Thursday, February 12, 2015

Trans Faces #12 Meggan Sommerville, A Girl Like Us At The Cross

By Sabrina Samone, TMP

I chatted with Meggan Sommerville shortly after the suicide of Leelah Alcorn, who was so traumatized by conversion therapy;  (also known as reparative therapy)  a range of treatments that aim to change sexual orientation from homosexual/transgender to heterosexual and cisgender. Conversion therapy has it's roots in the early psychoanalytic world of Sigmund Freud , but it was post Stonewall that it attached itself with mid-western Christian fundamentalist views of homosexuality; and has since slithered it's way into the attempted conversion of Transgender people, here and now, in our time.

I wanted to know how the leading transgender writer on Christianity felt, how this death would impact our community. Many TBGL people early in their lives learn quickly that many within organized religion oppose us and have signaled out our lifestyles as something to be condemned based solely on personal ignorance on the matter. Now I've always been told by an old friend, never mention politics, the bible, or abortion, so most who know me, know that I never listened to that friend. The bible, concerning transgenderism, only states understanding on the matter.

Matthew 19:12 “For there are eunuchs who were born that way from their mother’s womb: (most likely referring to those being born intersex) and there are eunuch who were made eunuchs by men; (most likely referring to the practice of enslavement in ancient times) and there are also eunuchs who made themselves for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. HE, WHO IS ABLE TO ACCEPT THIS, LET HIM ACCEPT IT, (More than likely referring too many of us who choose to live without the genitalia born with.

Unfortunately, being ostracized from religion, many in our community grow to think God hates them, therefore their hate is returned. For those of us that choose to continue to believe in the difference of God's Word vs. a man ordained by another man to speak only his interpretation, we find ourselves in the middle. Meggan and I were among many that felt uncomfortable expressing our beliefs while the anger grew from the majority of our society against an institution thought to be out to kill them.

Everyone has a right to their beliefs and it was great to chat with Meggan Sommerville of Chicago Now's Transgirl at the Cross about how she felt at a time that has, once again, brought organized religion, particularly the fundamentalist and conversion therapy, back on the TBGL discussion board. I personally thought it important we hear the voice of a Transgender person that is also Christian and that is why Meggan Sommerville is TMP's Role Model for The Month of February. Now we get the chance to know our role model just a little bit more in-depth.

1. TMP: You discussed in your vlog post last year about when you realized you were trans. I loved that you admitted to being a slight tomboy; I can relate. How important is it as a trans person, in your opinion, to let go of the gender binary of what we can and can't do as male and female? Sommerville: I think we have been stuck in the gender binary because for centuries we have been reared in specific gender roles, and when someone steps outside of those perceived roles, they are looked down on by society. I never really have held onto the idea of those gender roles. As I said in my vlog, I was a bit of a tomboy. I didn’t necessarily strictly hold to the accepted roles of the time. As much as I loved my Tonka trucks and playing in the dirt, I Ioved my stuffed animals, and playing house just as much. (Though when we played house, I hated playing the boy role.) Today, men and women have pushed the perceived boundaries of the male/female roles. We have women race car drivers and combat pilots and totally straight male floral designers and dancers. 

It’s time to understand and embrace the idea, regardless of how we identify, that we are all equal to the possibilities of our future. We have acted like our gender is some sort of disability preventing us from tackling some task or career and that way of thinking is drilled into us at a very young age.

For far too long we as a society have segregated our children. The 19th century poem “What are Little Boys made of” spells it out all too clearly

What are little boys made of?

Snips and snails, and puppy dogs tails

That's what little boys are made of !"

What are little girls made of?

"Sugar and spice and all things nice

That's what little girls are made of!

Why can’t girls have a little puppy dog tail in them, and why can’t boys have a little sugar in them?

God has given each of us a perfectly unique set of gifts and that is what we need to follow. We need to continue to break down the stereotypes and embrace the gifts God has given us. When we get past the strict definitions of gender roles and gender, we can move forward to true equality.

2. TMP: Growing up with dysphoria, were there any role models or information you received that helped?

M.S.: In the age before the internet, I spent hours at the library reading everything I could find on transvestites and transsexualism (cross dressing and transgender were not words commonly used at the time). I read case study reference books, magazine articles, and the very few biographies that were out there.  Many of these articles and reference books did not cast a very positive light on the feelings I had had since the age of three or four.

Two of the very few people anyone with gender identity disorder (again, the term used at the time) could look to as a role model were Christine Jorgenson and Renee Richards.  Though my upbringing was vastly different than that of Renee Richards, her internal struggles were something I intensely identified with. There were hours spent in the far dark corners of the library reading her book Second Serve. It was in those pages that I found hope for my future.

3. TMP: Recently trans society suffered a shocking loss with the death of 17 year old Leelah Alcorn. How did the suicide of a 17 year old struggling with dysphoria affected you personally?

M.S.: I am all too familiar with the statistics on transgender individuals and suicide.  I am one of those statistics; surviving a suicide attempt a few years ago.  Though I came from a very loving home, I still felt isolated and I was about the same age as Leelah when suicide first entered my mind. It was on a high school retreat with my church youth group when I first really thought about ending my life.  I felt like my life didn’t matter and part of me knew I wouldn’t have been missed.  Much like Leelah and thousands of other teens, the internal struggle I was facing had come to a head. Unfortunately I know all too well the mental place Leelah was in. 

 4. TMP: Leelah was forced into conversion therapy, a form of religious converting of TBLG persons. Why do you feel personally this is a useless concept?

M.S.: Conversation therapy assumes that one person can dictate how another person should feel and live. It assumes that a person knows God’s will for another person which is contrary to scripture. No one person or group of people know the entirety of God’s plan and his will.  He reveals his will through the Holy Spirit that lives within each and every person that proclaims Christ as savior. It is up to each of us to seek out what God has for us through a personal relationship with Christ and listen to the Holy Spirit in our daily lives.  God doesn’t care what we look like, how we dress or the gender we identify with - God looks at the condition of our hearts. 

1 Samuel 16:7 “But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”


5. TMP: What motivated you to start Transgirl at the Cross?

M.S.: What my motivation was and what God had planned were two very different things. If you had told me even five years ago that I would have a blog for one of the largest blog communities in the country, that I would be a public figure, and that I would be in ministry because of it all - I would have laughed in your face.  I never considered myself an evangelist or activist.

But God laid it on my heart to be more authentic and open about who I was. Media stories about me had already made their way across the internet, so I couldn’t hide any more. I wanted people to know the full story of who I was.

In the beginning, I wanted to just share what it was like to be a Transgender Christian.  There were nearly no other blogs out there that I could find that spoke on a personal level.  There were, and are tons of sites that speak out against being trans and Christian and I knew I was taking a risk taking such a public step.

But my fears were laid to rest after talking with the Community Manager for Chicago Now, Jimmy Greenfield.  He was very intrigued, in a positive way, with the concept of my blog and even said in the interview I had with him prior to starting that the words transgender and Christian aren’t ones you commonly find in the same sentence, let alone said in a positive light.  Since then the support and friendships I have developed with the other bloggers and many of the subsequent readers has been very rewarding. I am continually amazed how God has taken the blog all over the world and I am still in awe when I get emails of thanks from the far reaches of the globe.

6. TMP: We've both discussed the atmosphere within the trans* after the Leelah Alcorn death, and how hurt feeling towards Christianity surfaced. How, as trans Christians, do we encourage others not to turn their back on God for what a man says in a pulpit?

M.S.: First let me remind everyone, and this is something I have had to remind myself, the man that stands at the pulpit is just that, a man. As we all are, every man has fallen short of the glory of God.

It really is no secret that the current image of the church for far too many people, not just LGBT individuals, is one of condemnation and not restoration. Many church leaders have forgotten the true Holiness of God and have forgotten that we as Christians should be practicing the fruits of Holiness, the fruits of the Spirit as found in Galatians 5:22-23 “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.” As we draw closer to God, these fruits are outward examples of our faith and our growth in our relationship with Him.

I have spoke and written often that I don’t believe in the contemporary view of religion.  Religion has failed time and time again. Religion has ingrained dogma well beyond what is found in the Bible. Whether it’s requirements for baptism that people must meet, or a criteria for teachers and leaders in the church, every church has them. So many think that these rules make someone more religious than the next person.

And what most people have forgotten is that Christianity is not about religion - it is about a relationship with Christ our savior. Christ never came to this world to set up a new religion.  He came to have a relationship with each one of us. Our salvation is not dependent on the rules we follow within the church.  Our salvation is dependent on our love and faith in Christ.

7. TMP: In Joshua 24:15 says, "As for me and my house, we will serve the lord." This is something TMP believes as Christian transgender people. You reflect this in your writings at Trans Girl at the Cross. How difficult has that been for you hearing the remarks of hurt coming from within our community after the Alcorn story broke?

M.S.: Like so many other transgender Christians, I have had my portion of hurt and disappointment that has come from those within the church.  It saddens me that so many people can so easily put God in a box and in turn, condemn or look down on others that aren’t as “religious” as they are.  They have forgotten lessons that the scriptures teach us about how God loves us, and that love isn’t conditioned on a gender binary - look up Acts 8 starting in verse 28 for that one.

But I will tell you too that it hurts me that so many trans men and women who have experienced pain, lump all Christians together, throwing us in with all the bad apples.  As much hurt as I have experienced by so called brothers and sisters in Christ, I consider myself extremely blessed to have several Christian friends, even ones that I grew up with, that have taken the time to understand God’s plan for me and in turn grew in understanding of other transgender individuals.

8. TMP: We are all aware of some in the church that spread hate in the name of God; who I will say is not a God of Hate. What are some resources for those within our community who feel a call from the lord and where can they go for like-minded connections?

M.S.: Finding reliable resources has been difficult for many people, including myself.  If you are looking for a church that are affirming to the LGBT community, I suggest 

I am currently in the long process of developing a website, resources, and building a ministry that will be aimed at the transgender community; and that will hopefully help bridge the gap for transgender individuals and the church. The website, Transgender Christian Ministries, has been something that has been on my heart for a couple years and I pray that it can become a reality this year.  There are still many, many pieces that need to fall into place, but if this is truly where God is taking me, then I must trust that those pieces will fall into place at the appointed time.

9. TMP: Many forget that organized religion also crucified Jesus, so how can we as a society of people integrate and become more visible in the Church.

M.S.: By following Christ’s example. Christ never apologized for who he was. He spoke with gentleness most of the time.  He didn’t hide who he was, or why God sent him. 

God calls us to be his ambassadors and sometimes that means we must be his representative within his very family. The only way any change in the discourse that exists in the church regarding the transgender movement will not be with the tired rhetoric that is thrown back and forth.  The change will come when those willing to engage and learn see us living Godly lives.  The phrase “They will know we are Christians by our love” is not some tired old adage.  It speaks truth.

As much as I would want to draw away from an organized church, God continues to draw me back, and calls me to be visible and a light in my world.  Christ didn’t always get a warm reception in his ministry, so we shouldn’t believe that we will either.  There is so much work that needs to be done and there are those out there willing to learn and listen, and we have to be there when they are ready for that conversation.

10. TMP: I like to ask, if you could tell the world something about, Meggan Sommerville and you knew everyone would listen, what would you want them to know about you?

 M.S.: You know, I have written and spoken about a lot in my life.  I have shared my joys.  I have been open about the struggles I have faced. I have known peace, and I have known pain.  Outside of the details of my divorce, I can’t think of an area of my life I haven’t shared. That’s the great thing about writing and speaking - you get to share your part in the human experience.  As difficult as it has been to be open and authentic, God has blessed me in ways I could never have imagined.

I give it all to God, because none of it would have been possible if I hadn’t listened to his voice.  I can trace all of this back to one act - an act of obedience. Several years ago, I heard the voice of the Holy Spirit very clearly in my life calling me to be baptized.  I had fought this call off and on since I was a kid.  But this time it was different.  It was the urgency in the voice that was there.  God was telling me that he had great things waiting for me, but I hadn’t been obedient, I hadn’t been baptized. 

It was shortly after reading my testimony and being baptized in front of my family and friends when the door opened to start my blog.  From there, door after door has been opened, not only to be an advocate for the trans community, but opportunities to share my faith and the love of Christ.

Meggan Sommerville is one of those voices of our society that needs to be known. There are countless sisters and brothers who believe, or want to believe, and have few, if zero, representations in our community. Here is one sister at the cross lending her voice.

To Follow Meggan Sommerivlle:
Trans Girl @ the Cross Blog
Trans Girl @ the Cross Facebook page
Meggan on Twitter

News concerning Meggan Sommerville
Huffington Post

Remember this one my sisters and brothers when they quote their misinterpretations. Matthew 5:29: If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell.


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