Today is Transgender Day of Remembrance, a day when trans people and their allies remember the many people who have been brutally assaulted or killed for living as the gender that feels right to them.

Myself, I try not to remember too hard. When Lane was a year old and I was nine, I had a recurring waking nightmare, a fearful fantasy that at times I could not help playing over in my mind: that our house would be on fire and that we’d be unable to rescue LaneĀ from the nursery. I was haunted by the thought of our sweet baby, who trusted me without question, standing up and waiting for me to come to the rescue as smoke and flames filled the room, and I stood helplessly outside. It made me sick to my stomach and I had to sing loudly or throw myself into some mental task to chase the image from my mind. My point is, I have always had a deeply protective love for my next-to-youngest sibling.

I discovered I had this handicap when, a few months after Lane announced his intention to transition, there was a news story about the brutal beating of a transman in Baltimore. That’s when it clicked for me, that one of the people I love most in the world has joined a population that is the target, not only of bigotry and prejudice, but of violent hatred. Dwelling on it gives me basically the same feeling that I had as a nine-year-old imagining a house fire that cut off the baby’s room. So I don’t dwell on it.

I have always been horrified at the thought of violence against hate-targeted minorities: whether it’s sexuality, ethnicity, or religion, there’s something especially horrible about the fact that some people’s hatred can be aroused just because of someone else’s identity. But it’s real, and personal, for me now in a way that it wasn’t before last year.

I don’t really have a point or a theory. If someone you love ever comes out as gay, or trans, or moves to a place where their religion or ethnicity is viewed with hostility, you’ll know how I feel. Remembering the transgender victims of violence is important, because it should motivate us all to work to make this world a safe space for everybody who crosses gender barriers. It’s just, for me, I have to remember just a little bit, and then try hard to forget.

Orientation vs. identity: some thoughts on belief

When sexologists talk about sexual orientation, we often use some variation of the Orientation-Behavior-Identity model (OBI). The idea is that sexual orientation can be understood and discussed in three distinct aspects: a person’s identity, what they define themselves as, both publicly and privately; a person’s behavior, their actual sexual acts with different genders; and a person’s orientation, the natural bent of their attractions (which may or may not be innate or changeable, but which is much less subject to power of choice than the other two aspects.) It’s a helpful distinction, and clears up a lot of miscommunications about what it means to be “really” gay, het, or bi.

I wonder if a similar model would be useful for discussing religious belief. Is belief or unbelief in a deity (pick your favorite!) a choice? I would argue that at any given moment, a person does or does not believe in a particular deity. Analogous to the “orientation” piece of the OBI model, this is just a program that is running in your brain: you cannot choose to switch it on or off, although various paths you take in life may contribute to its running or shut it down. But it’s not subject to conscious, volitional will.

Then there is the “identity” component: whether you think of yourself as a theist, and usually a member of a particular religion, or not. This may or may not have anything to do with your belief orientation. There was a time in my life where I identified as a Christian although I no longer had the belief in God that I had in my earlier years. Similarly, anyone who identifies as an “atheist” because they are mad at God is not an atheist in the orientational sense: people who genuinely lack belief in a deity have nothing to be angry at.

Finally, there is the behavior component, which is independent of both orientation and identity. Attending church does not make you a Christian believer, nor do you have to call yourself a Christian to attend. And many people identify as members of a religion without engaging in any of the behaviors prescribed by that religion. Whether there are any behaviors that could be categorized as “atheistic” is an interesting question… I can’t think of any off the top of my head, although I can think of many that could be described as humanistic or skeptical.

What do you think? Useful categories for discussions of belief and unbelief?