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Transgender Religious Naming Ceremonies

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Changing one's name can be one of the most meaningful steps for a trans or gender nonconforming person in expressing and validating who they are. Recognizing how significant such a personal milestone can be, Reverend Fred L. Hammold developed a Unitarian Universalist Transgender Naming Ceremony, which he published a couple weeks ago on his blog. The ceremony's opening reads,

Some children are given new Christian names at confirmation and then will go by that name from that point on. Some have names that are only used by the family and their formal name is used only by those outside of the family. Still others adopt a nickname by which they are forever called. Names are not always cast in stone at birth. Some Native American tribes do not name their children until some attribute is discovered about the child. And the name might change again when the child becomes an adult.

And in the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures names would change as the person was transformed and embraced their true identity. Abram became Abraham, Sarai became Sarah, Jacob became Israel, Saul became Paul all to indicate a new person in relationship with their god. Today, we are celebrating the adoption of a new name that reflects a truth that has been hidden but is now revealed.

Hammold's naming ceremony is not the first of its kind to be developed. Religious congregations and individuals from around the country have written their own versions of naming ceremonies for trans people.

Many Voices, a Black Christian movement for gay and transgender justice, posted another version of such a ceremony on their website. The ceremony was created Reverend Dr. Cameron Partridge, who is an influential openly transgender counselor at Harvard Divinity School (shown on the right). The ceremony celebrates a transgender person's new name as "the culmination of a journey of discovery and, at the same time, its beginning." You can read the full ceremony here.

A video by Riley, a transgender Christian YouTube vlogger, is well worth checking out as an example of how powerful and meaningful a naming ceremony can be for a transgender person. In his video, Riley explained how having members from his church of the Metropolitan Community Churches preside over his ceremony demonstrated the true depth of their friendship and community. He said,

It was really remarkable. It was one of those things, it made me realize that the people that I asked to follow me on this journey of finding Riley, that the depth of friendship you ask of people, that to honor your privacy in public places, to still honor and treat you with respect. The people that hang on, and how deep that friendship is…For many of us, especially for me, there are so many people who have left me in my life. I just didn't want to lose anyone, my friends and family, and that's not the case, and I'm okay with that. But that is something that has happened. And it just makes the friends that stick around, it makes you realize, they're pretty serious, and they're in there.

For Riley, the naming ceremony also served as a profound expression of honoring his whole self, both his past and future. He said,

At the same time as anointing me and blessing me on the path that I am continuing on and everything as Riley, [the reverend] also honored all parts of Ronda that will continue. And that really meant a lot because there's a lot about me that I didn't want to lose within transition, and some of that is the kindness and compassion that I have toward other people and within our society... So that really meant a lot that she was honoring both, honoring Ronda within honoring and anointing Riley as this is my new path in life.

It really meant a lot to me, and it provided a lot of peace within my life.

Watch the full video below.

Some other Christian transgender naming ceremonies that are out there include one from The House of All Sinners and Saints as well as Rainbow Community Cares, which also provides a beautiful ceremony for transgender transition in general. The ceremony celebrates fluidity of identity and self-expression. The opening states,

Gathering/Welcome

We come together in the holy place created by us who have gathered to recognize, to claim that it is so, and to celebrate [name]’s transition into fuller expression of self. From image to lively expression in words, actions and adornment/attire, [name] in grace moves outward to be formally embraced by us, family and friends.

Thanksgiving/Appreciation

[Name] comes with community support, affirmation and love that we share, one with another. And in the sharing we come to know better the source of the pull on our own hearts to be fully the unique persons that we are created to be. We are thankful for the fluidity of self expression, maybe static at times, but with the ability to change and adapt as the inner nature awakens, directed deeply from the soul.  In the freedom of loving and caring generated in community, in that safety and security, self expression blooms.

Jewish congregations have also spearheaded the development of their own ceremonies for transgender transition. On TransTorah, a pretty awesome website that serves as a resource network of prayers, rituals, essays, and poems for trans and gender non-conforming people of the Jewish community; several original ceremonies and blessings are posted celebrating various aspects of transition, such as chest binding and surgeries. Two of the creators of TransTorah, Max Strassfeld and Ari Lev Fornari, are contributors to the new essay anthology, Transgender and Jewish, which came out late last March and has a Forward by Joy Ladin (shown on the right), the first openly transgender professor at an Orthodox Jewish Institution.

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