Scripture is full of re-births and re-naming’s. One that has always resonated with me is the story of Jacob wrestling with an [angel]:
“24So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak. 25When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man. 26Then the man said, “Let me go, for it is daybreak.” But Jacob replied, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” 27The man asked him, “What is your name?” “Jacob,” he answered. 28Then the man said, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome.” 29Jacob said, “Please tell me your name.” But he replied, “Why do you ask my name?” Then he blessed him there. 30So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, “It is because I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared.” 31The sun rose above him as he passed Peniel, and he was limping because of his hip.” (Genesis 32:24-31)
As someone who lives on the intersections of a trans/queer identity and mental illness, the experience of Jacob – wrestling and holding on and being changed in the process – this narrative feels viscerally familiar to me.
Last November, St. Luke’s led a Trans Day of Remembrance liturgy on Reign of Christ Sunday. One of the most powerful moments I remember from that service is when everyone put their names and pronouns on a nametag, and shared with a neighbor the origin of their name. In our bulletin, we affirm “calling one another by our names and pronouns is one of the most important ways we create welcome in our community.” There is a recent trend (hopefully shifting into tradition) in the church of holding naming ceremonies for transgender members – naming rituals that are an affirmation of name, of baptism, of personhood, of place within the Body of Christ.
These affirmations only become more critical as trans folks (typically trans women of color) face increased violence in the midst of visibility (in 2017, there have been 19 known trans murders https://www.autostraddle.com/2017-trans-women-murdered-385295/), and increased occurrences of mental health concerns directly related to discrimination and marginalization.
When Erin, our Pastoral Intern, reached out to start a conversation around a naming rite, (which was held on July 2nd) to mark this life passage, my initial reaction was one of dismissal.
“I don’t need to publicly affirm my truth.”
“I don’t want my identity to take up so much space.”
Those hesitations are rooted in fear. Throughout my transition – something that is complicated, joyful, and sometimes painful – I kept trying to make my transition as easy as possible on other people. I feared that if I spoke my truth too loudly, I would end up speaking to an empty room, instead of being held.
What would it mean to take up church space in a ritual that pulled structure from affirmations of baptisms, and content from a naming ritual written by River Needham? (MCC Clergy Candidate https://medium.com/@Queerxtian/on-the-changing-of-your-name-ef58f0fb4916)
To me, it meant standing alongside my trans siblings in history. It meant standing alongside my trans siblings in faith. It meant putting one more piece together in my heart.
St. Luke’s has given me space to grow into myself – and I hope that the naming rite has helped to carve space for those who will follow. This congregation, this community, was one of the first (outside of explicitly LGBTQ+ spaces) who saw me for who I am and called me by name. What a gift to be in a community that is willing to stretch and grow with love, together!