Pastor Jay on Trans Day of Remembrance

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We are taking a short break today from honoring our 2012 Grant Recipients in order to share this reflection from Pastor Jay Wilson about Trans Day of Remembrance.

Trans Day of Remembrance
by Pastor Jay Wilson

Photo of Jay Wilson
Rev. Jay Wilson

I’m talking about communities today, and I want anyone reading or hearing this to know that I mean you. When I say Trans Community, I mean specifically people who identify as transgender or get perceived as gender-nonconforming, but also all people who support us and work together with us against gender-based oppression.

Potential trauma trigger warning – Many who read this will have experienced some of the violence that I am naming. I will be naming some types of violence in a general way.
–Pastor Jay
Trans Day of Remembrance has always made me feel more Lutheran – there’s the Law of gender-based oppression, impossible to separate from the layers of racism and classism and imperialism…and yet, there’s the grace of the community gathering, remembering, and sending us to go forth and change the world together. The hope is hope in our power together, cautious and tempered by the reality of the overwhelming brokenness in the world and the limits of our energy and funding.

Often, taking care of ourselves as creatures of God means we shut out the realities of this broken world.  In trans communities, we struggle with these hard conversations of not feeling welcomed, where people who have sought safe space around gender or sexuality, and found that it’s only safe if you’re white, economically stable, or homed.

While many in the larger GLBT movements often strive to be “just like everyone else,” many of us in trans community know that we are not just like everyone else, that our bodies and identities are unique and important for challenging sexism. When we seek to be welcomed into the privilege of being called “normal,” we denigrate the people who are least likely to be accepted. “We’re just trans, we’re not crazy like people with mental illness.” “Trans people aren’t sex workers – we work regular white collar jobs.” And every time we do this, we push out of community the trans people who are psychiatric consumer/survivors, people marginalized into sex work, and we lose the strength that we could have gained in working together against the oppressions that tie us together. That trans people are stereotyped as having psych disabilities and being unemployable is not the real issue here – the real issue is that we live in a world where we don’t even question that it is accepted to marginalize people due to disability, race, and gender. We contribute to violence whenever we try to distance ourselves, personally or as a movement, from it by claiming that our status should be defined by our privilege, rather than standing with those who the world calls “the least of these.”

Trans Day of Remembrance is one place of coming together to remember how closely we are all tied to one another’s oppression. The names and faces remind us that racism, poverty, classism, violence against women and children, are inextricably tied to gender violence. Make no mistake – we see that none of us are safe, no matter how much gender and socio-economic privilege we have, because this gender violence is so pervasive. But the names and faces witness to the brokenness that vulnerability to violence is not equal because we are not treated as equal.

We have so many names and faces to remember on this day, and for reasons of not losing hope and focusing on this particular form of violence, we hear specifically the people who were murdered for perceived gender/sexual identity. But we lose so many more people to violence in our communities – to suicide, to isolation, to bullying, to unsafe communities, to abuse inside and outside of families, to decisions to delay or never transition for safety. We lose people to the internalized violence of substance abuse, healthcare inequalities, to AIDS, to self-hatred, to fear. To poverty-inflicted illness, to job and home and shelter and government discrimination, to being disowned from families and to homelessness, to hunger and war. But we gather, and name some who we have lost, remembering all who we have lost. And in the gathering itself, we become the community that can become justice-creating.

To me, today is also when the cross-sections of trans communities gather in one place. This brings a hope in itself that we can gather and work together to bring gender justice along with new ways of being community together. Many communities are struggling hard with the work of building these community ties, working towards justice and accountability to the most oppressed among us. In many of our communities, we are overwhelmed by our lives and the task of gathering, and we unintentionally or intentionally fall short of welcome. We find ourselves on this day at the foot of the cross, with so much of our own suffering and the weight of the world, and we confess our inaction to change things and our own inflicting of oppression on others and ourselves. We confess the brokenness of our communities and our own privilege and oppressing of others. We confess our hopelessness, and our resignation that we will be back next year with a new longer list of names.

And then we sing Somewhere Over the Rainbow, awkwardly at first, wondering how to harmonize when our voices feel too high or low for our identities, and our neighbor is weeping, while the squirmy are ready for bed and our hunger rumbles for the potluck…and despite our insecurities and divisions and the limitations of world bodies and minds, we get swept away over the rainbow in the power of forgiveness, grace, hope, community.

Trans Day of Remembrance was my first introduction to Trans Communities in Minnesota while I was struggling with gender oppression in my chaplaincy internship – it introduced me to a trans community that was welcoming and accessible to me as a genderqueer Lutheran disabled person. Later, another Day of Remembrance was a powerful experience processing in an interfaith service on my ELM internship. The next year, my partner and I had our covenant service reception in the same space that the Trans Day of Remembrance would be held the next evening, and we were happy to share food with the community that had brought us together as a family.

I believe the God of grace and love can and does come through loud and clear on this Day of Remembrance, as we gather around death. We are empowered today by the gospel to be a community that is safe and healing for all of our communities, not just the easy friends we see other days of the year. We are empowered to take on the burdens of our neighbors traumas, in knowledge that we are not alone in this community. And we are supported to share our trauma and grief with each other, while we all struggle to not be so overwhelmed by our own experiences.

In Lutheran community, we can name that the wrestling God of Jacob, the empowering community God of the Exodus, and the whispering Holy Spirit naming and renaming us as in relationship with God. The Genderqueer Spirit, sometimes named as female and sometimes male, is with us, whispering words of freedom from these oppressions that is an Already/Not Yet that we want to become now. And Jesus has promised to meet us precisely when we are the oppressed, when our brokenness and the brokenness of the world is too much to take.

This sharing of our burdens and forgiveness frees and prods us to move in unexpected ways, to bring hope to a roomful of people remembering how many we have lost this year. Our remembrances may be interfaith or secular, or we may simply remember in a line of the Prayers of the People in our congregations or newsletter. But don’t forget this day – the day when we say that we choose to be tied together in community so that we can create justice and freedom for us all.

Want to act toward inclusive trans and queer communities?

Start locally, or start here:
-ELM former and current Ministry Grant recipients working at the intersections of oppression and justice:
Welcome: A Communal Response to Poverty, St. Luke’s Social Justice Ministries, Inclusive and Affirming Ministries in South Africa, Hollywood Lutheran‘s prison and homeless outreach, Grace Place youth shelter
-Other groups:
Queers for Economic Justice (QEJ), Southerners on New Ground (SONG), Trans Youth Support Network (TYSN), National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE), Sylvia Rivera Law Project (SRLP), or the anti-oppression groups near you!