Some people say living in religious community is easy. You get to hang out with like-minded people, so you never have to be confronted by someone who sees things differently.
But others say living in religious community is hard, because even if you are surrounded by people who mostly agree with you on one thing, there are still bound to be disagreements and conflict.
The broader Unitarian Universalist world is experiencing more conflict as I write this. It was triggered by an article that was just published in the UU World magazine (which all members of Unitarian Universalist congregations receive) titled “After L, G, and B.” The article was written from the point of view of a cis-gendered woman regarding some of the challenges of being welcoming to people who are transgendered (which is what the “T” in the popular acronym LGBTQI or its variants stands for.) I read it as a well-intentioned effort to challenge and support those of us who do identify as cis-gendered (meaning our gender identity matches what is on our birth certificate, basically) in how we can be more inclusive of those who are not. But as Karl Marx said, the road to hell is paved with good intentions.
Many UUs who are transgender and who closely identify with them almost immediately responded to the article with shock and dismay, and expressions of deep pain and disappointment. Even before the print magazine arrived in the mailboxes of many of us here on the west coast, the trans UU group TRUUsT posted an online article detailing why it was so hurtful to many. One primary reason for that is the original article focused on the experience of a cis-gendered person trying to figure out how to be more proper in her welcoming, rather than on the experiences of trans people themselves who often don’t feel welcome in UU congregations. It’s analogous, perhaps, to a man writing an article about how difficult it is to be inclusive of women, or a white person doing the same about people of color. Doing that without holding up the lives and voices of those who are oppressed adds to feelings of diminishment or invisibility.
I have to admit that when I first heard of the controversy, I had a feeling of frustration myself, thinking – as I often do in such situations – that we’re just making a mountain out of a molehill with this. I often feel overwhelmed by the almost daily attacks on the worth and dignity of so many people in our larger world, attacks that might be far more damaging than one article in a denominational magazine. But then I began to see that I was engaging in the same kind of thinking the article is based on – that the real problem is my hesitancy to want to change things in my world rather than learning to change so that others are included. If we really want to know how to better practice our principles by including trans people, we absolutely need to center the voices and lives of people who live those experiences.
One of the things that I need to learn and keep learning is that the impact of my actions carries far more weight than my intent. That’s a hard lesson for someone like me, who was raised cis-gendered, white, male, straight, and temporarily able-bodied. My culture has taught me – and often still maintains – that it is only my intent that matters. But the truth is quite the opposite.
Living in religious community is indeed hard. But it’s a beautiful difficulty if we can learn to live more fully into our ideals and open our ears and hearts to all those among us.
(If you follow the links above, you’ll find an apology before the article on the UU World website.)