Becoming free is not necessarily equal to becoming normal (TDoR 2021)

Message at an international online-gathering of queer christians, 21.11.2021
Ines-Paul Baumann

Mark 5:1-20

Yesterday, people around the world celebrated the Transgender Day of Remembrance (TdoR). Please be aware that in the following minutes, I will also mention reasons why this Day of Remembrance is necessary. I won’t illustrate any details, I will stay more on the abstract level, and for the most part I will discuss the story that we just read from Marks Gospel. But please feel free to not listen, to take a walk, to come back later if this is not the right topic for you to deal with right now.

On the Trans Day of Remembrance (TdoR), we remembered and honoured the lives of trans and gender-diverse people reported murdered in the last 12 months.
In the past year, the number climbed to a new record level of 375 reported murders (http://transrespect.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/11/TvT_TMM_TDoR2021_infographics_wide_EN_01.png).

Sadly, religion is deeply involved in legitimating violence against trans and gender-diverse people.

Three years ago, the murderer of a trans woman in Brazil said that the trans woman „had brought her death upon herself“ because she „was a ‚demon’“. (https://www.huffpost.com/entry/transphobia-brazil_n_5c4b3501e4b06ba6d3bc78d5)

Evangelicals agitate against the recognition of transsexuals, and they increase their engagement in society and politics (https://www.swp-berlin.org/publikation/evangelicals-and-politics-in-brazil).

The protests of some christian groups against trans* people remind me of the protests against homosexuality we have seen for decades already. The wording is about sin and hell. Some don’t hesitate to claim that homosexuals deserve to die. When AIDS started to kill mainly gay people in the 1980s, it was a reasonable punishment of God.
At a christian conference, it was stated that a trans kid better commits suicide than to live trans (https://www.advocate.com/commentary/2015/10/13/10-ways-trans-people-were-vilified-biblical-counselors-conference).

Apparently, some Christians have a bigger problem with a trans* person being alive, than with a trans* person being dead.

I was wondering how this can happen. How can people proclaim the love of God and at the same time agree in the deaths of people who belong to a specific group?

I think the mechanism at play is similar to colonialism and racism. Humans are degraded as inhuman beings. Human rights are rights for humans – so they do not apply to those who are not human. To those who are less human. The uncivilized. The unclean. The bastards. The perverts. The queers.

I guess that for some righteous people, when they look at the high number of murdered trans* people last year, their feeling is comparable to the feeling when reading the account in Marks gospel that 2000 swine have been killed: “So what? They were just swine! Who cares?”

I also understand that, as written in the Gospel, those who lived closely with the swine asked Jesus to leave. I guess being close to the swine helps to better recognize their value and worth. Similarly, when church does not see your value and worth and does not grief the losses of friends and allies, I understand the hesitance and resistance of some people from queer communities against church.

The man who approached Jesus in Mark’s Gospel indeed is described in ways that might be read queer today – queer in the most bewildering sense, not as an acronym for those among the LGBTAIQ*-people who can be regarded as normal enough to be allowed to participate in marriage, parenting, military and churches.

The man described in Mark is not capable of joining the civilization. He can not be controlled at all. He is loud, he is annoying, he is scaring, he is disgusting. The Gospel of Luke adds that he is naked. He is the kind of guy that you don’t want to see in your parade at Gay Pride. Especially not when striving for rights based on LGBTAIQ*-people being normal.

As soon as the man approaches Jesus, Jesus realizes that the man is possessed. But unlike so many before Jesus, Jesus does not try to civilize the man by tying him up and chaining him.
Jesus asks for his name.
And the answer is: “My name is Legion: for we are many.”

Legion is a military unit of the ancient Roman army. By the time that Mark was written and read, the Romans had just recently destroyed both the city and the temple of Jerusalem in the First Jewish-Roman War. In the eyes of contemporaries, the Roman Empire was the occupying force of the Jews. “Legion” indeed refers to a possessing force. With the Roman Empire in mind, this force refers to the epitome of civilization, success, control, power and order.

The man is possessed by policies that are most contrary to what he appears to be. He is possessed by the spirits of control – and is out of control. He is possessed by the spirits of civilization – and behaves most uncivilized. He is possessed by the most successful and normal standards of life at that time. And ends up being ultimately desperate and abnormal. Living among the tombs, this guy IS already closer to death than to life.

To me, these dynamics remind me of transgender people struggling with internalized transphobia. Forbidding themselves to be who they are, they might develop mental illness, they might cut themselves, they might end up in clinics being treated with the aim of living a life under control. They are tied up by cisnormative bonds which do not work well for them and drive them crazy. Rather than connecting them to life, internalized transphobic voices (and they are many…) render them ill, outraged, despaired, suicidal.

Healing then cannot be found by being chained into a norm. Healing can only be found by identifying these voices and by getting rid of them.

This is exactly what Jesus offers. Identifying what binds you and getting free. There are several stories of this kind in the Gospels.

Becoming free is not necessarily equal to becoming normal. The man in Mark ends up being “in his right mind”. He is restored – to seeing clearly, to comprehend, to have insight instead of staying outside. “He was now dressed and thinking clearly. All this made the people afraid” (verse 15). That’s so telling. We can see that so often: A transwoman shows up in her her dresses, thinking clearly – and people are afraid.

Today, it seems that many of the people who are afraid of trans* people dressing accordingly and thinking clearly, are Christians. The topic is so central for some, it seems that they are obsessed with it. But rather than addressing their own fears, maybe their own internal gender-diverse parts, they outsource their own internal parts of gender diversity. And rather than driving out the transphobia and the trans hostility, they turn trans people into swines, hoping that their trans-stories might go away with them as the swines go away.

I’m very much aware that by the time that Mark was written, there were no such things as transphobic concepts. This story was not specifically written down with transgender people in mind. But I do believe, from all what Jesus was doing and saying, that Jesus never forced outsiders to become normal in the sense of acting normative. Jesus was committed to bringing people back into life and community, yes, and in many times it was by rendering them clean, yes. But in the end, Jesus himself was considered to be the cleanest person on earth, and it didn’t save him from being killed. In the story we heard today, Jesus was only asked to leave with words. Three years later, he was made to leave with violence. Not by those living with the unclean swines – but by those considering themselves clean and righteous: the normative middle of society, the civilized successful powers in the News Testament’s world. They didn’t ask if Jesus was clean or normal. They were afraid of him and his message because he exactly did not ask people to obey to normativity.

In the Gospel of Mark, the man who could not adapt to normative standards, not even by coercion, was the first one seeing and naming who Jesus really was: Son of the most high God.
And Jesus offered the first encounter in this man’s life by asking the question that allowed the real situation of the man to be seen and named, too: “What is your name?”
This was more than a simple question asking for an official name. With this question, Jesus asked: “Who are you? What’s going on? Do you want to show yourself to me? To yourself? To the people around you? I am able and willing to face life with you – with everything that binds you, and with everything you can become. Let’s sort this out. My Spirit will lead you in truths that will free you. And in the midst of all what hurts, I will comfort you. Now and forever.”

When trans* and gender-diverse people nowadays meet each other, the first question is: “What is your name, and pronoun?” This is more than a question, too. It’s solidarity. It’s a promise.

God bless you.