Archive for January, 2012

January 22, 2012

We’re not all “brothers and sisters”

When I talk about gendered language I’m not only referring to calling a crowd of people “guys” or a waiter addressing a table of people as “ladies.”  Those instances hardly make a dent any longer.  What really gets to me is specifically gendered language in places where we are supposed to know better or, at least, supposed to be working on it.  Gendered language that people think is inclusive without really looking into it.

You know, like church?  Our churches.  Our Unitarian Universalist faith communities that we are so, rightfully, proud of.  The churches where so many of us have “gender identity and expression” in our mission statements and have supported transgender rights legislation from city-wide right up to the national level, and where we stress over and over that all are welcome.  We ask you to come as you are and then, if you’re somewhere outside the gender binary, you’re ignored.

Transgender identities can be complicated and confusing and often they get oversimplified in an effort to give a quick explanation to somebody.  Phrases like “born in the wrong body” and “really a boy/girl” are used to sum up all that is the trans experience.  Those phrases do work for a lot of people who identify as trans; there are some people who truly have known since they were very small children that they are definitely the “other” gender than the one they were assigned.  There are also quite a lot of folks out there for whom there is no “other” gender.  They know they aren’t male but they aren’t totally female, either.  I talked about this life in the middle-ground of gender before.

When an assembled body of people is referred to as “ladies and gentleman,” or “men and women” or anything along those lines there is a group of people you’re ignoring.  When you sing “brothers and sisters” or “oh, fathers/mothers let’s go down,” or do a reading that calls on “men” to do one thing while “women” do another you are ignoring all of the “me’s” out there.  You’re ignoring my existence.  I don’t think it’s intentional but I do think it’s something that needs to change.

Today this came up during a service that was supposed to pay homage to the Iowa Sisterhood and the Bread and Roses strike.  That’s great!  There are women out there who have made amazing contributions to our world; women who have banded together and created real, valuable change.  It is necessary that we recognize their perseverance to succeed in a world that did not want to include them.  It is necessary to see their successes as one step in a more gender-inclusive world.  But, when we celebrate these successes, can we please not do it in a way that makes those of us who are neither men nor women invisible?  We need to take the spirit of their message, or the essence of what they were seeking, and expand that beyond the binary we’ve been taught.  These women were fighting against a world that tried, and often succeeded, in making them invisible.  Trans people are doing the same thing, but with smaller numbers and a less united “what we’re fighting for” message in many cases.

In the UU world trans people are accepted on paper and, often, if they fit in enough with one of two genders they are welcomed in practice (for the most part).  There are a lot of trans people I know who would be perfectly fine standing and claiming their identity as female or male, and that’s great, and I’m thrilled those people are supported by their communities.

I am not male.  I am not female.  I use the pronouns he/him/his because they force people to recognize me as not-a-female.  If there was a more readily accepted and useable gender neutral example I’d happily adopt it.  But there’s not, so I don’t.  But just because those are the pronouns I use does not mean I’m your “brother” or a “man” or one of the “guys.”  There is no side for me to pick in these songs, or these readings, or rituals.  There’s no “middle” or “other” so I’m left out entirely.

So what do I think you should you do?  Just recognize our experience.

How?  Oh I’m SO glad you asked!

  1. Look at a reading and see if you feel comfortable adapting it to make it more inclusive.  If you can’t change the words then make an   acknowledgement that it’s not entirely inclusive.  “Though the author refers to “women and men” we take this reading in the spirit of affirming all genders.”
  2. Look for hymns that affirm all people, and adapt if necessary.  One of my favorite replacements for the phrase “brothers and sisters” is “siblings in spirit.”  This, too, is a quick fix.  “In the chorus of ‘We’ll Build a Land’ we will sing “siblings in spirit” rather than “brothers and sisters” to better welcome all into our worship.”
  3. Remember trans folks on Mother’s/Father’s Day.  Many trans people have interesting and complicated relationships with parenting, whether or not they are parents themselves.  Again, you don’t have to do away with services, just an affirmation is fine.  You don’t get something pre-scripted here; I’d prefer you wrote it yourself, from your heart.
  4. It’s okay to mess up; it’s not okay to pretend you didn’t mess up.  Acknowledge and learn from criticism, complaints, hurt feelings, and difficult feedback.
  5. Don’t ask men to sing one part and women to sing another.  I don’t care if it messes with your choir director’s mind.  Find another way to classify voices.  “Higher voices, sing __, lower voices, sing __.”
  6. Lastly, stop referring to the kids as “boys and girls.”  There are miniature versions of me, too.  We get just as annoyed and we’re often less articulate when we’re smaller.  Call them children, call them kids, call them young people.

Email me if you want to hash something out privately.  Andy.Leigh.Coate-at-gmail-dot-com.

We’ll build a land where siblings in spirit united by God may then create peace… see, totally works.


Thanks to Rev. Sean Dennison and others for help in sussing this out in my mind.

January 12, 2012

“Cookies Support the Transgenders”

At least according to one young girl in California. Recently a video was posted by a young teenager from California who says that she has been a Girl Scout for 8 years and is really upset that the Girl Scouts have a policy in place that welcomes transgender girls (she repeatedly calls them transgender boys) into full inclusion and community with the Girl Scouts. She encourages us to boycott Girl Scout cookies, either by not selling them if we’re a member of Girl Scouts or by not buying them if we’re just part of the cookie loving masses.

Thankfully most of the response I have seen from my friends has been “let’s buy extra cookies this year to support the Girl Scouts and their policy of inclusivity.” That’s great! That is positive activism, that is change through love. There have been the few comments I’ve seen on Facebook calling this girl stupid, calling her a bitch, calling her things that NO parent would want to see their kid called. Names I don’t want to see any kid called, either.

She is a kid. She’s 14 I think, and it’s clear this movie wasn’t totally her idea. The editing is a little too sophisticated, her reading a little too stilted, everything just a little “too” to be completely written, planned, filmed, edited, and posted without adult intervention somewhere in the process. None of that is to say it might not have been her idea, or something that she mentioned at dinner that a parent latched on to. But more than likely she’s a girl who was put up to something by her conservative parents who were upset about the possible inclusion of transgender or gender varient girls in Girl Scouts. That kind of thing CAN sound scary if presented in the wrong way to a young girl (or, frankly, to anybody) and I have no doubt that she does believe what she’s saying.

It’s scary when something is presented to you in a way that makes it sound like something you know and love is changing. If a young teen is told “we’re going to let boys into your Girl Scout troop!” I can see how that could freak a kid out. The problem, of course, being that boys aren’t being allowed into Girl Scout troops. There’s a good chance that this girl has no way of knowing that; if she’s been fed the typical right-wing rhetoric about what transgender means then… yeah, she has it wrong and it probably does sound scary. That rhetoric usually goes something like “unstable men who like to dress up like women so they can use the girl’s bathrooms and possibly hurt girls.”

I have no doubt that this girl was raised in a conservative Christian household; every sign is there. She wears a cross, the video was immediately up on a very Christian-centric website, and even the script she was reading from was very “family values”-centric. Read the terminology they use… all those words are carefully chosen and come from the same place as Focus on the Family, the American Family Association and other innocuous-sounding-but-hateful groups.

I feel bad for this girl. I feel bad that it’s clearly going to be awhile before she has any actual chance to explore the world a little and meet people not in her religious, social, and political demographic. I feel bad that she’s probably getting a lot of hate directed at her right now from liberal folks and that that is just going to enforce the points she has been fed. I feel bad that she was used in this way to push an agenda that she clearly doesn’t know much about. I just feel bad for her.

Let’s keep this boycott-of-the-boycott positive. Let’s buy a ton of cookies and let’s send letters of support to Girl Scouts, thanking them for being inclusive and forward-moving. Let’s not demonize a 14 year old girl for something I have no doubt she’ll regret at some point. She really is just a kid.

January 5, 2012

The “Help Andrew go to Seminary” – Coffee and Application Fees – Fundraiser

My community is amazing.

A. Maze. Ing.

I launched my fundraiser just a couple days ago.  Already I have my application fees covered.  That’s… amazing.

(also, terrifying – post forthcoming, have no fear!)

Any future donations will go toward any other education/ministry-preparedness fees that come up.  What are those?

Assuming I get in… tuition, books, housing, career assessment, clinical pastoral education… you get the point.  The financial need isn’t going away.

And if I don’t get in?  Then I freak out for awhile and apply again next year.

The original post!


I guess I’m going for it.

I’m applying to seminary with the hope of entering ministry in the Unitarian Universalist denomination.  There are a million things I need to do before I see that day, and a lot of those things involve… money.

Ick!  Who wants to talk about MONEY?

Except I have to.  Even the very first steps here, just the application process to seminary, is far from cheap.  I’ve narrowed it down as much as I can to cost as little AS it can, but in the end there’s money I need to pay that I just don’t have.

There’s an awful lot of good out there in this world and I’ve discerned that this is the vehicle through which I want to help some of that potential good be realized THROUGH ministry.  If you want to see my ministry move forward, or if you have found this a useful or helpful blog and want to see more both online AND in real life, I hope you’ll consider contributing.

If you, or people you know, are at all able to help me out please do.  You can donate to me directly through Paypal.

And I’m not actually going to use the money to buy coffee.  Any money left when application and transcript and GRE fees are over and done with will be saved for the next monetary hurdle!

Donate here!

January 1, 2012

Occupy Boston Religion Documentaries

There are two documentaries about the Faith and Spirituality component of Occupy Boston.

This one was made by Jenn Lindsay, and PhD student at Boston University:

(if you’re creepily just looking for my part, I speak at 8:15/10:55 and am giggly for some reason.  If you’re looking for the UU parts they start around 23:30)

The other, Holy Mess, was part of a class that one of the other Protest Chaplains was taking last semester.  Laura Evonne Steinman, another UU who was very active in the tent city aspect of Occupy Boston, gives a great interview.