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Rev. Meg Riley Headshot

After Transgender Remembrance Day, Giving Thanks for the Living

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At a chapel service this week for Transgender Remembrance Day, I will once again listen as the name of this year's transgender people whose lives were cut short by hateful violence are read aloud.

There will be too many of them. I know this already. Only one or two is too many, of course, but the actual list is always gruesomely long. I know that, again, we will be reminded that there are many more whose deaths we don't know about. Many of those killed will have been people of color. Many will have been young. Inside my body, I will feel grief's vague boundarilessnes. I will be grateful to be held by a community of people I trust. Inside my heart, I will taste the ache of longing to inhabit another world, not this cruel one. Inside my throat, I will feel the welling up of what could be rage, wailing, keening, but will, again, be quiet, respectful, listening. We will all sit dazed and grieving together.

I will do this soon, and I will do it again next November, too, because I believe in honoring the dead. But I find myself wishing that, along with honoring the dead, we might also this week have a service where we honor the living, where we give thanks for those living transgender people known and unknown to us, and how they enhance our lives.

In my spiritual practice, everything begins with gratitude. This is how I continue to be committed to this world, not wishing to be in another one. So how do we stand on the side of love with our transgender friends and family members? I begin by calling up with gratitude the gifts that transgender people have brought into my life.

First and foremost, transgender people model embodied courage to me. Their very bodies carry their commitment to themselves, to their own truth, costs be damned. They can't board a plane, fill out most forms or go to the bathroom without diminishing their complexity. Still, in the face of all of that diminishment, they own their complexity daily. They hold their heads up and walk with dignity on a path which only their feet create -- no one in the world has made it for them. So, for their courage and for how that en-courages me in its turn to be my whole and complex self, I am profoundly grateful.

Second, shaking up my dualistic polarities around gender sharpens up my mind. A friend recounted hearing a white transgender man say, in a seminary class, while thoughtfully scratching his beard, "It wasn't until I gave birth to children of color that I truly understood racism." WHAT!?!?!?! Such a mind twist can only be good for the synapses. For shaking up my easy assumptions, making me take a second and third look right with my first one after being surprised so many times, I give thanks.

Third, speaking of synapses, transgender people elicit from me much wondering about nature and nurture, oppression and identity. They have a unique opportunity to know life's wisdom from two different directions. I am so interested in this.

One gender-bending teen, born female but sometimes passing as male, told me, "You don't know! When people think I'm a boy, it's like every female of every age wants to be my wife! They want to help me. They support me. It's like a club you will never be in!" Weeks later, I am still thinking about this. Such unique perspective makes me wonder what else I don't know or see -- what other clubs I am in, or not in, relative to race, class, gender, sexual orientation, culture, ability and every other manifestation of human difference.

If we could stop being scared, those of us who aren't transgender could learn so much about gender from people who have walked a creative and courageous path between two superhighways. I have learned a great deal already from reading and talking to people, and I deeply appreciate the generous sharing of this wisdom. Thanks for that.

Finally, transgender people lift up the ultimate mystery of life before my eyes, and cause me to be grateful for the diversity and complexity of the universe. Perhaps they are closest to living out the Biblical description of God's creating people "neither male nor female." Perhaps, as some cultures say, there are 5 genders, not 2. Life begins to open up, the universe begins to expand, when I look around with fresh appreciation and enjoy the beauty of the dance, rather than categorizing in binary mode. Transgender people inspire me to look at a bigger horizon, to know an ever-bigger universal love, or God. This is my ultimate task on the planet, and for their help in my accomplishing it, I am profoundly grateful.

So, today I will honor and remember the dead. But this week and every week, l also want to know the living transgender people, learn from them, model my courage on theirs. May these thanks be a step on my path to creating a world where the list of the murders shortens and the list of joys, equalities and sources of ease for transgender people grows ever longer.

Around the Web

Transgender | National Gay and Lesbian Task Force

Transgender - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Ask About Transgender Issues - NYTimes.com

Transgender Issues | Gay Rights Articles & Issues | Change.org