Click here for General Assembly coverage

A call to celebrate the Trans Day of Visibility on Easter Sunday

When we embrace our trans siblings, the mystery of Easter bursts into our lives, writes Shea Watts.

In Luke 24, we join two companions traveling the dusty seven-mile road from Jerusalem to Emmaus. As they walk, they grieve the loss of Jesus. Sensing their pain, a stranger approaches and explains how Jesus’ death fulfills God’s promises in Scripture. Amazed, the traveling companions invite the man to dine with them. As the stranger blesses, breaks, and gives the bread, the travelers’ eyes open, and they see Jesus.

In Greek, we’re told here that the disciples recognize (ἐπιγινώσκω) Jesus; they “acknowledge” him. One way of interpreting the story suggests that the men only recognize Jesus when they welcome his presence at the table. In other words, it is not their piety but their hospitality that makes their seeing possible.

It is not the disciples’ piety but their hospitality that allows them to see Jesus.

This year, Easter falls on the national Trans Day of Visibility (TDOV), allowing us to practice such eye-opening hospitality. We see Jesus whenever we welcome others to the table and acknowledge their presence among us. We see Jesus when we embrace our trans siblings.

According to the PC(USA) Advocacy Committee for LGBTQIA+ Equity,  “TDOV is a day that our local churches can embrace and celebrate the diverse identities of transgender and non-binary individuals, affirming their intrinsic worth as creations of God.” This is necessary because transgender persons are the victims of violent legislation and hate crimes. The violence is such that the Human Rights Campaign even declared a National State of Emergency.

Judith Butler (they/them) demonstrates the rise of violence against trans people in Who’s Afraid of Gender? by exploring the anti-gender movement, an umbrella term referring to social movements opposing what they call “gender ideology,” “gender theory” or “genderism.” Examples of the anti-gender movement include efforts to stop talking about gender and sexuality in the classroom and promoting policies to limit trans rights.

Butler writes: “In taking aim at gender, some proponents of the anti-gender movement claim to be defending not just family values but values themselves, not just a way of life but life itself.” Trans people stand at the frontlines of the war on gendered bodies that do not fit the cis-gender, heterosexual standard, says Butler, and they are suffering from the spread of misinformation and rise of hostility. This is why TDOV is important. The fact that it coincides with Easter this year is a coincidence rich for theological reflection.

We see Jesus when we embrace our trans siblings.

The paradox of Jesus’ resurrection invites us to look again, think again, and hopefully, live again. Therefore, Easter is an appropriate time to explore our theology of incarnation, embodiment and materiality. One way to understand Christ’s transfiguration is to see Jesus as “a template for other transfigured, transfiguring bodies,” including transgender persons. Cary Howie, a professor at Cornell who writes extensively on gender and sexuality, broaches this idea in his essay “On Transfiguration.” In this line of thinking, recognizing transgender persons allows us to better understand Christ’s resurrection because both Jesus and transgender persons are changed, trans-figured, metamorphosized.

Another way to understand the transfiguration is to think about the impact of being transformed. Howie writes: “To be transfigured is to implicate others in your transfiguration; it is to suggest that ‘luminous glory’ may erupt from, and within, any flesh whatsoever. This implication is part of what makes transfiguration terrifying: no one is untransfigurable, and no one is transfigured alone.” When we see others and acknowledge their transfiguring bodies, we, too, are transfigured and transformed. And the boundaries between “you” and “me” are dissolved until there is only “us.

We see this in the aftermath of Christ’s resurrection in Scripture. After Christ’s revelation to the travelers in Luke 24, he appears to the eleven disciples and friends, opening their minds to the Scripture (Luke 24:45). They become witnesses to Christ’s resurrection and God’s plan for humanity. In Acts, the second book of Luke’s Gospel, we see how they are then charged to tell the story of Jesus to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8) and how the Holy Spirit aids in this task (Acts 2). When we witness a transformation, we, too, are transformed.

This year with TDOV and Easter falling on the same day, we are asked: are we willing to be transfigured and transformed by acknowledging our trans siblings as images of God? Are we willing to acknowledge their wounds? When we do so, Jesus is revealed and the mystery of Easter bursts into our lives again.

To our trans siblings:

Forgive us
for the times we didn’t see you,
the times we failed to love you.
With your permission and God’s help,
we will love you more faithfully.
We see you, and our hearts burn.

The Presbyterian Outlook is committed to fostering faithful conversations by publishing a diversity of voices. The opinions expressed are the author’s and may or may not reflect the opinions and beliefs of the Outlook’s editorial staff or the Presbyterian Outlook Foundation. Want to join the conversation? You can write to us or submit your own article here