• Craig Mueller

Language Matters: Gender and Church

For at least 25 years Holy Trinity has been giving careful attention to how language reflects our radical welcome. For example, in preaching, liturgical language, and an emended version of the lectionary scripture readings, we omit male pronouns for God, hoping that our children will grow up without associating God with maleness. In addition, we try to occasionally use texts that present maternal images for God. Before same-gender couples were allowed to marry we used terms like “committed relationships” and we have tried to define “family” in expansive ways.

In recent years society (and also the church) has been invited to look at our language regarding gender identity. We are learning that the binary of male-female does not apply to all people. Holy Trinity already marks its restrooms in a non-binary way. Rather than naming men and women as ways to alternate stanzas of hymns, current resources are suggesting “higher voices (SA) and lower voices (TB),” as a way to include untrained and trained voices.

Instead of the binary “sisters and brothers,” or “men and women,” you will notice that we sometimes now use other terms such as siblings; people of God; body of Christ; friends in Christ; children of God.

If you are new to some of the terms related to gender identity, here is a glossary with some terms worth knowing:

Birth Sex/Biological Sex. A specific set of genetic, chemical and anatomical characteristics that we are either born with or that develop as we mature. Types of birth/biological sex include female, male and intersex.

Cisgender/cis. Used as an umbrella term to indicate anyone who does identify with the gender they were assigned at birth. (For example: a person assigned male at birth who identifies as a man would be cis.) While “trans” means “across from”, “cis” means “in the same way as.”

Gender Identity. One's internal, personal sense of his or her own gender. Many people believe in a more fluid gender identity than simply “male” and “female.”

Gender Expression. The external manifestation of one's gender identity, usually expressed through behavior, clothing, haircut, voice or body characteristics.

Intersex. A term to describe a person born with ambiguous genitalia.

Non-Binary. An umbrella term for gender outside the standard male/female binary. Often used as a third category for gender identity, after male and female, and often associated with they/them pronouns. Most non-binary people identify as transgender.

Sexual Orientation. The nature of an individual's physical, romantic, emotional and/or spiritual attraction to another person. Gender identity and sexual orientation are not the same. Trans and gender-variant people may identify with any sexual orientation, and their sexual orientation may or may not change before, during or after gender transition.

Transgender. An umbrella term that describes people whose gender identity and/or gender expression differs from the sex they were assigned at birth. Transgender people may or may not choose to alter their bodies hormonally and/or surgically.

Transition. For a trans person, the process of changing from one gender identity to another. This does not always imply a binary, i.e. a person can transition from to a non-binary identity. The process may or may not involve social changes (name, pronouns, etc.), legal changes (legal name, gender markers on ID’s, etc. and/or medical changes (hormones, surgeries, etc.).

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© 2017 Craig Mueller