For my latest research project, I have been studying how to talk about trans issues with strangers on the Internet. I already wrote about talking to certain homosexuals who are anti-trans. Today, I will talk about a particularly fascinating topic: Communicating with people who are very religious.
This is a sensitive subject, and while I will do my best to be fair to all sides, please
know in spite of my intent, this post will probably offend some of you. I understand this and apologize in advance. Stop reading now if you would rather not risk taking offense, especially if you are a devout Christian.
Full disclosure, I am an atheist. I was raised Lutheran. I also went through an agnostic period. Born and raised in Utah, many of my friends are devout Mormons. I delved into Buddhism, but if anything, I was and am drawn more to its secular aspects. If you have to tag me with a belief, you can call me a Secular Buddhist. I call myself an atheist.
Religion and spirituality fascinate me. I am a spiritual person. Humans have a HUGE capacity for spirituality, so why not use it?
A spiritual atheist? Yup. How? Because I believe in invisible, intangible things. I believe in love, imagination/creativity… etc. I just put my stock in the intangible that can be made tangible in this life, not the next.
Atheists can be devout. I do not know if I am or not. I like to think I am flexible, but I do tend to base my beliefs on scientific evidence rather than theological evidence.
I have a profound respect for many people of faith, and their security in their beliefs. Where I draw the line is when their beliefs cause a real conflict with my life, particularly my life as a transgender woman.
Readers of this blog know full well, this is the first time I have talked about my beliefs or lack of them. I hope I do not preach. I do not care to convert anyone. Go live your spiritual life your way. I shall do it my way. Thanks.
That said, talking about trans issues with religious strangers online (and even friends) is often enough, like getting in a pissing contest with a skunk. Sadly, I still have not found a method that works perfectly.
It frequently feels like I am talking to grown-ass adults who are telling me their imaginary friend wants to send me into imaginary damnation for being exactly who I feel I was born to be: A transgender female.
I believe in trans. I am trans. It is stark. It is real. It is tangible. It is frightening. What kind of grown-ass adult would negate this experience? One who has an imaginary friend. That is who.
And I just fell into a trap. By negating their beliefs, by calling their God an imaginary friend, I, a grown-ass adult myself, have just invalidated their experience. Their belief is real. It does not matter if it is correct. They have studied, gone to church, listened to sermons, prayed… etc. Those things are all as real as my transition and, my need to transition is as spiritual as their belief in God.
Another trap? Persecution. Christian advocates are as out of the closet as I am as a trans advocate. Both sides face frequent persecution. If I call them bigoted, they can say the same thing about me and we would both be right.
Yet another trap? People generally have good intentions. Even classic trolls just intend to entertain themselves for a short time. When a devout Christian tells me, “You are just a man in a dress. You are a sinner. You will burn in Hell.”, what they are really saying is, “Look dumbass, I am trying to save your eternal life here. Fuck THIS life. Suck it up and stop being trans. Be a good Christian. The next life is going to be worth the pain you suffer in this one.”
Of course, I have tried explaining how, “Thou shalt not trans.” is not a commandment. No dice. Never.
I have tried, “Judge not lest ye be judged.” No luck. They have heard that one before. They have convinced themselves they are not casting judgement because their intent is to save me. That intent is noble.
On that note, I know my Bible very well but who cares? If someone knows I disagree with their beliefs, why would they care what I have to say about their source material, even if I just quote it chapter and verse without embellishment? It is a dead end.
So what works best? Taking the higher ground. Stick to the REAL topic, which is trans related. Respectfully avoid their attempts to draw you into a religious discussion. Stick to facts. Stick to science. Have credible links at your fingertips to back yourself up. Be nice… even if you blow a blood vessel in your eye by doing it.
And here is the best tip I have to offer: Be like Jesus. Forgive them, for they know not what they do. Turn the other cheek. Be a better person in the discussion than they are being. Don’t judge. Don’t cast stones.
If they have been mean and do not eventually see their own hypocrisy, others certainly will, and they may chime in to defend you. Control the tone of the discussion. Calm heads prevail. If someone joins in to defend you but they are cruel to your opponent, call them out and defend your opponent from the cruelty of those comments.
Your goal in online discussions as a trans advocate can be winning. It can be making another person look bad.
My goal is not to win. Not at least to win against one opponent, but rather to sway the largest percentage of people I possibly can. You have to think about what your audience will respond to most positively. Your opponent just gives you a platform to discuss your position in either a positive or a negative way. If you take the negative road, you will sway far fewer people who happen to be on the fence.
There is so much cruelty online, so the opposite of cruelty can frequently get more traction.
And always remember: Sometimes it is best to just walk away and live to fight another day.
Let me leave you with an example:
“I am sorry. I trust your intent is noble. I know you are trying your best to lead me to a glorious afterlife. I do not blame you. I understand. Thank you for your kindness.
Your beliefs just do not change my stark reality any more than my being trans will change your beliefs. If you have it in your heart to accept me in spite of this difference, please do. If you feel the need to pray for me, who am I to judge what you do with your time? In fact, it may work.
I am willing to accept my lot, and I promise I will do my best with this life, so if we both are to be judged by God, we still might see each other in the next one… in spite of my spending my life as a transgender woman.
I wish we could find common ground, but alas, it may never happen. Please accept this and know that neither I nor my transition will ever cause you any personal harm.”