Debbie, Angry Jesus, and the Struggle with Cis ignorance: a look at the human Jesus through the eyes of a marginalized person; OR, How to be a person without power when everybody else tells you how you should feel

Guest blogger Debbie-Anne Richards is a Radical Trans activist. They are Nonbinary Trans feminine AMAB (Assigned Male At Birth) person. Debbie-Anne currently resides in Louisville Kentucky where she is working on their GED, starting their own business, and doing all kinds of strange and unusual things. Debbie plans to get their M.Div and become a Chaplain working in the Juvenile prison system. Debbie occasionally writes for [D]Mergent on trans issues within the church.
Debbie and angry Jesus 1

Finding a starting point for a blog with such a powerful title like this is not an easy task. I came up with the title and a little idea for what will be the blog itself before truly coming up the body of the message itself.  I suppose, I want to start by saying that I am a NonBinary AMAB (Assigned Male at Birth) Trans feminine person who also just happens to be a Christian called into Christ’s ministry by the powerful yet totally awesome and mysterious Holy Spirit of the living God. (Pardon my evangelical lingo; you can take the kid away from the evangelicals but you can’t take the evangelical away from the kid.)  I’m a member of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and was recently elected and installed as a Deacon in my Church. I was raised in a very conservative evangelical Christian home; my mother was a children’s evangelist and my father a Senior Minister through the Church of the Nazarene. I grew up thinking being a Christian was about condemnation of “Sin” and not really about the radical Gospel of love given to us through Christ.

When I write to you today about myself, Angry Jesus, and the struggles with Cis ignorance, I write to you as somebody who has lived that ignorant life. I come to you as a Trans person who has dealt with the ignorance long before they knew what it really meant.  THIS is my commentary about who I know Jesus to be. THIS is my commentary about the experiences I have dealt with as a marginalized person both inside and out of the Church. THIS is the story of a person in hot pink when everyone else is wearing gray. THIS is the story of an angry, marginalized, Trans person with little power or privilege constantly being told they have privilege or being compared to a racist for being open about their feelings. THIS is the story of a hurt person not willing to put up with being trampled on and hurt any longer. THIS is MY story; THIS IS MY LIFE.

If I had to pinpoint the time I really put everything together and realized my Trans identity, I don’t think I could actually do that for you. I can, however, tell you that I came up with my name in my early 20’s (I am now 30 going on 31) and started presenting in the feminine any chance I got; by 25 I finally said, “Screw it. I can’t live this miserable shell of an existence any longer, I MUST BE WHO I TRULY AM!!!”  I changed my name legally and started living full time in the feminine.

At first it was rough. I tried so very hard to make sure the people around me were comfortable that I ignored my own comforts. One of the Elders in my church at the time tried to get me kicked out of the church and even wanted me to step down as a deacon, which I seriously considered; however the Pastor would have no part of that. A little later, that same elder wrote a nasty, slanderous, letter using my birth name instead of my legally changed name of Deborah.  Things got rough and I thought about leaving. I never really spoke my mind or stood up for myself’ I was afraid to. I was told I shouldn’t and I didn’t.

The only place I felt I could be myself was online: Facebook, GCN (the Gay Christian Network), and other affirming spaces of which, even though this was 2012, there still weren’t very many. I felt like nobody in my faith community understood my hurt and if I spoke out about it to them they would admonish me for doing so. I prayed long and hard about that, asking God to help me decide if I should I stay or if I should go. The answer came to me one Sunday when we had a guest preacher. The person preaching happened to be the son-in-law of the woman who wrote that nasty, slanderous, letter. He included trans people in his sermon; one step further was the invitation hymn, “Strong Gentle Children,”[1] By Rev. Dan Damon. I heard the words in the second verse:

Strong hurting Children, angry and terrified,
Open the secrets your life has concealed,
Though you are wounded, know you are not to blame,
Cry out your story till truth is revealed

They spoke to me; they gave me the answer to my prayers. I was supposed to stay. I was supposed to cry out my story till truth was revealed. It was at that moment I started to TRULY live authentically. I stopped trying so hard to make everybody else comfortable and I started taking my own feelings into consideration.

That brings us to now, A few days ago it all started. I’d been experiencing an overload of Cisgender (Cisgender meaning “same gender,” i.e. your brain matches your body and there is no discrepancy between your assigned gender at birth based on genitals and how you identify) people telling me how wrong I am for my feelings, or telling me that I shouldn’t speak out against how Cis people treat Trans people. I have been told my feelings are akin to that of a racist. The thing is, I can’t hold that kind of power because I don’t have that kind of power. I’ve been told by Cis people that Cis privilege doesn’t exist and that I should be more polite when talking about how I feel when I am hurt by Cis privilege. It has cost me two longtime friends thus far and nearly cost me one more yesterday. This all led me to ask my esteemed colleague, friend, sister, and all around fun person The Insufferable(Love you, Mary Jo!) Rev. Mary Jo Bradshaw if it was okay to have feelings of hate toward your oppressors? Her answer was “yes.” She said it’s important what we do with those feelings and that they are our own. She encouraged me to write about it, and here I am. Mary Jo told me to remember that injustice made Jesus angry, too.  She went on to say that I should feel free to call people who are dismissive of me a “Brood of vipers”. I liked that; it resonated well within me. And this is where I get into showing you the angry Jesus I love so much.

Oftentimes in the world of Christianity we are introduced to happy, never-angry, all loving, soft-spoken, wouldn’t hurt a fly Jesus. This Jesus is an important one to remember; however, it’s also important to remember that particular Jesus wasn’t the full embodiment of Jesus but that was only one small portion of who he was. There was also the human Jesus: the Jesus who was angry and felt free to express that anger; the Jesus who was sad and expressed that sadness; the Jesus who, when pushed over the edge, let that show too; the Jesus who was even known to throw a few slurs around. This is *MY*  Jesus, the Jesus of the marginalized people, the Jesus of the broken, the hurt, the misfit outcast. This is the Jesus I see every day and EVERY Sunday when I take part in Communion. This is the Jesus I will show you through scripture.

Since I am a member of a liturgical Church and we have just entered into the season of Lent, I feel it’s great to start with the Angry Jesus of Matthew 21. Angry Jesus Matthew 21:12-17 as told by Eugene Patterson from the Message is the story “He Kicked Over the Tables.”[2] It is followed by the story of “The Withered Fig Tree.”[3]

This Jesus was outraged by what has become of the holy place the place where His divine parent (I refuse to refer to God as a male or female I do not believe God has a gender or is even limited to a gender for God is God a divine being not limited to our rigid binary gender system with even more rigid binary gender roles.), Jesus knew this was not what His parent’s dwelling place should look like, He knew it was a sacred place meant for worship and contemplation, a place meant for healing and grace. NOT a place where people treat it like the city market. THIS angered Jesus and and he as a human being showed that anger by throwing a temper tantrum even Courtney Love couldn’t top. ”

Moving on to the story right after this, Jesus gets angry with a fig tree A FIG TREE! a fig tree that was out of season at that! Let’s take a look shall we?

Jesus got angry because he wanted breakfast and the first tree he saw was a fruit tree that it wasn’t even the right season for. What does he do? He curses the damn thing and tells it never again will it produce fruit, all because there was no fruit for him to eat. WHY did he do this? Well, one can really only speculate. In verses 21-22 Jesus uses this as an example of faith and doing great deeds. This is one interpretation and I do agree with it; HOWEVER, I like to look at the human side of Jesus in this story. He had just come out of Jerusalem where he saw His Divine Parent’s house being used in all kinds of ways that made him so ANGRY he threw a hissy fit over. He was tired, over-stressed. He knows what is about to go down in just a few days (His death) and he is expressing a natural human emotion of anger. Sure, it’s not the tree’s fault that figs were not in season and therefore the tree had no fruit. Jesus didn’t care about that. He was ANGRY and he wanted to do something with that anger that didn’t hurt anybody physically, so bye-bye figs!

Now for the entire chapter of Matthew 23 Jesus gets angry and takes down those people in power who were hungry for it like the Pharisees, priests, teachers of the law etc…

I could EASILY see Jesus saying something similar to cis people who constantly condemn trans people for their feelings. This entire chapter is basically about Jesus challenging the power structure and those with the power.  Gee… Cis people, see any connections here? Any lights going off yet about calling people out for their harmful inappropriate remarks and behaviour? Not yet? Okay, let’s continue!

One last piece of scripture for you, also from Matthew, Chapter 15, Verses 1-20: “What Pollutes Your Life.”[4]

Here Jesus is again addressing the Pharisees because they are trying to get him for not playing by their rules. The Disciples don’t quite understand this so Peter asks Jesus to “Dumb it down” for them. Jesus, more than likely a bit frustrated with that (I know I would be), calls the disciples on it right there. I can just imagine Jesus shouting at his disciples: “Are you still so ignorant you just don’t get it! Have you NOT been listening to a damn thing I have been saying all this TIME!?!?!?!?!?!!! Here, here are some Q-tips and peroxide. Go clean out your ears and PAY ATTENTION NEXT TIME!”

This is the Jesus I follow, the Jesus who knows what it’s like for the marginalized people with little to no power, the one who gets angry and frustrated with those who want to ignore those marginalized people’s lack of power and tell them how to think, what to feel, what to say, and even how to act or who to be. Jesus gets tired of that people-of-power-ignorance and he calls folks on it. Jesus gets tired of talking and people not listening and he calls them on it.

Likewise, we people with little to no power get tired of being hurt and explaining to you people with power OVER AND OVER AND OVER again how it feels and what you could do to change it, only for you to ignore it completely or just not care and continue saying how wrong we are.

I will close with a story from a leader, a person with Cis privilege, and a voice that can be heard working toward justice and inclusion, and a good friend of mine Sandhya Jha:

My friend and I went for ice cream on Tuesday. She uses a wheelchair and the store only has high top tables and chairs. When she asked the manager why they didn’t have accessible seating, he explained that according to the ADA, only the counter where the cash register sits needs to be low enough for her to use. (That is, as long as she can pay, he doesn’t need her to be able to actually eat there.)

What was fascinating and disturbing to watch was that he didn’t seem to realize he was saying, “Listen; we’ve done the absolute minimum legally required of us, so why are you complaining?” (This is not to mention that he was talking to someone incredibly conversant in the Americans with Disabilities Act who knew for a fact that unequal service space is in fact out of compliance with the ADA, no matter who told him otherwise.)

It made me think about all the times I have heard “why aren’t you satisfied with the absolute least we are required to do,” and all of the times I have said it to someone myself, with the same puzzlement as that ice cream store manager.[5]

Sandhya’s words spoke to me. Sandhya is a person of privilege. She’s Cis, she’s an able bodied female. She’s known to most people she encounters as “White,” and I’m sure the list could go on. However, Sandhya is not just a White person; she’s biracial. She’s also female so let’s take that away too. BUT, even with taking some of her power and privilege away, Sandhya is still a person of privilege who sees her privilege and power as an opportunity to speak out. She took this moment at the ice cream place as an opportunity to share with her friends that sometimes the people with power and privilege like to take advantage of those who don’t have it. And though in the case of the story with her friend, it was about taking advantage of people with disabilities, I see intersections between that and being trans.  As a trans person my voice is often taken away. People say “I’m giving you the minimum required of myself. I’m letting you walk around expressing in a way I KNOW is wrong. Isn’t that enough?” Or “I’m giving you the minimum that is required of me. I’m letting you express that way, but don’t tell me how much my words are hurting you. I won’t allow that. You will be wrong if you do that!”

I know there are Cis people who are Trans-affirming and actually show that through word and deed. However, there are also many Cis people who think they are Trans-affirming just because they have a Trans friend or are dating a Trans person. They think this gives them room to say hurtful, inappropriate things, not understanding what power and privilege they do hold in comparison to us Trans people. There are even worse Cis people out there who openly admit their transphobia and walk all over us, wanting to make it as though we never even existed. I’m scared of these people and you could be one of them or maybe not. BUT I will NOT lay down and let you hurt me. I will NOT stay silent. I WILL be like the Jesus I see. I will BE ANGRY and call you on it if you try to use your power to hurt me.

Thank you to the Sandhya Jhas and Mary Jo Bradshaws of the world for allowing those of us who do have a lack of power to have our feelings. Thank you for standing up and being our voices when we CANNOT seem to be heard.  Thank you for letting us be!

 

[1] You are encouraged to read the words to the entire song.
[2] Matthew 21:12-17, The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson
[3] Matthew 21:18-22, MSG.
[4] Matthew 15:1-20, MSG.
[5] Sandhya Jha, Facebook post, February 11, 2016.

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