Pan – genderqueer – cisgender – nonbinary – transgender – terms that we didn’t grow up with if we are middle aged or older, although that gap is closing – words that sound odd perhaps or made up – aren’t all words? We aren’t familiar with them; aren’t sure how to use them; don’t want to get the meaning wrong or to make any assumptions based on not knowing. We shut down sometimes – so much has changed and so fast – we’ll leave it to those who follow us to deal with. So, here’s a little primer for us: Pansexual – means not limited in sexual choice with regard to biological sex, gender, or gender identity. Genderqueer – is someone whose gender identity is neither man nor woman, who considers themselves between or beyond genders or is a combination of genders. Cisgender – A person whose gender identity matches the biological sex they were assigned at birth. Non-binary – A spectrum of gender identities and expressions often based on a rejection of the exclusive male/female binary understanding of gender. Transgender – Describes a person whose gender identity does not match the biological sex they were assigned at birth. There are more identifications than this – I’d like to say there are as many as there are people to identify themselves. Science tells us there is a spectrum – a continuum of identification that runs from strictly female to strictly male in both our biology and our expression. These words we have where none existed before may be new, but their meaning is nothing new. Humanity has always identified itself with these broader understandings. What is new, thankfully, is that we talk about it now – in church, no less! You have heard me say it before – that there is power in naming things. It is empowering to name, to claim, one’s true identity, fearlessly and with pride. June is Pride Month, officially designated by President Bill Clinton in the year 2000, it’s origins date back to the 1950’s. When we think of Pride, we think of Stonewall, remember the attacks on lesbian, gay, and transgender folks in 1969, those who fought back, claiming their identities. Pride was started by trans and gender nonconforming people of color who organized direct actions like sit-ins as well as provided shelter for trans sex workers and other LGBTQ homeless youth. So many homeless youth, even today her on Cape Cod, whose families cannot accept their LGBTQ+ identities. Our local Nauset Interfaith association has an action team devoted to their support and so we lend our support to this cause as members. "Gay power" was a common slogan used in queer publications and at protests in the '60s and early '70s. "Radical organizing, influenced by and in concert with the antiracist and antiwar movement, followed [Stonewall]," according to Caitlin McCarthy, the archivist for The Center, an LGBTQ community center in New York City. “Gay Power” turned to “Gay Pride” after the late 1970’s and continues with celebrations of identity and freedom of expression today.
The Pride flag goes back to 1978, when the artist Gilbert Baker, an openly gay man and a drag queen, designed the first rainbow flag. Baker later revealed that he was urged by Harvey Milk, one of the first openly gay elected officials in the U.S., to create a symbol of pride for the gay community. More recent renditions like the one that accompanied our reading slide this morning, include the colors of the trans flag, as well as black and brown stripes harkening back to a flag redesign from Philadelphia, which sought to further represent the queer and trans identities of black and brown people. Those two stripes also represent those living with HIV/AIDS, people who have passed from the virus and the overall stigma surrounding HIV/AIDS that remains today. But what does all this have to do with those pesky pronouns that follow my name on zoom, that are listed below my email signature, that in some settings I am invited to share when introducing myself? We have had guests in our pulpit that use other pronouns than she/her or he/him – things like they/them or fae/faer or xe/xem – all of which our service leaders have taken care to adapt to, honoring the individuals means of expressing who they are and how they want to be referred to. But if it’s not different from the norm, why bother? Can’t we just assume the default position? We include personal pronouns in our email signatures for the same reason we list our names—so we know what to call one another. Just like you wouldn’t know I am Tracy without asking, you wouldn’t necessarily know how I identify myself. When we assume other people’s pronouns, it is usually based on other assumptions about that person’s gender. The practice of assuming another person’s pronouns, as well as assuming another person’s gender, does not honor that person’s identity and experience. Our Unitarian Universalist Principles ask us to affirm and promote the sacred worth and dignity of every person, and so we are committed to referring to all people using the language they themselves determine to be most appropriate, language which may or may not reveal something about their gender identity. There was an interesting piece last week on the Ted Radio Hour; an interview with Dr. Jen Gunter about her work called, “Body Talk.” She talked about how in many languages gendered grammar is applied to nouns and how it varies from language to language as well. For example, the word bridge is assigned a feminine article in German and a masculine article in Spanish. The interesting part is the assumptions we make based on those designations and how that translates into our descriptors of those things. In Germany, bridges are referred to as beautiful and elegant, in Spain they are considered strong. When we assign and judge by physical qualities we are stereotyping and, according to Gunter, what we think is true about these things has actually been forced upon us by the people in power. When we strike out in opposition to the norm, we are reclaiming our power over our own bodies, our very selves, who we are at our core. In Parker Palmer’s book, “Let Your Life Speak,” he uses the story of Rosa Parks as a metaphor for the “decision to live a divided life no more.” Our surface appearance needs to be aligned with our interior experience. We simply can’t contradict a self-truth that is held so deeply and so we claim our authentic selfhood. When Rosa sat down as she did and said that she was tired, she meant that she was tired of this dissonance she had been forced to live with. It was time to
embrace her true self and there could be no societal punishment that was greater than that of “conspiring in one’s own diminishment.” Palmer says that a journey honestly undertaken leads where our own deep gladness meets the world’s deep need. Our world needs these examples of life lived at its most real and authentic and proudly proclaimed if we are ever to understand ourselves as one humanity with so, so many unique and beautiful expressions. When we create a safe space for someone to honestly identify themselves – the fullness of who they are – without judgement we are honoring their worth and dignity. When we offer the opportunity for people to self-identify, we are questioning norms and the default settings of our society. We are saying that we believe in an evolution of language that parallels the evolution of humankind. We make room for learning and growth, room to change and to be changed by one another in this life. When I put pronouns after my name, I am making an invitation of sorts to those who might think of themselves as apart from the norm, but not yet feel fully free to say so. I am saying to them that here, in my presence, you are welcomed to be whoever you are, to identify yourself however you choose; that you needn’t show up a divided self; that I’ll not be making any assumptions. My pronouns are a placeholder for people. You insert your own, they say, because here we open ourselves to all that you bring. I want to know you and to be changed by you, by your unique expression of life. I hope that we will both walk away from our encounter different from how we entered it, made more fully whole by our exchange of mind and heart. This is what inclusivity is all about. It’s a word we have been tossing around a lot this year, exploring it in sermons and book studies, wondering about its application to our reason for being as a liberal religious faith community here in Chatham, thinking about gender inclusive language in our bylaws and publications. Pronouns are an entrance into ever greater inclusivity; a model for how we see the world as Unitarian Universalists; a signal that we are concerned about people’s individual power over themselves and about empowering the fullest embodiment of who they are. Pronouns, like our rainbow flag, are visible demonstrations of our desire for justice in our world; the journey toward right relationship that is the core of justice making in our midst. Maybe you are here today, and you have never thought about any of this before. Maybe you have thought about it a lot, but you’ve never felt safe enough to talk about it. Or maybe you have been ‘out’ about your identity for a long, long time. If any of these things are true for you or if something somewhere in between is your truth, this service today is to say to you that you are welcome here; to say it explicitly so you don’t need to guess. As our reading said so plainly – what you bring – who you are – enriches us all. And as we muddle through new understandings and what looks from where we sit like a fast-paced rate of change in our culture – even if it is only that it has been given voices and faces and the courage to raise it up in our times – we welcome one another – friend and stranger alike into this covenanted space where love is the ground of all our being. In this month where we honor the lives of LGBTQ+ folks in our communities; celebrate their victories which in turn become victories for all of humanity; and together lament the losses
born of fear and hatred, may we take time to explore how we can be ever more inclusive in our interactions. May we embrace the diversity of humanity as an overarching theme and, more importantly, in our one-on-one encounters. May we seek in ways that are both tangible and transcendent, to uphold the inherent worth and dignity of every person. May it be so. Blessed be and Amen.