Translucent: Re-Examining Faith in the Trans* Community

Excerpts from Between the Line’s “Trans, Religious, Thriving” by Eve Kucharski

As a faith leader, the Rev. Kate Malin, Rector of Christ’s Church in Rye, New York, wears a variety of hats: teacher, theologian, preacher. She is used to giving informed guidance to her parishioners and to the process of researching and preparing thoughtful answers to discussions and questions not only spiritual but regarding all aspects of life. However, when she learned several years ago that one of her identical twins is transgender she admitted her knowledge of the subject was sorely lacking.

Today, Emmie Smith and her mother appear to be closer than they were before Smith came out. The duo has appeared in various publications speaking out in favor of transgender visibility ranging from SELF, Huffington Post, Cosmopolitan and most notably, National Geographic, where three years ago a 17-year-old Smith allowed a camera crew to document the journey of her gender reassignment
surgery in an effort to demystify and humanize a part of the transgender experience.

Now years removed from the initial announcement Malin made to her parish about her daughter’s true identity, she’s had time to take stock and re-examine how the experience changed her approach to faith. She first began to grapple with her understanding of how members of the transgender
community fit into her Episcopalian beliefs.

“There’s been a lot of conversation in the church about the role of gay and lesbian and bisexual individuals as leaders and participants in the church, but a
transgender individual is on a different road,” she said. She went on to say that questions began to come up for her around the creation story, gender roles, being baptized by gendered name and surrounding the “binary structure of so much expectation around what God deems to be righteous and unrighteous even though it’s not necessarily in the Bible.” Malin began an honest re-examination of her beliefs and their potential shortcomings regarding the LGBTQ community, which allowed her to see how an even unintentionally repressive religious environment could generate significant anguish for those who lose their support system. 

Regarding Smith’s own relationship with God, she said that it’s also gotten more introspective and stronger since she’s transitioned and begun to live her authentic self. And that’s largely because of the immense support of her mother and the parish.

“I feel like my relationship with my faith got a lot clearer because I was able to more effectively communicate with my own understanding of the divine, with my own relationship with my mom and the people who work with her,” Smith said. “I feel like everything just got more vibrant, it was like putting on a pair of glasses for the first time when you’re nearsighted or farsighted; all of a sudden things just snapped a little more into focus than they ever could have before when I was speaking to God through a pretty thick pane of glass. I think being honest and true to yourself is the only way that I really felt I could have a spiritual relationship with God.”