A Pastor and a Philosopher Walk into a Bar

Transforming: Gender, Trans Identity, and the Church with Austen Hartke

October 21, 2022 Season 3 Episode 7
Transforming: Gender, Trans Identity, and the Church with Austen Hartke
A Pastor and a Philosopher Walk into a Bar
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A Pastor and a Philosopher Walk into a Bar
Transforming: Gender, Trans Identity, and the Church with Austen Hartke
Oct 21, 2022 Season 3 Episode 7

Austen Hartke is a transgender Christian man who wrote the book Transforming: the Bible and the Lives of Transgender Christians. The book is a gift to the trans Christian community, as well as to parents, church leaders, and the church in general. While the church and politicians debate and degrade transgender people's existence, they are trying to live lives without loneliness, isolation, and self-hatred. Austen's book does an incredible job of sharing the stories of real life trans and non-binary people who grew up in the church. He frames the conversation Biblically and theologically and shares his own story. We're excited to share Austen's voice and perspective, and to do something that far too few people are doing today--actually listening to the perspective and story of trans people who are trying to love themselves and love Jesus.

The resources Austen mentions in the interview are:

The beverage we sample in the episode is Chicken Cock Kentucky Straight Rye from our friends at Story Hill BKC.

The beverage tasting is at 2:20. To skip to the main segment, go to 5:50.

You can find the transcript for this episode here.

Content note: this episode contains discussion of suicide that may not be suitable for younger listeners.

=====

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The best way is to subscribe to our Patreon. Annual memberships are available for a 10% discount.

If you'd rather make a one-time donation, you can contribute through our PayPal.


Other important info:

  • Rate & review us on Apple & Spotify
  • Follow us on social media at @PPWBPodcast
  • Watch & comment on YouTube
  • Email us at pastorandphilosopher@gmail.com

Cheers!

Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Austen Hartke is a transgender Christian man who wrote the book Transforming: the Bible and the Lives of Transgender Christians. The book is a gift to the trans Christian community, as well as to parents, church leaders, and the church in general. While the church and politicians debate and degrade transgender people's existence, they are trying to live lives without loneliness, isolation, and self-hatred. Austen's book does an incredible job of sharing the stories of real life trans and non-binary people who grew up in the church. He frames the conversation Biblically and theologically and shares his own story. We're excited to share Austen's voice and perspective, and to do something that far too few people are doing today--actually listening to the perspective and story of trans people who are trying to love themselves and love Jesus.

The resources Austen mentions in the interview are:

The beverage we sample in the episode is Chicken Cock Kentucky Straight Rye from our friends at Story Hill BKC.

The beverage tasting is at 2:20. To skip to the main segment, go to 5:50.

You can find the transcript for this episode here.

Content note: this episode contains discussion of suicide that may not be suitable for younger listeners.

=====

Want to support us?

The best way is to subscribe to our Patreon. Annual memberships are available for a 10% discount.

If you'd rather make a one-time donation, you can contribute through our PayPal.


Other important info:

  • Rate & review us on Apple & Spotify
  • Follow us on social media at @PPWBPodcast
  • Watch & comment on YouTube
  • Email us at pastorandphilosopher@gmail.com

Cheers!

Randy:

I'm Randy, the pastor half of the podcast, and my friend Kyle is a philosopher. This podcast hosts conversations at the intersection of philosophy, theology, and spirituality.

Kyle:

We also invite experts to join us, making public space that we've often enjoyed off-air around the proverbial table with a good drink in the back corner of a dark pub.

Randy:

Thanks for joining us, and welcome to A Pastor and a Philosopher Walk into a Bar. Our guest today is Austen Hartke, and Austen wrote a book called Transforming - The Bible and the Lives of Transgender Christians. And I want to say it's an important book. It's a, it's, it's a book for everybody, not just people with transgender people in their families, or not just transgender people, or anybody, anything, it's just an important book for anyone to get acquainted with what, what a trans existence looks like, and what a trans life looks like in the church, what it's like to be trans in the church, what it's like to try to come out in the church, and how to best love and support and come alongside our trans brothers and sisters, and really good resource for pastors and church leaders, I think.

Kyle:

Yeah, and there's a pretty big emphasis on the Bible. It's there in the subtitle. So if you're interested in how to fit trans people into your understanding of biblical authority, or your reading of the text, this is a good resource to start with.

Randy:

Austen does not shy away from the scriptures, as matter of fact, kind of centers the scriptures within the book along with other trans experiences that people that he interviews that tell their stories, and sometimes they're excruciating. Most of the time, they're excruciating, and, but all pretty much every story in the book, I believe, finds life at the end and finds belonging finds hope and goodness.

Kyle:

Yeah, it's a remarkably hopeful book, and we say this in the interview, it's a remarkably gentle book, too. I mean, he's, he's kind, and it comes through in the pages, and he's kind even to groups of people that he would be, have really good reason to not be so kind to, or disposed towards being gentle to. But he is. And he's no slouch when it comes to the Bible, either. He's studied that, he specialized in Old Testament studies in his MDiv I believe, and, you know, read Hebrew and all that stuff. So yes, he's, he knows what he's talking about.

Randy:

And as we'll find, he traveled to the UK and enjoyed some delicious beverages. This is A Pastor and a Philosopher Walk into a Bar. We like to talk about and have conversations that you'd have in a bar. So let's just go to the bar right now. What are we tasting today, Kyle?

Kyle:

Well, we got a thing from our friends over at Story Hill BKC, and this is called Chicken Cock. Have you ever heard of this?

Randy:

Nope. And I'm not going to make a joke.

Kyle:

Hold it in Randy. This is, this is a PG-13 podcast. So Chicken Cock, so I guess they're kind of new on the scene, I'm not sure how old they are...

Randy:

No they're not; they're old.

Kyle:

But I've seen their stuff... How old are they? They can't be that old.

Randy:

Like 90 years old.

Kyle:

No, they're not.

Randy:

Read the back of the bottle.

Kyle:

That's not possible.

Randy:

70 to 90 I'm gonna say, I confidently read that today.

Kyle:

Established in 1856 in Paris, Bourbon County, Kentucky.

Randy:

They shut down after World War II, came back. They're kind of, I don't, bourbon people will slapped me up side the face, but they, they're associated with Bardstown, which we like a lot. But it's an old heritage whiskey. So Chicken Cock rye, they do a bourbon as well, this is their rye. Which, I think it's 95% rye and 5% malted barley.

Kyle:

Okay. Yeah, so I've had their bourbon. And I've had a rum finished bourbon I believe it was that they did. I've never had the rye, so we'll see how this goes. I guess I'm just like, you know, I don't know, biased towards my own experience in the bourbon world, I've been hearing about them for about two years, so I'm not sure what that means, maybe nothing.

Randy:

It's a very straightforward nose.

Kyle:

Doesn't smell like a rye to me. It smells sweeter than a rye.

Randy:

Yeah, totally does. Doesn't have that peppery component. Corn is featured a lot in here, it feels like, even though there's no corn in the mashbill. No, that's nice.

Kyle:

Yeah, very straightforward. It's, it tastes like 40%, let me see what it is, it's 45. Interesting. Yeah. So it's a very easy drinking 45%. Yeah, not a lot of that, that spice burn that you would expect from this kind of...

Randy:

Yeah. If you want to like rye, start at Chicken Cock rye, this is a good place to start. It's not, it doesn't have that bite...

Kyle:

If you're not sure about that spiciness, this, yeah, this would be a good entry rye for sure.

Randy:

It's very mellow. I wonder how much that 5% malted barley comes into because of that, or how much it rounds it out, but man that's, it's very mellow, very chill, really approachable.

Kyle:

Yeah. And we did something a little unusual here. We're, we're in Elliott's basement and he's not here. And so we stole his cocktail ingredients and we mixed a cocktail.

Randy:

Damn right we did. So we mixed a little bit of an old fashioned, right, with this Chicken Cock rye that you can find at Story Hill BKC as we speak. Let's take a sip.

Kyle:

I think it makes an excellent old fashioned.

Randy:

Delicious. I actually think rye is the best spirit for old fashioneds or Manhattans because it doesn't bring that sweet that bourbon brings.

Kyle:

There is an argument to be made for sure, because you know, old fashioneds are usually already a little sweet if you put some simple syrup in em and maybe a cherry that has some syrup on it, so, yeah, rye is an excellent choice for an old fashioned.

Randy:

Yeah, if you want a high minded Manhattan or old fashioned, grab this Chicken Cock from Story Hill BKC if you're in Milwaukee.

Kyle:

High minded, I like it.

Randy:

And just know that you're splurging, you're enjoying yourself, or you're treating your friends well. So I was in Story Hill today, and they have just this great selection of unique stuff, but also stuff that you'd recognize, they have three different kinds of Michter's right now, they have the Bardstown stuff, they have Belle Meade, which we featured early in the... Yeah, and they have a couple of different kinds, so head over to Story Hill BKC for their bourbon selection, for their whiskey selection. Stay for their burgers and their food. They're not a burger joint, I keep talking about their burgers, but their food is just impeccable. And if you're not in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, make sure you support local.

Kyle:

So another thing we like to do on the podcast is occasionally shout out one of our Top Shelf supporters. So this week, we want to shout out Eric and Brenda Hobbs, thank you so much for your support on Patreon. It means the world.

Randy:

Eric and Brenda, we love you. Thank you.

Kyle:

We also want to read a review. We get reviews coming in pretty regularly, and we like to showcase them sometimes because they're a good way to convince other people to listen to the show. This one comes from Germany. I don't think we've read any international reviews so far. So this will be our first non-US review. So this one comes from samiraroe writing from Germany, title is "Podcast in two words: healing and hope."

Randy:

How about that?

Kyle:

So samiraroe says, "This podcast helped me deal with doubts and deconstruction. It gave me the confidence to stand up for my perspective and understanding of the Bible and God. It helped with anxiety and gave me so much hope. I love how difficult themes are addressed and how different perspectives are given. More than anything else, I love that wisdom and mystery are embraced, and that they do not settle down for quick answers, but sit in the discomfort of hard, uncomfortable questions. This podcast was a big part of unfolding and holding on to faith and dealing with church hurts in the past. It helped me find a spiritual home in my faith."

Randy:

Holy moly, yeah, you couldn't read that in German?

Kyle:

It's been a long time since I brushed up on my German there Randy.

Randy:

Awesome. Thank you for that review, and if you don't mind right now friends, push pause and go leave a review. It means the world to us. Austen Hartke, thank you so much for joining us.

Austen:

Thanks so much for having me.

Kyle:

So we like to ask our guests when we get started, because we're, you know, bar is a part of the theme of our show, if you have anything you're drinking at the moment or an adult beverage of preference that you'd like to tell our listeners about?

Austen:

Well, I'm feeling boring right now that I'm just drinking water. Just got back from a bike ride not long before we started talking. But I'm a big cider fan. It was the first thing I ever drank because I was in the UK, I was actually in the UK right after I turned 18 and right after I turned 21. So it was weird that I ended up drinking a lot of cider while I was over there and it became my drink of choice.

Randy:

That's a good place to go for noteworthy birthdays. I mean, I think you're like, I think you passed 30 right?

Austen:

Yep. Yep.

Randy:

Did you go anywhere for your 30th birthday special?

Austen:

Oh, my 30th birthday was when the book came out, literally on my birthday. So that was the main thing.

Randy:

You're doing a good job hitting the milestones, Austen.

Kyle:

Yeah, any recommended ciders? My wife is gluten free, and so she, you know, she's limited on alcoholic beverages. She can't drink beer. So cider is one of our go-to things, but most of them are pretty boring.

Austen:

Yeah, you know, I, yeah, the main like nationwide ciders are pretty boring, and you really have to go to the places, like the small craft breweries to get specific kinds of cider. There's a cidery near here, and I'm trying to remember what it's called, it's called 13 something or other, it's over in Minneapolis, I'm based in St. Paul, and they make a blackberry cider that is amazing. Like, it's not too sweet. It's just this hinge of blackberry, and it's so good.

Kyle:

That's the thing with cider, often careens into the sugar.

Austen:

It does. And that's the thing is I really like a dry cider. I'm not, like if it's too sweet, you know, I want to be able to have more than one.

Kyle:

Well we're not too far from there. We make it over to the cities occasionally. So I'll check that out.

Randy:

Yeah, we're in Milwaukee. So people will, we'll share the good midwestern accent, except for Kyle.

Kyle:

Except for me. I'm from Kentucky originally. That might come out if I get excited.

Randy:

Kyle, why don't you go for it, you got the first question on the outline.

Kyle:

So the book that you just mentioned is called Transforming. We have it right here for people watching on YouTube, The Bible and the Lives of Transgender Christians by Austen Hartke.

Randy:

It's an amazing book.

Kyle:

It's great, just finished it, really, really excellent introduction to, I don't know, the trans experience, I suppose, or a version of the trans experience. Really good place to start, I think, for Christians who haven't thought a lot about it. It's so irenic. It's like, you're so much more generous with certain things than I would be as a, you know, as a cis, hetero guy.

Austen:

Better to be irenic than ironic, I suppose.

Kyle:

Yeah. But I mean, really, you're just...

Randy:

It's so kind.

Kyle:

... you're so kind and gentle in places that you would be justified not to be I think, and so, well, well done. So I want to, I want to start, if it's okay, by asking you a ridiculously complicated and difficult question, and I'm going to pretend that it's just the easiest thing in the world. And that is, what is gender? And how, how do you understand it, and how do you understand its relationship to different things like sex? Well, I guess it's controversial whether they're even different things, so that's part of the question, things like sex or things like orientation. How do you understand the interplay of those things? And how has your understanding of them evolved over time?

Randy:

And maybe Austen, if you could, in the book you differentiated between sex and gender, and that was super helpful for me, so could you could you start there?

Austen:

Yeah, well, the let me actually, I'm going to start with the last thing that you said, Kyle, but, and then I'll come back around. How it's changed, I think, has been one of the biggest and most interesting things because we just on Monday released pre orders for the second edition of the book. I got to do a second edition, which is going to be coming out in the spring, and I completely rewrote the entire chapter on gender, on like gender language. Because even since 2018, when the first edition came out, the way we have talked about gender has changed. And it's not that, I think sometimes people get flustered or they feel like change is happening too quickly, or like this shouldn't change at all, and they maybe get flustered by this idea of like our language changing, and it's really not that, it's not so much that new things are happening that fast, it's that we're learning more about what's already existed, and then coining words to explain it. So that's why the language is changing so quickly. So one of the things that I didn't do with the new edition is have that designation between sex versus gender. And so I'll tell you, this is the way that I explained it in the first edition of the book, is sex is, has to do with your physical characteristics, so your reproductive organs, your hormone levels, your chromosomes, things like that, and we use the word sex for that. And then I specified that gender is kind of like how you understand yourself, it is the cognitive part, it is the social part, that is not having to do with your body. And so that was the sort of differentiation that I made in that first edition. And that's a very common differentiation throughout, like gender scholarship over the past, I want to say, 15, 20 years, we've made that distinction between sex and gender. And recently, people have kind of started saying, like, that's too simple. Like, we give people that idea, and they run with it, and it can be an oversimplification that can make later understandings more difficult. So now, one of the ways that I explain gender, and this will show up in the second edition, is talking about gender itself as having three different facets. So you have the physical part of your gender, which again, is that body part, right, so chromosomes, hormone levels, reproductive organs, both internal and external. Then you've got your gender identity, which happens in your brain, how you understand yourself. And then you've got your gender expression, which is how you sort of show that gender to others through clothing and hair and all those kinds of mannerisms, things like that. So having these sort of three aspects of gender is a little bit easier for people to get on board with and then not feel super confused later on. But that's one of the internal arguments happening in, like, queer theory, trans theory right now is, how do we talk about sex versus gender? Do we use that binary? Or do we say they're essentially the same? Do we say they're different? How do we talk about it? So it's very much an ongoing conversation.

Kyle:

So when you talk about the physical aspect of gender, how do you understand that in relation to biological sex?

Austen:

So the interesting thing about the concept of biological sex, like, and I'm using those words very specifically, biological sex, is that historically, even though it's easy for us to look back in the past and say, well, there are two biological sexes, realistically, the concept of biological sex has been intertwined with things like race and class in very specific ways that means that biological sex as we think about it today, doesn't exist exactly.

Kyle:

Okay.

Austen:

For, like, you know, throughout the early days of the US, when people like black African folks were enslaved, we had ideas about the fact that there was no such thing, when you talked about a man, you meant a white man, a white, cisgender heterosexual man, for lack of other words, and a black man was seen as having essentially a different gender than a white man in many ways because of the way that race played into those interactions. And so, now when we talk about things like biological sex, we have to be very aware of the idea that that concept has been entwined with things like racism throughout the past and modern day now. So I very rarely use the the language biological sex. I would say, like, this, I would talk about the sex characteristics that you have, I would talk about, like, the genotype or phenotype that you have, if you're a bio person, right?

Kyle:

Yep.

Austen:

So those would be the ways that I would talk about it rather than saying biological sex, just because there's way more to unpack in there than we usually have time to get into in just everyday conversation.

Kyle:

Yeah, yeah, that's helpful. So I'm a philosopher. So I always want to get into, like, the nitty gritty of it, and like, parse out the categories and try to be really precise about what it is we're saying, and locate ourselves in the debates that are happening and whatnot. So that helps me a little bit, because there are people who, who, philosophers who consider themselves race eliminativists, which means they want to eliminate the category of race and say it's not a real thing. And there are various ways you can do that. There are people who say it's not a real thing because there's no biological thing you can point to that maps neatly onto the categories that everybody knows as the main racial categories. And so because there's nothing in your genome like that, we might as well just say race doesn't exist. And then there are people on a different side of the debate that'll say, well, okay, a thing can be socially constructed and still be real. And so just because it doesn't have a, you know, genetic basis that we can point to that is, like, neatly divided doesn't mean it's not a real thing and these classifications aren't things that people bump into in their experience, and they shape your life, you know, so they're still real. And you could do, obviously, you could do the same thing or a very similar thing with gender, and I know that there are people--or with sex, and I know that there are people who consider themselves sex eliminativists, as well, or you might call them reductionists, they want to reduce one category to the other, and that goes in both directions--and so it sounds like maybe you're tending towards the I would like to reduce the biological sex category into some kind of gender and understand it as constructed all the way down. Is that fair?

Austen:

Well, not exactly. I mean, I think one of the interesting parallels to that sort of, the, that way of sort of, complex understanding of race, there's a similarity to that in like, in trans and gender expansive communities, where there are some people who, you know, believe that sex is completely socially constructed, and it's not, like, and we should kind of just get rid of it, like, that it's not helpful, right? And so there's definitely the people who do believe that way. There are also people who are like, no, I believe gender has some inherent thing in many people, not all people, but in many, or even most people have some inherent gender thing. And we don't want to get rid of it; we just want to expand it. And so I think you can see, like, within, it's funny, because this is very much an internal conversation happening in these communities., and you can kind of see the push and pull between like, do we get rid of gender or do we just expand gender? Is it something that there is some kind of inherent seed or is this completely made up by our cultures, like, so yeah, it's very much a push and pull within the community.

Kyle:

Do you have a hard opinion on that? How important do you think that is?

Austen:

I mean, I think it's important that we have the conversation. I would say that I'm much more on the side of let's expand gender because for, like, my personal experience as a trans man, what I have learned about myself, personally, from that experience, is that there is something in me that feels inherently male. If I was to say that there was no such thing, I wouldn't have transitioned, like that wouldn't have been necessary for me. And I think that's one of those things that sometimes folks who are not, who don't understand trans people very well, they'll kind of make that argument about like, well, if gender isn't a thing, why do trans people have to transition? And it's like, well, because whoever this person is to decided to transition in whatever way it works for them, did it because there is something inherent in them about who they are and how they want to be perceived in the world. So it doesn't mean that gender doesn't exist. But it might mean that we want to expand our understandings of what gender can be and what it could look like. So I guess I would fall more on that side.

Kyle:

Yeah. Can you say a little bit about the relationship between gender and sexual orientation for listeners who might not have thought about the distinctions?

Austen:

Totally, yeah, that's like the first, the first thing when I talk with folks, so many times, when I talk, especially with parents who are like trying to understand their kids, as their kids come out, the parents are like, well, they came out as gay first, and now they're coming out as trans, and is trans just gay 2.0, like, what's the deal here? And I think it's important for folks to know that, like orientation and who you're attracted to is separate from how you understand your gender, though I think of them as a horizontal line and a vertical line--yes, they intersect, and you have intersections in your life, but they are two separae things. And so, so an example, for me, is I came out as bisexual when I was a teenager. That was my, like, I knew that was true about myself and that I was attracted to lots of different people, but when I came out as trans, it was, I realized that part of the reason I liked the label bisexual so much, other than it just being true for me, was that to assign myself or to take on the identity as a bisexual person meant that I wasn't saying anything necessarily about my own gender like it would have if I had said I was a lesbian. That would have said not only something about the gender of the person I'm attracted to but also my gender, right? So that's, that's a moment where, like, orientation and gender sort of collide because of the way language works. But in general, they're two separate things. So a trans person can be attracted to, you know, they could have any orientation. And yeah, any person of any orientation could be trans, but they're very different things.

Kyle:

Yeah, yeah. I want to ask you another question, and then I'll turn it over to Randy, I feel like I'm hogging the conversation, this is really interesting. So I'm big fan of Ezra Klein, I don't know if you've ever listened to any of his podcast, but he recently had Kathryn Bond Stockton, I don't know if you know who she is, on his show to talk about transgender issues. And so she--her pronouns are she/her--but she describes herself as always having known from a very early age that she was a boy. I don't know why she uses the pronoun she does; she didn't explain in the, in the show. But one of the, the cases that she was trying to make in the book that she wrote that they were talking about, is that gender is--and this is the term she used--queer for everybody, and not just for people who would use that label for themselves, but she means it kind of in the old sense of strange, unusual. And she means for, like, the most stereotypical, cishetero, you know, guy in Wyoming, right? Like, it's clear for him too, because there are always limits that you bump up against when you try to be honest about your desires, and about what you want in life. And there are always, even for, you know, stereotypical cis, American males, where there's like prescriptions for the sorts of stuff you're supposed to be interested in, and the sorts of emotions you're allowed to show and what context you're allowed to show them, and many of them are just odd. And an example that Ezra used in the show, which I thought was very helpful, was he remembered being a little boy who had a best friend who was also a little boy, and they got in the car together to go somewhere, and he reached out to hold his friend's hand. And his mom very gently said, you know, boys don't, don't do that. And then he got older and realize that in many cultures, they do. Right, in like, Middle Eastern cultures, it's not uncommon, for example. And I remember having a similar experience when I was much older, I was actually in grad school, where, I mean, it's different, but similar, closest thing in my experience that I could reach for, which was I've always been a, kind of, really into accessories kind of guy. Like, you know, when I would dress up to go in to teach or whatever, I would always have, my friend like to call them bangles, but I would always have like, rings, and my, my wife makes jewelry, and so I always had stuff from her, bracelets and that sort of thing. And then I had a friend who just, you know, we drank too much one night, and she wanted to paint my fingernails. And so we did that. And I kind of liked how it looked. And for probably a couple of months after that, I wore painted fingernails. And I got some really strange looks from people who I wouldn't normally get them from, and I stopped doing it, because it was, it was just uncomfortable for me. I went to an academic conference and gave a talk with painted fingernails, and, you know, the audience wasn't necessarily as receptive as they could have been. And it's just one of those things, like, that shouldn't be strange; it just looks cool, and it makes me feel cool when I do it. And yet I run up against it, and feel like I need to conform. And I'm like, as, as pretty much stereotypical, you know, cis, straight guy, as you could get, you know, white, middle class, Christian, whatever. And it's, it's, it's a little bit queer for me, even, in the way that she described it. And so I just want to get your thoughts on that. Do you think she's right about that? Do you think that gender is a strange thing for everybody?

Austen:

I think, like, I guess my take on it would be that, in a way, yes. But I also don't want to, so one of the holes that I don't remember if you all remember this from like, the early 2000s, or something, there was a moment there where like, everybody was kind of like, well, everybody's a little bit bisexual, like, everybody's a little bit attracted to, you know, like, whoever. And we kind of just, there was this sort of cultural thing of like, nobody's entirely straight, or at least there's not very many people that are. And as much as I understand that that recognizes something that is true about being human, that we all have people who fall out, like, you know, people who we're attracted to that fall outside of what we would normally be attracted to, like, we all kind of have that. But it really ended up kind of harming bisexual communities by making that identity feel like it was something people were just trying on for fun and not something that was real, not something that had like a real effect on who they were in their lives. So I guess I'm cautious with this idea of, like, gender is queer for everybody, because, like, you definitely had an experience in that conference of people, like, reading your gender expression and treating you differently because of it that gave you a queer experience, right? Whether that is something that is an inherent part of you and your gender, I couldn't say. But I think, I think it would be true to say that there are as many kinds of gender expression as there are people in the world. And so if that means that gender is queer for everybody, then yes. Do I think that everybody's gender identity is a little bit queer? I don't think so. I think for the majority of folks, we've found ways in our culture to, to say that, you know, there can be stay at home dads, and that doesn't make them any less a man, right? And that there can be people, there can be men who wear nail polish, and that doesn't make them any... Like, we've recognized the social parts of gender roles and gender expression that have curtailed who we are, and so we've opened those up a little bit, and the first people that do that always get shut down for it. And that's the, that's, so that is, I think, an inherently queer experience. But whether that has to do with who you are deep down, I think is only up to the individual to say.

Kyle:

Yeah, that's helpful. Thanks.

Randy:

So Austen, in the first few chapters of your book, it seemed like you were trying to frame the conversation around how the church in particular interacts with the trans community, and trans individuals in particular. And you had this refrain that was going through the first couple of chapters that I just, it just stuck with me so, so much. You continually gave statistics and the options of seeing and treating and holding the trans community as a part of the church or as a family or, you know, trans child or sibling. One option being shunning them, trying to get them to change, trying to get them to do conversion therapy, whatever it might be. That's one option, of just saying, nope, this is sin, this isn't the way you were built, this isn't the way you were made, this isn't how God, you know, God's design for you. So stop, right? There's a middle option, usually, which is kind of more gray to me, but then there's the other option of just affirming and listening and learning and coming alongside and loving and receiving, right? And pretty much in every case that you laid out, the option of shunning, of saying, nope, that's a lie, nope, you're fooled, that's sin, that's the devil, let's, let's deliver you, whatever it is. That inherently always, it seems like, leads to profound anxiety, depression, self harm, suicidal ideation, and sometimes even suicide. I mean, a number that you stated, which is 40% of trans people, or 41% of trans people--this is as of 2017--have attempted suicide, compared to 1.6% of the rest of the population. That is just unbelievable. So if you shun your trans child or sibling or family or friend, it's going to result in anxiety, depression, suicidal ideation. The other side--affirmation, acceptance, love, inclusion--is startling at how much less depression, stress, anxiety, suicidal ideation, you find, right? And you say over and over again, and I think it's, it needs fleshing out, it's why I'm asking you this question, you continually say, what is the most Christlike way to go about that scenario? What would Jesus have us do? Choose death for this individual who I love, or choose life? That seems pretty obvious. Can you just flesh out this reality some more for us? Because I think this is a real question that we're going to bump our heads against more and more and more. And it's a question that, as Christ followers, we need to reckon with.

Austen:

No, yeah, it's, it's a powerful and big thing to recognize what an effect the church has on families and what effect the church has on transgender expansive folks. I think, I mean, like, like you said, and like I said in the book, you can trace a direct line from, like, non-affirming churches and theology to non-affirming families to kids with poorer mental health outcomes, like, you can trace it all the way through. And it's because, like, if, if the church doesn't provide the family with ways of understanding this theologically in at least a non-harmful way if not a positive way, then the family has no resources. Like, when the, when the kid comes out, the family is like, well, all I've ever heard from my pastor is that this is a sin, and this is Satan, and whatever, you know, so there's a distinct line. The interesting thing, though, and I don't, like, we need to keep that in mind, but the interesting thing is that the opposite is also true. There's also a direct line from affirming churches to affirming families to mentally healthier kids, trans and gender expansive kids, that, like, there were these studies that came out--one was 2018, and one was 2019, I think, one was University of Texas at Austin and the other one, shoot, I'd have to look it up--but they were looking at, the University of Texas at Austin study was so fascinating because they worked with trans teens on having different places in the teens' life where they would spend time and having that teen's correct name used, so like, the name that they choose for themselves, right? So they looked at the teens at school, at home, at work, and with friends, I think, were the four different categories. And they kind of looked through and said like, you know, if the teen has all four of these contexts uses the teen's right name, how are they doing? Say only one context uses the teen's right name, how are they doing, they're kind of looking at these things. And what they found was having the, the teen's right name used in even one context, it was like a 30% reduction in suicidal thoughts and ideation. It was like this huge, like, statistically important amount. And so I bring that statistic to churches all the time to say, what If the church was one of those contexts? What if you had school, work, home, with friends, and church? Like, what if that was the only place where trans kids could be treated and seen, like, for who they are? And so it's a big, as important as it is to recognize the very harmful actions that can come out of this, I think it's also important to not let the fact get lost that the positive actions that we have have positive outcomes as well. And there is, there are things that we can do about this.

Randy:

Yeah. And just in case anyone's listening and thinking, oh, Austen Hartke, he's just this trans, progressive, doesn't love Jesus, he doesn't care about the church. You're a church guy, right? Can you just tell us, tell us a little bit about your church chops? Your background?

Austen:

Yeah, I mean, my, my background was I grew up nondenom evangelical til I was in my early teens. So my background was very much, specifically in Vineyard and EV Free churches was where I grew up. And so that was very much my background. As a teenager, I really pushed back against church because I was starting to come to understand my own sexuality, like as I was getting older, and realizing all this stuff that I was hearing from my church about, you know, gay and lesbian folks, specifically, because we weren't even talking about trans folks back in the 90s, we'd, like, all the stuff I was hearing from them was so horrific, that I was just like, this can't be right, like, this can't be what we are called to be as Christians. And I didn't know that there were affirming churches out there in the world for a long time. And I ended up going back to church when I was in my sort of mid teens and late teens, ended up getting baptized when I was 22 in a ELCA Lutheran Church, and part of the reason that that church became my home was because they saw me for who I was, and they loved me for it. And it wasn't, I always talk about, like, I love that church so much that I ended up going to during that time, and they weren't even, like, fully LGBT affirming. Like, they just didn't say bad stuff, like it was a low bar to get over. But it was so meaningful, coming from a context where it was talked about negatively all the time. And so that made a big difference for me. My, after I ended up getting baptized, finishing college, etc, etc. I went to seminary at Luther Seminary, which is an ELCA seminary, so I got, the Lutherans got stuck with me, and so my background is specifically in Hebrew Bible or Old Testament studies. And the reason that I went for a focus in that degree was because as I was a kid, they would always folks would use Old Testament Bible passages to try to hammer home the idea that you can't be gay or you can't be trans or whatever. And I thought there's got to be another way of understanding this. So that was why I went into the program that I did. So, yeah.

Randy:

Yeah, thank you. As part of this book, you don't just frame yourself, but you have a number of voices from the trans Christian community, which I'm so grateful you do. It reminded me a lot, Bridget Eileen Rivera wrote Heavy Burdens, we interviewed her earlier in the year, and you wrote before her, so I would say her book reminded me of yours, but these voices were so beautiful and rich, and also haunting. And I was extremely haunted by just the reality, the dehumanizing loneliness that must be a companion of kids, youth, adult trans people, people living lives marked by gender dysphoria. You include a story, your story, even, of visiting churches while intentionally arriving late and then leaving early and generally just trying to avoid any conversation at all, as you were, you know, coming out to yourself and then coming out to the world as a trans man. Can you just speak to that loneliness that seems like it just pervades the trans community, especially in the church?

Austen:

Yeah, I mean, well, first, I want to say before I kind of expand on that, that just because, I know sometimes people get worried, to be trans is not inherent, like being lonely and being, you know, dealing with loneliness like this is not inherent to the trans experience in terms of like, we're not very sad, lonely people for the rest of our lives. But, you know, things are obviously much different once you come to a place where you are accepted, and you can be your full self. But for many people, we do have to go through this period where we are coming to understand ourselves better, and yet we're not sure if it's safe to be ourselves in the place that we happen to be. And so for me, that experience of going to churches and not knowing how I would be treated was really nerve wracking, and it did feel very lonely. The feeling of going in and thinking, like, I remember especially early on in my transition, I, you know, like, it was, I had sort of, what we call socially transitioned, so I was living as male, but I hadn't started medical transition. So I hadn't started a hormone replacement therapy transition yet. And so like my voice hadn't dropped. So I would get "sir"ed all the time until I opened my mouth and said something, and then it automatically was like,"oh, ma'am, I'm so sorry." And it was so, like, gut wrenching every time that happened, to be like, no, you were right the first time. And I would be so nervous about that happening in a church, and especially if I didn't know if the church was affirming. And so I just didn't talk for a really long time, because I was so nervous. And I think that is an experience that many trans people have. I've met many trans people who've grown up in non-affirming environments, who, when you first meet them, because they are still trying to figure out if it's okay to be themselves, they're very in, I don't know, drawn in on themselves, they're very quiet, they're very shy, I guess, is a way to put it. And it does, it is a feeling of, like, does anybody get it? Does anybody understand? Are people gonna still care about me? Are my parents gonna kick me out? Are all the people that love me gonna leave? Like, that's the real question. And the fact that so many people face that down and still say, but if I don't tell people who I am, I'm going to just, like, I'm gonna, I'm gonna, I'm gonna die. Like, the fact that people are staring that down and still realize that that's something that they need to do should give folks a sense of how important it is, that it's not something that people do just, like, on a whim.

Randy:

Exactly. That's, there, I'm sure there are, hopefully, mostly trans-affirming listeners of our podcast, but I know that there's people who are just like, I don't know, and also, I can't affirm that because it seems like the church hasn't and the Bible doesn't, blah, blah, blah. And that's one of the main things that I want to say, is just, why in the world would a person choose to face down that kind of reaction from your family, your friends, your church, your, the, all the people that you've been told are important to you, and then hear that you're going to be going to hell for eternity if you, if you go down this road, why would anybody choose that willfully because it's the cool thing to do, or a trendy thing to do, or that just seemed like, it's the right thing to do for me because I, because of the cereal that I ate; that's just so ridiculous to me.

Austen:

Yeah. And it's, you know, and I do want to, again, say that, like, those hard times, don't last forever, like there are so, like, seeing the difference--and this is something people said to me throughout my transition--the difference from before, when you're in that withdrawn, quiet, shy place, and, like, you can't speak, and you don't know how to be yourself, the difference from that, to who I can be now, and, like, from, to who I see these trans folks, like, they come out, they do find places that affirm them, they find the support networks that they need, they get to be who they are, and it's like watching a person come back to life, which is why I feel so strongly about stories in the Bible, like, you know, Jesus raising Lazarus and like, these moments of like, reanimation and remembering of a person coming back to life, because you see it happening. And that's one of the reasons that I think trans folks are so important for the church, is like, we're literally showing you what resurrection looks like. But you have to be able to look and notice that.

Randy:

Yep, let me skip to. then, to--you had your string of questions, now I've got mine, Kyle, sorry--while we're on this, I'm gonna skip questions, Austen, because this is kind of pertinent. One of the stories that I really loved that you shared was Asher's story in chapter 10, in particular--"Even Jesus Had a Body"--and Asher lived with all of the rejection, all of the self-hatred all of the disembodied life, and on page 133, you quote Asher, and it might be the most beautiful lived experiences of the Eucharist I've ever heard of. And let me just read it for us. This is Asher's voice here, it says, "It was the first time I'd ever experienced liturgy, and it was weird and wonderful." He went to an ELCA church. "What really got me was the communion table. They said everyone without exception is welcome to the table. And I went, not thinking much of it. But then every single week I found myself thinking, I need to go back. Not because I felt a sense of duty or obligation, but because I felt it sustaining me. I felt hungry for going through the line and getting the Eucharist again. I felt like it was holding my life together." That can make me cry even right now. Can you speak to that experience that Asher was speaking to you?

Austen:

Yeah. I mean, I think, I think a huge part of it is, well, so I can't speak to exactly what Asher thought or felt, obviously, but I think from what I've heard from my experience, from what I've heard from other trans folks, there are two things that come out of the Eucharist that are really, that really draw you in. One is the sense of through the Eucharist, through communion, becoming part of that one body, recognizing yourself as not alone, recognizing yourself as, you know, as it says in Corinthians, like, nobody can tell you you don't belong, like, you are part of the body of Christ, and this shows how much that is true. And I think that's, I don't know, that's really important. I remember my first time taking communion after I got baptized when I was 22, because even though I went to a church for a while that didn't require you to be baptized to have communion, I felt like I couldn't do it in good conscience because like, what would people think? And I remember my first time going to communion fully out, fully myself, and taking it, and being like, yeah, this is just, like, the outward expression of what has already been done, you know? And so it's powerful. The second thing I think that's powerful about Eucharist is the, all that body imagery, recognizing that this is a place where we can say that God had a body and that body was good and holy. And what does that say about our bodies, even when we're maybe not the best of friends with our bodies at the moment, it still means something to have, to be part of a faith that proclaims the goodness of bodies, even though maybe Christians haven't always done it so well.

Randy:

Yep. Last question for me for a little bit, I'll turn it back to Kyle, but you talk about this experience of identifying with people in the Bible and how that's easier or harder for some of us, right? And then you speak to this, just, like, epiphany you had when you opened Isaiah 56, I think it was, and it speaks of God's heart for the eunuchs, and including the eunuchs in the community, and then you went for a long time into Acts 8 and Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch, can you tell us about what that felt like discovering those texts, and just actually flesh out the text a little bit before you do that.

Austen:

Yeah, I mean, to put it in a nutshell, the Bible starts out in Deuteronomy, basically saying that eunuchs, or people who are castrated, should not be allowed into the community of the Lord, whatever that happens to mean, it might mean access to the temple, it might mean access to the community, we don't know exactly what it meant, but essentially saying you can't come in. And we move from that to a prophecy in Isaiah that says that God actually welcomes eunuchs, which is a weird turn that we could talk a lot about, and then moving to Jesus talking about the eunuchs in Matthew, and then moving to Acts 8, and this person who was a eunuch being, before Cornelius, one of the first people who is not distinctively Jewish being welcomed into the early church. And so the reason that euncuhs are important for trans and gender expansive scholars and theologians today is because their experience--I mean, this is kind of coming back to our earlier question about, like, queer experiences--their experiences were inherently queer, even though we can't go back and say, you know, this is, this is one to one, like, what identity these people had. Because eunuchs, the word eunuch, both in the Hebrew and then later in the Greek, could talk about somebody who was assigned male at birth who was castrated, or it could be used to refer to what we now know as intersex folks, people with diverse gender or sex characteristics, like, it's these people who are doing gender differently in the world, and we have this huge arc through Scripture that goes from exclusion to inclusion. And so part of the reason they're so fascinating is to kind of go, wow, these people had problems with, like, the structures of the day for many of the same reasons that trans people have problems with structures today--not all of them are equal, we have to talk about things like enslavement, which, of course, is not equal--but like, there are queer experiences there that we can look at and go, aha, similar experiences. So there are also, I should say, there are plenty of trans theologians who don't love the idea of eunuchs as a predecessor for trans folks today. There's a great book called Transfaith by Christina Beardsley and Chris Dowd, who are trans folks in the UK, and they talk, they have a bit in their book that's like, here's why we're not crazy about using eunuchs as a one to one and we can understand some ways that it'd be helpful, and then they throw out immediately, like, three other different people in the Bible that are like, hey, we think these people are actually a better example of what this might look like. So eunuchs are definitely not the only folks in the Bible with queer experiences and gender experiences outside the binary, but they're one of the ones that we can look back and we have a little bit more historical evidence for.

Randy:

And it's harder to argue that one, right, than Joseph and his, you know, another... Read the book friends, because there's a lot of Bible in the book; Austen doesn't shy away from the Bible, he actually goes right after it, and in really eye-opening ways.

Kyle:

Yeah. I don't want to, like, make you do a book report on that thing you just mentioned, because I'm definitely gonna go put it on my reading list, but like, can you sum up quickly why they don't like the eunuch thing or what they think is better?

Austen:

I mean, basically, they, one of the points they make is that eunuchs' relation to empire makes their identity very complex. One of the reasons that--and I didn't go into this in the book--but one of the reasons that eunuchs may not have been, people might not have seen them super favorably in Isaiah's time, was because eunuchs who were castrated and then went to work for the leaders in Babylon and Persia could be seen as traitors to their own people, even if they were born Hebrew. And so their, their sort of, like, political affiliation gets in the way of like, it, it, you could make some arguments about, like, the other things that make them outsiders would also have been concerning to the people, and it wasn't just their gender. So I think that's their main concern, is they're like, because there's so many other things going on here, they're not like, we don't want to lean on them as the only example of gender diversity in Scripture, right? One of the alternatives that they suggest is actually an interesting one, because they are not looking specifically for gender diversity, but looking for those queer experiences. They suggest looking at the story of Job as somebody who does not, like, ask for any of the terrible things that happened to him, but is essentially treated poorly by the people around him because they believe he must have done something to deserve everything that happened to him. And despite Job having all these friends that are like, hey Job, just repent, and God will stop punishing you, Job stands firm in his truth and says, I didn't do anything wrong. Like, these bad things have happened to me, but God knows that I'm not, like, I didn't do anything to deserve this. And the experience of people around us using sort of thin theology kind of resonates, this idea that sometimes people will say, like, well, trans folks wouldn't have such a high suicide rate if they just were normal, right? Like if they, like, this is your own fault that you essentially have this high suicide rate. And being blamed for your own suffering is something that Job understands, even though Job held on to his faith the entire time. So another interesting connection.

Kyle:

That's helpful, thanks, I'm definitely gonna read that. So you also bring up in the book, and I don't remember them offhand, but several examples of, like, well-known historical figures, who, you know, we always have to be careful about being anachronistic, we don't want to say, you know, some Egyptian pharaoh was trans, but like, there are some pretty well-known figures that it would never have occurred to me to think were nonconforming by current standards, and probably by the standards of their own day. Do you want to mention an example or two of that?

Austen:

Yeah, I mean, there are, well, we can go with the Pharaoh to start off with, right, so Hatshepsut was the only quote-unquote female pharaoh of Egypt. She was, she built a lot of things in Egypt, she was very famous, but throughout her whole reign, she dressed, her gender expression and the gender role she took on were explicitly male. She wore a beard, that was sort of a, I don't know what you would say, like almost a prosthetic sort of beard, she dressed in men's clothes, she acted as the Pharaoh the whole time. And so looking back, we can say like, maybe she was doing this because it was the only way she could hold power as a woman. So that's possible. Maybe there was something distinctly about her that she understood herself to be more male, we don't know for sure, right? It's the same thing for characters like Joan of Arc, right, like Joan of Arc, we look back, and we have this person who was literally killed for wearing men's clothes. Yes, it was an excuse, because she was, you know, in a big war, and everybody was mad at each other at the time, but like, she was killed not for any other reason than the fact that she was wearing clothes that weren't the ones that people thought she shouldn't be wearing. And she heard God calling her to do that. So like, what do we say about that person and what their gender might be like, right? There are so many folks in Christian history especially that have these interesting stories. There's this great story of Marius the monk, who I believe it was 14th century, yeah, I believe 14th century, and Marius was brought to the monastery when he was very young, he was assigned female at birth, brought to the monastery by his father, joined the monastery, lived as a monk his whole life, lived as a man his whole life, was accused at one point of fathering a child with a local innkeeper's daughter, and rather than saying, actually, I couldn't have done that, I don't have the physical capability to do that, he said, okay, I guess maybe it is my kid. And they kicked him out of the monastery. And he ended up caring for that kid for the rest of his life. And nobody knew that he had been assigned male[sic] at birth until he, until his death. And there are characters like that, that are like, these are part of our Christian history. And there's some really amazing books that have come out recently about that, about trans folks in hagiography and trans people in Christian history in general. So if people want more resources, I can point them in that direction.

Kyle:

Yeah, that's, do you have, do you have, like, a list of resources like that anywhere?

Austen:

I do, actually. I have, so I'm the executive director of a nonprofit called Transmission Ministry Collective, and we support trans and gender expansive Christians online. So we have support groups and Bible studies and all kinds of stuff. And we have, we just redid our website, and we have three very robust resource pages now. So we have one for trans folks, we have one for family members, and we have one for ministry professionals. I can give you all those links.

Kyle:

Yeah, we'll put that in the show notes for sure. So I want to ask about something you say towards the end of the book. You talk about the need for trans Christians to grow beyond apologetics. And this stuck out to me because I used to be super into apologetics, but not the, not the kind that you're talking about. But that's interesting. Can you explain what you mean by apologetics, why it's often necessary for trans Christians, and what would come after?

Austen:

Yeah, I mean, I think the, the trouble is that when you get so wrapped up in just defending the fact that you're allowed to be here, you then don't get to grow your faith beyond that seedling stage. And it's something that I've seen over and over again with folks who are asked to explain themselves and, like, do this work with, like, defending themselves and going through the clobber passages and like, working through, like, these same passages over and over and over, and not being able to actually grow in their faith beyond that. And so I think the reason that apologetics or, like, the the defensive of, I, you know, we talked about apologetics as the defense of your faith, but also, in this case, the defense of your ability to exist within the faith. The reason that's important is for the individual who doesn't know if it's true for themselves. That's where apologetics is important. It's important for the trans or gender expansive person, the LGBTQ+ person who is wondering, am I allowed? Am I allowed in? Does God actually love me? That's who apologetics is for, is for the people that need, that need that to be able to, to like hold on to their faith. And it's for the family members who aren't given any better way of understanding these things, right, they need this apologetics work. So for them, it's important, but at some point, we have to be willing to move beyond talking about Leviticus and Deuteronomy and, like, move beyond that and talk about, like, what does it actually mean to be a Christian in the world? What does it mean to be a gender expansive Christian in the world? How is that different or the same than our other siblings? So, like, growth in faith is stunted if we stick with the same arguments year after year after year.

Kyle:

Yeah.

Randy:

The way you write, Austen, and the way you, who you are, I just, I would love to know how you stay so kind, compassionate, gracious, you're, you're just winsome, lovely, really wonderful to talk to, and it comes through so much in your writing. How did, like, how do you, how do you hold on to that core of love and honor and respect and grace?

Austen:

Well, I don't always. I mean, I think that's, you know, there, there are reasons that I think we go to our own little communities to have conversations sometimes that aren't for folks on the outside, where you can go sit with the other people who get it and go, gosh, I just had this terrible conversation today, can you believe they said this, you know, like, everybody needs to be able to do that sometimes, and so it's definitely not, not an all the time thing. But I think for me, I mean, I'll be honest, I'll be honest, part of it is respectability politics. If people are going to hear you, you have to sound nice so that they will hear you. And that is not a small thing. I would like to hope that that's not, you know, the majority of the reason why I teach the way I teach, but it is definitely a factor. If you yell at somebody, they're not going to take in new information. So being aware of that. But I think in terms of, like, why I still feel hopeful about all of this, why am I still part of a community that sometimes doesn't want me there? I think part of that is being really attached to and in love with this story that we're telling together and knowing that I shouldn't have to let go of it just because, you know, like, it's not, it's, the people who want to walk around with picket signs don't own Jesus. And the people who, you know, the people who are trying to kick you out of church don't own the history of Christianity. So I think, remembering that and knowing that I have just as much a part in this as anybody else is something I have to remind myself sometimes, but I don't want that to be taken away.

Randy:

Yep. Thank you.

Kyle:

So I want to ask you about mainline Protestantism, if I can, because there were a lot of really encouraging and kind of surprising to me stories in your book of trans people coming out in their churches and to their families in mainline spaces and finding really receptive and really affirming and really encouraging and really upbuilding responses. And as somebody who grew up in evangelicalism, but was born into a mainline denomination and then left it because my parents became evangelical, and then always kind of regretted it and wondered what my faith experience might have been like if I just stayed where I, you know, where I grew up, yeah, can you just share a bit about how those churches have been beneficial to trans Christians? And if you want to name some, like, favorite denominations that are especially good at it, feel free.

Austen:

Yeah, I mean, I think denominations are a fascinating thing. And I think, when people sometimes ask me, like, what's one thing I would change about Transforming as, as it is now, obviously we just did the second edition, but I wasn't allowed to add, like, whole new, like three whole new chapters, I wish I could have, but like, I do focus pretty strongly on mainline traditions in this, like, for, there are folks that came out of evangelical traditions, but nobody that's currently in one. And that's one thing I wish I could have included more, if I'd had more time, we had a couple of Catholic folks I wanted to include and a couple of evangelical folks that I wanted to include. So it's not impossible to find affirming churches in those denominations, right? But in terms of mainline, the UCC has been doing a great job with LGBT inclusion for ages. And so, United Church of Christ, like, they're, I think, one of the main go-tos in terms of denominations overall. And one of the strange things that I've noticed within trans and gender expansive communities is there is a huge movement in the last few years to the Episcopal Church. And part of that is that people are, I think, I'm a big liturgy, like, I love liturgy, right, so like, for me, I'm like, oh, people are finally discovering how great liturgy is, but I think part of that is the Episcopal church is doing, in America, is doing a pretty good job of thinking about LGBT inclusion overall. They're not perfect, but they're working hard at it, which I appreciate. So those folks, I think, for sure. But yeah, you know, the ELCA, the Methodists are trying to figure their stuff out right now, so that's always part of the fun, you can find affirming Presbyterian churches. I think, one of the things that I love seeing is the folks that I talk to who are like, I just want to go to a church in my neighborhood, I don't care what denomination it is, I just want to go with my neighbors. And I think that's brilliant. I think everybody, if they can, should go to church with the people they live near, because that's your community. And when we drive 30 minutes to go to a church far away, even if it's like, you know, like, some of us need to do that, right, so I'm not downplaying that, but like, getting to go to church in your neighborhood is really wonderful, and a lot of the times those churches are the, like, historical, like, long, they've had a building there since the 1800s type of you know, mainline churches. So I think that's part of it too.

Kyle:

Yeah. So let me ask you about your experience or the experience of people you know in those spaces, not related to LGBTQ inclusion or affirmation. Because when I, when I've talked to some other, I'll call them progressive evangelicals, so people who are in practice and in function and in belief affirming, but still want to remain resistant to the label, and the reason that I've gotten when I've asked is that they don't want to be lumped in with the mainline Protestant denominations, because they have the sense that "affirming" really means A. It's all you hear about, B. The gospel is minimized, and C. Anything goes when it comes to sin or sexual ethics in particular. And so I just want to ask you, has, does that even resemble your experience in these denominations?

Austen:

Not really. It's funny, we just had somebody in one of our TMC groups the other day share that they felt frustrated because the church that they were at had offered up, during the prayers of the people, had offered up a prayer for transgender folks in a specific context, and so many of the, even though it's an affirming church, several members came up to the pastor afterward and said, we can't talk about this so much because it'll be the only thing we talk about. It was the only time they had mentioned trans folks in like six months, but even once people were, like, nervous about it, so that, that sense of, like, we're nervous that this will become the only thing our church is known for, that's very much within the mainline churches as well as outside it, even though there's not really any evidence for that, which is one of the funny things, is like, there doesn't seem to be a lot of evidence for that. And the churches that do make inclusion their whole thing are actually doing pretty well. I'm thinking of Cathedral of Hope in Dallas, like, they are known as the gay church, and they got so big, they had to create a whole new campus. So like, the, the idea that, like, this is gonna be the only thing we talk about is usually not true, not based in evidence, and two, for the churches that do want to make it their whole thing, doesn't actually turn out to be that bad in terms of numbers. But yeah, in terms of, like, does it get in the way of other stuff, is it minimizing the gospel, that sounds to me like a lot of what I heard growing up about, like, just a lot of concerns about, like, slippery slope, right, you'll take this, so then eventually this will happen, and in reality, it doesn't seem like that's, I don't know, I think churches are, as much as we talk about denominations, individual churches are so different from each other that I don't feel like that's a huge concern. So you may go to a church and you're like, oh, man, they're not really talking about, you know, they're just talking about stuff that's going on in the world right now, and I don't really like that, you can go to the church down the street that's in the same denomination, and they'll be completely different. So, I don't know, strengths and weaknesses of denomination structures, I guess.

Randy:

Yeah. And I just want to point out, I mean, that church that you highlighted in Dallas, that's, you know, started a new campus and the gay church, I think that's something that I think, I would be interested to hear what you think Austen, because from my outsider's perspective and from the LGBTQ family members that we have in our church, I would say that the queer and trans community in general is a community, is a people grew up and a community that longs for Jesus, that longs for the message of the gospel and loves it and is seeking it out. Would you agree with that?

Austen:

I mean, I think there, so first of all, I guess I can't, I would never lump all trans and gender expansive folks into any one bucket, because really we are communities, plural, and not just one. But the folks that I know that want to be involved in Christian communities and that feel strongly about their faith do feel very strongly about finding a place that is theologically robust, right? They do care about good preaching; they do care about, like, what are we actually, how are we living this out? So often, when I go to churches and they're worried about becoming affirming, they're like, well if we become affirming, we're going to lose members of our congregation. And my answer to that is always, like, yes, you might lose some people, but you are also opening the door to a group of people that are extremely, like, pumped up about their faith and like, want to be actively involved. So, like, realistically, you're gonna have a whole group of new people coming in that are going to be so excited about this story that we are telling together and that we are part of that you're gonna gain a lot more than you lose.

Randy:

Yeah. And I can tell those listeners firsthand, it doesn't have to be that way. Like, you don't have to lose a huge group of your church, huge part of your church, if you go affirming. There's better ways to do that than others.

Austen:

Definitely. And moving together means moving slow, often. And that's a difficult thing to do.

Randy:

It sure is. It sure is.

Kyle:

Yeah. So your book came out four years ago--you've already kind of answered part of this question by telling us you're currently working on a second edition--four years in COVID time, and let's face it, in Trump time, is pretty much like 27 years, give or take. So what has changed for you in the four years since then? If there's anything besides the second edition you want to tell people about, where can they find that, where can they look for your work? And also if, and I guess this will be easy to answer since you're working on a second edition, what would you do differently I guess, or what would you, with the benefit of the hindsight of the past four years, what would you have added or said differently, if anything?

Austen:

Yeah, I mean, I think the main thing is I just really felt strongly about writing and updating that gender language chapter because so much has changed, and I especially, there's, I think, like, one line in the, in the chapter on gender language, there's like one line explaining what it means to be nonbinary, which is like drastically deficient. So I feel really excited about this new edition, because it's much more helpful, I think, for folks that are in conversation with people today. Which is not to say, you know, that the old edition is bad, I'm still very proud of it, but I'm really excited about this new one coming out this spring. And in terms of where you can find it. it's everywhere. You can get it from your local bookstore, you can order it on Amazon, whatever you want to do. I love Bookshop, that's my, that's my go-to is bookshop.org. So yeah, you can get it anywhere and preorder there; it will come out in March. In terms of what I'm doing and where I'm, you know, what I've been doing since the book came out, it's funny because the book was a logical next step from what I started doing, which was YouTube videos. I started doing YouTube videos in like 2012, something like that, because it was the easiest way to get information out to folks, because trans folks were already on YouTube doing videos about their transition. So I was like, well I'm here, like, let's talk about theology. And out of those YouTube videos came the book. And then when the book came out, out of that came a whole bunch of emails saying, where can I talk with other trans Christians about this, and so out of the book came what we have now, which is Transmission Ministry Collective, this organization that I work with. And really what we wanted to do was create a space, we talk about, we want to help people feel grounded, connected, and empowered, so grounded in who they are, grounded in their faith, offering that sort of theological education, feeling connected to other people, knowing that they're not alone out here, and then feeling empowered to lead in many cases, we have lots of folks who are going to seminary, we have lots of folks who are excited about becoming leaders in their local churches. So that community is one that I'm really proud of and really happy to be a part of. And we have some things that are specific for trans and gender expansive folks, like many of our support groups, but we also have some things that are open to anybody who wants to come. So we, for instance, have workshops once a month, and we have Bible studies on YouTube once a month. And those are open for anybody, so glad to have people come over.

Randy:

Awesome. Well, again, Austen, we're so grateful you spent some time with us. The book, again, is Transforming. And you can get it wherever books are found, or you can wait until March and get the second edition, and you can find Austen all over the internet doing great work. Thank you so much, Austen, for your time.

Austen:

Thanks so much for having me. This was great fun.

Kyle:

Well, that's it for this episode of A Pastor and a Philosopher Walk into a Bar. We hope you're enjoying the show as much as we are. Help us continue to create compelling content and reach a wider audience by supporting us patreon.com/apastorandaphilosopher, where you can get bonus content, extra perks, and a general feeling of being good person.

Randy:

Also, please rate and review the show on Apple Podcasts, iTunes, and Spotify. These help new people discover the show and we may even read your review in a future episode. If it's good enough.

Kyle:

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Randy:

Catch all of our hot takes on Twitter at@PPWBPodcast, @RandyKnie, and@robertkwhitaker, and find transcripts and links to all of our episodes at pastorandphilosopher.buzzsprout.com. See you next time.

Kyle:

Cheers!

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