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‘A Matter of Faith: A Presby Podcast’ looks at raising kids beyond the binary

Author and activist Jamie Bruesehoff is the most recent guest of hosts Simon Doong and the Rev. Lee Catoe

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

Jamie Bruesehoff

LOUISVILLE — Jamie Bruesehoff, the most recent guest on “A Matter of Faith: A Presby Podcast,” recalled the first day her transgender daughter, Rebekah, came to church as herself. The one person whom Bruesehoff feared might cause problems for her and her husband, the pastor of the church, made a beeline for the pastor following worship.

“I held my breath,” she told “A Matter of Faith” co-hosts Simon Doong and the Rev. Lee Catoe. “He said, ‘Listen. I don’t understand this whole transgender thing, but she used to hide behind you and refuse to say hello to me on a Sunday morning. Today she ran up to me, twirled in her dress and gave me a high five. What more is there to know?’”

“That is the foundation for the work we do for creating that space,” said Bruesehoff, author of “Raising Kids Beyond the Binary: Celebrating God’s Transgender and Gender-Diverse Children.” “How do we move this from issues to human beings, to seeing the humanity in each of us and creating space where we don’t need to check all the boxes and say the right things, but we’re still trying to keep people safe.”

“That’s what’s cool about communities of faith,” she said. “I think they’re one of the rare places where we are in community with people who believe differently. That’s a beautiful gift but only if we have a mind toward safety.”

Listen to Catoe and Doong’s 41-minute conversation with Bruesehoff here. More information about Rebekah can be found here.

The hosts opened with this question: What specific gifts or opportunities do faith communities bring to the table in terms of inclusion and acceptance for transgender and gender-diverse children?

“Before I answer, I want to flip the question on its head: What specific gifts do gender-diverse and transgender children bring to faith communities?” Bruesehoff said. “The world right now … is a pretty scary place, especially for transgender and gender-diverse children. People of faith have done and continue to do the most significant harm to this community, personally and politically,” but “people of faith are in a unique position to mitigate that harm. It is up to people of faith to boldly, loudly and faithfully celebrate transgender and gender-diverse people of all ages, but especially young people — to change the narrative and to say these young people are not mistakes, that God does not make mistakes.”

“These children and young people were created in the image of God to be exactly who they know themselves to be,” Bruesehoff said, “and that is a beautiful gift to everyone in relationship with them and to their faith communities.”

“There’s so much to be celebrated,” she said, “in the way that we are made better by being in community with all kinds of God’s people.” Bruesehoff called herself “a cisgender parent of a transgender child who has taught me more about what it means to be in community with people, to love the person in front of me for who they are and not who I thought they were or who I expected them to be and has taught me more about the God who created us.”

Rebekah transitioned eight years ago at age 8. “We’ve been on this journey for a while now. It had a pretty steep learning curve,” Bruesehoff said. “There was nothing for the everyday parent about how do we raise these young people up from a faith perspective? Too often, faith is an impediment to loving the person in front of you.” We love that person “not in spite of our faith, but because of our faith.”

On “a more nitty-gritty level, when we look at raising gender-expansive kids, it’s listening to them, following their lead, and letting them be who they are. … When my daughter transitioned, I think both for myself and my spouse there was never any question of loving and supporting our child for being who she was. But we had a lot of fear about the world around her — about what life was going to be like and about how people were going to respond to her. That’s real.” She said the book includes “practical stuff about how to navigate that, how to talk to families, your church and your school, and how to make sure you’re centering that child and not putting that fear on them.”

“A Matter of Faith: A Presby Podcast” with the Rev. Lee Catoe and Simon Doong drops each Thursday.

Queer and transgender people “don’t struggle because there is something wrong with them. They struggle because of what they face in society,” Bruesehoff said. “My daughter likes to say that ‘being trans is the least interesting thing about me.’ She is a sassy 16-year-old. She sings in three a cappella groups. She plays field hockey. She does all these things that make her who she is and who God created her to be.”

“If I can see the wholeness of that person, then it shifts me away from that struggle narrative and so then when I see the struggle and the harm being done by the world we live in, I’m able to go, ‘She’s good. She doesn’t need to be fixed.’ She’s whole and holy and who God created her to be, and now we need to change the world. That’s my job. That’s my mission as her parent.”

Bruesehoff said her children are “notorious” for showing up to take Communion “in whatever dress-up costume they were playing with that morning. As a pastor’s wife … my kids were a handful. We really were ‘come as you are’ to Sunday worship. I thought that my service to the community was to make sure every other parent knew that their kid was fine because they were always going to be better than the pastor’s kids.”

“When we create more gender-inclusive spaces, we create spaces that are more inclusive for all people … for all of us to show up as ourselves,” Bruesehoff said. “When we break that down for young people, it starts to break down for people of all ages to show up and be more real, to be themselves and know that they are loved and that faith and community is messy. Kids teach us that.”

When she hears phrases issued by congregations including “all are welcome,” “it’s a tricky phrase,” Bruesehoff said. “Am I welcome to serve? To be a leader? To teach Sunday school? Or do you want me to just sit in the pew and be quiet? Am I welcome, or are you willing to bless my marriage?” It’s possible “many beliefs may be welcome here, but not all behaviors can be welcome here.”

Bruesehoff said her book, published in September, is “meant to be a resource to anyone who cares about young people.” She called it “part story and part handbook, a toolkit” with “so many resources in it.”

“It’s across faith, school and all these other things. It’s been awesome to hear the feedback about it and the way it’s resonating across generations,” Bruesehoff said. “It’s been a real favorite with grandparents who say, ‘I just don’t understand what the words mean.’ It’s a tool and a resource that’s unabashedly rooted in faith, but I’ve heard from people with no faith connection that it’s been really helpful for them, too.”

Listen to previous editions of “A Matter of Faith: A Presby Podcast” here.


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