faith & Freedom

These people think that other students oppose the decision, but the reality is that it is the adults who are unable to adjust.

We are seeing a trend here nationally where we have individuals who are psychologically unhealthy who are always getting what they want, but what do you do about the hundreds of other children in the school affected?

--Andrea Lafferty, president of the Traditional Values Coalition

I'm quite psychologically healthy, Ms. Lafferty. I'd put my psychological health up against your bigotry any time, any place.

As for always getting what we want? What planet do you live on?

For a millennium, sex has meant male or female What they are saying is now you can change that.


What we are saying, Ms. Lafferty, is that sex and gender are not identical and may not, indeed do not, match for some individuals. And that is correctable, as is poor vision…and so some of us choose to correct it.

Let's get back to a man of God.

As a Christian ethicist, I have often reminded seminarians and myself that it is wise, in the midst of social change, to slow down and avoid “premature clarity,” or what might be called rush to judgment. Before giving any kind of ethical evaluation, we ought to take the time to understand as fully as possible the reality before us, in this instance transgenderism. The best way to gain understanding is to listen to and learn from transgender persons.

Our first step is to learn, because too many people, including Michael Heath, in his July 23 BDN OpEd “On sexual morality,” are uninformed or misinformed when it comes to transgender persons and their lives. To trivialize a transgender person as someone posing as “a man in a dress” or to speak judgmentally of sexual difference as “normalizing perversion” is a sure sign that religiously affiliated persons, as well as all persons of good will, have work to do to become better informed and more respectful of those transgender persons in Maine and elsewhere who courageously and generously share their lives, hopes and concerns with the non-transgender majority.

Awareness of transgender persons in our families, schools and congregations may help us appreciate how the categories we often rely on to describe human reality may actually be quite limited (and limiting) in their capacity to encompass the wide spectrum of human difference.

--Rev. Ellison

Reverend Ellison asks a couple of questions we in the transgender/gender nonconforming segment of humanity wish more people would ask of themselves. But it probably means more coming from him.

If we question whether our relations with others are just and rightly ordered, we need only ask two questions. First, ask how transgender persons (and others on the margins) are being treated and whether they live with dignity and security as respected members of the community. If the answer is “no” or “not yet,” then a second question should be posed: Are those in the non-transgender majority willing to trade places? If we hesitate, then we have serious justice education and advocacy to do together.

Now let’s rush to engage in that educational journey — for the sake of transgender persons, yes, but also for the sake of our own souls.

--Reverend Ellison




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