A Theological Reflection on “Trans*Studies: An International Transdisciplinary Conference On Gender, Embodiment, and Sexuality”
Sandy Stone stood, in a video from her past, reflecting back her future self’s straight black hair and matching black cargo pants, performing an art piece that involved her psychically moving her clitoris to the palm of her left hand and then masturbating vigorously to orgasm on stage through her palm as the observing audience roared and cheered.
This is Trans Studies.
In that opening key note, I reveled in Sandy’s power. I cheered alongside the audience in the video. I touched the palm of my hand as if somehow expecting to experience the supposed pleasure she was receiving. Trans Studies as a discipline, as an event, as an experience, began with the body and from the body it has made itself a river. Constantly moving, eroding, carving, and seeping itself into the bed rock of the academy. Pushing itself from river to stream, from stream to creek, creek to brook; always flowing from the single source that is trans experience, to connect itself to all that the land has to offer.
While my original intent of attending the conference was, both, as an opportunity to network with other trans scholars and to add a conference presentation to my CV. The reality of what I experienced was, as many of the trans scholars present described, a “coming home.” I entered into a space where I never had to stress about pronouns, presentation, or performance of “acceptable transness.” I entered into a space where bodies, gender expressions, and pronouns were held in all their complex beauty. I entered into a sacred space; a space of constant, generative, life-giving dialogue.
I entered into a family space.
I sat on the hard concrete of an industrial warehouse, turned art studio and gallery. The room was dimmed, filled with the smell of sweat and $3 beer. The heat of the crowd and the slowly cooling Arizona desert pressed against my skin. A marathon of poets, Joy Ladin, Kam Awkward-Rich, Ching-In Chen, Jos Charles, Micha Cardenas, Trish Salah, Trace Peterson, Max Wolf Valerio, Ely Shipley, Nat Raha, Samuel Ace, and TC Tolbert, in an almost endless procession, gave their bodies, voices, and art in a vulnerable Eucharist to the trans and gender-variant congregants that have come to worship at their embodied alter.
I left the main room to rest my back and charge my phone. As I walked into the side room, I came across a physical alter. A statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe, with Buddha to her left and a large ornate shell to her right, stood overlooking the photos and names of the 49 queer and trans Latinx people who were murdered at Pulse Nightclub, in Orlando, this past June. The alter adorned with vases, candles, and flowers brought the ephemeral, affected, embodied alter of the poets into a sacred physical space. Manifesting itself tether, this alter, in remembrance of the victims of the Pulse shooting, brought faiths into conversation, brought bodies (both alive and deceased) into dialogue, disrupted the ways grief is supposed to dissolve over time.
Trans studies is a coming home to this alter.
Trans studies is a realization of how deep and how strong the river of trans experience truly is.
Trans studies is embodied revolution. Daring to name ourselves, name our bodies, is a revolutionary act in the face of a society that was not designed to hold us.
Trans studies is a theological necessity. To meet and connect with other trans religious scholars, to witness the infinite possibility of trans existence, and to give witness to your own, your community’s, ability to survive is revelatory. A revelation that shapes the ways God, in God’s own infinity, is experienced on this planet.
Nathan Bakken is a poet, aspiring theologian, novice tarot card reader, and a third year Master of Divinity Student at Boston University School of Theology. Originally from Seattle, Washington, they came to BUSTH to pursue their theological education, with particular focus on Queer and Trans Theologies, Queer Spiritual Practice, and the theological importance of Cher and Whitney Houston.