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Posted November 14, 2022 by Shannon Blower MA, MAR, Director of Pastoral Care Services and Education
While serving patients at Summa Health, I often ask them, “What is it like to be you?” It is a provocative question, but a crucial one to encourage conversation beyond the normal boundaries of polite conversation. You see, the patients I visit often have a diagnosis or prognosis that is terminal, and the news shatters their sense of identity. Patients may wonder, Who will I become if I can’t provide? What is my worth if I can no longer perform the duties that make me valuable? What happens when I can no longer advocate for myself? Their questions indicate the fluidity of identity.
Recently, I had the privilege of serving a transgender woman who was struggling with a spiritual identity that was at odds with her body. She was in this situation not because of a medical diagnosis, but instead due to the high cost of living with authenticity. This person lives with fear of a different kind: A trade-off between the freedoms of identity congruency and its threat of violence or gender conformity, which is itself a kind of self-violence.
As we shared, I was amazed with her courage and emotional honesty. For a few moments, it was as if the Apostle Paul’s vision was our reality. He wrote long ago, for in Christ there is no bond or free, Jew or Gentile, male or female. I believe this means: Where there is love, the boundaries of societal norms give way to a more beautiful possibility.
Poet Mary Oliver once wrote, “I tell you this to break your heart, by which I mean only that it break open and never close again to the rest of the world.” As we remember the violence done to transgender people, who are created in the image and likeness of God, may our hearts be broken and our resolve strengthened to live with authenticity in a world that misses their unique beauty. I am grateful to serve in a hospital that supports the whole person and values the gifts of human individuality.