December 12, 2013

The Places That Matter

There’s a coffee shop in Somerville, known as a queer hangout spot. This coffee shop has become integral and emblematic of my identity, my community. I started going there before I came out as trans and it was the first place, ever, somebody referred to me as a guy.

I came out to my school via mass email one night toward the end of summer break, nervously went to sleep, and the next morning I walked to this coffee shop, ordered a cup of coffee, and maybe the cashier noticed I looked a little different. Saw my haircut was more masculine, my chest looked flatter, saw something. Noticed something. There was /something/. Because I ordered a cup of coffee, somebody else brought it to the counter, and the cashier who had taken my order said, “that’s for him.”

And I was him.

For my friends and I it’s been the site of first dates, tenth dates, birthdays, wedding showers, study sessions, craft nights, campaign celebrations, an alternative to church, a place to cry, a place to take a quick break, a go-to when making other plans just seems too hard.

It’s the single place I have never, once, had to repeat my name. There has never been that moment where they ask my name and, upon hearing me say “Andrew,” question me another time or two, sure I couldn’t have said “Andrew.” I know going in tthere that they have trans people who work there. They have trans customers. I will see myself reflected in others around me.

This coffee shop isn’t THAT close to me. It’s clear at the other end of the subway line I live on but it’s a place I feel so comfortable that I’d much rather travel to get there than go to somewhere more local. It’s the place where I completed undergrad internship paperwork, wrote parts of my final project, where I completed my grad school applications, wrote my first grad school papers, studied for tests, and where I celebrated when my first year was done.

It’s where we held Queer Unitarian Universalist Fiber Arts and Crafts Night and my friends and I jokingly refer to it as a sacred place while realizing, maybe, it’s not as much of a joke as we might pretend. It’s where we’ve played dozens of bad games of pool, where subsets of my friends have come together and where I have sat with no less than 4 trans youth while they cried about their families.

It’s where I wrote my first real sermon.

It’s where I have sat with ministers to discern my call to ministry and where I’ve sat with partners to discern what we’re doing for dinner. It’s a place that needs no explanation among my group of friends.

And tonight I walked in and snagged a table, asking somebody quickly if they’d keep an eye on my stuff while I ordered. I walked to the counter and the barista said “Hey, Andrew. How’s Jesus-school?” and we chatted for a second or two. I sat down, untied the boots I’d been wearing all day, and opened my computer. There was a Queer Polyamorous Womens Meetup happening next to me and the conversation was hilarious and so, so fitting for where I was.

My SO came in a half hour later and I kissed her hello and we eased into the now-comfortable “working” silence, punctuated by frequent laughs and sharing-of-things and maybe not getting as much work done as either of us had hoped and eventually she headed home for the night. I struggled to finish a paper I’d put off too long and finally decided 1891 words was close enough to 2000 words and I hit save.

As I was packing up a friend spotted me and they came over, gave me a hug, and we walked out together with that same barista saying “say hi to Jesus for me!” as I left.

On the train ride home that night I couldn’t help but mull over how much of my life has taken place in that queer coffee shop. How different I am from the person I used to be and how much life I’ve mulled over or participated in there. And how much I love, desperately, the community I am part of.

 
July 25, 2013

Making the Personal* Political** – Andrew’s Top Surgery Fundraiser

*My chest
**Politics = money

FOR UPDATES PLEASE VISIT THE FUNDRAISING PAGE BY CLICKING HERE

1) “I don’t want to read. I just want to give you money.”

GREAT! CLICK HERE!

“I mean, okay, I’d like a *little* more information than that.”

I’m a trans man and I want you to give me your hard-earned cash so I can have top surgery which basically means removing breast tissue and reshaping my chest to appear more masculine. Gross, right? You’re the one who asked.

CLICK HERE TO DONATE.

3) “But I want to know all the sordid details of what you’re doing to your body and why you’re doing it.

And if you could include one of those nifty photo montages that have pictures of you in a dress from when you were a girl I’d really appreciate it. It would help me understand you better.”

So I’m a trans man. I mean, really, I’m a genderqueerish trans masculine spectrum feminist cheerleader but since most of the people reading this are probably from my church, and for the sake of simplicity, let’s just go with “Andrew is a trans man.”

I’ve been out for about 6 years but I made the decision to begin medically transitioning much more recently. It was a really tough decision because in a lot of ways it didn’t seem to mesh with how I told myself I was supposed to feel about the world. Transitioning from someone society gendered as female to somebody society gendered as male came with this icky feeling of accepting privilege I neither wanted nor earned. After spending a lot of time with some really radical people, both cis and trans, I quietly began testosterone. That’s why you might have noticed I sound more like a pubescent boy lately.

That was fine; it didn’t require anything from my community. Nobody even needed to know so, aside from a few good friends and a woman I randomly broke down to at church after a meeting once (she was a champ. A very confused champ.)

Top surgery is different. For a lot of reasons I don’t really want to share the fact that I want to have this surgery. I’ve actually been waffling back and forth on even running a fundraiser for a long while and I’m finally at the point where I’ve recognized two things. One is that I definitely do want this. Two is that I’m never going to raise $9000+ in extra cash while in grad school or in the early years of ministry. Or frankly in the later years of ministry. It’s not like it’s a lucrative career.

I consider myself a pretty body positive feminist and I’m all about trans people who choose to not have surgery for whatever reason. For me having a large chest means I choose to not participate in things I like. I don’t go swimming, or running, or anything too active in the summer. I don’t fit in men’s clothes in the way I want because my body isn’t shaped the right way. And I’m starting to feel some not-great health effects from binding my chest on a daily basis.

That’s about where I’m at. I have health insurance through my seminary but it specifically does not cover any health care related to transition.

You got questions? I got sarcasm!

You hate women.

That’s not a question. But, no, I don’t hate women.

Great, now EVERY time I see you I’m going to be thinking of your chest.

Crap. I was worried about that. Sorry!

You CLEARLY have money! You just spend it on the wrong things.

Actually, as any of my friends will tell you, I don’t spend money on food because I’m a breathatarian. I obtain all of my nutrients through an ancient, appropriated spiritual practice of deep breathing and staring at the sun*.

I also didn’t wear clothing for a number of years but the expense of the public indecency tickets ended up being more than the money I saved by not wearing clothing.

*stay tuned for information about my retina surgery!

This isn’t medically necessary. There are a lot of causes out there that actually help people. Why would I donate to your cosmetic surgery fundraiser.

No, technically this isn’t medically necessary. There are lots of things everyone could do with their money.

WHAT IF YOU DIE?

I…. just, what? That’s messed up, yo.

ARE THERE PRIZES FOR THIS FUNDRAISER??? I ONLY DONATE TO FUNDRAISERS WITH AWESOME AMAZING PRIZES AND YOU AREN’T OFFERING ANYTHING.

Who said I’m not offering anything?!

(Please note: if you want an incentive you MUST say so in your paypal note. Otherwise I’ll just have to assume you have enough junk in your life and don’t want more. Please note stickers, thank you cards, bookmarks and necklaces will be sent starting in mid to late August)

$1-$24

A STICKER! What, I’m broke, too. I don’t have a bunch of money to spend on fancy schmancy incentives.
Stickeroptions

$25-$49

A thank you card designed by me and handwritten.

$50-$99

A hand-crosstitched bookmark with a Bible verse made gender neutral.

Yep.

Totally serious. (limit 20)

$100+

A black, laser-cut acrylic necklace pendant of the chalice I designed OR a black, laser-cut acrylic necklace trans symbol pendant (not pictured).

ChaliceNecklace

$300+

A hand-stitched wall hanging (2’x2’) or stole (for you minister types out there). We’ll have an email conversation about this before I make anything. (limit 3)

Didn’t you already save a bunch of money for this? What happened.

Short answer? Life.

Longer answer? Eh, I don’t really wanna go into it. Message me.

Andrew, those are AMAZING incentives but I want to help you out by making something else AMAZING for you to use as an incentive.

Thanks! Email me!

July 13, 2013

The 99 – Lies, Bad Theology, and Scare Tactic Evangelism

TL;DR version – “The 99″ is basically a Hell House that happens in Not October. There’s nothing on their website, anywhere, about it being a religious thing. They convince tweens and teens to come and then scare and shame them into Jesus.

—————————————————————————-

My friend Carly and I were the tamest college students imaginable. In the course of our college careers we never drank, never tried any kind of drug, didn’t party, and liked to do things like run children’s book clubs at the local library, talk about church, and watch old episodes of Little House on the Prairie. After we graduated in 2010 she began her teaching career in Connecticut and I started seminary a couple years later in Boston. We see each other somewhat regularly and get overly excited about things like book fairs and laugh about church politics – she’s a life-long member of a United Church of Christ congregation and I’m in school to be a Unitarian Universalist minister.

When Carly texted me to ask if I wanted to hang out on Friday I said sure, and later as we were talking about what we wanted to do she asked if I could take the commuter rail out to Providence so we could to go “this thing about the common causes of death for young adults.” I figured it was just another weird thing Carly had discovered somewhere on the internet. Usually our rule with what we attend is that it either has to be good or it has to be so absurdly bad that it’s good.

We showed up to the Swansea Mall parking lot, I saw the tent, and I immediately said “Carly, this looks like a ‘Come to Jesus’ thing. While she ran into the mall to find a bathroom I tried running a few searches using my phone but wasn’t seeing anything about it being overtly religious. Searching was complicated by the fact that this production is called “The 99” and entering that phrase, in any way, into search engines brings up a lot of stuff about the occupy movement.

The other thing to know here is that I’m transgender; I was born female but now identify as male. I “pass,” meaning people see me as male, about half the time but I look very, very young. I was raised in an evangelical church and was kicked out or left (depending on who you ask) when I came out as gay years ago. Though I’m clearly fine with religion at this point and have no vendetta against Christianity I’m definitely not a fan of the brow-beating Evangelical Christianity that tries to do things like scare tweens into accepting Jesus.

We stood in line for this event, held in a giant tent, as they slowly let in groups of about twenty people. As soon as we got to the people with handheld metal detectors and started separating us into lines of men and women I got worried. I was directed to the male line, so I went, got wanded and waited for Carly. We approached a table where we had to sign a “release” which was actually a way to get out contact information. I put down my name, a fake email address, left the phone number part blank, checked adult, and got reprimanded by the woman at the table for not filling it out “correctly.”

We waited some more, and were finally allowed inside the tent. We paid our $3 admission price and were showing to a roped off area with a TV that told us the rules after showing a few PSAs about not doing meth or texting while driving. It was one of those faux-edgy productions – lots of messy handwriting, jump cuts, and a supposedly creepy voice reading them out loud. No video, no cameras, no loud conversations, no touching the actors “even if they touch you” and if you are disruptive you will be removed and required to wait for your party at the end.

The entire event is set up in a giant tent with “rooms” that you get in via people in safety vests lifting flaps of tent tarps. The first “room” has an empty chain-link cage in the middle. The lights go completely dark and when they come back on a grim-reaper like person has appeared in the cage. The grim-reaper is your “guide” and shows you through each of the rooms. Carly says she heard the guide referred to as a spiritual guide at some point but I didn’t catch that.

The 99 purports to show the 5 most common causes of death for teens and young adults. According to them these are; gang violence, drunk driving, drug overdose, suicide, and texting while driving. There were not statistics or cited studies anywhere so, sure, let’s go with that for the premise of this whole thing. It was emphasized over and over that these were bad choices, you had a choice, everything is a choice.

Our spiritual guide first showed us into the gang violence room. Two kids, a boy and a girl, are beaten up by four other teens. The acting was hilariously bad with phrases like “oh man that was so cool!” and “we really beat them up!” and lots of high fiving and fist bumping. Then a backlight comes on, highlighting a car behind a mesh screen and one of the “gang member” girls is shot and killed. Her friends unceremoniously pick up her body and walk out with it. As our guide leads us into the next room we walk past her lifeless body dumped on a fake park bench.

Our next room is a car crash. One girl is covered in blood and splayed on the hood of the car, the girl in the driver’s seat is gasping and sobbing and crying and covered in blood. There’s another lifeless body in the back seat. The other car has a man and a woman, also both seriously injured, and an audio track of a baby screaming starts up. I still have no idea if this was supposed to be drunk driving or not wearing seatbelts or just car wrecks in general.

Next up was a crack den. We were given chairs to sit in for this long and memorable scene in which Nothing Happens. A pregnant woman sits on a bed in the corner sobbing for “Steven.” There’s a filthy toilet bowl off at one side and people sit around pretending to do every form of drug you have ever heard of. There’s a bong being passed around, somebody cutting up what looks like a cup of crack cocaine on the table (seriously, it was a giant pile), someone making meth in a corner, a guy in an arm chair with a needle in his arm. This man was apparently injecting into a giant open wound. One of the women on the couch beats her daughter with a stick of some kind, and at one point “Steven” lumbers over and slaps the pregnant woman.

We walked from there into a teenagers bedroom where we were told to look up at a television screen. A jumpy, scratchy suicide note-video comes on that starts “mom, dad? By the time you watch this I’ll already be dead.” While dramatically pulling her hair she talks about how she was never the perfect daughter and was tired of being unhappy and how everyone would be happy now that she was dead. The screen goes black, a light comes on in the corner behind us, and there’s the girl laying there, dead from what appeared to be a chestburster alien but was, we were informed, a self-inflicted gunshot to the chest.

Next room! Two coffins and a large projected video that was a replay of three news stories. An 11 year old girl who hanged herself because of bullying, a college student who died in a car accident because her brother was driving drunk, and a group of people who started an anti-texting while driving campaign because a boy had died when a girl was distracted while texting.
Then things got really weird. We were led into what we dubbed pre-hell. A comparatively older woman, in her forties or so when most of the actors had been teens, was chained to a wall and wailing. She was then taken by a demon away as she struggled. Carly and I both later confirmed we’d had the same thought, that this was sex trafficking or something, but it was just showing people who made bad choices being led to hell.

And then WE, too, entered hell. A man dressed as “the devil” walked back and forth and badly lip-synced to us about how hell was a real place and he was the devil. We’d seen people making bad choices and now all those people were in hell. While this is going on caged people dressed, basically, as zombies are wailing and reaching out toward us asking us to take them out. And then a beam of light comes through and the devil screams “no, they’re mine, don’t take them!” and other such things.

The next scene takes place on mount Golgotha. I remember this mostly for the line “COME ON JESUS, MOVE!” as he’s led out, lugging his cross, covered in hilariously fake wounds. Next room is the crucifixion. There are three crosses – two of them have televisions mounted on the crosses and the third, tallest, has a ridiculously gory Jesus on it, facing away from us. The televisions come to life, showing scenes from a passion movie of Jesus being beaten, and then the middle cross begins to rotate so we see Jesus full on, heaving and bloody and wearing a pair of ripped up LL Bean shorts.

We’re led into a final room with a TV screen where we watch “The Bridge.” This is a dramatic depiction of the quandary that I thought was used to diagnose psychopaths. A man who apparently has the job of flipping a lever to move a train track so a train doesn’t derail realizes his child is playing on the mechanism. If he flips the lever his son will be crushed to death. If he doesn’t the whole train load of people will die. He flips the lever.

This version was further complicated because an attractive, perky young woman is on that train and about to shoot up the heroin she’s heating up on a spoon in the main cabin. As the train goes past the distraught man she catches sight of him and decides not to shoot up. You then see her, holding her young daughter, see the man and they smile at each other for a long time.

The movie ends and a man stands up and talks about how God also chose to let his son die so we could have life. He goes on for a bit and then asks us to bow our heads and close our eyes for a prayer “just out of respect” and raise our hands if we want to accept Jesus. Then he says “I see those hands.” and we’re led into the final room which has maybe around 100 small tables set up with people at each. The person says “gentlemen to the left ladies to the right” and Carly and I ended up separated. As I walked toward the men’s side with no exit visible anywhere one of the security people points and me and says “what is that?” trying to figure out if I’m male or female. I caught sight of the exit and got the hell out of there.

Carly sat down with one of the counselor people and had a conversation in which she was told she wasn’t a real Christian because she’d been baptized as an infant, not as an adult, and that being confirmed in the church was not salvation. While that was going on I made a pissed off Facebook post and left a ranting message on a friends answering machine. Finally Carly came out and we left kind of angry about the really terrible theology and how they had duped people into this.

If you look at their website there is nothing about religion anywhere to be found unless you already know what you’re looking for. Is that the only way they think they’ll be able to save people? By lying to them about what they’re going to and scaring, pressuring and forcing them into hearing a poorly translated message of salvation? It’s some seriously flawed theology they’re working from.

http://www.whatisthe99.com/

July 8, 2013

“I have the kids tonight, Elizabeth is in the ER”

The semester is over. It’s been over for quite some time – a couple of months now – and I have a couple of months before classes start up again. I had hoped that this chapter of my blog would be a quirky but poignant chronicle of my time in seminary, filled with revelations and tidbits I’d want to remember. I made fewer than ten posts and none of them exactly revelatory.

I joked on facebook that if I had to title my first year of seminary it would be, “I have the kids for the night, Elizabeth is in the ER.” Elizabeth, my housemate, was diagnosed with breast cancer last May and I continued to live with them and help out with the kids over the course of the year in exchange for a room. Not that anybody has a particularly good experience with cancer and I suppose her outcome, that is “not being dead,” means that in many ways she had a better outcome than most but she ended up in the hospital a lot with scary high fevers and things that just didn’t feel right. Many nights I ended up unexpectedly watching the kids while Elizabeth hung out at Mass General.

I attended Dorian’s preschool graduation, let the kids watch a little too much TV while I worked on assignments, taught them the difference between the Old Testament and the New Testament, tried to hide my exhausted crying from them, and gave them lots of hugs. Choosing to live with somebody going through fairly aggressive cancer treatment (including chemo, radiation, and more than one surgery) was not the most logical decision but, hey, the price was right and I love the kids. Housemate is in remission, I’m still living here, and I feel like things are very much at a standstill right now.

In a lot of ways I’m scared to leave. I have a routine here; it’s the only place I’ve called home in any real way in a ten years. Sunday mornings are the epitome of that for me. The other thing I did during seminary was attend church every Sunday. I only missed twice when I was in town, once because I was super sick and once because I decided that drinking coffee with some queer friends was what my spirit needed. There were a couple of Sundays when I was out of town with my now-ex and it always felt weird to not be in church. Church is my routine, my rock, and I love that stability.

The kids love that stability, too. They’ve been coming to church with me almost every Sunday that I attend for a couple of years now. We don’t actually attend church all that close to where we live; First Parish Cambridge is clear across town though, realistically, it’s only a 30 minute train ride. Even that train is part of our routine. We walk to the station, in snow and sun and wind. We comment on the trees and the flowers, we talk about what we did with our week.

I’ve watched them grow up on these walks. When I first started taking them to church V was still in her stroller, not talking much, and D was a very shy 4 year old who didn’t want to leave my side. There’s a small wall at the corner of our block that D would walk on, holding the handle of V’s stroller. Slowly we phased out the stroller, instead of clinging to my side D started leading the way and running ahead. V scraped her knees every other week in an effort to keep up with her older brother, and slowly started to balance on that small wall herself holding my hand. Then slowly she no longer needed to hold my hand, not even for the “super hero jump” at the end.

We get off the train at Harvard, after crossing the river and inspecting it carefully for any signs of boats. D doesn’t often sit on his knees to look out the windows any longer; he’s too busy reading comics. We hold hands to cross the street and go in the side door of the building.

When I’m the worship associate the kids help me set up the sanctuary since childcare doesn’t start until 45 minutes after I have to be there. We set out new candles, make sure the pulpit is set up and arrange hymnals in the right places. I lift up V to hang the hymn numbers and let D light the starter candles. They both scamper around the sanctuary like they own the place. I usually let V test to make sure the mics are working. And the kid who wouldn’t leave my side got up this year, with three of his classmates, and spoke into a microphone in front of the whole congregation.

One year ago I agreed to stay for an extra year. It’s been a year and I know I need to move on. But I can’t imagine my life without walking those two to church on Sunday mornings and watching them grow from the “big kids” they are now into even bigger kids. And I can’t imagine not having them to distract me from school when school is too much.

June 12, 2013

Human Ecological Religious Leadership

My “call”

In seminary the most common question after “Wait, that’s due TODAY?” is “so tell me about your call”; in other words, “when did you know you were called by God/god/the Holy Spirit/the Divine/some higher force to go into religious leadership?” I knew some folks who have a very definitive “call” story but for me it was a long series of revelations. What it boils down to is that I loved social justice work but I felt like there was something missing and, for me, that something was spirit of community.

Discernment

When I started seriously considering religious leadership as a career path I contacted the alumni office and asked for a list of any COA alums who had gone onto religious leadership. Recognizing that not everyone keeps in touch with their undergrad and still others may be highly active in religious communities without having attained a professional degree in the subject, it was still a disappointingly small list.

There were four names on it.

Now I know that College of the Atlantic is not a large school but even within that reality four is a small number of people. Organized religion is just not a huge part of the day to day life of students at College of the Atlantic; it wasn’t really a big part of my life when I started there in 2007. Over time, though, I found myself being pulled in that direction and grasping hold of the thought that ministry was not an incompatible goal within the context of human ecology. I even wrote my human ecology paper on the 7 principles of Unitarian Universalism as my personal definition of human ecology.

I took those names and happily one of the people, Paul, was a minister from my own denomination, Unitarian Universalism; we were able to talk on the phone and even meet up in person at our national denominational meeting the following June. Later, when I was accepted into the Master of Divinity program at Boston University School of Theology, Paul shared that news with his congregation during their sharing of joys and sorrows.

Religious Education

Boston University School of Theology isn’t like College of the Atlantic in almost any way. There are students, faculty, staff, and buildings but beyond that they are pretty dissimilar. I’m at one of the larger research universities in the country, sitting in lectures with nationally renowned theologians, and a member of the Boston Theological Institute which gives me access to all 10 divinity schools here in Boston and the surrounding areas. Martin Luther King Jr. went to seminary here as the school is so fond of reminding people.

When I walked in here on that first day of orientation I was met with the nervous energy of a bunch of adults acting like middle schoolers at that first dance where nobody wants to step into the middle and just go for it. If you’ll remember COA orientation it involves a scavenger hunt and jumping into the ocean. Seminary orientation involved prayer and a whole lot of Jesus.

Unitarian Universalism is unique in that it’s not a specifically Christian denomination that grew out of the merger of the Unitarians and the Universalists in 1961. We’re historically very liberal; both denominations have been ordaining women since the mid-1800s, openly gay people since the late 1970s, openly transgender people since the 1980s, and we’ve often been at the forefront of various social justice campaigns.

While at College of the Atlantic my identity as an openly transgender social justice activist was never a concern to almost anybody; in seminary I realized I had little in common with my classmates. There were a few gay and lesbian people, and a person here and there who clearly had some understanding of LGBTQ issues. I wasn’t suddenly thrown into school with a bunch of people who were going to try to save me from the sins of my homosexuality but I wasn’t with people who I felt like I could relax around.

Now THAT’S what I call Human Ecology

I have a therapist. I swear the first two things ministers tell you when you tell them you’re planning to go into ministry are 1) “don’t” and 2) “get a therapist.” So I have this therapist who said to try to treat school as an anthropological exploration. She wanted me to act as an outsider learning about this other culture without fully immersing myself in it if that was too painful. That’s not how I learned to learn in my time at College of the Atlantic. As human ecologists we don’t learn only by observing but by immersion and participation in community.

As a human ecologist I am asked to study how I and others interact with our natural and human-manufactured environments. Seminary is a human manufactured environment; we sit in rooms and learn how to read ancient texts, or how to talk to somebody about a crisis in their life, or how to evangelize (yes, that is an actual class and no, I don’t plan to put it into practice as it was taught). I cannot learn from the outside; I have to jump in and try to carve out a space for myself while respecting that others don’t see that space for me as valid.

So I’m here. Things have calmed down a little. People are used to seeing me around even if a number of them don’t really agree with my “lifestyle.” I know that my own denomination is fully supportive even if some of the people I’m in school with don’t understand how that could be. I am serving my denomination on a national level as the Young Adult worship coordinator and on a local level I help lead worship, work with children, and provide pastoral care for people going through difficult times.

The future

I’ve only just finished my first year so I don’t definitively know where I’m going in the future. If I could pick my ideal future career I’d serve as an associate minister with a focus on social justice. I’d be able to continue my social justice work through a ministerial context while still working within a congregational setting. I think the liberal faith voice is essential when “liberal” and “faith” are often pitted against one another in our national dialogues. My background as an activist is integral to my future as a minister and my education as a human ecologist is the lens through which I act in the world. College of the Atlantic has been a non-traditional but hugely beneficial platform from which to approach seminary.

May 21, 2013

Praying With Johnny and Other Thoughts from Trans Day of Celebration

I’ll admit to kind of rolling my eyes when the idea of the Transgender Day of Celebration was brought up. I agreed to take part in the service and did my bit to invite folks but I kind of figured it would be a bit of a letdown. “Who was even going to come to this?” was my primary thought. Secondary thoughts included, “I have nothing of value to say” and “why does my voice squeak so much when I’m nervous?” Tertiary to those was, “crap, I have to iron a shirt.”

I procrastinated on writing. I angsted to friends online, I convinced myself anything I had to say was crap, and finally on Saturday night I erased everything and started from the beginning. It was only 5 minutes of talking, it wasn’t like I trashed a novel I’d was almost done with.

I walked into the narthex of the church and dutifully found who I needed to. We did all the run through stuff and scribbled down some cues and just went for it. There was surprisingly little direction; mostly I think we all just assumed that we’d done enough church in our respective lives that we could pull off this service with all the advance planning Jamez had done. Which was totally true; the main folks in the service have done a LOT of church between us.

My reflection went well I guess. You can tell it’s a queer service when people give you snaps to affirm what you’re saying.

So much of my time preparing for this service had been put into trying to figure out how to encapsulate my trans experience, in relation to Psalm 139, into under 5 minutes that I had completely ignored that I’d agreed to offer personal blessings during the service.

I walked up to the front and the first two people who came up to me were people I, at the very least, knew somewhat well. I knew their names, I knew their pronouns, and I knew enough of who they were and what they were doing with their lives that I could somewhat tailor the prayer to them.

And then Johnny Blazes walks up and I’m like, “crap. Really?” Not because I don’t’ like Johnny. I think Johnny is awesome. I’m basically in awe of Johnny. I don’t, however, know Johnny very well. We travel in a lot of the same circles but, being an antisocial grad student who leaves the house only under extreme circumstances like “I’m out of coffee,” I’m not sure we’d ever had an actual conversation. I may have complimented their hair once at Trannywreck.

So Johnny comes up, we hold hands, I ask their pronouns and just kinda went for it.

I prayed. I probably said the word community like 20 times, asking that they be upheld by the community that they do so much to uphold, and it was all over pretty quickly. I mean, it’s a prayer, not a dying declaration. Shortness is okay.

Nobody else came up to me. I was fine with that.

I keep realizing how much personal prayer means to me. I’ve posted about it at least twice before here and here. It wasn’t something that spoke to me for a long time but I keep realizing time and again how important it is to me to be able to sit with somebody and be prayed for or to pray for them.

It’s another fucking growth opportunity, okay? I’ll work on it in seminary.

The rest of the Trans Day of Celebration was awesome. It was like all the best of my community all in one room doing awesome things. Red Durkin did some of the funniest stand up I’ve ever seen. Liam and Johnny and Bethel and Evan and so many other people sang songs that spoke to all of us and Evan’s kid stole the entire show, no questions asked, by singing part of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star with, I think… trigger warnings prefacing it. Evan’s kid is 2.

So basically what I’m saying is twofold: my thoughts are totally scattered and it was awesome.

The end!
Look, we sang This Little Light of Mine!

April 16, 2013

Let Yourself Mourn

I was stuck underground on the train for a good half hour today. A minor inconvenience in the grand scheme of things, seeing as there were literally explosions happening around a mile from where I was, but I didn’t know that. They kept making vague announcements about police activity and I figured somebody was shot. Eventually when the train moved it went through three stations without stopping. When I was finally above ground again and out of the immediate area my phone started buzzing with text after text. People asking if I was okay over and over, my housemates and friends and exes.

I stopped somebody on the street and asked if she knew what was happening. She said she didn’t, but that she was wondering too. We stood there trying to find information on our cell phones while I gave her son a pack of stickers I had in my bag to distract him. She was the first to find something. “Oh god.” She said, “a bomb went off at the marathon.”

Boston and Cambridge and Somerville and all the places I spend my time in have tons of young adults. All around me at the coffee shop I was at people were answering their cell phones with “I’m fine, mom, I’m fine” and “don’t worry, grandma.” The coffee shop decided to close as there were still reports that things might be happening in the area. I went with a church friend back to her house while things got sorted.

And it was kind of scary and kind of nerve-wracking and yet all too familiar. I’ve been through this before. We, as a country, have been through this before. September 11th happened during my first week of high school and I’ve never known this country as anything but a culture where my shoes are a threat at the airport but an assault rifle in someone’s car is normal.

I sat with my friend Jess and we watched the coverage, saw friends update their status to say they were okay, and waited for the public transit jam to let up so I could go home. It seemed normal and almost routine to not be more freaked out.

But while it may not be extraordinary in the grand scheme of the world and it may seem like more American self-centrism that we focus so much on this when so many more die around the world daily I can’t help but get a little defensive when people minimize the damage with statements like, “Did you know that 30 were killed in Afghanistan today? Puts things in perspective, doesn’t it?”

I mourn for all those lost in large, tragic displays of human violence and in smaller tragedies of cancer and car wrecks. I mourn because I am a person who values other people but it’s okay to mourn at a different level when the city you live in and love in is attacked.

My dear Bostonians, let yourself mourn if mourning is what you need to do. Let yourself mourn without guilt that your mourning is a ‘first world problem.’ Let yourself stand in community or solitude, whatever feeds your soul. Cry out to your God, or your gods, or simply into the stillness for an end to needless violence without worrying that you aren’t crying out for the ‘right’ things. Let yourself be grounded in resolve to work for peace and healing. Let yourself breathe.

April 15, 2013

A prayer after communion

A friend was preaching tonight at the local Metropolitan Community Church and since he’s somebody I have a lot of respect for and whose ministry I value, I went. I figured “it’ll be a lot of Jesus” which isn’t a bad thing but it doesn’t really mesh with my theology. I was right; it was a LOT of Jesus.

It was a really small service, maybe twenty people in the room all told, and I think I was personally greeted by at least ten of them before the service started. I finally agreed to fill out a visitor card just so they’d stop offering them to me. When reading through the order of worship before service I noticed that they were doing communion and looked around for an explanation of their communion practices.

I’m not as stringently anti-communion as I was when the school year started. I spent a good part of spring break reading about communion practices and came up with my own “guidelines” about when I would and would not participate in communion. Suffice it to say I didn’t figure that an MCC church would have any issues with my participation in communion.

Most denominations that do communion have the same general principle behind it and then mess with it just enough to be “unique” and to “confuse newcomers.” At this church it is common practice to take communion and then receive a short prayer.

Honestly I couldn’t figure out how to not participate. Everyone else was and I was confused so I just made sure to step to the side where my friend was praying with people since, hey, I trust the guy.

I’ve had some bad experiences with folks praying over/with/about/to me. Lots of praying out the demons of homosexuality, praying out the demons that cause me to be rude to my parents, the demons that make me cuss and, when I was 10, the demons that led to my owning a CD by Hanson (perhaps that prayer was justified). Two years ago I prayed with a chaplain at general assembly which sort of made me okay with the practice in theory but it really needs to be somebody I trust in order for me to really hear the prayer rather than focus on the ten kinds of awkward inherent in the situation.

Tonight I held the hands of a friend and minister and he prayed for me and, like I said, I trust him and I respect his ministry and he’s a good person. But the really touching part was that this guy knows me. He knows I don’t really do the Jesus thing much. So he fit the prayer to me. He didn’t end with “In Jesus name” he didn’t throw much (any?) God into the prayer, and there was no hierarchical “Lord.” He held my hands and he prayed for me in a way he knew I would find accessible.

I’m always collecting bits and pieces of what effective ministry looks like but I’m not some cyborg seminary student who simply collects information whilst ignoring emotional situations. I’ve had a pretty rough year and it was really touching to feel cared for and ministered to in a different way than usual.

April 11, 2013

Have you policed the trans community today?

policetranscommunity
For those unable to read the image:
Set up is a bingo board with a bluish purple background in a gradient from dark to light.

Title is “Have you policed the trans community enough today?”

Spaces read, from left to right, top to bottom
Real trans people aren’t excited about HRT
Born in the wrong body
“Trans Pride” is dumb
You aren’t trans if you don’t try hard enough
Genderqueer people don’t exist
Being trans isn’t something to be proud of
You aren’t trans if you didn’t hate your childhood
Living deep stealth is the only way to authentically experience
Real trans people aren’t gay/lesbian
Trans people don’t enjoy having sex “like their birth gender”
No real trans person would ever reveal their birth name
Trans people don’t belong at Gay Pride events
You aren’t trans without SRS
Nobody will take you seriously if you don’t change your voice
If you aren’t on HRT you are “just” a gay man/lesbian
You have to pack/tuck when you’re dressed up or EVERYONE WILL KNOW
Trans people are uncomfortable with their bodies at all times
All trans people hate swimming
You aren’t really trans if you like “playing with gender”
Trans men can’t be feminist
Trans women can’t wear jeans
Religious trans people are dumb; God messed up with your body
No real trans man wants to get pregnant
Real trans people want to date hetero cis people
Real trans people want to stop IDing as trans after they “fully transition”

February 23, 2013

My identity is the message I scrawl inside

I can’t write you each a thank you note
because there aren’t enough thank you notes in the world.
And I don’t have your address.
I think I lost it when I moved.
And a lot of you don’t have addresses any longer.
But let my body be that envelope
for that thank you note
and my men’s clothes the pretty picture on front
and let the simple fact that my identity exists
be the message I scrawl inside
thanking you
for all you’ve done for me.

For all the butches out there
but especially those first strong, fierce, bold women
who took their identity public
and political
and said “this is who I am” with their dapper hats and pressed shirts.
From the Beebo Brinkers
to the Leslie Feinbergs
to the unnamed women who kicked those stones out of the way
so those of us who came after them
didn’t have to tread quite as carefully.

Thank you

For all the femmes out there
who said, “oh honey, I love you exactly like you are,”
those fierce ass women who society loves to ignore
or fetishize,
for all of you who told the people I’d date in the future
that it was okay to date the girl
in the button up
and the ill-fitting men’s pants
and the too big boots
and thus led to too many flings and lots of loving embraces.

Thank you

For the drag queens
who said enough is e-god-damn-fucking-nough

Thank you

For the parents who chose love for their children
above societal expectations
and who dutifully plugged away in libraries and on websites
filled with outdated and incorrect information
only to make mistakes
and apologize
and still walk their kid down the aisle
toward her wife
or up the courthouse
after she was fired from a job she loved because other people were
too afraid of her.

Thank you.

For all of you who have been arrested
for being the fabulous queers you are
and for all of you struggling
to be fabulous queers while incarcerated.

Thank you.

For all my friends who didn’t outwardly flinch when I came out
and allowed me to have a life outside of being “the trans guy”
and who sang with me at open mics
and laughed with me while we crowded into our hallway
to watch bad TV
and who let me cry when the world got a little too tough.

Thank you.

For every one of the ministers
mentors
teachers
lovers in my life who has ever said “I believe in you”
whether they believe
in the current incarnation of me
or one of the many identities I’ve traveled through
to get to this spot.

Thank you.

For all my contemporaneous queers
who fight these fights
and accept these struggles
and lift each other up
when we get knocked down.

Thank you.

©Andrew Coate. Please do not share in full without linking back to http://www.thoughtsonblank.wordpress.com

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