the Iconocast: Shannon Kearns (episode 41)

January 12, 2012the Iconocast Collective

Post image for the Iconocast: Shannon Kearns (episode 41)

In this episode, Mark and Sarah interview Shannon T.L. Kearns.

Shannon writes as the anarchist reverend. He is a seminary graduate (M.Div 2009 from Union Theological Seminary in the city of New York) on the ordination path who also happens to be a transsexual man. Many of his theological musings are on the intersection of theology and being trans*. He also writes about Christian anarchism and his dreams for the future.

He is the co-founder and co-director of Camp Osiris, a camp for young adults aged 18-23 to come together and talk about the intersections between their sexualities/gender identities and their various spiritualities. The camp is located in Minnesota and welcomes youth from all over the country.

He is also the founder of House of the Transfiguration, a new church plant in Minneapolis.

He is the winner of the 2008 Queertopia homoletics preaching competition and has preached numerous times in various churches. He has also provided churches and other groups with Transgender 101 workshops and discussions.  The anarchist reverend resides in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

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Intro and bumper music for this episode is De Usuahia a la Quiaca by Gustavo Santaolalla.

  • Amaryah Armstrong

    This is a great interview. Thanks y’all!

  • Jonas Lundström

    Very interesting!
    The conversation, though, brings up the whole question of inner/soul – outer/body. Maybe captured in words like “expression” and (even…) “incarnation”. My take on this for a few years has been to try to break down and/or deconstruct this dischotomy. But what I understood from this interview is that we might want to keep some (softer? more dynamic?) version of this way of perceiving/construction reality. I don´t know what to make of this. An input, someone?

    Another (but related) question that was touched upon is how well queer and trans-perspectives fit together. Do we want to keep two (or more) genders, or not?

  • SarahLynne

    I definitely think that connections between our bodies and how we think, feel, act, desire, and express ourselves are a fluid thing. I don’t see anything Shay said as arguing that there are not more than two genders or against very much of what one might have from a queer perspective.

    I do see a tension with how we view ourselves and our bodies and how connected that may be. For example, this raises the question if there is something innate about ourselves being male, or female or otherwise that is connected physical sex (not necessarily what our physical body looks like, but what we feel it ought to look like in some cases). This wasn’t brought up in our conversation, but there are so many different parts of our biology that are connected with our sex, that there could even be biological explanations to why some people feel that they are in the “wrong” body. That isn’t to say that there wouldn’t be cultural factors as well, in fact it isn’t to make any strong claims at all. I am personally still very fuzzy on the “hows or whys” and have no idea what the experience feels like to make any informed claims. Except maybe to say that we can’t divorce our souls from our bodies. Regardless of whether you are a lesbian, gay, queer, trans, or just a particularly masculine female, or a feminine male, or you feel “sexless” or whatever… who we are has connecting points with our body. In some ways our body influences who we are and in someone ways who we are causes us to manipulate our bodies. Even if this is mostly cultural, there are still certain biological aspects. While I respect the people who choose to push the gender envelope with seemingly no care about any biological determinism I do not think the ideal is a world of ever fluctuating androgynous beings, nor do I think there should be any shame for those who enjoy and conform to sex-gender-norms if it brings them contentment. I don’t think our goal should be to divorce the soul from the body is what I am saying in summation.

    With that in mind, I do think the trans* experience can be confusing to those of us who have been challenging sex/gender assumptions in other ways. For example, when my friend started transitioning I was in the middle of dealing with claiming my femaleness. I grew up feeling uncomfortable as a female. I got along with guys more often. I looked up to men primarily and in many ways my personality isn’t feminine (ex: I was called a “femi-nazi” in middle school simply because I had a strong personality. I wasn’t a feminist at all at the time). I remember imagining myself as a published author using a male-pseudonom just because it felt “better” than using my own name. I went a different direction though. It wasn’t that I didn’t feel like a female, it was that I was ashamed of being female and at the same time embarrassed that I wasn’t “female enough.” This lead me to a process that began with challenging the ideas that females needed to be a certain way and ended with me embracing and rejoicing in the ways I am female and feminine at times (to basically say… This is who I am, it includes a vagina and that is a good thing).

    Imagine then how uncomfortable I was when my friend told me that she was actually female. At this point I was busy telling everyone that there was no such thing as female APART from your body… i.e. no matter how masculine I seem at times I am still female because I have a vagina. I don’t think that way anymore, but it still influences my thinking. It was confusing then to be told that inspite of my friend’s body she was actually female. At the time I thought she should just be “redefining” what it means to be a guy. Clearly though this didn’t meet her needs and I have been trying to understand all this more since then.

    I am not sure If I am addressing anything pertinent to what you brought up Jonas, but I would be interested in mentioning one other thing that might be helpful in our quest for understanding.

    After the interview I talked to Shay a little more about my relationship with my friend, and someone else also brought up some of the ways they have fluctuated in their gender and sexual identity. Shay brought up that even for him (and I may be interpreting this wrong, so I hope Shay will read and correct me if I am wrong), his understanding of his own masculinity and what it means for him to be male has shifted. He shared that in the beginning of transitioning he was very interested in presenting as masculine as possible and even started looking into the military and other typically masculine things. After a while, and more importantly after he didn’t have to worry about being “misread” as female, he hasn’t felt as concerned about being entirely masculine in his mannerisms and interests. Now he knows that people perceive him as being a gay man at times, but this doesn’t bother him. For him it seems that while being bodily male was paramount for his ability to be comfortable with himself, it is not the end to his exploration of his own sex and gender identity. It seemed to me that he recognized still dealing with shifts in identity that he couldn’t deal with until he was able to be perceived as basically male.

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