Below is a re-writeup of an earlier post on “my ongoing lucha with faith”; I have been reflecting on my journey and wanted to share my lucha of embracing my identity as a trans person.
I defied the gender binary. I challenged the first pronouncement ever made about me… I confounded my society and my culture, and I ignored what I was told was the norm. I lived on the edges and I defied definitions. I am far more than the names I have been called…In ancient times I was celebrated as one who walked in many worlds. I was revered as the one who embodied transformation and who showed the world we can change. But ancient wisdom has long been forgotten and now I pay the price for our forgetfulness. We tend to behave badly toward that which we do not understand, and therein lies the pain. Like all of creation, I am a mystery. I don’t seek to be understood. I just seek to be accepted. (I AM by Emma Lee Chattin)
Mi lucha, my struggle, has been a journey of going from a black and white world to a world that thrives and abounds with color—a journey of living into both/andedness.
I was raised in a Conservative, Cuban, Catholic home in Miami, Florida where “different” was not accepted and where being outside the box was not an option, period. My family was very involved in church justice work, especially missionary work, advocating for the marginalized was a lifestyle that was a part of me and would evolve over the years. I didn’t realize initially that my desire for solidarity with outcast people would ultimately propel me into queer advocacy.
Growing up, I knew gays and lesbians were out there (other identities like bi or trans were not even on the radar and completely unknown), but I was taught that being gay or lesbian was sinful and immoral. I was taught that it went against my culture as a Hispanic and that it went against the teachings of the church. I adopted these attitudes. However, the universe has an interesting, snarky, and loving sense of humor. Little did I know that the community I spoke out against would later be the community I advocated for and would come to identify with.
The first time I came out, I was 21. I had just returned to the US from studying at a seminary in the Dominican Republic. My church and my family disowned me—their journey of coming out and of celebrating me is a telenovela in the making, but one that reflects hope and that transformations are possible. When I was 25/26, I had another coming out experience. I realized that I had haphazardly labeled myself as gay because it was the only way I knew to explain who I was. I realized that this label didn’t truly reflect who I was. I had a second coming out and epiphany about my personhood when I discovered my transgender identity, “coming out” by understanding that transgender represented a family of identities. These identities resonated with me and reflected who I was as a person, made my youth make better sense, and a first step in the dance of embracing my sexuality, spirituality, and gender as a two-spirited or both/and person.
After going through everything other people wanted me to do such as prayer, confession, reparative therapy, and self-bashing, I realized that there had to be another way. The vindictive and judgmental God that was being used to control me and fracture my personhood was not the God of love, solidarity, and compassion that I was raised with. This was the beginning of an arduous and enriching journey of wrestling with God and trying to live into a radical understanding of beingness in the world.
My trans* identity has been both liberating and frightening. Because church and society generally do not understand what it means to be trans* and protections for trans* people are scarce, transitioning will have an unknown impact on my family and friends. I wrestle with the affects on my relationship with my beloved, potential ramifications for me professionally, what it means for my relationship with my culture as I belong to a comunidad that upholds hyper masculinity. It will also present financial challenges and require me to adopt a clinical diagnosis in order to be who I am. However, despite my confusion, I still fight for safer spaces where people can be exactly who they are, whole and complex.
Though I have many questions about what transitioning means in my life, I have also found wholeness in realizing that there is no one way to transition—we each, both trans* and cisgender folk, transition in our own unique way; we each have a journey of living into wholeness and of finding home in our bodies and selves. My transition simply may be my coming out as trans* and nothing more or it may involve hormones or surgery or changing the way I dress—the details will reveal themselves as I strive to be authentic to who I am, with no right or wrong way of being trans* for it is about being true to me. I have found hope, resilience, and sacred chutzpah in seeing transition not as a surgical or medical procedure, but as an act of being in solidarity with creation. To live into wholeness is to see creation as something that is, it is ongoing, it is dynamic—my transition is an invitation to co-create with God, for the divine and me to be in solidarity with each other as we create and recreate wholeness in myself, in others, and in the wider world.
In my lucha to claim and rant my isnesses as a queer trans* Christian, I am faced with a society and church that categorizes people into suffocating neat little boxes; limitations that are also placed on the awesomeness of God. By deconstructing gender to reconstruct wholeness, I have come to understand and believe that we are a borderland people created in the amazingness of GOD. For a long time I struggled with “God created male and female in God’s image” wondering that this meant for me as a trans* person who embodied both male and female. But as I was being interviewed for a friend’s article on transgender spirituality, I was graced with a new understanding of what it means to be created in the image of God—a God who is complex, multifaceted, multivocalic and who like dwells in the borderland of male and female. It has been very exciting and liberating and healing for me and for many others who transgress la frontera of gender to come to know God as transgender and as queer. It is this God who lovingly created us, graced us, blessed us as good; not just select pieces of us, but the whole person with all our quirks, contradictions, bloopers, passions, and gifts.
I am and we are created in the image of a GOD who like us is an embodied mosaic of interlocking, interacting, interfering identities of gender and sexuality.
The bold and prophetic witnesses of Gloria Anzaldua, Ada Maria Isasi-Diaz, and Marcella Althaus Reid have inspired me to challenge others to embrace the borderlands and to inhabit the in-between. By sharing my experience of living the both/and of gender I hope to share helpful insights for others who are struggling to reconcile different identities within their personhood. For me being equally blessed is not about working to create spaces that only tolerate me; the goal is to create spaces that actively, boldly, and wholeheartedly celebrate all of who we are with our goods, our quirks, and our whole complex, rich, contradictory, sacred humanity. By embracing my trans* identity, I have learned to embrace fronteras not with fear and dominance, but with humility and gusto. It is an ongoing lesson of creating spaces where others are able to savorear the diverse ingredients that make us us. As we journey as a borderland and both/and people, we are all called to live out the prophetic life of the frontera…to give birth to the Divine in our words, deeds, hearts, thoughts, and lives; to no longer feel ashamed for existing; and to rant our voices, dance our dances, pray our prayers as we proclaim the messy wonder and dynamism of God, of all of creation, and ultimately of our own wholly unique personhood.