Caryn Riswold wrote a moving article about Bruce Jenner’s interview on Friday with Dianne Sawyer. In the interview, Bruce states, “For all intents and purposes, I’m a woman. People look at me differently. They see you as this macho male, but my heart and my soul and everything I do in life – it is part of me. That female side of me. That’s who I am.”
Caryn’s article is titled “How Should People of Faith Respond to Bruce Jenner?” It is a compassionate response to Jenner and all people who identify as transgender. She states that all people are created in the image of God and so deserve our love and compassion. Sadly, many religious people disagree with Caryn, insisting that Jenner is confused, crazy, or just out for attention.
Caryn worries that Jenner will be mocked and ridiculed. She states that people of faith should not respond with ridicule, but rather with acceptance and compassion.
Pay attention to the one who isn’t laughing. The one who looks upset. The one who is desperately trying to escape the gaze and the mockery.
Pay attention to the ones on the margins. Whose image are they created in?
As I read Caryn’s article, my thoughts went to someone I met last year. A friend of mine asked me to visit his friend – a woman in her 50s. My friend described her as being depressed and questioning if her existence mattered to anyone. “Oh, and she’s transgender,” my friend explained. “Her parents are conservative Christians and have rejected her. I don’t know how she will respond to a pastor, but she needs to talk with someone.”
My heart broke for this woman before I even met her. A lifetime of being rejected, mocked, and “on the margins” of her Christian family.
This was my first conscious experience with a transgender person. Before I met her at our local coffee house, I said a brief prayer and I reminded myself of my job – to be a nonjudgmental presence as I “pay attention to the ones on the margins.”
Surprisingly, she opened up right away about her parents and siblings. She experienced rejection from her family and church, yet she had friends who introduced her to God’s unconditional love. She knew, deep in her bones, that while her family and church had rejected her, God hadn’t. God responded to her as a transgender woman by accepting her and loving her for who she was.
Sometimes I take my role in ministry too seriously. I start to think that it’s my job to minister and heal people. But it’s in moments when I sit across from a transgender woman who tells me about God’s unconditional love that I discover that I am the one who is being ministered to. Here was a transgender woman who had been scapegoated, despised, and rejected. Yet she pointed beyond that hatred to the unconditional, unmerited, gracious love of God.
I found myself holding her hand. Man. Woman. Transgender. Whatever. In the face of God’s holy love that this woman was mediating to me, those constructs didn’t matter.
What mattered was the truth that transcends our social constructs that divides the world into us and them – that God loves us as we are and for who we are. Period.
But it’s hard to live this way, isn’t it? After all, there are those people who continue to be judgmental, who do divide the world into us “good, normally gendered people” and those “bad, abnormally confused people like Bruce Jenner.”
And so, the question Caryn asks about how we should respond to Bruce Jenner is crucially important. Another crucially important question is “How should people of faith respond to those we think are judgmental?”
Here’s what I learned from the transgender woman I met: You don’t respond by mimicking harsh judgment. You don’t mock the mockers, marginalize the marginalizers, or scapegoat the scapegoaters. Rather, you respond by mediating God’s unconditional love to them.
That doesn’t mean we ignore the pain of being marginalized. No, we talk about our pain because that’s the way we move toward healing. And as we talk and move toward healing, we begin to discover that those who judge us have their own pain and their own wounds that they project on us. What they need isn’t for us to mimic their judgment, but for us to be vessels of the love of God.
It’s in that love, the love modeled by a transgender woman, that we are healed from our pain, our wounds, and our judgmentalism.
Adam Ericksen blogs at the Raven Foundation, where he uses mimetic theory to provide social commentary on religion, politics, and pop culture. Follow Adam on Twitter @adamericksen.