Book Review: In the Margins
I was the picture-perfect youth group kid: I remember scribbling in the margins of my Bible, trying to make sense of the stories laid out before me. As a white, queer, disabled, transmasculine person raised in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, I saw pieces of myself in Shannon Kearns’ “In the Margins: A Transgender Man’s Journey with Scripture.”
“In the Margins” unpacks what it means to grow up as a trans Christian in an evangelical community, and the vitriol that comes from expressing queerness of any sort. Kearns, the first openly trans man ordained in the Old Catholic Church, weaves together 10 biblical passages with reflections on his life and spiritual growth. The book takes us through the deconstruction and reconstruction of his faith and demonstrates a way of interpreting Scripture that is wholly affirming and celebratory of queer and trans Christians.
I appreciate that Kearns brings Scripture into the book that expands beyond the “clobber passages” — the passages used to justify faith teachings against LGBTQIA+ identities. It was a relief to read a book that didn’t center the verses used to exclude us. Instead, Kearns presents Jacob, Joseph, Ezekiel, Rahab, and Jesus. Expanding the scope of passages relevant to queer and trans existence allows Kearns to examine biblical masculinity. Since childhood, whenever I’ve felt overwhelmed, I’ve turned to Scripture for guidance.
Despite understanding that I am loved by God in my wholeness, there is still a part of me that feels alienated by the faith I love so dearly. Kearns acknowledges the pain that comes from hearing that faithful people focus on their souls rather than their bodies while feeling like something about your body is so deeply misunderstood.
While there are many things to lift up about this book, I believe that there are some areas where Kearns misses the mark on intersectionality. As white trans people, we must acknowledge the impact of oppressions similar to and different from our own, with the understanding that other trans Christians experience marginalization differently.
For example, Kearns briefly touches on the lack of physical accessibility in churches, and I would have loved to hear more about disability justice. Disabled Christians are often taught that our disabilities need to be healed, just as queer and trans Christians are taught that our identities are shameful.
Kearns’ discussion of Jacob’s limp and the separation of our pure souls from our broken bodies were opportunities to explore the intersections of trans and disabled Christian experiences.
Also unacknowledged is the violence that Christianity has inflicted on Indigenous communities, as Kearns writes that “Western Christians’’ don’t live in an occupied country. The United States is, in fact, an occupied territory. White queer and trans Christians must be in relationship and solidarity with queer and trans Indigenous Christians. Our collective liberation depends on it.
Ultimately, “In the Margins” is a beautiful reminder of our community’s resilience: Queer and trans Christians are impossible to keep down. I see this demonstrated by those who stay in the church to fight for dignity and recognition in the place they know they belong. We are fighters. I call us “fighters” intentionally, even though it invokes the language of violence, because the way that faith has been used against us is violent.
For those who journey alongside queer and trans people in community, “In the Margins” offers a glimpse into the battles we have had with the faith we love so dearly. Deconstruction and reconstruction of faith can be an incredibly painful and heart-wrenching process, but it is one with which we are familiar. For queer and trans Christians, this book may feel like a warm embrace. “In the Margins” shows the possibilities of the world Jesus envisioned.