Breaking the Binary

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Sarah Dianne Jones is curating a series written by our workshop leaders at the 2017 National Gathering. What excites them about the Gathering? What are they looking forward to sharing and discussing during their workshop? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

by Slats Toole

It was early in the morning and impossibly cold as a handful of us gathered for what would end up being the last of our monthly sunrise services for that year—held on the last Sunday of every month until it got too cold. To be honest, I was less focused on the service and experiencing God in the awakening of the world around me, and more focused on the fact that I could see my breath in front of me and feel the cold metal chair underneath me. That is, until I heard the pastor address the community by saying, “sisters, brothers, and…”

With that “and,” my heart skipped a beat. Not too long before, I had sat in this pastor’s office, working to find the words to tell her that I did not identify as a woman or as a man, but was embracing a non-binary gender identity. Here, in the cold early morning, I experienced for the first time what it felt like to be seen and embraced by the church, as this pastor acknowledged that there were those of us for whom “sister” or “brother” didn’t fit. For years, churches had (usually out of simple ignorance) shut me out in the language they used, how their programs were structured, or even the design of their buildings. While I knew that I was created in the image of God, I had no idea how much tension I was holding about my place in the church until that tension melted away with the simple word: “and.” With that anxiety gone, I began to realize that my experience of gender might teach us all something about God. Out of that moment came conversation and deeper understandings and more exploration of this mystery that is the God we worship.

Particularly since the passing of HB2, North Carolina’s anti-transgender bathroom law, I’ve been working to help equip churches to fully embrace trans and gender non-conforming people in their worship, service, and community. While many churches have done a lot of work on what it means to welcome people of all sexualities, welcoming people of all gender identities requires a different set of questions and tools. In this workshop, “Breaking the Binary,” I hope to help attendees see some of the issues trans and gender non-conforming people face when we step into churches, and learn ways to break down the walls that keep us from connecting with each other. But even beyond that, I want to explore what can happen when we do connect, and what kind of transformation can come out of that connection.  

Imagine: who are we leaving out? What conversations are we missing out on? How might we grow in our knowledge and love of God by opening the door a little wider, with a simple “and?”

Breaking the Binary is being offered during workshop block 1 on Monday of the National Gathering.


Slats Toole (they/them/theirs) is a graduate of Princeton Theological Seminary. Their ministry focuses on connecting LGBTQ+ youth in online Christian community & creating resources for churches seeking to welcome people of all gender identities.

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