- Religion is Already Transed; Religious Studies is Not (Yet) Listening
feminist, queer, religious studies, transgender studies
Almost exactly fifteen years after our conversations, I still remember Corrine Garcia's stories. Corrine lived out multiple complex identities in multiple ways. A woman called Corrine at home, she lived outside those four walls as a man; she asked me to use her feminine name and pronouns when I wrote about her, but she also gave me permission to mention the masculine aspects of her life. Of Laguna Pueblo, Blackfoot, Spanish, and African ancestry, Corrine was raised in East Los Angeles in a family that her grandmother had relocated from New Mexico out of fear of the destruction being wreaked on Native bodies, selves, and lives by a violently colonial state and a persistently colonizing culture. Her grandmother had also changed the family's ethnic identity, and Corrine was raised within a Latino community understanding herself as Latina. A Catholic from birth, Corrine had experienced the repeated appearances and disruptions that are often enacted by an orichá trying to draw the attention of his or her child, and when we met she had long since been initiated into Santería as a child of Changó. It was hardly lost on Corrine that this masculine warrior who wields thunder and lightning is also identified with Santa Bárbara; [End Page 84] a person who lives a complexly gendered life, she is the child of an orichá who does the same.
Corrine told me a story that resonated with those I have heard from many trans and genderqueer people, a story of a struggle from the youngest years to understand and live with adults' insistence that she was something she wasn't. Knowing full well that she was a boy, she had little patience for the frilly dresses her mother insisted she wear. When she went outside to play as a small child, she removed each item of feminine clothing, carefully folding and piling her clothes to keep them clean, and running off to play in the nude, comfortable with her body itself and freed temporarily of inappropriate clothing and adults' gendered demands. At age three, though, she saw another boy on the other side of the backyard fence. He wore a red-and-white checkered dress, red lipstick, and red fingernail polish. Corrine's brother was disturbed by this, and demanded to know why this neighbor was wearing a dress. "Because I like to," she recalled the child saying with aplomb. From that moment on, Corrine explained to me, she understood that boys could wear dresses too. "I could be like my friend," she said, and in this way, she navigated a trans childhood in a cisnormative world.
Because she pointed out in this story that her neighbor's color scheme that day matched Changó's colors, I was curious whether Corrine understood this event as an early appearance of the orichá in her life. She responded by suggesting that it might have been the first time "when I was pointed in the direction of Santerismo." From this early age, then, Corrine inhabited a world in which religion was already transed. Her orichá is trans; he not only accepted her but sought her out as someone who identifies as female and lives as a man; and although it was a challenge, she managed to find a genderqueer, trans-positive padrino to work with as well. In Corrine's experience, then, it was not the realm of the sacred that was transphobic and cisnormative, it was the realm of the human. The sacred, for her, was transgender.1
Over the course of nearly two decades of research, I have repeatedly met trans people for whom the same can be said. It may have taken them some time and no small amount of struggle and anguish to come to this point of view, but for all of those with whom I have spoken religion, the sacred, that something-other-than-human for which religious studies still has no good overarching term (and perhaps that is as it should be), is transed. Christians have told me that God made them trans and...