Recently, I have had the privilege of being involved in several summits, workshops, and mini conferences aimed at raising awareness and increasing understanding of this seemingly complex thing we call, “gender.” My role in such endeavors ranges from consulting and assisting in planning, to presenting and/or speaking, to some combination of all these services. It is my deep honor and joy to do this work.
I have been reminded what hard work it is for those primarily tasked with creating these opportunities for learning and for expanding our understanding of personhood, the still-speaking nature of our God, and the role and mission of church as we seek a wider, more just, and more united body of believers. So, I began to think it might be helpful to share some thoughts and offer some general tips for those of you who may be thinking about expanding your community’s awareness of gender diversity.
1 – Creator didn’t do it all in a day…neither can we:
On a foundational level, this thing we call “gender diversity” is, really, a simple thing. The truth is, there are, always have been, and likely always will be as many ways to feel and express a self-understanding of gender as there are now, ever have been, or ever will be persons. However, dismantling all our preconceived, socially conditioned ideas about gender is far from simple. Beyond that, doing our own internal work around deepening compassion, embracing acceptance, and expanding how we interact with others in our increased understanding is, also, not simple. And, really, it’s all about process.
There is a lot to unlearn and a lot to learn.
That said, it is just not possible to achieve the groundwork and absorb all the learning in one weekend of workshops, let alone do it all in one day. Therefore, we need to be realistic about our goals and our priorities. This learning, really, is never a one-and-done proposition. Like creation, learning and growing is a process. It changes. We can feel liberated to go at our own pace.
2 – First Things First:
To engage this work of gender-awareness growth, it is helpful to begin at the beginning, so to speak. It is worth taking a little more time on the front end of the planning to help create potential for a meaningful outcome. This is deep work—for you and your community, but it is also deep work for those you invite to help you grow in your process. Set goals. Identify priorities. Take things one at a time. If possible, create a process for communal checking-in along the way to get a sense of where you are as you grow and what questions and insights are emerging as you travel this road together. This can be as simple as creating a planning team and each of you engaging in individual relational meetings with community members throughout your process.
3 – Identify and Know Your Audience:
Based on what emerges in your thinking together about where you are and where you would like to go in your understanding of gender, you will come to have a good idea of who you are as an audience of learners. This is essential to nurturing and feeding your longing for growth. It will make it easier to know who to invite, what workshops to offer, and how to best structure your learning efforts.
Mainly, the goal is to meet the group where the group is…rather than where we’d maybe like for it to be.
Take time to think through where your community is, now, so that there is opening for discerning where the “beginning” is for you and your group of compassionate learners. Have you already engaged story-sharing with members of your community? Have you watched a film, had a book study, or attended other awareness-raising events in your wider community? Or, are you starting from scratch? If you’ve begun learning, do you collectively think you’ve had useful information?
It might be worth holding some kind of team think-tank discussions to determine what your questions are. What do you most need to learn to move forward to the next stage?
What are the common tugs at your collective longing for Sacred revelation in your desire to embrace your gender-diverse siblings?
How can you best meet the pull of those yearnings for the good of the community…and the transgender persons in your midst?
4 – Be Aware of the Continuum of “Teaching” and Learning:
We all learn in unique and diverse ways. Equally, different persons are able and equipped to offer different means and methods of teaching. Some folks are really gifted story-tellers. Others are talented and gifted educators in terms of knowing how to impart more technical and information-based teaching. It is important to know the difference—both for your learning process and for well-being, dignity, and welcoming experience of your speakers and teachers. Remember that not everyone who is transgender is comfortable, willing or prepared to “teach” others about transgender issues, realities, or gender theory. It is important to honor trans persons, their personal comfort, their privacy, and their self-determination regarding what they wish to offer and what they feel able and prepared to offer. Wherever we can, we want to be careful to avoid asking someone, who may feel pressure to please us, to gift us with educational offering they do not feel prepared or comfortable offering. We also don’t want to overlook those among us who may have much to offer.
Sometimes, it is even better to have someone outside of our immediate congregation or close community to offer awareness-raising stories or education to us.
Providing transgender education is actual work. Story-telling, especially, is vulnerable and deep work. Sometimes, it’s actually harder to do with people you know. It is best to offer invitation, generally, to the community and to mix that with inviting known, self-identified transgender educators. The most important thing to remember is that transgender persons need to be the voices talking about transgender issues, concerns, and experiences in the world.
But, we also need to respect that not every transgender person wants or feels prepared to offer story or education.
5 – Know and Vet Your Resources:
There are a lot of tools and resources for doing this work of learning about gender and gender-expansive persons. Sadly, however, not all of it is good information and some of it is actually exploitative and exoticizing of transgender persons. Wherever possible, before you choose a film or a book for study or make use of some other format, check it out with people and/or organizations in transgender leadership. Search around the internet. Talk to folks you may know. See what we recommend and what we don’t recommend. Once you start looking, you’ll likely be amazed at what you come across. Blogs. Reviews. Trans service and information websites. There is a world of resources out there. Trust yourself and your good sense to discern what is helpful and what is not. That said:
Use you Reconciling Ministries Network resources! That’s why we’re here.
Reach out to your Regional Organizer. They may know folks in your area who can help you engage this work. They may be able to connect you with other local UMCs doing this same work. Check out the RMN website. We are creating new resources all the time. And there may be events going on near you.
Finally, reach out to me! This is what I am here to do. I am happy to help you think through and plan your process. I am also happy to come to you and offer workshops or other types of services to you and your community. More, I may know folks in your area who are happy and prepared to help.
Either way, I’m here and looking forward to accompanying you in whatever ways are helpful.
Liam invites you to share your stories, wisdom, and experience with him directly: Please email him at liam