Michiko Bown-Kai is a queer person of colour who currently lives in Toronto, Ontario (Haudenosaunee, Huron-Wendat, and Anishinabek Territories). They are a candidate for ministry within the United Church of Canada and are currently studying at Emmanuel College in the Masters of Divinity program. They find joy in dancing, crafting, and blogging. In August 2015, Michiko became Affirm United/ S’affirmer ensemble’s new co-chair. In Spring 2015 they were asked to contribute a story for the final print edition of Xtra! Toronto. The accompanying photo ran, but the story did not. Here is what Michiko wanted to say.
A while ago, I was asked to appear in the final print issue of Xtra! (Toronto) where I was photographed and interviewed for an article they were writing about religious leadership in ‘the community’. I am disappointed with the focus that the accompanying article gave to particular issues such as gay marriage- not because this issue isn’t worthwhile or that gay marriage doesn’t address some real needs of community members – but because this story is that one that always gets told at the expense of all other stories. So, for those of you that want more than a picture of my face, you can read below:
I think there is still a large perception out there that you can’t be queer and/or trans if you are Christian. When I think about how there are some voices in Christianity which get a lot of air time that are overtly homophobic I can understand why. This homophobic narrative is often compounded by the silence or indifference that comes from Christians who claim to be queer and trans positive.
The thing is, when we actually look at the Bible it is full of stories of exile, persecution, finding hope in resistance to Empire, building community with the marginalized, prophetic gender benders. There are many places for a queer person to feel spiritually at home.
In today’s context, of doing ministry here in Toronto, I don’t see how we can honour Jesus’ legacy without being intentional about uplifting the experiences of queer and trans folks, especially those who are also poor, disabled, and people of colour.
Jesus’ ministry was based on healing and building community. It was also about fighting back to power. My experiences of queerness as dismantling harmful ideas and building resilient communities is an integral part to my Christian spirituality. My Christian experiences of lament, creative non-violence, and storytelling are integral to my queerness.
My ministry stems from the realization that oppression is an act of violence which has spiritual consequences. I believe the church has been called time and time again to ministry that specifically engages with homophobia, transphobia, and transmisogyny in our society, and that prophetic voices have been from beyond the confines of white supremacy and patriarchal standards. I believe that the church has a responsibility to intentionally engage in helping queer and trans people explore their feelings about religion, God, and spirituality in ways that feel safe. (The church) is a site of trauma for many people and they deserve to have the tools and space to heal from that.
In my interview I was asked what I wanted to say to members of LGBTQ communities and my answer was this: more than anything, the church needs to listen- with the intent to learn and be challenged. The Gospel is written on the hearts of so many queer and trans folk, so the church doesn’t need to speak: the church needs to be a witness so that from there we can engage in true solidarity.