….what are Your preferred pronouns?
You may first be noticing the spelling of ‘Godde.’[i] Then there is the question of what is meant by ‘preferred pronouns.’[ii] I invite you to join me in holy exploration –through a set of three questions that I have found to be sacred. I began asking Godde this question when I began asking myself the same –both only after asking others. These are the three most impacting questions of my life.
I have been very involved in the church since my earliest years and, for most of my life, used masculine language in describing Godde. As we consider the male-dominated ascriptions of Godde in liturgies, hymns, and anthems, we understand how the vacuum of non-gendered or multi-gendered language of the Divine may sound foreign to many ears. As we continue holy communication, our vocabulary introduces new words and phrases that may sound odd, otherwise, and beyond our understanding. This is how I felt when I started a transgender choir.
I have been asking everyone I meet for many months, upon introduction, what pronouns they use. I first began asking this question when I co-founded ResonaTe –Chicago’s Trans Choir in October 2015. I had heard of a trans choir that existed in Boston and through my volunteer work with transgender homeless youth in Chicago, began contemplating with my co-founder, starting an ensemble. When we first started meeting with members of the trans community to get a sense of what the needs were, it became clear that pronouns had an important role. I, like all of us when encountering something new, felt insecure dwelling in my own incompetence. Stephen Petrow of the Washington Post spoke to this in an article about gender identity: “My first reaction is: Wow, this is complicated. But really, it’s not. Language is about respect, and we should all do our best to recognize how people wish to be identified, whether it is using their preferred name or a pronoun spelled any which way.” [iii] For those of us who are trans or gender non-conforming, pronouns are a quotidian reminder of our identity. Many people in this world are able to walk down a street and not be called ‘sir’ or ‘mam’ when they do not identify as such. The process of asking someone what they use as pronouns instantly gives respect to the individual and allows them to name themself. Words matter.
As I was asking others this question, I also started asking myself -a process which has allowed me to reclaim much of my life that I lived before family, church, and society set-up their boundaries of who I could be. Growing-up, I would encounter “boys don’t do that…” and “don’t you want to be a man?” As I grew deeper into self-inquiry, I became confident in my identity as being genderqueer.[iv] Asking myself the question of “who is my most essential, healthiest, genuine self?” This period of exploration has led me to feel more confident in my own identity and to help make room for others experiencing oppression.
Christianity is all about relationship. Jesus is found throughout the Gospels entering-into relationship –especially with the most unlikely of people for the culture of His times: the Woman at the Well, those with Hanen’s Disease, tax collectors, were all socially viewed with indignation. The relationship found within the Trinity, the relationship between our self and our neighbor, and the relationship between our self and Godde –the Way is about relations. Communication is essential as a function within relationship. It is an attempt at transferring information from one place to another. Language is important. This appears trivial as I type it now but I must tell you that as I write this, I hear “sticks and stones may…” I do not believe this teaching of my youth to be true. Words matter. We know this within ourselves. A process which began with asking others of what pronouns they use, that then extended into my own examination of self, has begun a pilgrimage from which I hope to never return. That of asking Godde of Their pronouns.
To name is to own. When we read of Godde’s creating in Genesis, we hear Godde immediately name each action and deem it ‘good’. We, each of us, do use this same process with children, sports teams, pets, race, religious denominations, nations, species, ad infinitum. When we care deeply about someone, we often give them nicknames. There is an obvious extension into our naming of Godde. To name is to own. How are we owning Godde in our hymns, our anthems, our liturgies? Which voices set that tone? What boundaries do we create for our “Godde who passes all understanding” when we read of Them as being solely male? When we visually present Godde as being white? When we aurally present Godde with only Patriachal verbiage (i.e. Lord, King, Almighty, Father)? When many of us see the word “God” our minds conjure a male deity. In attempt to offer ourselves a neutral non-binary image, the spelling (with the same pronunciation as “God”) “Godde” has been developed. The Divine reveals Themself in Their creation. We, each of us individual members that are humanity, that makeup the body of Christ, are a mirror of Godde.
I believe that words matter because I know it to be true for myself, in my own life, within my own identity. My own process has been, and, Praise Godde, continues to be one more directed by questions than answers –questions that unfold new paths around constructs of sexism, racism, ageism, etc. Our sense of spiritual self is an amalgamation of our experiences of creation –those myriad contact points with the Divine’s mirror glowing toward us. Might we ask ourselves, our neighbors, and Godde; what are your preferred pronouns?
[i] The Christian Godde Project https://godde.wordpress.com/godde-the-divine-feminine/the-divine-feminine-trinity/
[ii] LGBT Resource Center, University of Wisconsin Milwaukee https://uwm.edu/lgbtrc/support/gender-pronouns/
[iii] Stephen Petrow, The Washington Post https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/style/gender-neutral-pronouns-when-they-doesnt-identify-as-either-male-or-female/2014/10/27/41965f5e-5ac0-11e4-b812-38518ae74c67_story.html
[iv] Spectrum Center, University of Michigan https://internationalspectrum.umich.edu/life/definitions
*This article was published in the July 2016 issue of Church Music Forward