Remarks I wrote and delivered in New York City at the Union Theological Seminary on Friday, September 19th, 2008—on the occasion of the publication of the new edition of her book, Sensuous Spirituality, and the acceptance of Virginia Ramey Mollenkott’s archives at The Center for Lesbian & Gay Studies in Religion & Ministry at Pacific School of Religion, Berkeley, California.
One of the major blocks to going through with my gender change was my fear of God’s wrath. It makes sense—I’m a Jew, and we believe that God can be mighty wrathful when He wants to be—no matter that wrath is a deadly sin.
I left religion behind me, and embraced atheism as a spiritual path. Many transgender people do that: when our religious leaders tell us how angry God is going to be with us for messing with our God-given genders, we turn away from God. And we eventually reach a point of unbearable loneliness and inconsolable grief, with no God to comfort us. Virginia Ramey Mollenkott is the first person to address our spiritual conundrum. She is the first person to return us to God’s comfort and wisdom.
Over the recent history of the movement for transgender freedom—the 1990’s and the late 1980’s—trannies fell into one of two camps: either we were academics, who taught the neither/nor beliefs of postmodern theory, or we were political activists who fought for transgender civil liberties. For nearly a decade, Virginia Mollenkott has stood alone as a spiritual leader, a beacon to every transgender person who came across her work.
In her ground-breaking book, Omnigender, a trans-religious approach, Virginia teaches that the origin of trans oppression found in Deuteronomy comes down to the old Jewish love of binaries, and their abhorrence of incompatibility.
Men do one thing, women do another. They can’t be mixed up. According to old Jewish ways of thinking, when you add femaleness to maleness, you pollute maleness and confuse the accepted bipolar gender system. That’s a double bind: first, it implies that femaleness is polluting, and second, it plays on the fact that Jews despise confusion. It’s why we’re always think-think-thinking!
Virginia’s answer to the paranoia of Deuteronomy is this, from Omnigender:
“Any sincerely religious person who believes that women and men are equally created in God’s image should think twice before invoking biblical prohibitions against cross-dressing and same-sex love. Because these prohibitions are associated with the attitude that femaleness is a pollutant, they have no place within a democratic and fair-minded society, let alone in a contemporary church, synagogue, or mosque.”
Virginia taught us that God—like gender—has many faces, and that none of His true faces are wrathful or transphobic. By painstakingly tracing the roots of trans prohibition in religions, Virginia has built us a bridge that connects postmodern theory and political activism with spirituality. That’s never been done before.
Today, touring around to colleges and universities, I’m seeing more and more young trans students who are majoring in Religious Studies. Each and very one of them I spoke told me that Virginia Mollenkott was a major inspiration for their wish to make spirituality and religion a more integral and accessible part of the transgender experience.
Why might Dr. Mollenkott be so successful at reaching out to trannies? Well, one reason Virginia’s work is so popular amongst trannies is that Virginia makes it okay to be religious and sexy at the same time. I mean, just look at this sexy, handsome woman (who just happens to be one of the finest flirts I know!)Thanks to Virginia Mollenkott, religion hasn’t been this sexy or this much fun since the days of temple prostitutes!
In closing—before coming to this gathering this evening, I posted on Twitter that I was writing my talking points on Virginia’s impact on the trans world. Within minutes of my post, I received this response from Natasha:
“Thank you for introducing me to Virginia Mollenkott. Ya gotta love anyone who can get the theocrats panties in a twist!”
She’s right. We do love you, Virginia Mollenkott. We do love you.