Some of you may remember the case of Brenda (aka Stella), the 17 year old trans woman who was working as a house help in Kisumu. In mid-2012, Brenda was arrested and charged with “defamation of character” after her employer discovered that she is transgender. Thankfully, that case was dismissed. But did you know that several months after her former employers charged Brenda with defamation of character, they had her arrested a second time, accusing her of stealing three mobile phones from their home?
Though we can’t prove or disprove Brenda’s innocence, the fact that this case came up several months after she stopped working for the family implies that they’re going after her for personal reasons. Given the lack of understanding of transgender people in Kenyan society, it wouldn’t be surprising to see a young woman like Brenda being punished for her gender identity by people who don’t understand her, and may even fear her in their ignorance.
Brenda has been held in Kodiaga Prison in Kisumu for the past several months as she awaits trail. Though she is being treated relatively well by prison staff, she is being held in isolation in the men’s section of the prison. This is not only incredibly demoralizing and disrespectful of her gender, but has also had a negative impact on her mental health. Isolation and being placed in the wrong section for her gender can contribute to depression, anxiety and anger. Consider the fact that inmates are usually isolated in prison as a form of punishment for bad behaviour; Brenda has been living in isolation with no trial for months, simply because of who she is.
We as people concerned with social justice must step up to help. Members of VOWWEK have been visiting Brenda since they found out about her incarceration last month, letting her know that she is not alone. Up until this point, Brenda has had a court-appointed lawyer, which means that the lawyer has no stake in pushing for her court dates or for her rights. We have managed to secure her with a lawyer, which will help move the process along more quickly. But we still need your help in providing bail (which has been set at 8,000Ksh), and supporting Brenda with funds for necessities and housing as her case proceeds. You can also help simply by spreading the word about her situation.
Any questions and contributions can be sent to Georgina Adhiambo at 0736970904, or to Guillit Amakobe at 0724155631. If you are outside of Kenya and would like to contribute, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com and we’ll work something out.
Thank you for your assistance and for your well-wishes.
Voices of Women in Western Kenya (VOWWEK) and Jinsiangu
On nearly every continent, and for all of recorded history, thriving cultures have recognized, revered, and integrated more than two genders. Terms such as transgender and gay are strictly new constructs that assume three things: that there are only two sexes (male/female), as many as two sexualities (gay/straight), and only two genders (man/woman).
Yet hundreds of distinct societies around the globe have their own long-established traditions for third, fourth, fifth, or more genders. Fred Martinez, for example, was not a boy who wanted to be a girl, but both a boy and a girl — an identity his Navajo culture recognized and revered as nádleehí. Most Western societies have no direct correlation for this Native “two-spirit” tradition, nor for the many other communities without strict either/or conceptions of sex, sexuality, and gender. Worldwide, the sheer variety of gender expression is almost limitless. Take a tour and learn how other cultures see gender diversity.
TUESDAY, JANUARY 22, 2013
Sadie’s Dream For The World
TransGriot Note: While the GL community was justifiably jumping up and down excited because President Obama mentioned them in his second inaugural address, an 11 year old transkid in the western US was writing her own essay on this inaugural day that also happened to fall on MLK, Jr Day.
Sadie’s essay highlights who we adult transpeople are really fighting for when we push for trans human rights here in the United States and around the world.
Let’s redouble our efforts to make trans human rights a reality for Sadie Croft and ourselves.
Sadie’s Dream for the World.
“The world would be a better place if everyone had the right to be themselves, including people who have a creative gender identity and expression. Transgender people are not allowed the freedom to do things everyone else does, like go to the doctor, go to school, get a job, and even make friends.
Transgender kids like me are not allowed to go to most schools because the teachers think we are different from everyone else. The schools get afraid of how they will talk with the other kids’ parents, and transgender kids are kept secret or told not to come there anymore. Kids are told not to be friends with transgender kids, which makes us very lonely and sad.
When they grow up, transgender adults have a hard time getting a job because the boss thinks the customers will be scared away. Doctors are afraid of treating transgender patients because they don’t know how to take care of them, and some doctors don’t really want to help them. Transgender patients like me travel to other states to see a good doctor.
It would be a better world if everyone knew that transgender people have the same hopes and dreams as everyone else. We like to make friends and want to go to school. Transgender people want to get good jobs and go to doctors like they are exactly the same. It really isn’t that hard to like transgender people because we are like everyone else.”
Though Sadie has been openly discriminated against, her mother says that she “isn’t shy or ashamed of who she is,” and adds, “I’m always ‘on’ when we go out because I never know when she’ll strike up a conversation with the person in front of her in line at Trader Joe’s. When she chats with people, she introduces herself as, ‘Hi, I’m Sadie, my favorite color is pink, I’m vegan, and I’m transgender. Who are you?’”
Sage says she encouraged Sadie to write the essay because she thought “it might help empower her and overcome any feelings of oppression.” In the end she says that she wants Sadie “to know that she has a voice. My dream for her is that she will be happy. That’s all, really. I just want her to be happy.”
Intersex convict on death row walks free
An intersex convict who lost a case to introduce a third gender into Kenya’s law two years ago has been set free.
Richard Muasya who was serving death sentence after being convicted for robbery with violence said “it was moment of joy” as he was handed his freedom by the high court.
Judges Hatari Waweru, Jessie Lesiit and George Dulu said Muasya’s conviction is unsafe. “Having assessed the available evidence, we are not satisfied that the circumstances prevailing at the time of the robbery were conducive to a good and positive identification of the appeallant (Muasya),” read the ruling. Continue reading
IN DECEMBER of 2001, Cameron Partridge was a 28-year-old candidate for the Episcopal priesthood in Massachusetts when he informed his bishop he would be transitioning from female to male.
The Rt. Rev. M. Thomas Shaw admits this news left him feeling uneasy. But, he added, “I’m old enough now that when I feel discomfort that probably means God wants me to pay attention to this.”
Partridge had known he wanted to be a priest since he was in his teens. But he grew up in a fairly conservative church in California with little exposure to women or gay clergy until just before he left for college.
While attending Bryn Mawr, he came out as gay during his sophomore year. Finding himself still called to ministry, he later enrolled in Harvard Divinity School, where he received a Master of Divinity degree in 1998 and a Doctor of Theology degree in 2008. While a theological student, a progressive local church, Christ Episcopal, sponsored him for ordination.
In 2005, four years after his conversation with Shaw, Partridge was ordained to the Episcopal priesthood. He served in local congregations until 2011, when Shaw appointed him as chaplain to Boston University (BU). He now has the distinction of being one of the first trans chaplains at a major university, in addition to being one of just seven openly trans clergy in the Episcopal Church.
He continues to teach and, since his transition, he has found himself engaging in more advocacy and political action. He told me, “I seemed to need to pass through certain kind of fear before I could embrace a fuller vocation to contribute to conversations on trans and wider LGBT equality in and outside ecclesial contexts, as well as to explore these themes in academic contexts.”
Even outside the church, the trans community faces severe obstacles and rampant discrimination. Trans individuals experience much higher rates of homelessness, suicide, and abuse than the general population. And though the American Psychiatric Association recently reclassified how it diagnoses transgender patients, taking away the stigma of a “disorder,” many transgender patients still struggle to obtain medical care and insurance.
A 2011 survey also found that trans respondents experienced double the national rate of unemployment, and nearly half of those interviewed reported losing a job because of their gender identity. Those surveyed were also 4 times more likely to live in extreme poverty.
As a generally liberal mainline denomination, the Episcopal Church is perhaps poised more than most Christian groups to grapple with the complexities of gender identity. Over the past four decades, the church has slowly begun changing its canons to prohibit exclusion on the basis of several categories, including race, gender, and sexual orientation.
According to Integrity USA, an Episcopal LGBT advocacy organization, the first openly gay clergyperson was ordained in 1977. In the mid-2000s several clergy came out as transgender, and the first openly transgender Episcopal clergy were ordained.
During the 2012 General Convention in July, the church overwhelmingly passed groundbreaking resolutions barring discrimination on the basis of gender identity and expression in access to lay leadership and the ordination process. Partridge was grateful. “What makes me most proud of this summer’s General Convention vote was the collaboration and sense of community that built momentum towards it,” he said, citing several advocacy groups who pushed for the resolutions. “Through all the intensity of the Convention, we were uplifted by community—to me it truly felt like the communion of saints.”
Within the national church, the diocese of Massachusetts—Partridge’s home base—has been a particularly supportive place for trans issues. After supporting Partridge’s transition, Shaw came to believe trans equality was an important movement for the church, and he has sought to create spaces for it within his diocese.
Each year, Boston’s Cathedral Church of St. Paul plays host to the International Transgender Day of Remembrance, a memorial for those who died because of their gender identity. The annual event began as a vigil following the murder of a Boston-area trans woman in 1998. Shaw feels the service embodies what a church should be. “I stand up in front of them each year and say that the conception of God that judges you is not the conception of God in this diocese,” he said.
A local Episcopal lay leader, Byron Rushing, serves as majority whip of the Massachusetts House of Representatives. In 2011, he was a major figure in the passage of Massachusetts’ Transgender Equal Rights Bill. Rushing, also the former president of Boston’s Museum of African American History, considers this battle for LGBT equality to be a civil rights issue. “Civil rights cannot be assigned to one group and not assigned to other groups unless you define those groups as somehow not human,” he told me.
Even within the various committees of the diocese, Partridge has found allies. When he was undergoing the ordination process as well as gender transition, Partridge discovered that a member of a diocesan commission was also a therapist with expertise in gender identity. The therapist proved to be immensely helpful in educating diocesan leaders about transgender issues.
Partridge is also not the only transgender clergyperson in the diocese. The Rev. Christopher Fike is a trans man, an Episcopal priest, and a social worker in the Boston area. But, as Fike points out, “Gender is not the center of my existence. Once I transitioned and everything fell into place, I went on with my life, which is rooted in family, community, and church.”
Likewise, Partridge prefers not to dwell on his gender transition. He reads trans narratives in the media with a critical eye. “Sometimes portrayals of trans lives have a before-after type focus,” he said. “They can dwell on people’s former lives, their previous names, when they ‘knew’ they were trans, how their family reacted. And while that can be powerful, I personally find that narrative pattern restrictive and sometimes invasive.”
He prefers to keep his personal life private. “When it comes to my family, it’s one thing for me to be openly trans, and even to be open about being a husband and dad, but my family members need space to be who they are,” he said. “The public pieces of my vocation are not necessarily theirs.”
Partridge does not feel his transgender status has hindered his role as a chaplain; if anything, it has helped him connect with students. “In one sense, my being trans doesn’t matter,” he said. “In another way, I’m able to have certain conversations about the complexities of human identity with college students, who are figuring out their own identities.” Cindy Jacobson, a former Lutheran chaplain at BU, said of his appointment, “The reaction was positive not so much because he is a trans man, but because people really like him.” Jacobson now pastors University Lutheran Church in nearby Cambridge and has invited Partridge to speak several times at her church. When I watched Partridge talk with students, I noticed the ease with which transgender and gender nonconforming people shared their stories with him. Jacobson concurs, “A unique gift he brings is himself. Because he is a trans man, perhaps this gives permission for students who are trans or are questioning to seek him out.” Kerry Aszklar, the Q Events/Activism chair of BU’s Queer Activist Collective adds, “I think that it’s great that BU has trans people as part of the faculty and staff. Not only is it inspiring to queer people, but it’s good to have a trans person to look up to and act as a mentor.”
In his students, Partridge has encountered a hunger for theological reflection around social justice and equality on a number of fronts. “I’ve met many students who want to make a real difference in the world,” he said. “Some have particular interests in environmental justice, others in HIV/AIDS, some in economic justice, and some in trans equality—and in the intersections of all of these.”
Likewise, trans clergy also find themselves at various intersections—between their identities and societal expectations, as well as between their faith and a Christian institution struggling with issues around sexuality. To some, transgender individuals offer a new perspective on the Christian experience. In 2008, at the Lambeth Conference of the Anglican Communion—held every ten years—the Rev. Christina* Beardsley, a trans woman and priest in the Church of England, spoke about the gifts trans clergy bring. There are 7 trans clergy in the U.K. and they are all trans women. “We’ve lived in male roles,” and we’ve lived in female roles, she noted, “which gives us an awful lot of compassion for both men and women.” She continued, “We know about being on the edge of community, sometimes, and about the mystery of boundaries, and the danger, but sometimes the necessity, of boundary crossings.” In short, trans people of faith may understand something real, and important, at the heart of the Christian experience.
Becky Garrison is the author most recently of Roger Williams’ Little Book of Virtues(forthcoming) and contributes to a range of outlets, including The Washington Post‘s“On Faith,” The Guardian‘s Belief section, and American Atheist magazine. This report was supported by a 2012 Knight Grant for Reporting on Religion and American Public Life.