Shattering Masks: Affirming My Identity, Transitioning My Faith

by Laura Bethany Taylor
Sophia Sojourn, 2016.

A Review Essay by Virginia Ramey Mollenkott, Ph.D.

Shattering Masks book coverThis brief book—207 large-print pages—describes the identity of a woman who is willing and eager to shatter all masks that have come between herself and others.  First of all she is a Christian who is currently “deconstructing and rebuilding [her] belief system.”  Then she is a transwoman who also has “medical conditions that give [her] the label ‘intersex.’”  But she is also a student, parent, grandparent, recent divorcee, first a son and now a daughter to two compassionate parents, and a professional in mass communications and Christian ministry.  Taylor’s hope is that reading her book will encourage others “to live a more genuine, authentic life.”

I enjoyed reading this book about a person in process.  That the process is clearly unfinished is established toward the conclusion, where Taylor upholds her binary assumptions: “God is supernatural and we are natural.  God is eternal… and we are temporal, locked into the progressive path through seconds, hours, days, and years (pp. 185-6).  Yet three pages later, Taylor disagrees with herself and recognizes the nonbinary truth: “I feel joyful in believing God takes pleasure in me, having created me in God’s image and embracing me as God’s own child” (p. 188). Amen, Laura Bethany Taylor, the latter statement is who you are.  Because you really are created in God’s image and because you really are God’s own child, you are a supernatural being who is currently having temporal human experiences.  You are not “locked into time and space” as you have imagined.  You will be released from your temporary body and returned to your eternal Home at the moment we human beings call “death.”  And as the great poet and preacher John Donne reminds us, “death doth touch the resurrection.”

The body our ego-natures identify with does indeed decay and die when it has completed its job of manifesting God’s love here and now by the name of Laura Bethany Taylor (or whatever our own name may be).  But the eternal Spirit, alive within us all along, simply returns Home to the Love it has always been.  So the idea that the body is yourself is the final mask that must be removed when we realize that in fact we are interconnected members of Christ’s universal Body, related to the divine Parent in the same way Jesus is related to that Parent.  If you don’t believe me, just believe Jesus’ prayer in John 17: 20-26.

In her final bonus section, Taylor provides us, her readers, with methods of dealing with other people who find us “offensive”—as gay, bisexual, intersexual, and transpeople often must.  Our job is to overcome the myth that boundaries are necessarily selfish, and to learn instead that therapy as well as healthy relationships are maintained by mutually respected boundaries (p. 207).  This would have been the perfect place for Taylor to discuss the “boundary” of intersexuality, which is not simply a “medical condition” if and when we learn to see it instead as one of the identities in which God Herself/Himself/Itself chose to be incarnated.  As the Muslim mystic poet Sufi put it, “Every person is an expression of one of the hidden names of God.”  So as we read Shattering Masks, we can rejoice with its author that the intersexual transwoman Laura Bethany Taylor is indeed “God’s own child,” resembling and revealing her divine Mother/Father precisely as she was created to do.

 

© 2017 by Christian Feminism Today

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Virginia Ramey Mollenkott
Virginia Ramey Mollenkott is the author or co-author of 13 books, including several on women and religion. She is a winner of the Lambda Literary Award (in 2002) and has published numerous essays on literary topics in various scholarly journals. In 1975, she spoke at the first national gathering of the Evangelical Women’s Caucus in Washington, D.C., and delivered plenary speeches at almost every gathering of the organization over the next 40 years. She has lectured widely on lesbian, gay, and bisexual rights and has also been active in the transgender cause. Mollenkott is married to Judith Suzannah Tilton and has one son and three granddaughters. She earned her B.A. from Bob Jones University, her M.A. from Temple University, and her Ph.D. from New York University. She received a Lifetime Achievement award from SAGE, Senior Action in a Gay Environment, a direct-service and advocacy group for seniors in New York City in 1999. At age 85, Virginia Ramey Mollenkott continues to use her doctorate in English to share insights with folks who visit the EEWC and Mollenkott websites, and with elderly people in the Cedar Creek educational programs. She has recently taught an Elderhostel course on the poems of the Rev. Dr. John Donne, and is now preparing a Fall course on John Milton’s Paradise Lost. She deeply regrets that her severe arthritis forbids her presence at recent and wonderful street protests.

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