I’m writing this piece on Monday, November 20th – a couple of days earlier than usual — because of the Thanksgiving holiday. Today is Transgender Day of Remembrance – a day to honor all of the transgender individuals we have been lost this year and in the years prior to this one. Transgender Day of Remembrance was founded by a transgender woman, Gwendolyn Anne Smith, to honor Rita Hester, a transgender woman of color, who was killed in 1998.
Unfortunately, 2017 was the deadliest year of recorded transgender murders. And I probably don’t need to tell you that bias of this kind is increasing…it’s becoming more standard to see reports of individuals who are comfortable threatening physical and emotional harm to those who seem different than some might be…a disturbing and deadly trend.
One of the things that I always hope folks who gather in houses of worship will hold as a core value: no one is exactly the same as someone else. We are made up of different characteristics and behaviors and cultural backgrounds, and we bring our whole selves to the mix – many pieces of each of us, which hopefully contribute to the diversity patchwork which should be a symbol of all that the United States of America is.
My friend, Megan, was someone who transitioned perhaps ten years ago, after a life of struggling with her identity and sense of self. She started attending the congregation where I was a member, first calling herself Danielle and then, settling on Megan. She underwent several surgeries and was astonished when church members signed up to bring her meals and run errands and come and visit her while she recovered. She became a worship associate, a lay leader, a youth advisor, and more. She was a member of the Follen Angels softball team as well – an athlete to the core – and always brought life to parties and gatherings.
We sat and talked about her decision to transition. For all those who don’t understand what such a decision is like – and I am sure I don’t understand everything – I can share that Megan spent many days and hours and weeks agonizing and struggling, trying to sort out who she authentically was and how to transition to a place where her physical body matched the person who she was inside. It was at great costs: in making her decision she sacrificed her marriage, her relationship with her children, her job safety, and some of her friends. There was not one part of this change that was easy, but she stayed on the path that she knew was going to save her in many ways. She was and is incredibly brave and strong to the core.
Here we are, coming up on our annual celebrations of home and family. It’s a time when we gather and tell the old stories from our families, enjoy the bounty of the harvest, and give thanks. It’s also a time for appreciating all the people who have been influential in our lives and what they have brought to us and our world. Transgender people want the same things we do: to be recognized and welcomed and honored for who and what they are. And they are trying to follow True North, to get to a place of comfort and genuine sense of self, within and without. Trans people are our children, our friends, our neighbors, and our co-congregants here at Follen Church. And they are at risk in our society in this time when it is all too easy to demonize or call out people who seem different.
I hope that, as each of us give thanks, we’ll recognize our role as those who can be the friends, allies, defenders, and family (born or acquired) of those who are on the path toward finding their authentic self. May it be so with us.
Deborah Weiner, Interim Director of Religious Education