Sunday, February 17, 2019

Transgender Icons: Queer Christian Images of Marinos the Monk

"The One Who Saves the Soul
Is Like the One Who Created It"

The Vita of Marinos the Monk

Assignment Overview

In this exercise, the seminar will produce a series of icons of St. Marinos the Monk based a variety of attributes that characterize saints: Imago Dei, Imitatio Christi, Christus Medicus, Baptism, and Sainthood. These traits all have corresponding qualities in the lives of transgender people in general: authenticity, living your best lives, service to the community, transition, and remembrance. 
By focusing on these traits, this assignment eschews debates at to whether St. Marinos the Monk is a man (he lived as a man), transgender (he lived a transitioned life from his youth to his death), should be called transgender because he did not use the word (he wouldn't use any of our words, given that he did not speak English), or if he can be holy and transgender at the same time (he is a trans saint). I have addressed these considerations have been made in other posts and forthcoming peer-reviewed articles. Thus they may be reviewed in a lecture. This assignment challenges students to engage not in skepticism but in celebration. How might a trans life be honored as sainted?

By focusing on these positive traits, this exercise turns students away from the testing and skeptical tone that dominates cisgender society and the grim and negative tone that tends to surround queer allies when discussing transgender lives. The Vita of St. Marinos the Monk testify to the positivity and virtues of a trans life as much as they recounting anti-trans prejudices. A few of these negative prejudices include the tendency among hagiographers, icon makers, translators and scholars to deadname as well as misgender Marinos the Monk. He was known as a male, a monk, during life and this should be respected. He called himself Marinos and this should be respected. Additionally, the inability of local early Christian communities to recognize and name trans identities testifies to the ingrained ignorance and dominance of cisgender mindsets. Had society been more aware and accepting, Marinos might have been able to come out during his life instead of after his death. All these negative circumstances may be considered but at the center of the story is Marinos the Monk, a figure of positive traits that overcame these conditions to live a sainted trans life.

The task of assignment is to create an image with a name, a description -- write, St. Marinos the Monk, Patron Saint of [Fill in the Blank] -- and then provide a summary based on close reading the text alongside additional research. These icons will be made in small groups and then shared with the rest of the class.


Sample Groups

Group 1: St. Marinos the Monk
 and the Imago Dei

Consider the argument between Marinos and his father. Although it seems as though he is calling on his father to save his soul by letting him also join the monastery, take a moment to ponder how Marinos himself might be living out his Imago Dei: saving his soul by transitioning into the image of a monk God made him to be. By affirming his gender (monk), how might Marinos be like the one who created him to be a monk?

"Father, do you wish to save your own soul and see mine destroyed? Do you not know what the Lord says That the good shepherd giveth his life for his sheep?" And again she said <to him>, "The one who saves the soul is like the one who created it?"

Terms to research: Imago Dei, living authentically, suicide rate for transgender youths.

Group 2: St. Marinos the Monk
and Baptism

Consider the argument between Marinos and his father. How does Marinos's father misunderstand his trans son's gender? How does living authentically as a monk answer Marinos's father's concerns? How is transitioning and taking monk's vows like baptism?

"Child what am I to do with you? You are a female, and I desire to enter a monastery. How then can you remain with me? For it is through the members of your sex that the devil wages war on the servants of God."

To which his daughter responded, "Not so, my lord, for I shall not enter <the monastery> as you say, but I shall first cut off the hair of my head, and clothe myself like a man, and then enter the mastery with you."

Terms to research: baptism, becoming a monk, monk's habits, coming out to your parents as transgender, gender versus sexuality, asexuality, abstinence and chastity.

Group 3: St. Marinos the Monk
and Imitatio Christi

Consider the ways in which Marinos is living his best life after he is able to transition. How does living an authentic life make one more successful as your work, relationships, and even prayer? How does the comment about Marinos being an eunuch relate to early Christian and medieval understandings of transgender?

"Day by day, the child advanced in all the virtues, in obedience, in humility, and in much asceticism. After she lived thus for a few years in the monastery, <some of the monks> considered her to be a eunuch, for she was beardless and of delicate voice. Others considered that <this condition> was instead the result of her great asceticism, for she partook of food only every second day."

Terms to research: authentic lives, best lives, eunuchs, gender euphoria.

Group 4: St. Marinos the Monk
and Christus Medicus

Consider Marinos's ability to heal with his touch. How does the Monk's authentic life serve to heal others beyond having miraculous powers? How might his authenticity, trans identity, perseverance and sainthood (being set apart) serve to heal who encounter him?

"Eventually it came to pass that her father died, by <Mary, remaining in the monastery>,<continued> to progress in asceticism and in obedience so that she received from God the gift of healing those who were troubled by demons. For if she placed her hand upon the sick, they were immediately healed."

Terms to research: Imitatio Christi, gender dysphoria, gender euphoria, Christus Medicus.

Group 5: Marinos the Monk
and Sainthood

Consider the reaction of Marinos's community after discovering he was trans after death. How does the Superior's reactions mirror those of friends and family after an oppressed transgender person dies? How does death feed into advocacy? Is there a critique to give communities that are better at mourning the dead than helping the living?

"Drawing near and seeing <for himself>, the <superior> cast himself down at her feet, and with many tears cried out, "Forgive me, for I have sinned against you. I shall lie dead here at your holy feet until such time as I hear forgiveness for all the wrongs that I have done you."

..."The superior thereupon send <word> to the innkeeper to come and see him. When he arrived, the superior said to him, "Marinos is dead."... "You must repent, brother, for you have sinned before God. You also incited me by your words, and for your sake I also sinned."

Terms to research: ally, advocate, transgender day of remembrance, deadnames, suicide rate for transgender people, homicide rate for transgender people.


Starter Questions

1) What core concept did your group examine? How did you translate the theological term into current English? What are other words you consider?

2) How does your passage demonstrate the principles of the concept? In what ways does it address transgender life? In what ways does it address gender Christian life?

3) How did your group visualize the concept and passage? What associations and images are you using to translate the trans Christian sainthood?


Saturday, February 9, 2019

Rainbow Mail: Queer Christian Letters In Response to the Epistles

"On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and those members of the body that we think less honorable we clothe with greater honor, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect."

1 Corinthians 12: 22-23

Assignment Overview

In this exercise, the seminar will respond to selections from the Epistles. These texts are framed as letters to early Christian communities in the first century AD/CE. Many of them are written by St. Paul who is considered by many to be the first theologian of Christianity, on the grounds that he did not encounter Jesus before his death. They represent one part of an ongoing correspondence between members of a faith tradition that was still defining itself. Readers can imagine the epistles that were written before or after the letters that are available in Christian Bibles. In fact, that is exactly the task for today!

Breaking into small groups, you will form committees working for the Queer Christianity Congregation. As an emerging church, you have received a series of letters and texts from fellow members of "The Way," especially from one very passionate convert from Tarsus, Paul. Because of the number and fervor of the correspondence, each committee is tasked with responding to a different item in the mail bag, taking care to represent the mission of the open and affirming, pro-LGBTQI ministry at the Queer Christianity Congregation. Indeed, the particular letters you are tasked with engaging today articulate Paul's problematic theology around gender and sexuality.

As a 21st century ministry, your committee's response will take the form of a Youtube "mail-bag" video. Each video will be about 7-10 minutes, including (1) a restatement of the letter's content, especially those passages which reflect problematic theology around gender and sexuality, (2) counter-arguments that critique the fallacies of the letter, and (3) an acknowledgement of points where the letter's statements or spirit might be synthesized for the Queer Christianity Congregation without betraying any of its missions. The video should take time at the end to respond to at least 3 comments from the viewers.

Note: as an in-class exercise, the "video" may be a framing device for an oral report before the class and the commenters are questions raised by the fellow class-mates. An actual video need not be produced. Alternatively, a written letter may take the place of a video or oral presentation if circumstances make those methods difficult.


Sample Groups

Group 1: Queer Love
1 Romans 1

Read "1 Romans 1" with special attention given to lines 22-27.

"22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools; 23 and they exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling a mortal human being or birds or four-footed animals or reptiles.

24 Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the degrading of their bodies among themselves, 25 because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.

26 For this reason God gave them up to degrading passions. Their women exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural, 27 and in the same way also the men, giving up natural intercourse with women, were consumed with passion for one another. Men committed shameless acts with men and received in their own persons the due penalty for their error."

Terms to research: gay, lesbian, bisexual, pansexual, gynosexual, androsexual.

Group 2: Queer Afterlives
1 Corinthians 6

Read "1 Corinthians 6" with special attention given to lines 9-11.

"9 Do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived! Fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, male prostitutes, sodomites, 10 thieves, the greedy, drunkards, revilers, robbers—none of these will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And this is what some of you used to be. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God."

Terms to research: cisgender privilege, down low, in the closet, coming out, heterosexism, heteronormativity, HIV-phobia, stealth.

Group 3: Christian BDSM
Ephesians 5: 22-33

Read "Ephesians 5:22-33" with special attention given to lines 22-24.

"22 Wives, be subject to your husbands as you are to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife just as Christ is the head of the church, the body of which he is the Savior. 24 Just as the church is subject to Christ, so also wives ought to be, in everything, to their husbands."

Terms to research: BDSM, bottom, top, versatile, femme, butch, and switch.

Group 4: Queer Identity
Galatians 3

Read "Galatians 3" with special attention given to lines 27-28.

"27 As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus."

Terms to research: agender, asexual, androgynous, gender queer, gender fluid, bisexual, and pansexual.

Alternative Scripture

The assignment might also be expanded to include other texts or pieces of scripture that are not in letter form. Playing on the theme of anti-LGBTQI passages, Genesis 18 might be one such candidate. The questions may have to be adjusted in these cases.

Group 5: Sodom and Sodomy
Genesis 18-19

Read "Genesis 18-19" with special attention given to when and why Sodom is condemned to destruction and what the primary crimes are against the angels and their protectors.

"18: 20 Then the Lord said, “How great is the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah and how very grave their sin! 21 I must go down and see whether they have done altogether according to the outcry that has come to me; and if not, I will know.”"

"19:4 But before they lay down, the men of the city, the men of Sodom, both young and old, all the people to the last man, surrounded the house; 5 and they called to Lot, “Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us, so that we may know them.” 6 Lot went out of the door to the men, shut the door after him, 7 and said, “I beg you, my brothers, do not act so wickedly. 8 Look, I have two daughters who have not known a man; let me bring them out to you, and do to them as you please; only do nothing to these men, for they have come under the shelter of my roof.”"


Starter Questions

1) What is the overall message of the letter? What are the specific claims that address gender and sexuality? How are they phrased and imagined? What are the underlying cultural, leaps in logic, and theological assumptions that seem to underpin the claims?

2) Does the overall message correspond to the core values and beliefs of the Queer Christianity Congregation? How might the specific claims be answered directly? How might the phrasing of the letter be deconstructed or reimagined? In what respects are the cultural differences between Paul and the QCC made evident? What leaps of logic are rather too far for credulity? What theology or scripture might be offered to counter the letter's claims?

3) Granting that in either the specifics or in the general spirit of the letter there is something positive to be received, what elements or sentiments of the letter might still be useful for the Queer Christianity Congregation?



Friday, February 8, 2019

The Anisfield-Wolf Book Award 2018 Seminar at CWRU

"Over the years, the Anisfield-Wolf canon 
has become a living, breathing community 
of thinkers, writers, and artists 
that spans continents, generations, 
and intellectual traditions."

Rev. Dr. Stephen Rowan

How do we talk about racism? How do we talk about sexism? These were two of the questions that initiated the 2018 Anisfield-Wolf Book Award seminar at Case Western Reserve University. Following the seminar approach to general education, these questions would be answered through guided instruction and moderation from August to December. The goal was not only to help facilitate talk about racism and sexism but also to study the ways in which this talk already occurs. The challenge presented to students was to analyze and deconstruct the grammar and rhetoric of white supremacy. What are the images created and repeated? How are sentences structured to lead readers or listeners to certain conclusions? What are the nouns, verbs, adverbs, and adjectives which act as dog whistles for attentive audiences? All this and more were on the table when we began our seminar.

The thesis of the 2018 seminar was that the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award winners could help answer the questions posed on racism and sexism. We began the semester with the Book Award winners in preparation for attending the Award Event in late September. In those weeks, students considered how the poetry of Shane McCrae taught readers how language bends and twists in order to reflect the tension between hate and love, captor and captive, identity and society. Next, the students weighed the importance of truth and hoax through Kevin Young's Bunk: The Rise of Hoaxes, Humbug, Plagiarists, Phonies, Post-Facts, and Fake News. Bunk seriously engages what it means to be a "non-fiction" book in eras where various authors and authorities try to blur the line between fact and fiction, especially as it applies to the construction, exploitation, and oppression of racial identities. The fiction award winner, Sing Unburied Sing, written by Jesmyn Ward, demonstrates for students the ways that fiction can be used to speak of unspeakable traumas  and to embodied truths that are too often left dismissively abstract. Concluding this section with the majority of the class attending the Book Award Event was critical to bringing the texts alive in new ways by introducing the book's readers to the book's writers. Returning back to class, the following months were evidently impacted by the way that this event grounded the discussion of racism and sexism within real lives and social conditions.



Beyond the 2018 Book Award Winners, the seminar invited the class to read important Anisfield-Wolf texts that take different perspectives on the questions and language of racism. Books by the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X began the analysis of the Civil Rights Movement, a scope which we expanded to consider the women of the civil rights movement as well. Books like Hidden Figures and the Gay Revolution filled in this picture in part, as well as additional texts that resonated with the Anisfield-Wolf mission, such as This Bridge Called My Back, Sister Outsider, and the writings of Angela Davis. These women writers gave insights into the ways that women were hard at work in the Civil Rights Movement as well as the distinct ways sexism was compounded and furthered with the racist rhetoric of white supremacy. Indeed, by adding the lens of gender, the reading of MLK and Malcolm X deepens by prompting audiences to consider how being heterosexual cisgender men of faith may have influenced the way in which these leaders encountered the world. This synergy not only expanded but also added dimensions to familiar view points on the Civil Rights Movement.

Towards the end of the semester, the training and texts of the Anisfield-Wold Awarded books were brought to task against literature that reflects or considers traditions of white supremacy. Guided by critical films and texts, the students engaged in their own independent research on specific white supremacy organizations around the United States. After presentations were made, in which the ideologies, cultural touch-stones, and grammar of the white supremacists were analyzed, the class proceeded to find ways that the Anisfield-Wolf Award books and their affiliates help to resist and dismantle these rhetorics of hate. Specifically, students rode the rails around Cleveland in order to see the murals based on Anisfield-Wolf Award Books which decorated the windows of the train cars. This mural project was generated through a partnership with Inter | Urban, the Cleveland Foundation, and the Anisfield-Wolf SAGES Fellows at Case Western Reserve University. Together, the students studied specific images by artists inspired by particular A-W Book Award winning books and articulated how they saw the art combatting or deconstructing the grammar of racism and sexism.



As a scholar and instructor of Anisfield-Wolf Awarded Books, I am honored to introduce students at Case Western Reserve University to the canon of books that each attempt in their own way to respond to the questions: how do we talk about racism, and, how do we talk about sexism? In the last couple years, the class has been in high demand with spots filling up quickly and there always being an extensive wait-list. On the first day, I hear about what brings the students to the seminar and to Anisfield-Wolf Book Award archive. Some students come with already invested interests in social justice, racial equity, and feminism. Other students come to the class admitting that they come from homes and local areas were racism and sexism is rampant but discussing either is discouraged. In each case, I take my job seriously: to meet students where they are, equipping them with critical tools and books, and to help bring them into the ongoing discourse which the Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards has promoted. By the end of the semester, I hear a myriad of ways that the students now feel not only better trained to engage these conversations and activisms but also feel connected to a wider community which these books have generated. For these reasons and more, I am grateful to see these students and the A-W community grow one year and one seminar at a time.