I came across this article about First Parish Church in Plymouth, Massachusetts and their observance of International Transgender Day of Visibility and thought it was worth sharing.
By Emily Clark
PLYMOUTH – For 60 years she went to work in more ways than one, slogging through a male gender assignment at odds with who she really was.
She married a woman, had children, worked her job as an attorney, checking in with therapists who just couldn’t “cure” her of this need to be female.
As a kid, her peers were copying Roy Rogers while she reached for the skirt and frilled blouse of his woman sidekick, Dale Evans. She was 12 when a priest refused her absolution until she stopped dressing like a girl. An only child, Sara Schnorr connected with her female cousins, sharing clothes and reveling in stolen moments when she could just be who she really was. Her aunts registered their disgust and decided there was something wrong with her.
Decades would pass before a different therapist, a more informed therapist, looked her in the eyes and told her the truth. She was woman in a man’s body – that simple, but that unbelievably complicated. This stuff happened to people, to good people like her, and maybe it was high time to just be who she was.
Schnorr took the plunge, and transitioned socially and medically. She had all those conversations with the wife, the employer, the co-workers, the clients, the friends, the family. She emerged as Sara, a lot stronger and happier than she could have imagined, she said. Her clients, employer and co-workers stunned her with acceptance, support and love.
For people of nonconforming genders it is a surprisingly common scenario. Their truth is often not ready for prime time because some people aren’t ready for their truth. In some cases, like Schnorr’s, the struggle goes on for generations.
The transcommunity and its supporters are trying to change that. First Parish Unitarian Universalist Church in Plymouth held its first ever Transgender Day of Visibility Celebration Tuesday night, drawing a crowd of nearly 100 transcommunity members and supporters from around the region.
Laughter and music hallmarked the evening, which featured the thrilling vocal power of transwoman Nickie McNeil, who sang to thunderous applause.
The Rev. Ed Hardy, of First Parish, opened the celebration with welcoming statements and an acknowledgement that, while the gay community is experiencing great strides in acceptance, many in the transcommunity are not accepted by society and are suffering discrimination. As a result, many are closeted, hiding true identities in an effort to protect themselves from rejection, discrimination and violence.
“We like to think we’re pretty liberal, but we still have a lot of work to do,” Hardy added.
Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition Executive Director Mason Dunn echoed those sentiments when he chronicled the difficulty he and transcommunity supporters have had passing legislation to protect transgender people from discrimination in “public accommodations,” which means any public place, including hospitals, libraries and parks. Dunn noted that the legislation was finally passed in July of 2016 but is now facing opposition, once again, from those who oppose transgender rights.
A 2018 ballot question threatens to unravel all the work Dunn and others have done to secure equal rights for transgender people in public places.
Dunn, who said he is a transman, noted that he also happens to be Jewish, and that transphobia often intersects with other types of discrimination like racism and sexism. The bottom line is that people are all tied together with the common thread of humanity, and a threat to anyone’s freedom is a threat to everyone’s freedom.
“I want to thank you for being here because your liberty is tied to my liberty,” he added.
Schnorr urged transpeople to be true to themselves and not to allow others to dictate who they are. Hiding your identity can lead to depression, sadness and regret, she added.
A panel discussion capped the evening, as Schnorr, Dunn, McNeil and others took the stage, fielding questions. A panel member named Taz identified as a non-binary person, meaning neither exclusively male nor female.
Dunn explained that society’s insistence on viewing gender as binary, or either male or female, is not accurate. If someone isn’t a man, that doesn’t automatically imply the person is a woman, he added. The “Torah” recognizes six different genders.
“Judeo Christianity is not binary, so stop it,” Dunn added, as the crowd erupted in laughter.
Dunn also noted that supporters of the transgender community, while appreciated, don’t belong in the acronym LGBTQIA, which stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer/questioning, intersex and asexual. The “A” shouldn’t stand for “ally,” he added.
“Just because you’re a Red Sox fan, doesn’t mean you play on the team,” he said to more laughter.
Sabrina Hewitt, a transwoman from Wilmington, noted that her transition from male to female several years ago was fraught with harassment, a job loss and a landlord who suddenly wanted her out of the building. Her employer originally claimed to be accepting of her transition, then made her work life miserable, allowing co-workers to harass her and refusing to accommodate her in any way. Hewitt said her boss then proceeded to write her up for mistakes she wasn’t making. While America boasts laws against discrimination, Dunn noted that intolerant cisgender people find ways around these laws by jacking up the rent on apartments for transgender people or making their lives at work so uncomfortable they are forced to leave. He differentiated between legal equality and “lived equality,” noting that fairness for the transgender community has not really arrived.
First Parish Unitarian Universalist Music Director Sandi Hammond, who came up with the idea of having a Transgender Day of Visibility Celebration at the church, noted that suicide attempts among transpeople are 20 times the national average.
“While the media is certainly giving trans identities a lot of coverage recently, the day-to-day living for trans people can still be incredibly challenging, with discrimination in the workplace, family rejection, homelessness, depression,” Hammond added. “We wanted to do this event to communicate our love and support for people of all gender identities, and to convey that there is a safe space here at First Parish Plymouth. To anyone questioning their gender identity, First Parish is here as a safe space for you and there are allies who care.”
For more information on Nickie McNeil who is releasing her debut CD soon, visit nickiemcneil.com.
Follow Emily Clark on Twitter @emilyOCM.