The most resilient people I know are transgender people. Period.
All that many trans and gender-variant/gender non-conforming people have survived—much less survive on a daily basis—is remarkable in and of itself. Yet the fact that they have chosen and continue to choose, with audacious intention, to be VISIBLE and find ways to THRIVE inspires me time and time again.
Their visibility is, no doubt, the result of serious inner work, strength, and transformation; they cannot help but shine, boldly, for the world to see. But not everyone will allow themselves to behold this light, much less perceive it. Fear, willful ignorance, and hate deprive them of the beauty of these folx’ truth. But for those who are willing to behold the visibility of trans people—to see not just with their eyes, but their hearts—beauty, inspiration, and transformation await.
I know this to be true, because I have beheld the visibility of trans folx who have made their truths known to the world around them—and thanks be to God I got a glimpse! Because I know them, I have a deeper understanding of the manifold beauty of the Image of God, the richness of diversity, and the power of rising in one’s truth. Below, I write about three beloveds whose visibility has blessed my life and inspired transformation and greater love within me. If you know them already, then I suspect your experience has been similar; if you do not, may their ongoing visibility bless you.
I met Rae in the dandelions in Berkeley—as one does in Berkeley—both of us previewing the Pacific School of Religion that March of 2015 as the potential site of our quest to transform the world theologically. Thank Goddess both of us decided to attend that fall because we were lifelines for one another in an exhaustive process of deconstruction, reconstruction, and general furor at how the world, using religion, treats gender-variant folx, particularly those who are differently abled.
My theology was enriched by Rae’s experience as a person outside (but alongside) the Christian faith and by his practice of stillness, quietness, and thoughtfulness. But it wasn’t all meditation or reading or writing (sheets and sheets and sheets)—we also brought up the rear of more than one march, sat on the [frigid!] beaches on the edge of the continent, delt in glitter and painted nails, and theologized and brainstormed what “good trouble” we could get into.
Not only is he visible, Rae is probably the most transparent person I know. [And I know they will love the paradox of my referring to them as both transparent and visible.] Rae modeled for me what it is like to show up day after day after day, especially when it’s exhausting to show up. And on the days they could not show up, Rae’s visibility lingered through their humor, their art, their wisdom, reminding me that, like a diamond, visibility has many facets from which to shine. I also remember the particular danger Rae placed their body in by being VISIBLE to indigenous and native siblings at Standing Rock and through a project where Rae’s visibility and art merged to proclaim their bold truth which served as a lifeline for those experiencing transition. In those moments of great risk, Rae’s visibility was—and remains—simply indomitable. Their insistence that space be made at the table for all to be seen—particularly those who are differently abled—is the definition of visibility in action. Rae is a brilliant artist and an even more brilliant theologian. Their unabashed visibility, even on the hard days, is a gift to the world.
Carmarion D. Anderson-Harvey
The visibility of Minister Carmarion, sister of my heart, has indelibly transformed me. I first witnessed her almost a decade ago, standing in and speaking from her truth; I knew in that moment I had been changed. A few years later, she completely and forever altered my theology by making the sacred scriptures visible to me in new and liberating ways. I shall never forget how she compared gender to the creation story by pointing out the space between day and night, that far-off place you can’t make out which is which—that is Gender and that, she said with confidence and hope, is the possibility of God! If that space between day and night exists, then that space within gender exists. When I tell you I fell out of my chair and got up and thanked God (and continue to thank God) for this revelation, I am telling you the gospel truth. And I have not once looked back at my old, outdated, and ungodly notions of gender and spirituality since.
Unapologetically visible, Carmarion dwells in the places where people like her—Black, trans, Southern, and Christian—often go unseen or who are oppressed because they dwell bodily and spiritually in those intersections. She goes to the places where her visibility upsets social norms, confronts toxic religion, and challenges ignorant perceptions of trans folk. Her very life—lived with aplomb and vitality—is a testament to the beauty and power and belovedness of transgender people! Once you hear her, come to know her, or hear her preach and you will discover something about God.
And trust: hear her preach, talk to her, watch her in action and you will be changed, like I have been, by the dimensions and fortitude of her truth.
I first met Bonnie Violet as Duane when we showed up at a Glide Gender Summit I had curated in 2017. Attracted to each other because of, I think, our burgeoning understandings of gender and spirituality, we became fast friends and soon conspirators in the work we each were called to. Early in her spiritual transition—which preceded her physical one—I came to know her as 333, or Grace, and ever since, Bonnie Violet personifies grace in quiet and remarkable ways. [Girl—you will always be grace to me.]
Bonnie Violet’s visibility is myriad in expression. A thoughtful drag artist, Bonnie Violet speaks her truth and walks her walk in those fabulous heels! She uses her platform to think and talk deeply about honoring one’s spirituality which is not at all apart from one’s gendered self. She models radical authenticity by being true to herself in whatever state of being or becoming she finds herself in. And her truths resonate for trans and gender-variant folk as well as cisgender people who long for wholeness and unification of body and spirit. She creates space to showcase drag artists not just for entertainment but to highlight and emphasize their inherent spirituality and how their spirituality influences who they are and what they do in the world. As an organizer, she brings people together—trans, cis, queer, straight, queer, Christian, recovering Christian—for conversation, for community, for change.
Most of all, Bonnie Violet’s visibility has modeled for me what it means to “hold space.” A consummate queer chaplain, Bonnie goes where she is needed, to those who are often overlooked or unheard. She practices the spiritual gift of presence, bearing witness to the truth of others, and honoring the humanity of those she ministers to.
Bonnie’s visibility in the world means that those who see her will feel seen, that those who open their hearts to her will feel loved, and that those who know her will perceive the Divine that resides in all of us.
Trans Day of Visibility
Trans Day of Visibility is a day when we celebrate the presence of trans and gender-variant/gender non-conforming people in the world around us. Trans people have been a part of all cultures throughout the history of humankind and they remain with us. Their contributions to culture and art and science and beauty are undeniable and should be appreciated. And their presence in the world should be honored and protected.
Many of you reading this likely know trans people and are so fortunate to call some friend. But if you do not know anyone who is trans, I encourage you to put yourself in situations where you can educate yourself about them—to first understand the science and spirituality of transness by doing that work yourself—and then putting yourself in situations where you can get to know them. The best way, as I have experienced it, is simply by showing up for them—advocating for them in the public arena, in your churches, in spaces where they are under attack. Show up for them, protect them, love them, and by all means, give them their roses now—today. Because trust me: you will be blessed along the way.