“Caring is not enough.”
“Good intentions are not enough.”
Erin Swenson, a licensed counselor and transgender Presbyterian minister from Atlanta, told those gathered for her workshop: “Caring is not enough.” Pastors, chaplains and other faith leaders need to be prepared, equipped and willing to journey alongside transgender and gender non-conforming people and their families.
The “Beyond Pink and Blue: Transitions and Transgender Care” conference in Charlottesville, Virginia, kicked off on Sunday, October 21, in the wake of news out of Washington that President Trump planned to eliminate “transgender” and the rudimentary protections that went along with the category. Participants, presenters and the cloud of witnesses in the virtual cloud had no idea that the timing of the conference would resonate with culture so closely. No information, conversation or story felt theoretical; all seemed urgent and more a matter of life and death than ever. “A matter of life and death” is no hyperbole given the grim statistics — 41 percent attempt suicide (compared with 4.6 percent of the general public).
Caring is not enough. Nonetheless, caring should be a basic place to start. One of the hopes expressed by the conference planners was that space would be created where questions could be openly asked without fear of judgment. The goal was to move those caring people into a place of better understanding and have them leave with a toolbox of resources and contacts. A two-day conference does not create experts. It can, however, connect those who care with others who know more or who know those who know more. A two-day conference can offer light amidst the darkness and provide a more compassionate church chapter to too many stories filled with painful ones. A two-day conference can invite people into deeper conversations, initial relationships and a holy humility about what they do not yet know or understand. A two-day conference can lead participants to books, Bible passages, videos and websites that will enable them to care well and with wisdom.
A two-day conference can call to the surface questions, confessions and insights like these:
“What is cis-gender?”
“What does ‘dead name’ mean?”
“I mess up people’s pronouns.”
“One of the hardest parts is having to come out over and over again.”
“It is not appropriate to ask a transperson if they have had surgery.”
“If you don’t tell your story, someone else will tell it for you.”
“Baby blankets given to new parents do not have to be pink or blue.”
“Get comfortable with your own gender journey.”
“What does your church website, bulletin, forms communicate about inclusion of transgender or gender non-conforming people?”
“Do you have gender neutral bathrooms?”
“I am afraid and fearful. This isn’t scary anymore and I am no longer afraid.”
“Who could have imagined we could ever have these conversations in the church?”
“It came down to this: Do we want our child to live?”
“We would love him and figure it out.”
If we believe that all are created in God’s image and beloved by God, then we are obligated to be ready to express that belief in more than words and truly to all.