The Least of These

“What is that?” “Is that a man in drag?” “That’s a facsimile of a woman.”

Those are just a few of the comments that have poured in since an ad with my photo on it was posted for an upcoming luncheon with our local chamber of commerce, at which I am the featured speaker. And while the comments in and of themselves are hateful and ignorant, the existence of them isn’t. You see, as a transgender woman, I try and work hard to hold onto my own power — the power that allows me to exist in the world as a woman, whether I choose to reveal my trans identity or not. For me, the power rests in my own ability to make that choice — and for the ones who had left those comments, they had chosen to take that power away from me.

“I come from a life of privilege,” quips trans comedian Erin Mohr. “I used to be a man.”
The irony isn’t lost on me.

In many ways, I didn’t really understand the concept of privilege until I had lost it.

The automatic acceptance of teachings that are now brushed off simply because I’m a woman. The ability to get an oil change without having the mechanic — the same mechanic I had been using as Darryl — mansplain to me all of the services he recommended. The ability to use the bathroom without wondering if doing so would endanger my life or livelihood. Those are all gone now. The trade-off? The freedom to live as I was meant to. With the identity that had been struggling to break free for as long as I can remember.

In many ways, this concept isn’t lost to most Christians. We often talk about how God decided to put on flesh and enter into this world as a helpless baby.

The Bible even talks about how that was the plan all along. That Jesus existed with God the Father since the beginning of time. God lost His privilege in an effort to live out His destiny. To become something that was, in terms of what the world saw, less than God. And because they refused to believe that God could appear to them in the frailty of of a human being, they rejected him, made fun of him, tortured him, and killed him. All to show Jesus who they thought was in control. A statement to God about who really held the power.

As an out transgender woman, I’ve come to expect criticism.

And even in church settings where I sit and share my story with pastors and various church leaders, I hold the power. If they reject me, I am ultimately the one who gave them the choice to accept me or not — so no real harm done. I still walk away with my dignity and the knowledge that I have spoken my truth, and those who have heard it will eventually be held accountable for their choices. But in my decision to share my story and reveal my identity, I hold the power.

Then there are the times when I am not given that choice. When I am robbed of that decision, and it is made for me. Those are the times that hurt. Those are the times when the power is taken away from me, and flaunted in my face, in much the same way as the schoolyard bully taunts their victims after taking their toy or lunch money.

“Make me,” they sneer, ignoring your pleas for mercy. They know, in that moment, that they hold the power.

These are the reasons why the use of the “n-word” among Black people is acceptable while among white people it is reprehensible. The reason why, while I publicly speak about being assigned male at birth and transitioning later in life, being ridiculed by complete strangers without any prior context is painful in ways that it normally isn’t when those comments are received on posts when I publicly state that I am transgender. It’s all about power. It’s about flaunting the privilege that one has, and the lack that I have because of who I am.

It’s easy for us to look at what is happening in Ukraine and criticize Putin.

But in many ways, he has chosen to flaunt the power he holds through military strength to those around the world. And it’s scary to not know what is coming, because in that moment we are put in our place, realizing that we are at the mercy of someone who isn’t using their power to make the world a better place, but rather using it to try and remind us of our place. The question then that must be asked is how that same behavior and mentality is manifesting itself in our own lives — in the circles we keep, in the media we consume, and in the politics and politicians we endorse or oppose.

The struggle for myself, as a member of the LGBTQ+ community, is the desire to see those who reject my trans identity and fight against my right to exist fall. There’s an inherit wish that I hold to be able to wield power over these groups and force them to accept the LGBTQ+ community or be shut down. After all, seeing that come to pass would ultimately save lives and create inclusivity, right? But I think, especially in the Easter season, that recognizing the ability of power to corrupt is vitally important to being able to move forward as a society.

Power is ultimately the issue that we face in our society.

Those with it aren’t willing to part with it, and those without it often cause pain in an effort to try and grasp at it when the opportunity presents. It’s an ugly cycle, and one that I don’t pretend to have an answer to. But, as it goes with any recovery program, the first step towards recovery is recognizing and admitting that there’s a problem.

That’s why I share these stories. It’s not for your pity. It’s not to get you angry. It’s because when we begin to listen to the experiences that make up our country, our eyes are opened to how we can do better. As author Maya Angelou once wrote, “do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”

That’s the essence of the Gospel. The early Christians didn’t beat themselves up over crucifying Jesus. Paul didn’t mope about once he realized what he had done. They took that information and vowed to do better. May we all be such people.

 

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