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Having finished my baseball themed thread, I had planned on continuing my GRS journey in my next post. But a story caught my eye. It was a follow up commentary to the recent Pew Research Center study and analysis on U.S. attitudes towards transgender. It confirmed the basis for my blog and the name I gave it. By being a transgender Christian, I belong to two groups that are not only nearly mutually exclusive, they are generally mutually uncomfortable with each other.
In connection with this article by Samantha Allen which appeared in the Daily Beast on 11/30/17, someone did a Google search for the following two phrases: “Evangelical transgender man” and “Evangelical transgender woman”. According to the article, the first phrase turned up one person (who was interviewed for the article). The second phrase turned up no one.
Having defined myself for over 30 years as a born-again Christian and having gone public since 2012 as a transgender woman, I was aware that there weren’t many of us out there. But I neglected to identify myself as an evangelical anywhere on my blog. Before I rushed out to correct this defect, I decided I had better make sure the meaning hadn’t changed since I last checked.
I found a few variations on the meaning. I decided to go with the definitions provided on the website of the National Association of Evangelicals. (I also checked them out to make sure they were a representative organization. Since my current denomination and the conference to which my previous church belonged are both members, I am confident in their validity as an organization well-equipped to define the term.)
First what is evangelicalism? The NAE website lists four primary characteristics:
- Conversionism: the belief that lives need to be transformed through a “born-again” experience and a lifelong process of following Jesus
- Activism: the expression and demonstration of the gospel in missionary and social reform efforts
- Biblicism: a high regard for and obedience to the Bible as the ultimate authority
- Crucicentrism: a stress on the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross as making possible the redemption of humanity
Noting that evangelical individuals are often researched, and acknowledging that the researchers use a variety of criterion to identify evangelical subjects for their studies, NAE and LifeWay Research developed a method that they urge researchers to use to identify evangelical individuals. According to this method, an evangelical must strongly agree to the following four statements:
- The Bible is the highest authority for what I believe.
- It is very important for me personally to encourage non-Christians to trust Jesus Christ as their Savior.
- Jesus Christ’s death on the cross is the only sacrifice that could remove the penalty of my sin.
- Only those who trust in Jesus Christ alone as their Savior receive God’s free gift of eternal salvation.
And my answer to all four is that I strongly agree with each and every one of them.
For a few years now, I have identified myself in the following manner:
- I am a Christian first. That is my eternal spiritual identity.
- I am female second. That is my innate gender identity.
- Somewhere on the list, I am transgender. That is my anatomical reality.
So I hereby step into the void that was claimed to exist by Daily Beast. I, Lois Simmons, am a born-again Christian Evangelical transgender woman.
As if life wasn’t interesting enough already. While I have received a measure of acceptance and support within both groups and hopefully have also educated those in one of the groups about the other group, I have also detected and experienced measures of prejudice within both groups. While it doesn’t surprise me, it does sadden me.
There was a time when it might have surprised me. First of all until recently, transgender was barely a blip on the Christian radar. Until we started receiving more news exposure, Christians’ lack of familiarity with transgender individuals could be a plus if the issue was addressed in a positive way, with a sound Christian theological foundation. Furthermore, Christians and transgender individuals are two of the most persecuted groups in the world. One would think that there would be a natural affinity between groups that share significant persecution experience.
Sadly, over the years I have learned that this is not so. And it isn’t limited to Christians and transgender individuals. I have seen or heard of too many members of one persecuted group attack another persecuted group as part of their claim that they have suffered far greater persecution and the other group doesn’t have a valid claim. A current example is some black leaders who claim that LGBT+ organizations have hijacked the Civil Rights movement. And I have seen or heard too many members of one marginalized group mock or denigrate members of another marginalized group. It is not just those with privilege who use slurs and hate speech.
Persecution of Christians
Based on statistics that have been kept on the persecution of Christians for the past 25 years, in 2014-16, this persecution has reached record numbers each year with 2016 being the worst year yet. Millions of Christians face interrogation, arrest, torture, and/or death because of their religious convictions and cultural/ethnic identification. While about 30 percent of the world’s population identifies as Christian, 80 percent of all acts of religious discrimination are directed at Christians. Christians currently face persecution in more than 60 countries. Between 2007 and 2014, Christians were targeted for harassment in more countries than any other religious group. Evangelical and Pentecostal Christians are the most likely Christians to be persecuted. Terrorist attacks against Christians escalated over 300 percent between 2003 and 2010. It is estimated that 7100 Christians were martyred because of their religion in 2015, an increase of over 300 percent compared to 2123 martyred in 2013. Christian response to persecution is almost always non-violent, demonstrating faith and forgiveness. (Sources: International Society for Human Rights, U.S. State Department, Open Doors USA, Pew Research and Under Caesar’s Sword [at the University of Notre Dame in conjunction with the Religious Freedom Institute and Georgetown University])
It is not just adults who face this persecution. It is children, too: at school, at play, on the street … anywhere.
The extent of persecution of Christians may come as a surprise to some readers of this post. According to these sources, both the mainstream media and human rights organizations give little attention to Christian persecution. From 2008 to 2011, according to research done at Georgetown, Human Rights Watch had religious persecution as the focus of only 8 out of 323 published reports (about 2.5%), and less than half of those focused on persecution of Christians.
In the part of the world generally defined as “The West” (North America, South America, and Western and Central Europe), significant religious persecution was found to occur in only three countries: Cuba, Colombia and Mexico. Even so, Pew Research reports that governmental restrictions on religion increased in 37 out of 43 European countries plus the United States and Canada from 2007 to 2013. During the same time period, social hostilities towards religion increased in 38 of the 43 European countries. As someone who just celebrated her 65th birthday, I can testify that both of these categories have negatively impacted Christians’ religious freedom in the United States during my lifetime.
One of the ways Christians are persecuted in the world is that they are captured and enslaved. Both men and women are subjected to forced labor. Young girls and women are often forced into religious conversion and then a marriage to one of their captors.
Persecution of Transgender Persons
While statistics of persecution of Christians can vary because not everyone defines Christian in the same way, international statistics on persecution of transgender persons are even more difficult to come by. Many countries do not report crimes against transgender people at all, either denying the existence of transgender people in their country, or because it is not a crime to attack someone who is transgender in that country, or both. Some countries simply don’t consider it important to report on such matters. Others frequently misgender transgender people, using the gender assigned at birth rather than the personal gender identity of the person.
Even so, in countries where the statistics are more reliable, the trend is that violence against transgender people is increasing. While some of this may be related to more accurate reporting, greater visibility of and backlash against transgender people also may be playing a role. In the United States, a record number 23 violent deaths against transgender people occurred in 2016. With four weeks remaining in 2017, that number was topped as 27 violent transgender deaths have been recorded so far this year. Because some victims are misgendered in the initial reports, that number may rise even if there are no more murders before the end of the year. And with violent deaths occurring at a rate of more than one every two weeks, there is no guarantee that there won’t be more murders before the end of the year. The Christmas season of love and light provides no special protection for transgender people.
The vast preponderance of the 27 who were killed was trans women of color. And again, while there are differences in deciding which cases are included and which cases are not, the trends and the identity of those who are most vulnerable are both unmistakable. The annual murder rate for Americans age 15 to 34 is about one in 12,000. For black trans women in the same age group, it is one in 2,600.
Another reason that the statistics may vary from website to website is that there are some cases that are in a gray area as far as whether it is a transgender related murder. For example, a transgender person may be killed by violent means but it wasn’t because the person was transgender. Gwendolyn Ann Smith, the founder of Transgender Day of Remembrance, points out that one of the 27 transgender victims of violence was killed as a result of an argument with a trans woman friend. And there have also been cases where the victim did not identify as transgender, but it is likely that the perpetrator of the murder assumed that they were or might be transgender and that was part of the basis for the violence.
Even so at the root of the matter, the trend is getting worse. And murder isn’t the only way that transgender people are persecuted. According to the National Center for Transgender Equality, a 2015 survey of U.S. transgender people revealed that 55% of those who sought coverage for transition-related surgery in the previous year were denied. 77% of those taking the survey also reported that they were mistreated in some way when they were students during grades K-12.
I am one of the fortunate ones who was not negatively impacted in either of those areas. But I did encounter discrimination from a person who at one time had been employed by my insurance carrier when it came to negotiating a fair market price for pre-GRS hair removal. And I am about to contact a transgender-supportive state legislator’s office to look into why another reimbursement request related to my surgery has gone into a black hole: no approval, no denial and no explanation has been put forward.
The persecution of transgender people doesn’t just occur in dark alleys and private places. It also has been occurring in the halls of government. Although none of these bills have passed, sixteen states considered legislation to curtail the right of transgender people to use the public bathroom that corresponds with their personal gender identity, and six states have considered legislation to invalidate local anti-discrimination protections. There have also been three actions taken by the Federal Government in 2017 to roll back recent gains in transgender equality: rescinding protection guidelines for transgender students, the effort to bar transgender troops, and the Justice Department decision to stop applying workplace discrimination protections to transgender people.
The language here is very important. Note that I have deliberately used the phrase “transgender people”. While we have a transgender identity, first and foremost, we are people. Some of us have made significant positive contributions to our society, whether before our transition, or after, or both. Many more hold down steady jobs in a variety of industries and professions, pay our taxes, are good neighbors in our communities and play an important role in our families, worship in accordance with our religious or spiritual beliefs, and help provide the goods and services that meet the needs, wants and desires of our fellow Americans.
Note also that I talk about “transgender equality”, not “transgender rights”. We do not seek special rights above and beyond what our cisgender neighbors enjoy. We want the right to apply for and hold a job, to find housing, to receive public accommodations without being discriminated against. We want the right to feel safe in our homes, on the streets, and yes in bathrooms (where we are vulnerable, not perpetrators). To summarize, we want our right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness the same as any other American covered under the Constitution of the United States.
The trend for murders of transgender people around the world is also increasing compared to the previous year. Based on statistics gathered by transrespect.org in preparation for TDOR 2017, there was an increase from 295 to 325 in the number of murders compared to the similar time period for the previous year. Brazil by far continues to produce the most reported murders, with 171 for the 2016-17 time period, followed by Mexico (56) and the United States (25). Since the statistics were first kept, there were 2,609 reported murders from January 1, 2008 to September 30, 2017.
There are many ways in which transgender victims of murder and other violent crimes are dehumanized as part of the systemic persecution. One is that the names and/or ages of the victims are not reported. Often, the victim is identified by birth name and gender in the official reports rather than their chosen name and personal gender identity. In many countries around the world, including Brazil and Thailand, it is illegal to change your name.
And then there is the situation where many countries do not report these crimes at all, or do not consider them to be crimes. Here is a salient quote from the transrespect.org website: “Trans and gender-diverse people around the world are victims of horrifying hate violence, including extortion, physical and sexual assaults, and murder, which often go unreported. In most countries, data on violence against trans and gender-diverse people are not systematically produced and it is impossible to estimate the actual number of cases.” Furthermore, it is suspected that there is vast underreporting of murders of transgender people from most Muslim countries, Russia and China, to name the largest and most flagrant instances.
On the other side of the reporting coin is Brazil. The situation in Brazil is similar to that in the United States. There are areas of the country, such as Rio de Janeiro, where there is a very visible and accepted transgender community. But there are other areas of the country, such as Sao Paulo (less than 200 air miles away), where much of the murder and other violent crimes against transgender people occur. Brazil has a little less than 2/3 the population of the United States, but nearly seven times as many murders of transgender people. For all citizens, Brazil’s murder rate is 4½ times as high as the United States, so that explains some, but not all of the discrepancy. Differences in the religious makeup of the population may also explain some of the discrepancy.
Comparing the persecution of the two groups, you may have noticed something. As a member of both groups, I am certainly aware of it. As much as a significant number of Christians feel antipathy toward transgender people and a significant number of transgender people feel antipathy toward Christians, both face a significant amount of their persecution by the same outside groups.
It is not uncommon for the enemy of my enemy to become my friend as a way for group alliances to be formed. But the groups have to sense that they have enough in common and have to reduce if not eliminate any sniping they are doing at each other. And that brings me back to one of the purposes of my blog. I have found a way to reconcile these two parts of my identity that many would claim to be diametrically opposed. If I can do it within me and not abandon one part or the other, then theoretically speaking it is doable in society. But both groups need to reach a place where they would prefer making allies instead of looking for gotchas and ways of putting the other group down. And that usually starts with one side making the first peace overture and the other side responding in kind. That might not be easy in view of the past history and lack of a centralized leadership for either group.
But here is where my Christian background comes to the fore. All things are possible with God. It doesn’t mean that it will happen, and I confess that at times it feels like I am shoveling sand against the tide. But it can happen. So for now, I stay at the task.
When I went to college, I had hopes of being a civil engineer/urban planner/transportation engineer. Maybe I can still be a bridge.
Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. – Philippians 4:6