Pilgrim Press Book Series Forward
In her famous 1988 essay title, Gayatri Spivak asks, "Can the Subaltern Speak?"1 to raise the question of whether or not the Indian masses who lived under the subjection of colonizing powers and as objects within elite discourses shaped and dominated by the violence of imperialism, could ever truly speak in their own voice. She decides they could not because their representation was always crafted, not by themselves, but by the voices of the colonial elite in whose world they existed primarily as abstractions. While the differences between the colonial people of India and those who today identify as part of the lesbian, gay, transgendered, or bisexual communities is obviously vast, the situation of being the subjected, silenced "Other" within the discourses of a dominant elite of outsiders is remarkably similar.
Over the past half century particularly, as debates over the moral and civil status of sexual minority groups have raged in churches, halls of government, courts, and city streets, the loudest and often the only voices heard were those of the dominant majority. Whether those voices were raised in denigration or, more rarely, in support, bisexuals, lesbians, gay men, and transgendered people themselves were often visible only as silent abstractions within the violent logic of homophobia and heterosexism. They were allowed little or no public voice; whatever knowledge they possessed about their own situations was deemed inadequate, naive, biased or simply irrelevant to the debate about them. The elite experts of the dominant group, the doctors, lawyers, politicians, clergy, and scholars, were approved as the only reliable sources of knowledge about those "others" whom their "expert witness" often condemned to silence—or worse.
Fortunately, within the last ten years much of the enforced public silence is being shaken off by the concerted action of sexual minority groups. Significant legal and political victories supporting equal civil rights for LGBT people seem to be slowly turning the tide of public ignorance and fear. However, one nut has yet to be fully cracked. Religion remains the one major arena in which ignorance and silence still dominate. Many faith communities continue doggedly to listen only to authorities from the dominant elite, assured, it seems, that no religious or spiritual understanding could possibly be found within the gay, lesbian, transgendered, or bisexual communities themselves. Such an assumption could not be farther from the truth. The very struggle for dignity in a hostile world, especially a hostile religious world, has brought with it remarkable religious knowledge and astonishing spiritual strength, a knowledge and strength desperately needed, not only by other marginalized populations, but perhaps even more so by faith communities at large.
This book series, sponsored jointly by the Pacific School of Religion's Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies in Religion and Ministry and Pilgrim Press, is designed precisely to make more widely available the stories, insights, new knowledge, and religious gifts of many within the transgendered, lesbian, gay, and bisexual communities—not only to support those who might be walking similar paths, but also to awaken the wider religious world to the spiritual genius of people it has all too often denigrated and rejected. For Jews and Christians, after all, there is strong precedent for attending to such people; as Jesus, quoting Psalm 118, pointed out, "The very stone the builders rejected has become the head of the corner" (Mark 12:10). The time has come for faith communities to listen and to learn from new voices and new perspectives.
One could not ask for a better book to inaugurate this series than Justin Tanis' Trans-Gendered: Theology, Ministry, and Communities of Faith. When your body and your deepest sense of who you are in the world seem in stark contrast, the journey to integrity and wholeness almost by definition has to be spiritual as well as physical and psychological. The Rev. Dr. Justin Tanis, a pastor, church administrator, activist, and FTM transsexual himself, recounts with both a pastor's heart and a scholar's eye, the spiritual pilgrimage of many transsexuals, who find a surprising God in the midst of searching for an integrated self. With candor and unsentimentalized compassion, Tanis holds the strikingly diverse and often persecuted world of transgendered people of faith open for his readers to glimpse and understand. To learn from their struggles is to learn deeply the lessons of honesty, courage, and unremitting persistence.
Mary A. Tolbert
Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies in Religion and Ministry
Pacific School of Religion
1. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, "Can the Subaltern Speak?" in Marxism and the Interpretation of Culture, Cary Nelson and Lawrence Grossberg, editors (London: Macmillan, 1988).
Purchase the first book in the CLGS/Pilgrim Press series, Trans-Gendered: Theology, Ministry, and Communities of Faith, from Amazon.com through this link and a portion of your purchase goes to support CLGS.