Beyond Bindary

Sermon Date: 
Sunday, October 7, 2018

Lara: A man, a woman, and a non-binary person walk into a coffee shop. We'll tell you the punchline later on.

PJ: My Name is PJ - and I identify as non-binary. Non-binary can mean many different things to people. At its core, it's used to describe someone whose gender identity isn't exclusively male or female.

Lara: In Western cultures, we've created a binary around gender. The genders that we are most familiar with are male and female. We assign specific categories to these genders -- men are strong and stoic, women are gentle and nurturing. We've created expectations around how they should behave. The early 19th century nursery rhyme tells us "sugar and spice and everything nice, that's what little girls are made of." While boys are made of "snips, and snails, and puppy dog tails," whatever that means. We gender colors and toys. We restrict access to certain feelings and emotions. "Boys don't cry," we say. These artificially imposed limitations on gender impact us all. They provide a frame for how we understand others and how we understand ourselves. Even if we or our family work hard to counteract this cultural push, we end up restricted to one of two places--male or female. It's often impossible to avoid. Now gender is culturally defined. In one culture, a certain characteristic may be assigned to one gender, while in another culture that very same characteristic is applied to another gender. These characteristics are not static, they may change over time. I'm sure many of you remember that not so long ago it was not acceptable for girls or women to wear pants.

PJ: People often ask me when I knew I was non-binary, and I ask them, how did you know when you were a boy or a girl? Figuring out that I was non-binary wasn't a big deal in the beginning for me. I actually can't remember it, and I figure if it was a big deal I would've remembered. But I do know that I was watching this Youtuber and he came out as non-binary a while ago and that got me thinking so much of what we was really saying was resonating and it seemed a lot like me.

Lara: Some experts say there's more natural variation than has been acknowledged and the terminology is more limited than the sum of our human experiences. What does it mean? How does it feel, for instance, for a more feminine man to be told that men behave a certain way, or that there's only one way to express themselves. Many well-intentioned and well-meaning parent or significant adult has subtly or not-to-subtly has encouraged their child to conform to the cultural norms. Often their motivation comes from a desire to protect their child. They want the best for their child, they want their child to be safe. But, no matter the motivation, the end result may be limiting or restricting of who that child is and how they see themselves.

PJ:For me, being non-binary and not having these words to describe it, made me feel like an outsider, and made me feel like I didn't fit in.

Lara: Now gender is not the same as sex, or sex assigned at birth to be more specific, is the marker given based on external genitalia. Gender is about the way that we think about ourselves, who we are, and how we experience ourselves. And the more that we learn about ourselves, hopefully the more we're able to put words to that understanding, but sometimes there are no words. Or, we might not know those words. And sometimes those words don't even exist yet. You see, the language might not come first. The experience of gender comes first, and then we reach, and we seek, and we try to find the language that will best describe it.

PHJ: People also often ask me if I'm a tomboy, and I always respond with "no." That's the truth. Being non-binary is so different, because tomboy is someone who identifies as a girl but dresses differently, while a non-binary person is not a girl at all.

Lara: In one large scale survey released in 2016 respondents were asked to write in the term that best fit their gender. And the researches received more than 500 unique responses. We are all experts on our own particular gender identity. We each get to define who we are and how we wish to be addressed. Now, in some states like Minnesota, they're now offering a third gender option on drivers licenses. And in some cities, like New York city, they're adding a third gender category for birth certificates. But even when given the broad range or the broad choices, many of us will continue to drink our coffee black. But some, some will move beyond binary, the binary of black or light, and maybe, maybe they'll order something more exotic or different for themselves.

PJ: People often ask me if this is a phase, and I assure them that it's not. And, even if it was a phase, why does that matter? A phase is you starting to find yourself, but what they do not realize, is that I have found myself in this identity.

Lara: In our regular lives, we frequently put genders on other people that we see when we see them. We have been taught to notice certain things about peoples' bodies, and we decide based on that perception, of what their gender is. And sometimes, it's accurate. Now this gendering, this putting people in boxes, helps us to know how we should interact with that person. It allows us a level of comfort and familiarity. And for those whose gender is consistent with what society suggest it ought to be, it may be something that we have never even examined or thought about. We make an assessment and assume that we are correct. Now, we're not saying that this is a bad thing. We all do this. We are trained to perceive other people's reality in a certain way, even if that's not the way that we perceive their own reality. even when we know that people's bodies don't really tell you anything about a person's gender.

PJ: The way I look and the clothes I wear sometimes make it hard for people to know how they should address me. They wonder if they should call me a girl or a boy. But I'm just me. Not ma'am, not sir, just PJ. And my pronouns are they, them, and theirs.

Lara: pronouns matter. Experts say that language is more limited than the sum of human experiences and that words are important for people in the the throes of self-discovery, whether they feel that they belong in these bound binaries or beyond them. Pronouns matter. And language has always changed according to our needs. Many people are finding that their singular pronoun 'they' is more accurate--that it fits better for them than he or she. Now, much has been made of the use of they as the singular. In 2016, language experts picked "they" as the "Word of the Year." The Associated Press says using they is acceptable. And when we stop to think about it, we use the singular they all the time. For example, we might say "Look at that hat! What in the world were they thinking?" And for the record, the singular use of the they is not new. It has been around for centuries, actually, the 1700's to be exact. All we are doing now is offering it as an option for people. Because pronouns matter.

PJ: I'm just me, not ma'am, not sir. Just PJ. In order to be welcoming, we must be willing to change our community. To change the way we do things. To change the way we interact. To notice, and then change, the assumptions we make.

Lara: there are all sorts of ways that we interact in the world that's limited and defined by gender. And many ways we bear witness to one another or diminish one another. Pronouns is one of the foundational skills in building community with people. Now it takes some practice using they, them, or theirs in the singular, and that's OK. This is a place where we can practice. And please know that when someone corrects you, it is not a personal attack. It's an opportunity for you to realize that you've made a mistake. So, say "oops," use the proper pronoun, and move on. It is that simple. At the welcome table we have stickers that you can put on your name tags. All you have to do is slip your name tag out of the badge, put the sticker on, and then return it to the badge. [PJ oohs] I know, it is just that simple! There are stickers that say they/them/theirs, that say he/him/his, and say she/her/hers. And for those of us visual people they're color coded. Now, if you are struggling with this, PJ and I are more than willing to help you with it.

PJ: each time you put your pronouns on your name tag, even if they are the commonly expected ones, you create a safe place for trans people like me and non-binary people like me.

Lara: this simple act is powerful. It says first and foremost that we have done some of our own work. That we have taken the time to listen, to think, to reflect on who we are and that we are.

PJ: Each time you bear witness to me by using my pronouns, I know more and more that others know that I and others like me are not a failed gender. I am a beloved human connected to faith and to each and every one of you, and you to me.

Lara: So a man, a woman, and non-binary person walk into the coffee shop.

PJ: They ordered a beverage, and they chatted for a while.

Lara: blessed be, and amen.