ESR MDiv student Anthony Kirk delivered the following message during Joint Bethany/ESR Worship on November 18, 2016:
Being transgender in America is a dangerous, lonely, and isolating existence. We are denied safe spaces. We are denied equal treatment and protections under the law. We are not given adequate medical treatment. We are even denied a place to use the bathroom.
We have been butchered at the hands of politicians, congregations, medical professionals, counselors, by gay and lesbian people, our families… Our lives have been dismissed as not real. That we are simply mentally disturbed. We can have the “dysphoria” beaten out of us, verbally, emotionally, physically. We are left for dead. We are drowning in pain and sorrow. We are murdered at alarming rates. 41% of us attempt suicide.
2016 has been a painful reminder to me and to my community at just how vulnerable we are at the hands of our society. This year boasts the highest rate of transgender murders—mostly transwomen of color—and the year is not yet over. My siblings of God are calling suicide hotlines more than previously reported. After the election last week the levels skyrocketed.
According to “Greta Martela, the co-founder and executive director of Trans Lifeline, said the line received 426 callers on election night, the most it has ever gotten.” She acknowledges the fears of many trans people in the following statement: “We were hoping that we would have an election and things would get better. This is at a time when the Obama administration has been doing wonderful things for trans people and it’s probably all doing to be undone. We’re looking at four pretty bleak years.”
As optimistic as I would like to be, I cannot find a silver lining right now. This year has been horrible for my fellow trans children of God. And as much as Obama has done for my community, the backlash from conservatives has haunted me. According to the Human Rights Campaign,
An unprecedented 44 anti-transgender bills are being considered in 17 states. Some bills undercut the ability of transgender people to access gender-affirming health care, create state-sanctioned avenues of anti-transgender discrimination and, last but not least, deny transgender people access to bathrooms, locker rooms and athletic teams consistent with their gender identity. Unfortunately, a third of the anti-equal access “bathroom bills” would apply statewide to multi-user restrooms, locker rooms and similar facilities. If passed, some impose criminal penalties on transgender people who use restrooms consistent with their gender identity.
Take a long, hard look at me. Look at the person standing in front of you all today. My body has been forced to be political. It is against my will that I and my community are dragged into hateful rhetoric. We are unjustly targeted as predators, rapists, lecherous perverts who want to “harm your daughters.” Wholly unfounded, entirely untrue, and dehumanizing.
We are scapegoats for greater problems. We are an easy target for hate. We are a small, vulnerable community with everything to lose. There are far more of us murdered and ending our lives than I can even name. This is because so many of us are denied our identities not only in life but in death. Some of us can never come out and be free. And for many of us that do, it comes at a significant cost. I cannot express how terrifying it was for me to take the steps to being true to God’s image. But I was one of the fortunate few who has found acceptance and support, though for the first year I was often alone.
Even acceptance from loved ones is often not enough, however. When we are told time and time again by the media, church communities, politicians, and countless others that we are not valid, that we are dangerous, and that we are crazy, it beats us down. It demoralizes us, and when we cannot even find a spiritual community that cares for us then it is understandable that we lose hope. When we are told that we are abominations, we have gone against God, and that we are living in sin, we are damaged. Often, beyond repair. And no amount of intervention can save us.
My people are dying. I am angry. I am afraid. I am struggling to “love my enemies” right now. I want to live a long, rich life. I want to finish school, marry, have a family of my own, and heal children of God with my ministry. I pray that I grow old. But the truth is I do not know if I will. Today’s climate is so dangerous and terrifying that this may not happen. I could be on this list in the future. I may be a hashtag. My name and my face might be on the news, and not for my accomplishments. My body could be thrown in a field, a dumpster, defiled and burned beyond recognition. I could be shot. I could be stabbed. These are very real possibilities. This is the reality in which I am forced to live.
This is the reality of my whole community. This is a painful, uncomfortable, and disheartening. And those who do not accept us and see us as fellow children of God add to this danger. When allies and other members of the LGBT community do not raise their voices in solidarity and love, we are all the more vulnerable. When people misgender us without apology, when we are outed without our consent, when people do not accept who we are, when there is no safe space for us to worship, when people ignore us, it adds fuel to the fire of oppression. My community is surrounded by the flames, and I can feel the heat. I am fortunate so far. Let me stress the words “so far.” But many of my siblings have succumbed to the smoke or been burned alive. Psalm 22, verses 12 to 15 speak deeply to my heart:
Many bulls encircle [us], strong bulls of Bashan surround [us]; they open wide their mouths at [us], like a ravening and roaring lion. [We] are poured out like water, and all of [our] bones are out of joint; [our] hearts are like wax; they are melted within [our] breasts; [our] mouths are dried up like a potsherd, and [our] tongues stick to [our] jaws; you lay [us] in the dust of death.
In this dark, painful time, I draw upon Christ for strength. And what I reach for is His suffering and His pain. This is why I wear a crucifix every day. I know that Jesus understands what it is like to suffer, to be abandoned and left alone. He knows fear, anger, and pain. Jesus was humiliated before He was crucified; spat on, beaten, and had a crown of thorns smashed on His heavenly head… Just as the trans people in my community are bullied and abused in public for all to see.
On the cross in Matthew chapter 27 verse 46 Jesus cried out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
Why. Why. Why.
I ask myself this question a lot. Like Jesus, I find myself crying out to God. And I imagine those in my community who are murdered and die by suicide crying out to God too. But try as God might, God cannot fully control creation. We have free will, and unfortunately people use it for evil. That is abundantly clear for my community.
Jesus’ anguish and despair of being alone, humiliated, bloodied and beaten, and in agony from his wounds are just like victims in the transgender community. Their last breaths taken in terror and pain. I hear their screams, their muffled cries. I see their eyes wide open or held shut, witnessing everything or shutting it all out. But Jesus is there. He is holding them in those final moments. And when their lives end, He weeps, for He knows exactly what they went through.
With each cruel end of yet another person in my community, this is the only way I find solace. All I can do is remind myself that Jesus told us that “[he] is with [us] always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). But for my transgender siblings, the end of our age is often one stained with blood and tears.
Anthony came to ESR in the fall of 2016 from Midland, Michigan, to pursue a Master of Divinity degree as a Cooper Scholar. Anthony graduated summa cum laude from Saginaw Valley State University. You can learn more about International Transgender Day of Remembrance here.