Transgender Awareness Week 2012

Last week, at the annual meeting of Lutheran Women in Theological and Religious Studies at the AAR/SBL, I talked about how transgender activism and queer theory needs to be more a part of our theological reflections on what it means to be a woman.  Here’s some of what I said, framed and informed by the work of Judith Butler, Julia Serano, and Jasbir Puar:  

The simple fact that there have always been individuals whose socially assigned and constructed gender is not the one that they understand themselves to be, should be enough to complicate things.  We know this from the stories that trans and intersex people tell about their lives.  These witness to the power of the relationship we have with ourselves, as creatures, and I will say, as created by God.  Reconciling all of these dimensions, all of these relationships, has to be part of achieving wholeness and justice – when our self understanding is and can be reinforced, supported, and affirmed by the socially constructed models of being human in the world and with other people, and when all of this is framed and centered on each of us as being imago dei, coram deo.

In a 2009 article, queer Lutheran theologian Mary Lowe points out that identity debates and discourse are also related to our politics:

“This debate over gender identity (essentialism or performativity) is also reflected in the different political strategies … The queer political approach, however, rejects the essentialist solidarity argument and claims that gender is performance and all persons are queer. This opens the door to trans, bi, and queer persons and challenges discourses about sexuality, gender, relationships, and family commonly operating in Christian churches.”

So what is the discourse around what it means to be a woman in our churches?  The door is open, the challenges are being raised.

The above infographic is from FenwayHealth.org for Transgender Awareness Week 2012.

About Caryn Riswold

Caryn D. Riswold is a feminist theologian in the Lutheran tradition. She is Professor of Religion and also teaches Gender and Women’s Studies at Illinois College in Jacksonville, Illinois, where she has worked for over a decade teaching undergraduates to think critically and creatively about religion. She earned her Ph.D. and Th.M. from the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, holds a master’s degree from the Claremont School of Theology, and received her B.A. from Augustana College in her childhood hometown of Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

  • Just Some Trans Guy

    “This debate over gender identity (essentialism or performativity) is also reflected in the different political strategies … The queer political approach, however, rejects the essentialist solidarity argument and claims that gender is performance and all persons are queer. This opens the door to trans, bi, and queer persons and challenges discourses about sexuality, gender, relationships, and family commonly operating in Christian churches.”

    That’s … ugh.

    No, NOT all persons are queer. Saying everyone is queer erases the lived experiences and serious oppression of millions of people worldwide, and it’s glib to the point of infuriating. If everyone’s queer, then NO ONE is queer–at least, not queer in any kind of way that you can talk about their lives and oppressions with meaning and specificity.

    As someone is both bi and trans, I very much DON’T feel that this line of argument opens any doors for me. It may very well be true for Dr. Lowe, but it is not true for me, and I’d wager it’s not true for a good many people who fall under the gender and sexuality minority umbrella.


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