Written by union students eric busby and brendan nee
4 min read
Marriage equality was heralded by many as the final word on LGBTQ+ rights and inclusion, especially in the Church; but cisgender Christians, both gay and straight, miss the full hope of the resurrection when they believe the exchange of wedding vows is enough. In a volatile and hostile political climate, transgender, nonbinary, and gender non-conforming (TNBGNC) Christians are reckoning with a dramatic loss of life and liberty. As we move through the Easter season, a queer perspective of the resurrection proclaims hope out of fear, and life out of death, for TNBGNC Christians.
The language used here to describe gender identity may be unfamiliar to some readers. Put simply, “transgender” (often shortened to “trans”) and “nonbinary” are terms to describe people who transcend the sex and gender binary of man and woman. For example, someone who was assigned male at birth but knows she’s a woman is a transgender woman, and someone who knows they are neither a man nor a woman may identify as nonbinary. Conversely, “cisgender” (often shortened to “cis”) denotes someone whose gender aligns with their sex assigned at birth. “Gender non-conforming” is an umbrella term that includes all identities and expressions that do not fit into proscribed binary boxes.
Violent backlash is a growing concern in the post Obama Administration national and global political landscape. The Trump years, and those that have followed, made blatant far right extremism, fascism, and opposition to minority groups, such as the LGBTQ+ community. Violence against those who threaten sexual and gender norms has increased as restrictions on civil liberties are validated by federal and state operations.
According to the ACLU, as of January this year, there were already a shocking 124 anti-LGBTQ+ bills introduced nationwide, signaling that 2023 will be another record breaking year with laws attempting to restrict and erase queer existence. Further, PBS reported that 2021 was the deadliest year for trans people, with 2022 close behind. And according to a 2022 Human Rights Campaign report, one-third of reported murders of trans and gender non-conforming people were by intimate partners, families, or friends. The murder of TNBGNC people is fatal retribution for transgression of gender and sexual norms, which are fostered in churches explicitly or implicitly. Violence is disproportionately experienced by TNBGNC people at the intersection of multiple marginalized identities, with transgender women of color facing the highest rates of violence and death. This reality plainly illustrates that faith leaders must work harder to protect and grow acceptance of TNBGNC people, creating places of safety, both physically and spiritually.
At a time when Christians celebrate the promise of new life, TNBGNC Christians face an assault on their hope. How can we trust in the promise of the resurrection when the outlook is so bleak? Moreover, many who might support us seem uninterested or have fled under mounting pressure. To view marriage equality as the totality of the resurrection is to leave TNBGNC Christians in the tomb.
Perhaps this is why TNBGNC Christians identify so strongly with Jesus Christ, whose transgressive move from death to life, defying expectations and social norms, stokes the flames of possibility. There is no boundary that seems so permanent and unbreachable as that between the living and the dead, and yet, Jesus crosses it. If not even the binary categories of life and death are fixed, then our conception of gender must expand. Through this lens, the resurrection is undeniably trans.
Moreover, the wounds on the body of Christ counter the idea that altering our bodies through transition is wrong. TNBGNC who pursue medical and surgical transition are often told that we are mutilating our bodies—but the resurrected body is scarred. Jesus’ body bore the wounds of his transition from death to life. If the miracle of the resurrection hinged on Christ being indistinguishable from someone who had never died, then that is the story that would have been told—but it’s not. Jesus Christ’s holiness, and our holiness, is not in normative perfection, but in the wild triumph of life over death.
We exhort our fellow believers and faith leaders not to deny us like Peter or doubt the truth of our lives like Thomas. Don’t wait until further harm has been perpetrated to look for solutions. Don’t tow the line of acceptance, welcoming cisgender lesbian, gay, and bisexual people while validating discomfort and judgment towards the full spectrum of queerness in churches.
This Easter season, be like Mary. Meet TNBGNC Christians in the garden, full of tremulous hope. Believe the truth of our lived witness and testimony. And proclaim the queer gospel of resurrection, in its panoply of rainbow hues, to the Church and the world.