Thank you, Kit, for your voice and witness!
Congratulations to TransEpiscopal Steering Committee member the Reverend Kit Wang, whose podcast interview with “Queer Spirit” for “OUT Cast” on WMPG was released on January 25th. In the interview, led by Dr. Marvin Ellison and the Rev’d Tamara Torres-McGovern, and recorded in the fall of 2020, Kit reflects on their experience of race, sexuality, and gender, as someone who identifies as queer, trans, and Chinese American. They also talk powerfully about discernment, not only to the priesthood but also to parenthood. Kit is one of a growing number of openly trans and nonbinary clergy in the Episcopal Church sharing the wisdom of their experience through service on wider church bodies, in local congregations, and in combinations of vocational settings. Kit serves on the leadership team of Arise Portland, is the chair of the Commission on Ministry for the Episcopal Diocese of Maine, and is the President of Province One, a regional body of seven New England Episcopal dioceses.
Thank you, Kit, for your voice and witness!
As I scanned the letters to the editor in the Boston Globe this morning, I was happily surprised to come across one by the retired bishop of Ohio, the Right Reverend J. Clark Grew, who now lives in Boston.
It reads as follows:
Gay themes tend to stir wrath of some on Capitol Hill
December 21, 2010
I WRITE to thank Sebastian Smee for his excellent Dec. 16 piece “Offensive? ICA lets the public decide,’’ about the removal of a video from a gay-themed exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery. It is a sad occasion when art in our country’s museums, much less anywhere else, is subjected to the political and religious right’s blatantly homophobic manipulations.
I agree with Smee’s emphasis that the public should decide what is or isn’t art, but there is another article that needs to be written, and that is one about the ongoing and increasingly nasty gay-lesbian-transgender-bashing that is so prevalent with some members of Congress.
The Right Rev. J. Clark Grew, Boston
The writer is a retired bishop in the Episcopal Church.
The Globe editorial that Bishop Grew refers to responds to the decision by Boston's Institute for Contemporary Art (and several other museums around the country) to show a video installation that was removed December 1st from an exhibit at the Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery entitled "Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture." On the Smithsonian's website, the exhibit is described as "the first major museum exhibition to focus on sexual difference in the making of modern American portraiture," considering "such themes as the role of sexual difference in depicting modern America; how artists explored the fluidity of sexuality and gender; how major themes in modern art—especially abstraction—were influenced by social marginalization; and how art reflected society’s evolving and changing attitudes toward sexuality, desire, and romantic attachment."
The offending video was created by New York based artist David Wojnarowicz (1954-1992) in 1986-87 in response to the death of his partner, Peter Hujar, from AIDS-related complications, and from his own diagnosis with the virus that would ultimately take his life at the age of 37. The Smithsonian's version of the video (now having gone viral on youtube in the wake of this debate), which Smee describes as "a four-minute, surrealistic montage of footage shot in Mexico called 'Fire in My Belly,’" includes, among a number of other images, "intermittently recurring footage of ants crawling on a small painted crucifix that lies on the ground." Smee goes on to point out, "when it comes to representations of Christ’s death, the Christian tradition is full of base and wretched imagery, as anyone who has seen Matthias Grünewald’s shudderingly graphic 'Isenheim Altarpiece' in Colmar, France, or for that matter Mel Gibson’s movie 'The Passion,’ would know."
The Smithsonian decided to remove the video after being pressured by members of Congress and the president of the Catholic League, Bill Donohue. As Jacqueline Trescott reports in the Washington Post, the significance of this "skirmish" is that it "could forecast a renewed battle over arts funding when the Republican-led House takes over in January." Hollad Collard also notes in the New York Times that in this episode, "history is repeating itself, with variations;" in 1989, Wojnarowicz won a suit against Donald Wildmon, a Methodist minister who had disseminated to members of Congress a pamphlet with selective images from Wojnarowicz's collages, targeting his partial support by the National Endowment for the Arts.
Wojnarowicz may no longer be able to defend his work, but plenty of people are stepping into the fray.
Noting the protests that have proliferated since the removal of the video, Bill Donohue has now commented in a December 17th press release, "The artist who gave us the ant-crawling video, David Wojnarowicz, died of AIDS. So did his lover, Peter Hujar. Mapplethorpe died of AIDS, too. And now those who adore them are taking to the streets on their behalf. Think I'll just watch the Giants—kickoff is at 1:00 p.m."
Reading this comment, just days after the Senate's historic vote to repeal Don't Ask, Don't Tell, it's impossible not to be reminded how much the struggle continues. And a huge part of that struggle is making sure that "the church" or "the religious" does not get monolithically represented by such voices.
Which brings me back to the profound sense of gratitude I felt this morning when Bishop Grew's letter showed up on my front porch, like a surprise Christmas present wrapped up in a newspaper.
The story of this video skirmish may feel more like Lent than Christmas, and yet in the end to me it serves as a reminder of the messiness of Incarnation, and of the critical importance of solidarity and hope in a season of intense joy and need.
- The Rev'd Dr. Cameron Partridge
Every three years representatives from each Diocese of the Episcopal Church meet in Convention to make decisions for the life of the whole Episcopal Church. This is called General Convention and it is modeled on the legislative model of our National Government. There is a Senate (The House of Bishops) and a House of Representatives (The House of Deputies.) The Deputies are from both the Lay and Clergy order.
I have never been a Deputy to Convention, but I have attended several, the first one was The Special Convention held in Indiannapolis, ID in 1969 (boy, that dates me!). I was in seminary then and I went with a delegation of seminarians from Berkeley Divinity School at Yale supporting the efforts of seminaries. It was a politically turbulent time, racially (race riots in many cities), politically (with the Viet Nam War), Sexually (the sexual revolution was in full bloom) and educationally.
The last General Convention I attended was held in Minneapolis/St.Paul in 1976. What follows is a synopsis of that Convention.
Issues, Discussion, Actions:
Ordination of women- Lengthy debate with alternating speakers pro and con - Passed. 114 clergy votes (58 needed for affirmative action: 60 yes; 39 no; 15 div. 113 lay votes; 64 yes; 36 no; 13 divided. Minority resolution states “stand committed to the Episcopal Church, determined to live and work within it, but cannot in good conscience accept.
Proposed Book of Common Prayer - Extensive amendments debated - Vote by orders on main motion — 113 clergy (57 needed) 107 yes; 3 no; 3 div.; 111 lay (56 needed) 90 yes; 12 no; 9 div.
Human Affairs - Standing Commission on Human Affairs and Health charged with concerning itself with theological, ethical and pastoral questions inherent in such aspects of human affairs as human health, sexuality and bioethics
Historical note: Talk of schism; General Convention recommends that the dioceses and the Church in general engage in serious study and dialogue in the area of human sexuality as it pertains to various areas of life, particularly in living styles, employment, housing and education.
That Convention set the ground work for the Modern Episcopal Church. Women Clergy are now fundamental with bishops, priests and deacons throughout the Church and worship has been molded by the 1976 proposed Prayer Book (approved for the second, decisive time at GC 1979).
Once again I am headed to the General Convention to be held in Anaheim next month as part of the delegation from TransEpiscopal. The last Convention I attended affirmed my right to be a priest as a woman. I am hoping that this convention will affirm the rights of all people to fully participate in all facets of the Church no matter the gender, gender identity or expression, or sexual orientation. It has taken me thirty-three years to attend another Convention and I pray this will be as successful as the 1976 Convention. I am however more expecting more on the scale of what happened in 1969. At that time there was hardly any recognition of the presence or needs of seminarians. All the clergy had been to seminary, but most left it behind as a fond remembrance, forgetting that seminaries and seminarians' needs change with time.
I am hoping at least that there will be a dawning of awareness that transgender people exist in the Church and that we are equally God's children. I am also hoping that issues of sexuality will not be swept under the rug and avoided. We will see and we will report here.
- The Rev. Michelle Hansen, S.T.M., M.Div.
Three years ago, TransEpiscopal had one representative who could attend the Episcopal Church’s General Convention (GC). Donna Cartwright, then of the Diocese of Newark, NJ, went for about a week and testified at a committee hearing in favor of the one transgender-related resolution that had come to Convention. The resolution never made it to the floor.
Last summer, I attended the Lambeth Conference, joining Rev'd Dr. Christina Beardsley along with three other transgender people on a panel called (appropriately enough, given the ongoing Anglican Communion “listening process”) “Listening to Transgender People.”
But this July, I will join several other members of TransEpiscopal in Anaheim; indeed, we are hoping that as many as eight of us will be present for part or all of the nearly two-week span. This is truly an unprecedented representation.
We come with such numbers this year to support an equally unprecedented number of transgender-related resolutions: four of them call on the Church to support transgender people both in its own life and in the civic arena. As we draw nearer to Convention, we will report more details on those resolutions, and on TransEpiscopal’s presence at GC.
In the meantime, from where I sit, two plus weeks from Convention’s start, I wonder how our presence will be received, not simply in person but in communications about the Convention. I wonder because it is not clear to me how, or even whether, those who write about the Episcopal Church – whether official Episcopal communicators, bloggers, or secular media representatives – will incorporate transgender people and concerns into well-entrenched narratives about the debates of the Episcopal Church.
Narrative is a particularly interesting lens through which to look at the Convention this year because GC is actively inculcating the Harvard Kennedy School of Government’s Public Narrative Project during its two weeks. What I wonder is how much this narrative project will interface with—perhaps offer insight into, complicate, or disrupt -- the already existing narratives about human sexuality in general and homosexuality in particular that have roiled the Anglican Communion for years now.
Meanwhile, the Episcopal Church itself is preparing for GC with a series of narratives about what is coming up. If your congregation included an insert about the Convention in its bulletin this Sunday, you may have noticed that nothing to do with sexuality was listed anywhere among the Convention’s work (at least, the one in our bulletin only briefly mentioned resolutions that seek to get "Beyond B033" and never actually used the word “sexuality”). As the Convention nears, my guess is that Episcopal communicators around the country will be under pressure to emphasize anything but Anglican Communion conflict over the Episcopal Church’s increasingly progressive consensus on human sexuality in general and homosexuality in particular.
On the other hand, I imagine the secular press may be keen to report exactly that aspect of the General Convention, and not always in the most thoughtful, nuanced manner. Which is, of course, why ecclesial communicators will be working hard to open the media’s eyes to the many other stories of Convention.
I admit that as an academic as well as a priest, I’m wary both of sound bites and of the avoidance of stories, especially of people, that need to be acknowledged. Narratives can have a way of overly smoothing rough edges. The truth is often complicated – sometimes more than words, or indeed narratives, can convey – but it’s worth trying to articulate, even if it takes time. And as a transgender man, I’m also highly aware of how sensationalistic and objectifying media (including new media) stories on trans-related topics can be (though I do think there have been major improvements over the last few years).
And so, as I look out over this emerging Episcopal intentionality about narrative, and as I take in the familiar, frustrating dynamic of stories about — and in avoidance of — the sexuality debates, I wonder how to productively incorporate transgender people into the mix. Will our work be completely overshadowed by the secular-ecclesial media cycle of endless, narrow focus on sexuality debates, on the one hand, and determined aversion to anything sexuality-related, on the other? Will we be patched into that narrative cycle, sensationalistically reported as the latest emblems of church schism? Will people truly listen to some of the amazing stories of faith and resilience, as well as of heartbreak, that we have been sharing with one another on our communal listserve since 2004? Will people listen as we seek to clarify how, as trans people, we are distinct from and yet also connected to what is at stake in the current sexuality debates?
We cannot simply add transgender to the same old stories. We must tell our stories anew.
In fact I look forward to the telling, because as wary as I can be of narrative, I also love it. I am, after all, a person “of the book” in more ways than one. And so I look forward to the give and take of listening and telling. I pray that the anxiety that has long accompanied our Anglican/Episcopal conflicts might not overwhelm us, trans or cisgender, that we might truly find ways to open our hearts to one another, and that the Spirit —whom the Gospel of John pointedly calls the Spirit of Truth — might blow us where it will, telling (and, as the hymn puts it, "singing") a new Church into being, and inspiring people beyond its borders.
- The Rev'd Dr. Cameron Partridge
I'm sitting here in Massachusetts, ready to head out the door to Logan airport, where I'm catching a flight to England to go to the Lambeth Conference.
A couple of weeks ago in Integrity Witness, the Rev'd Susan Russell posed a question to those of us heading to the Conference: Why are you going?
First, for readers not steeped in Anglican politics, the Lambeth Conference is a meeting of bishops from around the Anglican Communion that takes place once every ten years. As this May press conference underlined, the meeting is not a parliamentary proceeding but a chance for bishops from around the Anglican Communion to gather for counsel and relationship-building. And Integrity, of which Susan is the president, is the national LGBT organization within the Episcopal Church.
As is well known, there are Anglicans around the globe who want to curtail the participation of LGBT people in sacramental life. When Gene Robinson became bishop of New Hampshire, a decades-old conflict flared with new intensity. Meanwhile, beginning with the 1978 Lambeth Conference, the Anglican Communion has declared its need to listen to the experience of LGBT people. The most recent manifestation of that desire is an official "listening process." Despite this process, and the existence of things like study guides for bishops and other church leaders, Bishop Robinson himself was deliberately not invited to this Conference. Lest LGBT people simply be talked about or around and not actually heard ourselves, groups like Integrity and Changing Attitude have planned a number of events to make certain that our voices will be present.
And that's why I'm going: to be among those voices as a transgender person. More specifically, a transgender man who is also an Episcopal priest and representative of transgender Episcopalians across the United States (though I am also quite clear that I cannot speak for all of them).
On Friday, July 25th, I along with three others will be on a panel entitled "Listening to Trans People." The panel is part of a series of official Lambeth "Fringe" events (a term that has a less pejorative meaning in England than in the United States), whose schedule you can view here. While bishops are not required to come to this panel, I hope that those who do come will listen with open hearts, carrying with them the spirit of learning and relationality that is the keystone of this Conference. As far as I know, this panel represents the first time that a transgender-specific event has ever taken place at a worldwide Anglican Communion meeting, and I'm proud to be part of it.
The panel was organized by the Rev'd Dr. Christina Beardsley of Changing Attitude UK, who has written a substantial resource for Clergy and Congregations re: transgenderism. The panel is officially sponsored by the UK-based Christian Transgender group called the Sibyls.
As I sit here, about to leave, listening to the rain fall out the window, I'm excited about the new possibilities, the people I will meet and the stories I will hear. And at the same time I can't help but feel overwhelmed as I ponder the challenge of trying to include transgenderism within the context of conversations that have been revolving around sexuality-- human sexuality in general and homosexuality in particular. In a way, I feel like someone standing next to one of those huge jump ropes-- the kind where two people stand turning the rope and you have to jump in. It's a lot easier when you get to turn your own rope-- there's no mistaking the rhythm-- you can slow down, speed up, or stop when you need to. With a rope not of your own turning, you have to time your jump. You stand there for a moment, kind of swaying as you figure out the pace, and then jump in, hoping you don't snag the ropes.
Perhaps this anticipatory experience is common to anyone poised on the threshold of this conversation, regardless of demographic particulars. But as I prepare to bring a trans perspective, it sometimes feels like I and my other trans comrades are bringing another rope. A single jump rope, turning and turning around the topic of sexuality does not give us tools to talk about transgenderism; we need another rope for gender. Double Dutch, anyone?
But wait, we already have a gender rope. It entered the Anglican fray most famously in the mid-1970s debates about women priests, and in the late '80s with the consecration of the Rt. Rev. Barbara C. Harris in my home diocese of Massachusetts. In 2006 the gender jump rope got renewed attention with the election of the Rt. Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori as the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, and within the last month the Church of England has voted that women can become bishops in England. Over the years, this gender rope has continued to turn in our debate, but in the last two decades, as sexuality has become an increasingly dominant theme, the role of gender in our discussions has become obscured. In the wake of the Church of England's recent vote, I have hope that the gender rope will regain its crucial place in the collective Anglican conversation with more clarity and emphasis than it has recently received.
Only, as gender comes back into our collective conversation, I believe we need to think about it differently. Gender should not simply refer to women. Nor, for that matter, should gender simply equal transgender. Our "gender rubric" should be more complex, more flexible. As Bishop Gene Robinson and numerous others have argued, gender needs to be understood in the complicated ways that it interacts with race, class, ability, and sexuality, particularly in the wake of Anglican colonial legacies. What's more, our rubric should understand that gender is neither rigidly binary (male and female only) nor static (always experienced, expressed and embodied in the same way). Gender has so many forms in so many different cultural contexts that categories don't always overlap. What it means to be gendered-- to be labeled, for instance, as a man, as a woman, as another category of gender, of which there are a number around the world-- is highly contextual. Even within the same geographical region, the rules for how genders are to be enacted -- how to "be a man," for instance-- may change depending on one's other demographic features. As is true with sexuality-- indeed, as is true of God-- no language can finally express or contain the idiosyncratic gender vernacular of a fellow human being.
And so a new facet of our journey as Anglicans, it seems to me, is to truly recognize that our conversation is not simply a matter of gay or straight, black or white, male or female. There isn't just one jump rope, nor should there simply be two. I'm not convinced we could ever add enough ropes to account for the myriad dimensions of humanity, and I also worry about the challenge of who turns the ropes and who jumps. Much as I like the image, jumping rope might not be the best way to attend to our distinct but interlocking differences and our common goal of empowering the full dignity of our humanity.
The image that pops into my head -- an imperfect, nascent analogy, to be sure -- is of a game I remember playing in P.E. that involved a parachute. All the kids would stand in a circle -- many of them -- and would hold onto the outside of the chute. What we did with the parachute varied. Sometimes we'd wave the parachute rapidly and watch the fabric ripple toward us. Sometimes an object of some sort would be placed in the middle-- we would all lift up the chute and watch the object bounce. I even remember the object sometimes being a person who got quite a ride (perhaps that's what's happening to Bishop Gene?!). But my favorite part was when we'd all, suddenly, lift our hands upward, holding tight to the chute edge, watching the fabric puff up into a huge balloon. Then, quickly, we'd all duck inside and sit on the edge, the chute fabric behind our backs. Suddenly the fringe had created a new center. All had access to it, and it belonged to no one in particular; in fact, if anyone left the edge for the center, the air current might change and the balloon might quickly deflate. And so we'd sit there, laughing with delight as we spied one another inside this new, collectively created dome, seeing people suddenly a bit more clearly, reveling in this strangely sacred space. Slowly and steadily, the dome would deflate. Eventually, when our views were obscured, the parachute exercise would end and P.E. would be over. But not before, together, we'd done something somehow quite magical.
As I prepare to embark on this journey, my prayer is that the fringes of the Lambeth Conference might witness to the Anglican Communion a renewed, clarified vision of human complexity. I pray that the God who is always doing a new thing might re-empower us in the ongoing task of creating church anew, that somehow, amidst ongoing conflict, we might be able to delight in the unique incarnation that each of us was created to become.
- The Rev'd Dr. Cameron Partridge