JFSR 34.1: Special Issue on Trans and Queer Feminist Religious Studies (Editors’ Introduction)
The editors of the JFSR apologize for a grave error that recurs throughout volume 34, number 1. References to trans
women and trans men were edited to read transwomen and transmen. We recognize that for many readers this
appellation is deeply insulting as it implies that such persons are not fully women or men but a separate category
altogether. This alteration is doubly disturbing as this issue marked an effort to take responsibility for a history of
destructive transphobia on the part of feminist scholars of religion and to forge new connections between feminist,
womanist, queer and trans theories and methods in the study of religion.
Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion 34.1: Special Issue on Trans and Queer Feminist Religious Studies
By Elizabeth Pritchard and Kate M. Ott.
The struggle to transform the academy and society so that all persons are valued and together build just, holistic, and sustainable communities includes unfailing efforts to forge alliances across our differences and amid our persistent inequities. As Sara Ahmed has insisted, “We have to take a chance to combine our forces. There is nothing necessary about a combination. In chipping away, we come into contact with those who are stopped by what allowed us to pass through. We happen upon each other. We witness the work each other is doing, and we recognize each other through that work. And we take up arms when we combine our forces. We speak up. We rise up.”1 This special issue of the JFSR is an exploration of the productive crossings between, on the one hand, queer and trans theorizations, pedagogical practices, and lived realities as they pertain to studying, teaching, and doing religion and, on the other, feminist and womanist approaches to the study and practice of religious traditions.
This issue is not just about queer and trans theory and practice but consists of dialogues between persons who variously identify as queers, trans men, trans women, gays, lesbians, and straights. We deeply appreciate their willingness to share their scholarly expertise and personal experience of the fraught nexus of religion, gender, and sexuality, and we salute their courage in defying, daily, the force of heteropatriarchal dehumanization. This force is frequently lethal. At least twenty-eight trans persons were murdered in the United States in 2017—most were trans women of color.2 Particularly significant, then, is Max Strassfeld’s plea in this issue that we consider “the lives and the resiliencies of trans women of color as religion” (51, emphasis added). Surely, the willingness to live and identify as one feels one’s conscience demands—despite such risks—is nothing short of extraordinary. It is a feat that necessitates transformed visions and practices of justice, self-care, family, and community. We wish to highlight the work of two individuals who are daily engaged in this work:
Lisa Anderson is vice president of Embodied Justice Leadership at Auburn Theological Seminary and founding director of the newest (2013) signature program of that initiative, the Sojourner Truth Leadership Circle. Meet STLC’s incredible 2017 cohort of trans activists at http://auburnseminary.org/stlc/. Jennicet Gutiérrez is founding member of La Familia Trans Queer Liberation Movement, http://familiatqlm.org/. See and hear her publicly challenge former president Barak Obama on the perilous conditions undocumented queer and trans persons face when they are detained in the United States: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ER9_M002aQY.3
This special issue is also a belated (and ongoing) reckoning with the scholarly credentialing of hateful transphobia on the part of white feminist theorists of religion, particularly Janice Raymond and Mary Daly.4 Their denunciation of trans women as dangerous imposters who lure “real” women into the false belief that they are one of them is an all too familiar motif in the history of religion. The logic of feminists like Raymond and Daly has affinities with both the suspicion and paranoia that fueled Spanish and Portuguese Catholic persecutions of Jewish conversos/marranos in the fourteenth through sixteenth centuries and contemporary Islamophobia in the United States.5 Nonetheless, it is difficult to make sense of Daly’s apparent belief in a particular criterion of womanhood, whether that be the experience of oppression or a particular anatomy. After all, she reduced (egregiously) various practices of social and political domination (including some “castrated” men) to “being treated like women” and she envisioned a feminist revolution that would be heralded by altered bodies: “Our inner eyes open, our inner ears become unblocked.”6 On this second point, Daly was surely right: a feminist future entails bodily transformation. She was profoundly wrong, however, to authorize the policing of those genders and bodies.
JFSR has a long-standing commitment to being accessible (and enjoyable!) to a range of voices, styles, and audiences. Nonetheless, this issue, more so than previous ones, assembles a multiplicity of voices and a range of writing formats and genres. This is in keeping with queer and trans practices, which destabilize the presumption of enduring centers, inherent identities, and binary oppositions. Multiple formats and genres also reflects the fact that the stakes and urgency of queer and trans work are best captured not by lengthy monographs but by conversations, experiments, and assemblages across disciplines and national borders. If this issue seems especially variegated, that is perhaps as it should be. As Strassfeld, recalling Susan Stryker, reminds us, there are no bodies without sutures—and, we might add, no texts without seams.
The issue opens with a literature review of trans studies in religion by Siobhan Kelly. Kelly’s review helpfully organizes the eld into ve different foci of trans studies in religion, accounting for historical, autobiographical, theological, ethnographical, and philosophical approaches. Moreover, Kelly deftly situates the field in relation to the emancipatory projects of feminist, critical, queer, and postcolonial theories. Kelly’s review is followed by our signature Across Generations section wherein David Weekley interviews Virginia Ramey Mollenkott, whose pioneering work in queer and trans studies in religion has long been an intellectual and emotional balm for the afflicted and remains theologically imaginative and daring. We thank them both for taking the time to document Mollenkott’s prophetic vision and leadership.
The title of this issue’s roundtable, “Toward a Transfeminist Religious Studies,” is drawn from the imperative set by the initiator of this roundtable, Max Strassfeld: “a feminist religious studies without transfeminism is not feminist at all” (49). We agree with Strassfeld and wish to take this opportunity to publicly thank him for launching this roundtable discussion and inspiring such rich and varied analyses from his interlocutors whose topics range from bathrooms in the United States to contemporary politics in Turkey to medieval Jewish poetry. Especially exciting is their collective willingness to jettison conventional assumptions regarding what “religion” is, what spaces it occupies, and what it affords to those who are, as Joy Ladin describes, “accustomed to living in the wilderness, to being human in ways that other human beings may not comprehend” (57).
This issue’s In a Different Voice section features poetry as well as an excerpt from a controversial 2009 play. Qwo-Li Driskill’s achingly beautiful poems denounce violence against trans persons and pay tribute to Angie Zapata (1989–2008), an American trans woman who was beaten to death in Greeley, Colorado. Zapata’s case was the first in the nation to garner convictions for first-degree murder and a hate crime involving a trans victim. Ending such violence requires a thorough revisioning and reenactment of dominant cultural religious scripts, including Christian scriptures and theology. To this end, we are pleased to include an excerpt from “The Gospel According to Jesus Queen of Heaven,” by Scottish playwright Jo Clifford. This play, rst performed as part of Glasgay! in 2009, was condemned by the Archbishop of Glasgow, who, despite not having viewed it, declared that it was “hard to imagine a greater affront to the Christian faith.”7 Clifford’s “affront” happily continues to expand its international reach and to offer a far more expansive gospel of love.
We conclude with a special section entitled “‘Queering the Curriculum’: Pedagogical Explorations of Gender and Sexuality in Religion and Theological Studies,” which draws from presentations and discussions at conferences in the United Kingdom and South Africa. We are grateful to Sarojini Nadar and Adriaan van Klinken for taking the lead in gathering these papers and readying them for publication. As revealed by these contributors, queer pedagogy entails a commitment to providing students with the resources and opportunities to interrogate normativity, interrupt heteropatriarchy, and foster social transformation. More specifically, as Fatima Seedat points out, this approach can help students recognize the ways in which religious traditions “have been ‘straightened’ to exclude genderfluidity and ambiguity” (146) and as Gerald West explains, it can assist religious communities to better respond to the AIDS pandemic by challenging their moralization of “improper” and “indecent” sexualities. The authors in this special section provide illuminating analyses across a range of learning tools and spaces: reparative and critical readings of texts; intersectional religious, race, class, and sexual identities in syllabi; disciplinary porosity between theology and religion; the vulnerability of early career persons of color within educational institutions and classrooms; and queer-affirming mosques in Cape Town. As their accounts demonstrate, this work is not without risk and conflict, and we deeply appreciate their guidance in crafting best practices for fashioning classrooms, institutions, and religious communities that are justice seeking in their commitment to be queer and trans affirming.
1 Sara Ahmed, “An Affinity of Hammers,” TSQ: Transgender Studies Quarterly 3, nos. 1–2 (May 2016): 22–34, quotation on 33.
2 For the names of the 2017 victims, go to the Human Rights Campaign at this link: https://www.hrc.org/resources/violence-against-the-transgender-community-in-2017.
3 For a wide range of resources from aging to voting, see the National Center for Transgender Equality, https://transequality.org/. See also numerous relevant articles related to queer and trans persons and issues at Wear Your Voices: Intersectional Feminist Media, https://wearyourvoicemag.com/category/lgbtq-identities.
4 For an elaboration, see Siobhan Kelly, “Feminist Transphobia, Feminist Rhetoric: From Trans-Exclusive Radical Feminism to HB2,” FSR Blog, August 30, 2016, http://www.fsrinc.org/feminist-transphobia-rhetoric/; and essays by Max Strassfeld and Cameron Partridge in this issue.
5 Leerom Medovoi, “Dogma-Line Racism: Islamophobia and the Second Axis of Race,” Social Text 111 30, no. 2 (2012): 43–74, esp. 55.
6 Mary Daly, Beyond God the Father: Toward a Philosophy of Women’s Liberation, 2nd ed. (Boston: Beacon, 1985), 9–10, and Mary Daly, Gyn/Ecology: The Metaethics of Radical Feminism (Boston: Beacon, 1978), 3, see also 12.
7 Lyn Gardner, “Edinburgh Festival 2014: Female Jesus Teaches a Lesson in Tolerance,” Theatre blog, The Guardian, August 7, 2014, https://www.theguardian.com/stage/theatreblog/2014/aug/07/edinburgh-festival-2014-gospel-according-to-jesus-domino-effect.
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