You are the God who sees me. —Genesis 16:13
There is a song from the Taizé community, a style of contemplative music that relies on chanting to draw us out of ourselves and into meditative communion with God and one another, that sings, “You are my beloved…My favor rests in you…You are my beloved…I have called you by name…You are mine.” Those words are sung over and over to remind us of our true identity. We are God’s beloved. I am beloved. In the depth of my soul, that’s who I am. Imagine the effects of someone calling me something different than who I am, what that might do to me.
I recall a few years ago in a Bible study when we were seated in a circle, one of us shared our perspective. The person who did was a MTF (male to female) transexual who identified as a woman. After she spoke, another one of us said, “Yeah, I agree with what he said,” motioning to our trans friend. They continued to refer to her using “he/him/his” pronouns. They weren’t being intentionally malicious, but the debilitating effect that those incorrect identifiers had on our trans friend in the group was blatant. She stopped talking. Her shoulders dropped a bit. Her posture lost all animation. She didn’t speak again. I wonder how she felt when she left the circle and walked out of church that night, and what went through her mind later when she was alone.
Using the pronouns that a person goes by is a way of respecting that person’s gender identity, or a person’s emotional and psychological sense of their own gender. It’s also a sacred means of affirming who that person truly is in their soul. This is why being aware of and respecting someone’s preferred pronouns is a spiritual discipline, an act of discipleship, an extension of Christ’s love; because such love reflects the Christian teachings that we encourage each other and build one another up (1 Thessalonians 5:11). If someone tells us that they go by the pronouns “they/them,” for example, and we continue to refer to them using “he/him/his” pronouns, it can imply that we believe that transgender, non-binary, or intersex people are unimportant, or shouldn’t exist. This is not only antithetical to the love of Christ; it contradicts God’s voice that affirms Jesus’ identity when he rises from the waters of his baptism: “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17).
A good way for us to practice this spiritual discipline of affirming the true personhood of our transgender and gender non-binary neighbors is to remember our own personhood; to remind ourselves of who we are and whose we are: “You are my beloved…My favor rests in you…You are my beloved…I have called you by name…You are mine.” Walking in that holy confidence leaves no room for hostility that would belittle or discount the dignity, worth, and very life of our trans neighbors who cry out from the depth of their soul the same thing every child of God cries: “See me.”