A new calendar has been released in Spain by LGBTQ activists featuring trans women models as La Virgen. It seems the ideal subject for a Sunday post here on the blog where I try not to get to religious on you all until today. As a Catholic girl in Catholic School I was taught that we can only truly know the Divine when we imagine Him [or Her] in the body of the most marginalized among us. That teaching was part of a core ethic of stewardship, service, and ultimate understanding of the “Body'” (faith as embodied and interconnected) that is often lacking in the images of the modern day church and the arch-conservatives who seek to [mis]represent our faith. Moreover, it reflects the stories of Jesus’ life, which was a life spent among the most marginalized by choice and by recognition of the humanity and faith of people pushed to the margins. If Jesus taught nothing else, He taught us to see the Divine in those society abuses and throws away and called us to be like them. So when I look on the majority of the images for this calender, I see our Body taking the next step in an ongoing reclamation of the Divine by the faithful not, as some others have claimed, blasphemy. For me, it is a long over due celebration of who we are as believers.
While some of the images for the calendar have more nudity than Vatican I Catholics are likely to stand for, and at least one looks more like the seduction than the virgin, many are hiding behind issues of the naked form and sexuality to mask transmisogyny and cissexism. They argue that trans women’s bodies are not fit to represent the Virgen nor can they do justice to the Madonna and child. These arguments are erroneously biological, assuming that trans women do not have children. Not only is that categorically untrue but it also negates faith based on the mysticism of the virgin birth. If G-d can will a virgen to have a baby, why not a trans woman as well? Worse, the dissmisal of this calendar as profane relies on the oppressive disregard for the gender identity and right to personhood, let alone access to the Divine, of trans women. It denies the teaching and life of Jesus in order to recenter cis female bodies and privileged readings of Christianity that are more institutional-cultural than faith based. Accompanying this anti-trans sentiment, is no doubt homophobia against the gay male aesthetic present in every image that have gotten other [non-transgender] queer renditions of the Madonna in trouble in the past. (see Alma Lopez’s work for example of female queer aesthetic, La Virgen, and censorship surrounding it.)
As the calendar’s images circulate the blogs, you may be able to anticipate my one complaint about this effort: there is only one trans woman of color in the calender (pictured left). Modern day Spain is an international country with Middle Eastern, African, and Asian people and Latin@s living within its borders as new comers or third and fourth generation Spaniards. It would have been fairly easy to include trans women of color under these circumstances. The links between Spain, Africa, and the Middle East are never more evident than in the Moor section of Madrid or the images of the black Madonna that are loving carved into municipal buildings and storefronts. I once spent a whole day simply photographing all of the different places where you could find her likeness in the city. On the one hand that renders the one twoc who did make it into the calendar common place and still sadly, extraordinary as the only one.
So while I applaud the calendar and the bloggers standing up for it across the internet, I also want to remind that once again we, women of color, are still not included in the vision of the Divine even when the vision is queered, radical, or transgressive. Neither the mainstream queer community nor the religious community imagines people of color as part of the Body. Even when correcting the transmisogyny of traditional Christian images, queer activists continue to make these dual exclusions, except for the month of April. (If it was a N. American calender I bet it would have been February.) In choosing one of the many white trans women depicted the bloggers talking about this calendar further the process. So that trans women of color are erased and marginalized on all sides.
At the same time, I cannot help but stand in solidarity with the sentiment behind this project precisely because of the ways it writes/rights members of our faith community/ies back into the foreground by demanding equal footing for the transgender community/ies. We are all children of G-d, whichever g-d or spiritual being you choose to believe in, and this calender forces hypocrites who would quote doctrine to remember the most basic tenets of our faith. Either we embrace those teaching by seeing the Divine in all of G-d’s creations or we fail.
But don’t take my silly Catholic ramblings for truth. Instead, listen to the most powerful and poignant discussion of this effort by the trans women involved. Featured trans model, Carla Antonelli, said it best:
“I posed myself the following scenario: Why is it that a transsexual woman can’t represent a religious icon given life by so many other actors and actresses throughout history? To not do it would be akin to internalizing the same discriminatory principles that people want to throw against us” – Carla Antonelli (as quoted by @Blabbeando)