When providing spiritual counsel to gender-expansive young people, faith and spirituals leaders must balance traditions and beliefs with love, justice, and humility.
Gender, Spirituality and Faith Traditions
For many children, youth and their families, faith and spirituality are a core part of their identity. Regardless of denomination, practice, or sect, people look to faith-based leaders and institution for support, comfort and guidance in many aspects of their lives. Gender is no different. A child’s gender diversity brings a great many uncertainties, sometimes with no clear answers. In such instances, one’s faith traditions may be the most important source for support as the entire family seeks to understand a child’s gender journey. When faced with issues related to gender identity and expression, faith leaders and their spiritual or religious community are likely to be one of the first places someone will turn to as they navigate issues related to gender, including how it effects their (or their child’s) relationship to their Creator.
We know issues related to gender identity and expression may be new and unfamiliar territory for many faith leaders- few religious training programs address contemporary gender issues. We do not presume to know what your own knowledge-level may be, nor the ways in which you must expand your work to guide individuals and families through this essential aspect of identity. However, throughout this site we provide information regarding gender that can help you gain a foundational understanding on the topic. We also include resources that other faith leaders have generated on this issue. We hope this provides a launching place for your work on and exploration of gender.
Welcoming Religious, Faith, and Spiritual Communities
At Gender Spectrum, we recognize that some children may express their gender in ways that fall outside of the commonly understood norms of male and female. This gender diversity is a normal part of human expression, documented across cultures, faith traditions, recorded history, and around the globe.
Some religious traditions have been used to exclude groups in the past. These understandings and interpretations, however loudly and frequently they might be shared, are not the only way to read articles of one’s faith or to be a practicing steward of your faith. There are many faithful paths with welcoming theologies within Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, and many more seen in such rich resources like The Way We Walk – Trans Torah and Coming Out Muslim: Radical Acts of Love.
These are churches and spiritual centers that welcome transgender and gender-expansive children with open arms – a child’s experience and expression of their unique gender needs should not be a barrier to their full participation in a faith community. A substantive body of information has been written to describe affirmative practice strategies for faith and spiritual leaders. You will find some of these resources listed here; if you need additional information please don’t hesitate to contact Gender Spectrum. We can help connect you to faith leaders from many traditions as well as provide additional writings on this topic.
What we have learned from some gender-diverse adults is that both self-acceptance and acceptance within one’s faith is an important aspect of their lives. As you will find for many, this transition can lead toward a more “confidence embrace” of a higher spirit’s love of who they truly are.
Those who are fortunate find the strength, often with the help of a therapist or spiritual director, to begin the journey toward self-acceptance. For most transgender persons, completing this transition takes several years. For some, the transition includes hormone treatment and gender-confirming surgery. And many report a profound shift in their spiritual lives, as they turn from the condemnation of a judging God (“You are going to hell”) to the embrace of a God of paradox and extravagant love. This harrowing transition leads many to a confidence embrace, at last, of “the person God always intended me to be.” – Justin Tanis
Though more and more information addressing how faith communities work to be intentionally inclusive has been written, what gets less attention are stories by and about young people’s own journeys toward acceptance of their own gender-diversity in the context of faith. This is especially the case of gender0diverse perspectives that are not specifically transgender-focused.
We encourage you to explore gender through your own experience, as well as with the children, youth and families that come to you looking for spiritual counsel and guidance. If Gender Spectrum can help in any way, please let us know.
The Importance of Leadership on the Journey to Acceptance
The spiritual journey toward acceptance acknowledges the central role of religion for many families, and highlights that religious condemnation takes away an essential source of solace and support for gender diverse young people of religious backgrounds. As referenced in the Curriculum for Faith-communities by the Human Rights Campaign, gender, its biases, expectations, and limitations impacts all young people. In particular, those who seek to have some spiritual connectedness and that have found themselves at odds with their religious practice, institution, or leader may more easily become disillusioned by faith and/or reject or resist upholding that once important value in their own life and family structure.
Having knowledge about gender specifically, as well as recognition of the various ways in which gender intersects with other aspects of a child or teen’s life, can be one of the best ways in which to provide counsel when working with children, youth and families. Other aspects of identity—including ethnicity, race, geography, language, and class— all influence how individuals (and those around them) perceive gender. Gender Spectrum’s aim is to support faith leaders to practice gender-affirmative pastoral care in this broader context of identity.
Once young people are affirmed in their gender identity and expression, as they are in other aspects of who they are, then they can bring their full selves to the community – and their faith.