My extremely progressive religious denomination is currently facing a crisis. While striving for years to extend a welcoming hand to LGBT+ folks, they fell horribly short this month, by publishing an article about transgender people that showed an abysmal level of ignorance and insensitivity.
The backlash will go on for a long time, and the shaky (at best) foundation that had been established is showing some serious cracks that will take considerable time and patience to repair.
Last fall, a subgroup that represents LGBT+ people within the denomination conducted a poll, and the results showed that the transgender people who attended our churches frequently encountered behaviors and attitudes that reflected the tone of the article.
To review: a transgender woman is a woman. A transgender man is a man. Don't ask transgender people (don't ask anyone, really. C'mon!) about the status of their genitalia. And don't take for granted that a transgender person has nothing else going on in their life beyond being transgender.
Reading the reactions to the article and the survey made me recall one woman who attended our local church. I'm going to call her Stephanie. She was always impeccably dressed, tall, beautiful, soft-spoken. One day, for some reason (ignorance and insensitivity, actually), I passingly remarked "You shouldn't wear those 3-inch heels -- you'll kill your feet." Stephanie's body language told me she really wanted to tell me to f___ off and mind my own business, but she restrained herself. I knew in that instant that I'd said the wrong thing and ought to apologize, but because I didn't know precisely why it was the wrong thing, I wanted to think it over before apologizing. Turns out, I never got the opportunity. Stephanie left the congregation not long after that.
It's been a few years...reading the article and the reactions to it made me realize that if Stephanie took that survey and said that people at the church made her feel uncomfortable, she may well have had that conversation in mind.
So, why was it so out of line for me to offer unsolicited advice about her shoes? After all, it's fairly conventional wisdom that women's dress shoes, especially the high-heeled variety, are incredibly rough on the feet. Toes get pinched and squeezed out of line; the calf muscles are bunched, and the hips and back go out of alignment, eventually leading to all manner of income for chiropractors. I haven't worn anything like a heel in over 10 years due to worsening arthritis and balance problems. Yes, I think avoiding pinchy, heely dress shoes is one of the nicer things you can do for your feet.
But who would I normally say that to? Let's see...if I had a daughter and she were 11 years old or so, I might encourage her to avoid wearing that type of shoe. Maybe once or twice more before she got to be 16. Then I'd shut up and do little more than encourage her to dress the way she felt comfortable dressing. A mother has a child's best interests at heart, after all.
Stephanie, however, was not my child. She was not a child, period. And if I wouldn't think of telling an adult cisgender woman to whom I was not related that she was making a mistake with her choice of footwear, I had absolutely no right to make an exception with an adult transgender woman. My remark told Stephanie that I thought she needed "schooling." Truthfully, yes, I did make the assumption that Stephanie had not been wearing women's dress shoes for very long, but where did I get that idea? In reality, she may have been wearing them since she was 12 or 13 and had no trouble walking in them. She undoubtedly had read magazine articles and blogs and spoken to a doctor about optimum foot care, and made an adult decision to wear whatever the hell she felt like. So I made a bunch of ignorant assumptions about an adult woman, all the while piously parroting religious platitudes about the inherent worth and dignity of every person and equity and compassion in human relations. Take that one instance and multiply it by several hundred each month and tens of thousands each year, and it's no wonder that this liberal denomination's efforts to be welcoming and inclusive toward transgender people can seem so shallow and hard to trust.
On one level, every person on the planet owes at least one other person an apology for something. But this is especially true for people who literally make a religion out of trying to be just a little better than people in other religious traditions.
So lots of apologies, and a lifetime of learning, are in order for all of us, especially those of us who really care about "the interdependent web of existence, of which we are all a part."