My Gender, So Far… – Rev. Andrew Tobias Nelson

ThomasLinda sittingAs our conversation on gender continues, we’re going to make a marvelous twist in the road with our next author, Andrew Nelson. From the halls of the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago to Holden Village to his call in New York state, Andrew is extravagant with his energy, sincerity, and enormous heart. Since coming out as trans a little over one year ago – barely one year into his first call – Andrew has spoken openly and playfully about everything that he’s been going through. Thankfully, Rev. Nelson is now, generously and joyously,  sharing some of those thoughts with us. Gender is a thing, people, so take a peek at what Pastor Andrew has to say about it and – of course – read, comment, and share!
Rev. Dr. Linda E. Thomas – Professor of Theology and Anthropology, Chair of the LSTC’s Diversity Committee, Editor – “We Talk. We Listen.”

A transmasculine person writing on why gender matters…
There’s a sentence, isn’t it?
Are we ready for a conversation about genders outside the binary, genders along the spectrum, genders that are fluid, genders for which we don’t have words in English?
To put myself in a gender category is easier some days than others. Growing up with a female body (that’s called my sex, different from my gender) there were expectations for my behavior which were only partially enforced. Grandma called me ‘young lady’ when I needed to calm down, my father adjusted my posture at the piano, and of course I had to go to prom in a dress. But when it came to climbing trees and playing music or sports, I was just a kid, and being a boy or girl didn’t come into it.
When I came out as Transgender about a year and a half ago, some of my friends who have known me awhile responded by nodding and telling me I make more sense male than I do female. While this was a great affirmation to hear, it does make me wonder what in the world we mean when we perceive people as either male or female, how we behave when we meet somebody who is androgynous, and why it matters so much.
Everyone inhabits a multitude of spaces: age, gender, sexuality, class, race, mental health, physical ability, education, politics, family systems, culture, Star Trek or Star Wars… We are none of us only one thing, yet male/female seems to be one of the first things we give as primary identity. It’s already been noted that when a baby is born or expected one of the first ways we decide what gifts to get and what dreams to start dreaming is to unveil the birth sex (which we call gender, but these are not actually the same thing).
Gender plays into our power structures, culturally who is allowed to get how angry about what, who is allowed to grieve in what way, who is expected to take care of the household or be the breadwinner. Even when a heterosexual couple tries to live in an equal partnership, the pay gap and surrounding culture don’t support equality within marriage as much as reinforce unhealthy pressures for culturally gendered roles. We’re getting a little better, changing tables are gradually showing up in men’s restrooms so dad can change a diaper, Target recently stopped specific gender marketing toys for kids (though toy guns have an aisle that’s blue and dolls have an aisle that’s pink – and don’t even get me started on “Lego Friends”), and more hopeful stories are being told about folks who don’t buy into to the binary – but it’s slow going since so much of our expectations are internalized past the point of noticing them.
Gender is the water we swim in.
So why do we still hold to gender? What does it matter that ‘real women have curves’ or ‘real men love Jesus’? What are ‘real’ men and women, and why do we perpetuate that conversation as though we need to prove our own validity as human people?
Can’t a ‘real’ person just be a person?
I remember an old movie I used to watch as a kid included the song “I enjoy being a girl,” which, coming from a family where sexuality was taboo and gender got all conflated with attractions and purity, was not something we ever really talked about. But then came the Disney movie Mulan and the song “I’ll make a man out of you” was both exciting because I connected with it, and problematic because it reinforced a very particular kind of masculinity. I mean, my father darns his socks and speaks quietly, but he’s no less a man for his gentle behavior.
So how do I know how to behave to convince the people around me of who I am as a transmasculine person?
Does it even matter that they see my gender?
How do I have to hold myself in public to hear ‘sir’ instead of ‘ma’am’ (neither of which seems like I’m old enough for those labels, which speaks to cultural ageism)? (How) do I need to adjust my interactions with women and other men so as not to make anybody uncomfortable by my loud humor and big hugs, which could be received differently depending on if I’m wearing a suit or a dress? Navigating gendered space, like public bathrooms, is not something we should have to be afraid of. Yet because our brains learn categories as a way to make sense of the world around us, we need to know some basics, some boundaries, some common sense for keeping one another safe and providing for community flourishing the best we can.
Gender matters, in that we can fall back on it for generalities, for stories, for illustrations of ways of being, but it also doesn’t matter, in that there are so many ways to be male or female or both or neither, and every situation and relationship calls out different nuances, different varieties of strengths and weaknesses, as we support and connect with one another. Gender can be a game instead of a power play, it can be fun instead of rigid, but far too often machismo and homophobia relegate masculinity and femininity to small, tight spaces where there is no room to breathe or figure out who we actually are. We do not need to prove ourselves as ‘real’ men or women to celebrate and discover who we are individually and as part of God’s Beloved Community.
I am a transmasculine person who looks forward to playing with gender expectations, to make the space around me safer for those who don’t fit the binary, to open up conversations about getting to know one another beyond the ‘types’ of our male/female expectations.
I am a transgender man because it is the most honest way I have to present myself to the world around me.
That’s what gender is about, how we relate to and through our presentation of self and our interactions with others, how we explore and share the selves God has created us to be, how we reflect the Image of a God who is so much bigger than our labels.

1234069_10100529137486034_1394595583769889368_n.jpgAndrew Tobias Joy Nelson is a 2012 graduate of LSTC, serving his first half-time call in Chatham, NY. He’s trying to be as visible as possible about being Trans for the sake of those for whom visibility is impossible because it would put their lives and livelihoods at risk. Andrew plays french horn and is always reading four or five books at a time, though he can’t pick a favorite between Star Wars and Star Trek because the musical scores are too good. He writes in tribute to his mother, who responded to his public gender transition with the assurance that she “always knew [she] was carrying a boy.”

A Few More Queerly Lutheran Sinner/Saints – Rev. Megan Rohrer Pastor, Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church in San Francisco

Two weeks ago “We Talk. We Listen.” featured a post by River Needham​ on transgender identity and the distinct issues their community faces. We are now continuing this discussion on Christianity and queerness with a post by Rev. Megan Rohrer​, pastor of Grace Lutheran Church in San Francisco, and author of a FASCINATING study of Lutheran theology and queer identity succinctly titled “Queerly Lutheran.” Read, enjoy, and share!

Picture 002Rev. Dr. Linda E. Thomas  – Professor of Theology and Anthrpology, Chair of the LSTC’s Diversity Committee, Editor – “We Talk. We Listen.” 

Every Sunday during communion, pastors around the world invite angels and archangels, saints and mentors from other times and spaces to join with us in the Eucharistic feast. For the mystically minded, this moment invites a Transfiguration into our sacrament, syncs us to the rhythms of the faithful who have come before us and allows us to acknowledge our ancestors.

For those living on the margins, with few opportunities to hear about how people “like them” are a part of God’s sacred stories, this is an opportunity for us to imagine those with similar skin tone, disabilities, backgrounds, classes and struggles to be present at the altar and expand our imagined representation of who is worthy to not only receive communion, but to serve it.

My first book, Queerly Lutheran, is a collection of essays published by Wilgefortis Press in 2009 (a few months before the ELCA changed its policies to allow openly LGBT clergy stand on both sides of the communion altar). Queerly Lutheran’s appendix includes a 42 page prayer calendar of extraordinary LGBT faith leaders, bible characters, officially recognized saints and contemporary saint/sinner Lutherans who worked within the church to ensure a full inclusion of LGBTQ pastors and worshippers.

Within the prayer calendar are the stories of brave congregations and 18 openly LGBTQ pastors who ritualized the Medieval accounting of disobedient ordinations held by Martin Lutheran and recorded in the Smalcald Articles.

Before the rebellious ordination of a gay man and two lesbians in 1990, the late Bishop of Stockholm Krister Stendahl, sent his blessings and dubbed the ordinations “extraordinem” or extraordinary. During the following two decades it would take for the ELCA to change its policies, Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries supported and credentialed the pastors serving in Exodus.

megan hands
Pastor Megan Rohrer being received into the ELCA in 2010, with a laying on of hands of three Lutheran and one Episcopal Bishops. (Photo by Pamela Diane Gilbert-Snyder)

In 2010, when I was one of the first seven openly LGBTQ pastors (five extraordinarily ordained, one transferred from the Missouri Synod and one expelled from the ELCA by trial), we and all the clergy assembled wore green stoles, embodying the shift in our ministries to Ordinary Time.

Five years have passed since that Service of Reconciliation was held in San Francisco. Since then, countless Lutheran sinner/saint pastors have been able to live into their full fabulousness, come out and a new generation of pastors have been ordained Ordinarily.

Photo courtesy of Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries

August 16: Pastor Rev. Teresita Valeriano – On this date in 2013, Pastor Tita became the first openly LGBTQ pastor invited to participate in a pastoral role at an ELCA Churchwide Assembly. A mission developer serving in Northern California’s East Bay (near San Francisco), Pastor Tita previously served as a Regional Officer for North America at the Lutheran World Federation.

Photo courtesy of Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries

March 30th: Pastor Beate Chun – On this date in 2014, Pastor Beate (pronounced “Be”) was installed as the pastor of St. Francis Lutheran Church in San Francisco. A few years prior, in her fifties, Pastor Beate fell in love with her wife Alex.

Photo courtesy of Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries

April 26th: Pastor Matthew James On this day in 2013, Pastor Matt, who identifies as bi-racial, Caucasian and African-American, was ordained at Trinity Lutheran Church in Worcester, MA. Pastor Matt is the first openly gay pastor in the Lutheran church to identify as bi-racial (Caucasian and African-American). Here is a video of his ordination.

Photo courtesy of Pastor Angel’s Facebook page

April 26: Pastor Ángel D. Marrero-Roe – On this day in 2015, Pastor Ángel was called to develop a new congregation in the New England Synod. It is believed that Pastor Ángel is the only openly gay Latino, mother-tongue Spanish pastor serving in the ELCA.

Photo courtesy of Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries

June 8th: Pastor Andrew Nelson – On this date in 2015, the transgender LSTC alum (MDiv 2012), informed the council at Christ our Emmanuel Lutheran Church in Chatham, NY that he was changing his name to Andrew. That night, the council approved a letter to inform the congregation and Pastor Andrew began openly and courageously embodying the beautiful Lutheran that God called him to be.

Photo by Pastor Megan Rohrer

July 2nd: Pastor Asher O’Callaghan – On this date in 2015, Pastor Asher was ordained at the House for All Sinners and Saints in Denver in what was reported to be the first Ordinary Ordination in the ELCA of a transgender pastor. Some of the transgender pastor’s story was chronicled in Pastor Nadia Bolz-Webber’s book Pastrix. Also, The Lutheran published a piece on his ordination this past summer.

Photo courtesy of Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries

July 18th: Bishop Kevin Kanouse – On this day in 2015, Bishop Kevin came out to 400 people at the Detroit Youth Gathering. In his third term as Bishop of the Northern Texas-Northern Louisiana Mission Area, Bishop Kevin has been married to his wife for 40 years. Read Bishop Kevins blog post about coming out at the Youth Gathering.

Fresno church becomes Reconciling in Christ congregation
Photo courtesy of Craig Kohlruss – The Fresno Bee

August 9th: Pastor Bill Kenezovich – After experiencing unimaginable child abuse to repress his own sexuality, as the pastor of Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church in San Francisco (where I currently serve) Pastor Bill passionately protested the election of the Extraordinarily Ordained Pastor Jeff Johnson as the Dean of the San Francisco Conference. More than two decades later, and near the edge of suicide, Pastor Bill came out to his family and then in a sermon to his congregation. Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Fresno gave Pastor Bill’s sermon a standing ovation and recently voted to welcome and affirm LGBTQ individuals in all aspects of their ministry. Read more about Pastor Bill’s story here.

Photo by Pastor Megan Rohrer

September 21st: Bishop Guy Erwin – On this date in 2013, Bishop Guy became both the first Native American and openly gay bishop in the ELCA. Ordained on May 11, 2011, Bishop Guy was previously the Gerhard & Olga J. Belgum Chair of Lutheran Confessional Theology and a Professor of Religion and History at California Lutheran University. A year later on May 31, 2012 Bishop Guy was elected the Bishop of the Southwest California Synod. See video from the installation.

Photo by Megan Rohrer
Photo by Pastor Megan Rohrer

November 18th: Bishop-elect Daniel Harms – On this date in 2014, Pastor Dan told me the story of his election as a bishop in the Lutheran church in 1979. After the election, Bishop-elect Dan was strong armed into coming out to those assembled. Despite the reaffirmation of the election in two more ballots, the Bishop-elect was bullied into withdrawing his name before he was installed. Over the next four years, Pastor Dan fought to remain a pastor. The bishop elected in his place, asked Pastor Dan choose between remaining a pastor or divorcing his husband. Ultimately, Pastor Dan was removed from the official roster of pastors, but he remains married to his husband.

RohrerPastor Megan Rohrer is the first openly transgender pastor ordained in the Lutheran Church, is currently pastor of Grace Evangelical Lutheran in San Francisco, and is a contributing blogger of the ELCA’s Living Lutheran. Pastor Megan was a 2014 honorable mention as an Unsung Hero of Compassion by His Holiness the Dalai Lama, received an Honorary Doctorate from Palo Alto University, a Distinguished Alum award from the Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley, was a finalist for a Lambda Literary Award in transgender nonfiction is an award winning filmmaker and historian. You can learn more about Pastor Megan’s online “Bible Study that Doesn’t Suck”* and other creative ministry projects at

*Bible Study that Doesn’t Suck – is the name of a personal Bible study that Rev. Rohrer leads online.