Syracuse Catholic Churches Hosting “Transgender Talks”

Talia Mae Bettcher’s Essay, Evil Deceivers and Make-Believers brings up a variety of points about transphobia and subsequent anti-transgender violence based on the perceived link between biological materiality and gender identity, identity enforcement and the concept of “gender deception,” intersectionality, and homophobia. After reading the article, it occured to me that a great deal of the violence against transgender individuals is probably due to limited knowledge about the transgender experience, especially in lower-class areas. According to Bettcher, “the thesis that degree of transphobia will be higher in geographical areas that already involve a higher degree of violence and that the likelihood of transphobic discrimination (and severity thereof) will be greater in lower-paying jobs is a plausible one” (284). Further, she discusses at length the (incorrect) concept of gender essentialism that gender is inherently (essentially) tied to one’s genitalia, and the resulting misconceptions that lead to transphobia and homophobia.

These issues are addressed in a series of workshops that were held at two Syracuse, NY Catholic churches this month.

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(http://www.allsaintssyracuse.org/flyers/Transgender%20program%20flyer.pdf)

Starting on February 25, St. Lucy’s and All Saints Catholic Churches hosted events in which transgender individuals, their parents, and professionals in the social justice field discuss what it means to be transgender, and how to become “an effective ally for trans rights.” Their hope is to educate members of the community on the realities of the transgender experience (including the violence inflicted upon these individuals), as well as overcome misconceptions of gender essentialism and gender identity in general.

According to syracuse.com (http://www.syracuse.com/news/index.ssf/2013/03/mathews_priest_st_lucys_syracu.html), St. Lucy’s is located amongst public housing projects in one of the poorest neighborhoods in Syracuse. They have always leaned more towards the liberal side of politics, and now they believe they can better their community by opening discussions on the topics of transphobia and transgender rights in a location where such topics are not part of daily discourse.

Two of the workshops include presentations from an oranization called “Think Again,” which aims to “develop critical consciousness about issues of oppression and social justice,” such as gender and transgender issues, in workplaces, schools, and communities. According to their website, the first of their workshops provides an overview of gender and trans* identities:

“For groups with little previous exposure to transgender issues, this workshop provides a foundation to start the conversation. The facilitator will debunk myths and provide information about the range of trans* identities and experiences. Participants will gain comfort talking about trans* issues, and have a chance to explore how these issues are relevant to them in their communities.”

The second workshop includes more about oppression and violence:

“Transgender people face systemic exclusion and are often targets of misunderstanding and violence from individuals as well as institutions. Similar to racism, sexism, and many other systems of oppression, transgender oppression may be difficult to recognize because it is woven so deeply into society – and interwoven with these other systems.

In this workshop the facilitator provides a framework for understanding and identifying transgender oppression on the interpersonal, cultural and institutional levels. Participants explore examples of how transgender oppression can affect individuals and communities, and identify similarities and differences between transgender oppression and other systems of oppression. Participants will leave the workshop with plans to confront transgender oppression in at least one area of their lives where they have influence.”

(http://thinkagaintraining.com/workshops/transgender)

The goal of this series of workshops seems to be to educate communities that have little to no knowledge about what it means to be transgender, in order to combat misconceptions of “deceiving” and “pretending.” Other Catholic groups have condemned St. Lucy’s and All Saints’ for “normaliz[ing] a severe perversion/mental disorder and undermin[ing] Catholic Doctrine,” though others have thanked them for their inclusiveness.

(http://veneremurcernui.wordpress.com/2014/03/04/whats-going-on-in-syracuse/)

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2 thoughts on “Syracuse Catholic Churches Hosting “Transgender Talks”

  1. Hey Sam! I chose to comment on your post because I am a strong advocate for incorporating an intersectional view when looking at the experiences of the transgender community and I think that the event you shared does a great job of this. I think intersectionality is important because it provides a space for marginalized people to share how institutions have shaped their lives and it also pushes us to think critically about how very unique their individual experiences are. In the beginning of your post you talked about coming to the realization that a lot of violence against transgender individuals is probably due to a lack of knowledge, particularly in low-income areas. This really resonated with me just because race and class do have an impact on the experience of these individuals. I think that the work that the Syracruse, NY catholic churches are doing is so much more effective teaching others how to be an “effective ally for trans right” because they are looking at the intersections of violence against transgender individuals as well. In your blog you quoted a description of the workshop, which said “similar to racism, sexism, and many other systems of oppression, transgender oppression may be difficult to recognize because it is woven so deeply into society–and interwoven with these other systems.” This reminded me of our discussion of what happened to Cece Mcdonald. What happened to her is an example of the ways in which gender, race, and class, are bound together and always influencing one another. In the interview it was asked how active the Black community was in her case-I thought this was relevant because as an African American Trans Woman Cece’s experience with violence is heightened because she is experiencing discrimination based on her gender, and her race. I think it’s great that you were able to find a program that really focuses on the realities of transgender individuals and also how everyone’s experience is different. Actually having these discussions is what will further promote awareness and hopefully a better sense of understanding and knowledge inside of and outside of the trans community.

  2. “Violence against transgender individuals is probably due to limited knowledge about the transgender experience, especially in lower-class areas.”

    I would agree with you on that point, but it’s not just plain “ignorance” but as we have seen in class there are systemic powers at play that silence, erase, and stimulate ideologies that make access to learning about the transgender experience more difficult. By looking at the violence someone acts upon a transgender person only puts pressure on the individual who committed the violence as a single individualized case of ignorance. Not to make a jump, but this mentality (that is more often than not utilized in mass media coverage of issues around gender-based violence) emphasizes the hyper-individualism that is a proponent of neoliberalism. I know we haven’t talk about neoliberalism too much in class, but I think it’s something important to keep in mind, especially since we’ve spent so much time talking about migration and the movement of bodies, identities, language, and culture. And where another strength of neoliberalism lies in the contributions of neoconservatives (holding/representing morals mostly through institutions of the church), it’s nice to see that catholic churches are hosting events that centralize transgender.

    In this case, the church is not essentialized to its institutional value, but is instead a factor of the community. We can consider using an intersectional approach to understanding the church as at one point holding power on an institutional level, but at another point is a member of a lower-class community. When the church is look at in this regard, we can see a way in which community accountability and community organizing takes place. As we have seen in our readings, videos, and blog posts about how people organize around transgender issues, this is another example of how a community takes matters into their own hands. These workshops and classes the church is providing for the community not only show a political analysis (mentions of “oppression”, “social justice” and “institutions”) but also the educational component of learning what it means to be transgender.

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