Transphobia

It took its time, but it had to crop up eventually…

…though I am never quite sure if “phobia” is a fair description. He certainly did not strike me as consciously afraid, and even seemed on some level to enjoy the encounter, or at least rather more than I did. “Phobia” does seem like clumsy terminology. Homophobes though the Westboro Baptist Church are, for example, if they are sincerely afraid of gay people then they have certainly picked an appalling strategy for keeping them out of their lives and off their backs… but as ever, I digress.

I was at my usual Anglican church – St John the Baptist in Cardiff City Centre – where I had, some months ago, come out as a transwoman, and been accepted without any judgement or pity, by both the clergy and the laity. This very positive state of affairs went on till last week, when after a mid-week service I was approached by an elderly gentleman whom I had not seen there before. He shook my hand, stated in an friendly but sceptical tone that I was an “interesting person,” and asked me my name…

Eleanor B: “Eleanor.”

Gent: (Confused look)

Eleanor B: “I’m Eleanor.”

Gent: “Alright, but what’s your real name?”

Eleanor B: “That is my real name. It’s my legal name. I-”

Gent: “Yes, but you weren’t always called that, were you? So what’s your real name?”

“Eleanor” B: “Well… my name used to be Anthony.”

Gent: “Right. So you’re a transvestite.”

…whereupon we arrived at the point. I was sternly quizzed about my intentions, and admitted under direct questioning that I was indeed intending to undergo a sex-change operation. Having thus ascertained that I was in fact a transsexual-in-waiting, his expression of benign disapproval became a little more disapproving and a little less benign, and he pronounced something to the effect of…

“God made them male and female, Adam and Eve. I know it’s hard, but you can’t change your sex. It’s not God’s will. But I’m glad you’re coming here. I encourage you to keep doing so.”

…and gave me a parting handshake and another stern little smile.

Well, not to complain. I did, indeed, go back to this church in full expectation of being challenged at some point, and even to discover how this would feel. Am I troubled by it? Not overly, in fact. For the gentleman had already diminished his credentials in my sight by having, before he admonished me, regaled our vicar, Dr. Sarah Rowland Jones, with the following gem of condescension…

“So, you’re one of these lady vicars? In charge of this whole church? That’s a huge responsibility.”

…to which she responded with the utmost diplomacy, though she made it quite clear that she did indeed know her job. He then proceeded to criticise the way the service had been conducted. She answered all of his points calmly and lucidly. He interrupted her repeatedly, laughed dismissively, and pretty much ignored everything she said.

I am reminded of an essay my friend Jaqueline Sephora Andrews wrote on the extreme dilemma of being a Christian, feminist-allied transwoman, and how she reconciles those seemingly contradictory facets:

The words of the Bible were influenced by the Greco-Roman culture, as were other religions and writings during this period. We say that the Bible is misogynistic, but it is the culture that produced the Bible that was misogynistic; the Bible was a reflection of the culture. In this misogynistic culture, there was one, Jesus, who attempted to change the mindset. He was different; one of the things that was different about him was that he valued women, so much that he had women as prominent disciples. He also trusted women to give the gospel message. Women were faithful and were the ones who stayed with Jesus until the end. It was the men who left Jesus to die, while they ran and hid for fear of their lives. The women were the ones who weren’t afraid, so Jesus trusted them to give the message. In a misogynistic world, Christianity was liberating and egalitarian, which frightened the men who wrote the books and letters of the Bible.

Extract from “Liberation from the Imperialist Patriarchy of the Bible”

st-johns-3

I daresay there are theologians who would give Jaqueline an argument on this, but as I watched Dr. Rowland Jones patiently attempt to enlighten this man who had seemingly just come into her church for the sheer pleasure of feeling disdainful pity and demonstrating his own righteousness, I felt she had hit the nail on the head.

Which is not to say that I am absolutely confident that God is as affirming of transwomen as she is of women per se… though if she isn’t, she certainly picked the wrong ambassador to convert this sinner.

My dignity now picked up and dusted off, I shall dare to remain cautiously optimistic…

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19 thoughts on “Transphobia

  1. Sorry you has such a negative experience but it is great that you’ve found a welcoming church. The Episcopal Churches (US Anglicans) here are mostly very progressive and welcoming aa well. Their is a generational shift going on. In time the cross section of the demographic that supports gender diversity will be much larger. In the mean time we’ll have to deal with the transphobes or transmisogynists or bigots or whatever term best applies.

    Liked by 2 people

    • What really amazed me at St. John’s was how quick (as in instant) the elder parishioners were to accept my decision. There is not much as surprising or as touching as an 80-year-old lady churchwarden asking me, without a trace of irony or judgement, “So, would you prefer me to use female pronouns now?” I’ve known a good few young folks not as trans-literate as that…

      This guy, mercifully, does seem to be the exception, or at least if anyone else there does have an issue they do not feel comfortable openly stating it. I have no wish to police people’s inner thoughts, though. If the best anyone can offer is minding their own business, I will graciously accept that… though that was certainly in little evidence on this occasion.

      Liked by 2 people

      • When I first came out as gay way back in 1987 I had been a member for a few months of a Unitarian Universalist Church. I had undertaken a deliberate search for a gay accepting church and settled on the Unitarian Universalists. When I was younger church was part of my life more by accident of birth then by choice. When I left that church it was like losing my culture. Seventh-Day Adventists, at least the conservative ones, which was all I knew, we’re very insiular. We worshipped on a different day then other Christians, had different diets, (either vegetarian or no unclean meat like Jewish people), no caffeine, no dancing, no movies and on and on. In addition they believe they are the one true faith. That they will be the ones going to heaven at the end times. So breaking away by yourself is hard. I’d tried other churches but they weren’t gay supportive. So when I found a church that completely accepted me I was very grateful. Not that it was perfect but by in large it was a great community of people. Liberal ideologies were not limited to religion, the members were active in a lot of social causes which was also wonderful as I had been left leaning since I voted for Jimmy Carter in my first Presidential elrction. Anyway, I met a lot of wonderful old people there as well even some that had been left wing agitators back in the 1930s. So I know how great it is to belong to a church where you are accepted. Now I am more a Secular Humanist but I still consider myself a Unitarian Universalist at heart. Since 1987 I found support LGBTQ rights among other churches and as time has gone by even the Adventist Church now as some LGBTQ supportive churches but the denomination remains anti-LGBTQ as a whole. I am glad that people who are LGBTQ and religious now have places to worship. I am also glad that there is more acceptance for Humanists, Atheists and Agnostics. I try and be accepting of choices people make in matters of religion and philosophy. I just had come to a place where I no longer could believe. The more I embraced science and it’s methodologies the less room I found for rrligion. I am a great admirer of Stephen Fry and it was ultimately his statements that sealed the deal for me. So that was my journey. I am glad you found one that is right for you.

        Liked by 2 people

  2. Ugggh. I’m sorry this happened to you. I fail to understand those, like this elderly gent, who seem to have a special hotline to a deity and feel it’s their duty to inform the rest of us of our ignorance.
    On another note – does God have a gender? Assuming we can all agree that God is not an old bloke with a beard in the sky, I think we’d have to conclude that, as God is not of this world, God is neither male nor female.
    I hope next week’s service goes better xx

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I am unhappy with such a rude old git speaking to you like that. You’ve read bits of my blog, you know that I don’t agree with transactivists (putting it mildly) but to crossquestion you, demand your previous name then insult you? What the heck is that all about?

    He should have been ashamed in not treating you decently, not refraining from asking you your past name (I know people with past names who aren’t trans, it’s rude to ask all the time, if a person is trans or not) and especially, giving you a lecture. I’m sorry that happened to you.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Ah well, I’d hardly call myself a transactivist, anyway. I have deserved neither such praise nor such censure, as Elizabeth Bennet more or less said… I would not agree that doing nothing about my gender dysphoria is an option for me if I want to live a happy life, but that is as fanatical as I tend to get about it. Some activists, such as Jerbear (who posts here), are amazing people doing fantastic work, raising awareness of vital issues. Quite a lot of “activists” are Tumblr trolls and Twitter SJWs just taking up decent bandwidth. If I ever become any sort, I would certainly rather the former.

      And I am very touched by your support. 🙂 As an isolated incident, it wasn’t more than momentarily upsetting. I was just as vexed to see him mansplaining religion to an ordained minister. I only hope he won’t become a fixture there. I don’t particularly want a Westboro-style one-man picket at my re-baptism…

      Liked by 2 people

  4. This incident is just appalling. As the first commenter said, however, there is a generational shift going on. Perhaps faster in some areas than others, but it’s happening. I very much respect the way you handled this.

    I’m featuring this post on T-Central later today.

    Calie

    Liked by 1 person

    • He certainly wasn’t in the business of making himself endearing that day, but I’m happy to be able to say he seems to be an increasingly rare breed over here. I do often worry how trans friends of mine in religious areas of America are coping. I hope that hasn’t been a problem for you and Lisa.

      Thank you for your kindness, and I hope you are all doing well there. 🙂 xxx

      Liked by 2 people

  5. I just had a discussion with O’s GP about transphobia in our town that made me feel rather weepy. The GP and I were discussing that, to the best of our knowledge there is one (ONE!) practising doctor in our town who is transgender. Our GP said that a friend and colleague had turned down a job at the same practice as this trans person because she didn’t want to work alongside a transgender person. But, worse, the GP told me that there had been some kind of notice board for the Australian Medical Association, where someone had sent an email to THOUSANDS of members asking if they agreed with the trans doctor having membership. I’m crying now for two reasons: one is just that humans can be so shitty (that poor doctor!) but two is because in my low moments it makes me scared about the world my child will face.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Under those sort of circumstances, I could well understand any parent wishing their child could embrace “normality”, whatever that may be. 😦 That reminds me of that wedding Cal and I went to last summer, where our friends persuaded us to come as our “old selves” at least partially because they were trying to protect us. That was a wretched experience. Conformity certainly has its advantages, but I would be so loath to go to my deathbed knowing that the bigots had won after all.

      Liked by 1 person

      • And the last lady I came out to there actually apologised for having greeted me with “Anthony, wasn’t it?” before I had told her about my name change. I did insist it was all right and I certainly didn’t expect anyone to be telepathic, but she was profusely contrite anyway. Made me feel very humbled. Why indeed can’t the whole of society be like this?

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Sorry to read this. Yet to encounter such a person directly, my village church is traditional rural Anglican which is to say surprisingly tolerant. I avoid the fundie nutjob churches like the plague.

    I admire your forbearance, I would have told him to mind his own business in no uncertain terms.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I was desperately hoping our priest would respond to “So, you’re one of these lady vicars?” with something deservedly sarcastic. (“Obviously” would have done, or possibly “Yes, and you’re one of these male chauvinist douchebags?”) Alas, she was unfailingly polite…

      Like

  7. Pingback: Misogyny | A Belated Existence

  8. Pingback: A Catholic Transsexual Applauds Several Points in Latest Papal Remarks | A Belated Existence

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