Stories, Reality, and Trans Inclusion

“The monomyth is the story that’s managed to win. The one that beat up all the other stories and sent them crying home to Mommy without their schoolbooks and lunch money.”

Unpleasant realization dawned. “You’re talking about reality.”

“Of course we are, dummy. What, you thought that one story was somehow more real than all the others, just because it’s the one that has the most people living in it? . . . What we think of as reality is just the tale type that took over longest ago. The others keep fighting back.”

Seanan McGuire, Indexing

The universe is made of stories and matter. Humans tell stories about the reality we perceive, experience and imagine… and those stories shape that reality. Then we, or our children, tell new stories, based on our new reality. This is how human societies change.

At times, people are telling competing stories. That’s okay, that’s part of how change happens.

What’s not okay is when people telling one story try to cheat by beating up all the people who are telling new stories, including their own children, and send them away crying without their schoolbooks and lunch money. In my story, we call that “bullying.”

I get that in their story, they’re defending themselves and their families against some kind of “evil” or “immorality” or “perversion of the natural order of things.” In their story, they’re the heros.

In their story, there have always been only two sexes, male and female; only two genders, men and women; only one sexual orientation, heterosexuality; and anything else is some modern perversion, innovation, even conspiracy to destroy society.

(Society is a story, too. Other societies tell different stories.)

You don’t have to study much history to know that homosexuality has been around for centuries. You have to look harder to find the evidence for more than two sexes, and for the existence of transgender people. That’s partly because, when the people telling the “only two sexes” story win, they tend to silence the people and destroy the documents that attest otherwise, as happened in the earliest days of Nazi Germany.

“The natural order of things” points to matter, not stories, as its unbeatable argument. “Everybody knows” (that part’s a story) that there are only two sexes, male and female, defined by their clear differences in their infant genitalia.

The only problem is, it’s not true. It’s not true that infant genitalia come in only two flavors, male and female, clearly and unambiguously different from each other.

How do we know? Because there are babies born whose genitalia are ambiguous, and that ambiguity makes the adults around them so uncomfortable that doctors perform surgery on these infants to make their genitalia less ambiguous. Sometimes they don’t even tell the parents. Sometimes the parents don’t tell the children. Because that material ambiguity weakens the appeal to “the natural order of things.”

How else do we know? Because centuries ago, the Jewish rabbis defined six distinct genders, carefully defined based on characteristics observed both before and after puberty, in order to rule on whether and how people of those other, rarer, genders needed to observe the ritual laws pertaining to men and women.

The common response at this point tends to be “Well, those are rare exceptions that don’t matter.” And this is where my science-trained ire starts to heat up.

You can’t point to the natural world to justify the gender binary, and then, when confronted with exceptions, wave them away as irrelevant. Any scientist worth their salt knows that if experiments show exceptions to your theory, then your theory is inadequate.

So, to recap:
– “It’s always been that way” —> history says nope
– “Natural order” —> history and science say nope
– “Rare exceptions don’t matter” —> science says nope

At this point, we’re typically down to either an argument from the Bible, or an argument from convenience; and my response to both of them is similar.

Regarding the Bible: there are a whole variety of stories (hermeneutics) about how to make meaning from what the Bible says, and different Christian traditions may choose multiple different approaches. My Catholic tradition teaches me to read the Bible broadly, rather than narrowly: that is, not to take verses out of context and string them together in an argument, or analyze them in isolation, but rather to consider what they mean in context, and how they fit into the overall narrative of salvation history that the Bible tells.

Within that Biblical perspective, that story about the stories of the Bible, I see that the Bible has a few stories about sex and gender, but they are not central stories or dominant themes. What is a dominant theme is the emphasis on how God wants us to treat the poor, the marginalized, the widow, the orphan, the foreigner, the sick, the mad, the outcast, the refugee..…… which are all, all, every single one of them, in some way, “exceptions” or “abnormal”, in the society in which the Bible stories are being told.

So if you ask me what the Bible says about how to treat trans people, or LGBTQ people more broadly, my Bible story says “care for them, welcome them, help them, give them what they need.”

And if you ask me why a whole society should change to accommodate a small minority, I will remind you that within my lifetime, a whole society had to change to accommodate (white) women in the (professional) workplace, and women’s equality more generally: from pronouns to restrooms, from employment law to financial regulations, and that change is still in progress. Within my lifetime, a whole society has been changing to gradually undo the vile inheritance of white supremacy: from public schools to voting rights, from employment law to housing regulations, and that change is still in progress.

This latest new story isn’t completely new: it’s a continuation of the stories our nation has been telling for more than half a century now. Our whole society has been changing, and is still changing, to be more inclusive of people who have historically been marginalized, excluded, or forgotten.

Why would we stop now?

Gracious God, we pray for your holy catholic church.
Fill it with your truth;
Keep it in your peace.
Where it is corrupt, reform it.
Where it is in error, correct it.
Where it is right, defend it.
Where it is in want, provide for it.
Where it is divided, reunite it;
for the sake of your Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ.

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1 Response to Stories, Reality, and Trans Inclusion

  1. Andrew says:

    Thank you (and also glad to see Seanan McGuire cited). Are you familiar with the story of “The Public Universal Friend”?

    “From that time on, the person formerly known as Jemima Wilkinson refused to answer to that name any longer, ignoring or chastising those who insisted on using it Hudson says that when visitors asked if it was the name of the person they were addressing, the Friend simply quoted Luke 23:3 (“thou sayest it”). Identifying as neither male nor female, the Friend asked not to be referred to with gendered pronouns. Followers respected these wishes; they referred only to “the Public Universal Friend” or short forms such as “the Friend” or “P.U.F.”, and many avoided gender-specific pronouns even in private diaries, while others used he. When someone asked if the Friend was male or female, the preacher replied “I am that I am”, saying the same thing to a man who criticized the Friend’s manner of dress. “

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