“How are the boys?”
It’s a perfectly reasonable question and I hear it all the time from friends and colleagues whom I haven’t seen for a while. When I signed the big book at Matriculation in the fall of 2002 as a member of the Junior MDiv class, I had three children under five: identical twin four-year-old boys and an infant son. “The boys” grew up on the Close. Our whole family was in formation here as my husband Bruce served in the development office at GTS before, during and after my education for the priesthood. Our family was a visible, and definitely audible, presence on the seminary grounds.
Sixteen years later, our children are healthy and thriving: two in college and one in high school. But whenever I’m asked, “How are the boys,” I pause awkwardly with a bit of a frozen smile. How to answer? “Great!” Or “Well, actually…”
During her junior year in high school, one of our twins came out publicly as transgender. The person we had known for sixteen years as a boy informed us she was a girl. She announced her chosen name and gender identity on Facebook along with some helpful guidelines on how best to support her transition. Suddenly, Bruce and I found ourselves in uncharted territory as parents of a transgender child. Guided generously and courageously by our daughter, we learned a new language on the fly, with unfamiliar terms like “cis” and “gender dysphoria,” and acronyms such as “GRS” (Gender Reassignment Surgery) and “AMAB” (Assigned Male At Birth). We figured out how best to advocate for our child in school, at doctor’s offices, and in the public square.
We were also grappling with our own transition as parents. What do we do with our memories? How do we manage our fear? Are we grieving someone who is still very much alive? How could we not know our child was suffering so? Moreover, there was the matter of my priestly role in our community. How was I to address this with my parish? Could I be an educator about something I was only beginning to understand myself?
Families like mine are blessed to live in an age with easy access to compassionate language and role models, parent groups and legal advocates, competent physicians and good health insurance, loving extended family and friends. Yet even with all the support we’ve received, it has been quite the journey: at times harrowing, at times hilarious.
My daughter chose to have her gender reassignment surgery (GRS) documented in a video by National Geographic. She wanted to help demystify the transgender experience while educating and reassuring teens and their parents about the procedure itself. After the video’s release, she and I began to hear from people who felt alone and rejected, particularly by their faith communities. One common refrain was “I know that God doesn’t make mistakes. So what about me?” I’ve been asked about the sacrament of baptism. “Am I still a Christian if I was baptized by my ‘dead name’ and gender?”
I believe that the faithful formation of clergy and religious professionals today must include best practices on providing spiritual care for people who identify as gender non-conforming, including transgender individuals and their families. The church has an obligation to tend to the most vulnerable among us and to treat every human being with dignity and respect. To do that, we must listen and learn and pray and, yes, laugh.
Which is why I am pleased to be working with the Rev. Dr. April Stace, Affiliate Professor of Arts and Pastoral Care, on a one-day conference offered at General Seminary this October called “TransLucent: Spiritual Care for Trans* Families.” It is designed for clergy, seminarians and others who wish to grow in understanding both as spiritual caregivers and advocates for the justice, dignity and safety of our gender non-conforming brothers and sisters. Speakers include bible scholars, psychologists, artists, activists and parents who will offer their personal wisdom and professional expertise through presentations, panels and Q&A. We hope that frank, fearless conversation about the transgender experience framed by scripture, science, and modern media will enable us all to minister more effectively, with confidence and grace.
For more information about the day’s speakers and schedule, visit www.eventsatgeneral.com. I am grateful to General for supporting this conference and hope you will share this invitation with your colleagues and others you think may benefit from joining this rich dialogue.
The Rev. Kate Malin ‘06, is an organizer of “TransLucent: Spiritual Care for Trans* Families,” Rector of Christ’s Church in Rye, NY, and adjunct professor of homiletics at General Seminary.