Archive for October, 2010

October 31, 2010

This is your church. This is your church without professional ministry.

I love to count things. There are 36 window panes on the big, picture window in front of me at the library. There are 17 cars in the parking lot that I am looking down upon. There were 99 tiles on the ceiling in my 9th grade math class. There are currently 43 books on the shelf to my right, and the last six are not in alphabetical order.

Every Sunday, in church, I count how many people are there. Usually I do this during offering, or joys and sorrows, or sometimes (if my mind is drifting) during the sermon. I remember the number. Usually I jot it down on my order of service after I leave the sanctuary. Sometimes I just remember what it was. I’m sure it’s usually off by 2 or 3 people, but not more than that.

I also really, really like charts and graphs. Numbers can be hard for me, but charts and graphs just make so much sense. Hard, clean facts. Sometime after our minister left I gathered up a bunch of old orders of service (ok, so I’m something of a pack rat – sue me) and found ones that I had jotted down attendance on. I got 10 of them. Then each Sunday I would take down how many people were at church on a given week. I put these all into a Google Spreadsheet. I made a graph. I’ve chosen to share that graph with you.

I purposely cut off the numbers on the Y axis. They don’t matter. What matters is the actual graph. The purple line is from when we had a full time minister. 10 random weeks, spanning somewhere from December to mid April. I removed any holiday services from my calculations. The green line is 10 random lay led services. I figured that summer was not a good time for calculations, so these are all from May, September, and October. The short blue line is 5 services we had that were led by ministers though not by our minister.

Yes, professional ministry does matter. Even if it just matters to those few extra people, it matters. I didn’t pick numbers that I thought would make a good graph or prove my point. I put all the numbers I had into an online randomizer and took them in whatever order they gave them to me.

My point is this. Full time ministry did not hurt our church. Lay led services may be, or maybe they just need to get their footing, but the congregation likes having professional ministry. I think that little blue line is really telling – people show up when we are going to have a minister in the pulpit, even just for one Sunday. That means something, folks. Let’s let numbers do the talking.

October 31, 2010

Goodbye

I am leaving my church. And this isn’t some inane plea for me to stay, for me to stick it out, or for you to tell me that you love me and value me and want me there. I’m leaving. It is a statement of fact.

In a few hours I am heading to a church an hour away to see if I like it. I may or I may not. Two hours is a long way to drive for something I don’t love. I used to drive an hour and a half to get to the church I am currently a member of, when I lived further away. I did that because I loved it.

Love is a tricky thing. It doesn’t necessarily need to be two ways. I love my sunflower-yellow papasan chair that some friends gave me. It’s big and giant and I feel like I’m teeny when I sit in it. It doesn’t love me back, though. It’s just steady, and there.

I love my car, for as much grief as it gives me. It almost always starts, and it’s mine, and it’s one of the first big things that I got with entirely my own money. I’m proud of my car. And it carries me and my kayak and my sister and lots of books and a ton of trash. But it doesn’t love me back. (the argument could be made that it doesn’t even like me very much, but that’s OK).

But the church? Does it need to love you back? I think so.

I have put a lot of thought into this. Clearly I still love some part of the church.

But the church isn’t my big sunflower-yellow papasan chair, or my 1997 Subaru Outback wagon. Because the church, unlike my chair or my car, has to love me back.

I had a meeting with somebody last week. A person of power in my congregation. This was a bad meeting. I cried during it and I cried after. Prior to this meeting I had not given leaving the congregation any real thought since the weeks after our minister left. I had decided to stick it out. This meeting changed all of that.

I won’t say it’s the fault of the person who asked for the meeting. But she did articulate a lot of things that didn’t really put forward the church as a place I wanted or should be.

It started with me being accused of doing something to another member of the congregation that was in no way true. I was accused of yelling at a congregant who I have never spoken more than a vague pleasantry to. I explained that I was sorry that a certain situation was happening, but that I had nothing to do with it.

So what would you do about this situation if you were the minister?” she asked, knowing ministry is something I am considering. “I would have had 3 to 4 years of training to learn to deal with that.” I responded. She laughed. “I am not sure they teach that in seminary.” “I am sure they teach about inner-congregational conflict” I responded.

Then we started talking about the church in general.

When I brought up increasing YA membership I was told that they wouldn’t focus on it – not more than increasing any other demographic in the congregation. Ok, I thought, so it’s not a priority. Bummer.

And then the topic of our former minister came up. I was told that she only hurt the congregation. When I questioned this, stating that as a member of the congregation that was hurt only by the fact that she left, I was ignored.

And then I was told that the church would never get another minister who was “like” our former minister. Like her in preaching style, in ministry in general. They would not be getting somebody, in other words, who was similar to what I saw and experienced as really effective ministry.

And then? Then it came back around to me. To the fact that I am considering ministry. “Why?” she asked. “why do you want to go into ministry?” I stumbled for a minute, and said finally “it’s not really a want. I didn’t wake up and say, ‘I want to to be a minister.’ It’s more like something that just kept popping up until I finally agreed to at least look into it.” “Do you want to help people?” she asked. “that’s part of it.” “But not the difficult ones?” I didn’t respond. I never said that.

She kept asking questions, kept pushing back whenever I said anything. Finally I broke down crying. I tried to explain that going into ministry worries me. I look around and I don’t see too many genderqueer folks up in the pulpit. I have spent literal hours pouring over websites of UU congregations all over North America. I have googled and facebooked and twittered and read books and learned an awful lot in the past few months. There simply aren’t a ton of queer people in pulpits, compared to the percentage that appear to be UUA staff. So it’s not a WANT thing. I don’t WANT to make my life harder by picking a career in which my identity is likely to cause a lot of problems.

More was said. But I am assuming you all get the point. I don’t think the minister we had hurt the church, but I think that her leaving caused irreparable damage. I think it was a damn stupid move on the part of the church. I think it will not be easily repaired, or likely not repaired at all with current leadership. So I said I was done. I am leaving the church.

I don’t feel love when I walk in there anymore. There used to be this calming presence I felt when I walked in. The big, heavy doors that opened, the sanctuary, flooded with light even in winter from the windows all around. It was calming. Now it just feels like a building. That something that is missing?

Love.

October 23, 2010

DO. NOT. SMILE.

A couple of years ago when I was really concerned with passing as male on a day to day basis I posted on an internet forum asking for some help. I put up a couple pictures of myself and asked for clothing/haircut/glasses/whatever advice.

The first piece of advice I received?

“Don’t smile!”

Wait, what?

Smiling is apparently too feminine for trans guys. Our faces are already rounder than your “average” male and smiling emphasizes that. So, don’t smile.

But… but no! No, I want to smile thankyouverymuch!

For a world that prides itself on being open and accepting sometimes it feels even more rigid and binary than the typical world. You MUST do this and this and not this and that but NEVER that.

  • Stand straight so your shoulders look wider
  • don’t tilt your head
  • don’t wear this cut of shirt
  • don’t cut your hair like this
  • don’t put your hands on your hips
  • don’t carry your books in front of you
  • don’t wear any jewelry
  • don’t wear things that emphasize your neck/arms/hips

And that’s just appearance stuff

  • don’t laugh
  • don’t sing
  • lower your voice on the phone
  • don’t speak as much in public
  • don’t get excited
  • NEVER GIGGLE

CAN I BREATHE? IS THAT ALLOWED?

Recently I’ve been thinking about my trans identity, and what it means for me to identify in the ways that I do. For me to pass and not pass and make the decisions I do.

I laugh a lot, in public, and I don’t try to make it a “masculine” laugh (whatever that means). I smile when I want to. I sing in church. I gave up on lowering my voice. I do quite a bit of public speaking. I get excited.

I. Even. GIGGLE.

I know, I know, forgive me. Forgive me for not living up to your gendered expectations of what you THINK I want to live up to. For you, I offer a poem.

For all of those
arrested
by life’s gendered
illustrations

I offer you my body
in all of its wholeness

my too short hair
or too long hair
my skinny arms
without any hair

my day at the beach
in swim trunks
and a sports bra
and hairy pits

hey, you asked for it
you get it
all
all of me

my breasts, uneven
high and tattooed
pale and usually
unseen
by sunlight
moonlight
or by you

my stomach
not toned

my face
crinkled
in laughter
or tears

my legs
hairy but only
if you look closely

my hips
“childbearing”
if you ask my gynecologist
I know I didn’t
she offered that
without provocation

My eyes
apparently gorgeous
I don’t see it

So here you go world
here you are life
I present you with me
all of me

Take it or leave it
laugh at it or with it
love it or hate it
mock it like the boys a few yards over
question it like the parents
who won’t let their kids come see
our sand castle
decide it’s just
not for you

It’s not for you
it’s for me
I decided I’ll enjoy it.

SO THERE.

October 22, 2010

Support.

With my last post there were some people I was sure would support me. Some people I had talked to before about this a little (or a lot), some people I just know are good people who will usually support me in whatever crazy thing I decide I am doing this week, and some people who pop out of the woodwork occasionally to let me know that they think I am doing well at life.

Those responses are appreciated. And needed. And cherished.

It’s the friends who I was sure would be against this in its entirety that shocked me. In addition to posting this here, on my public blog, I posted on my private blog and on Facebook. One friend, in specific, I was… worried (for lack of a better term) about. We have somewhat fallen out of touch in the past year or so, but not for any real reason. Life just happened to both of us. I love her and her family dearly, and at various times I’ve stayed with them for weeks on end while I tried to make life work, or just while I escaped whatever state I was living in at the time.

She’s seen me though from moving from Los Angeles to Central California to Virginia to Maine. She’s seen me through coming out more than once. All with a gentle, kind, loving persistence, a very healthy amount of sarcasm, and a complete horror at the number of classic movies I haven’t seen (I don’t think The Hebrew Hammer counts at a classic, but that’s OK).

When I came out as trans to her her entire response was pretty much “no worries” (well, that, and “yeah, we were SHOCKED. Not.” though perhaps her husband said that.)

But the household is pretty… not anti-religious but they certainly don’t go to church. They hold their annual Not A Christmas Party on December 25th every year and eat latkes and watch some combination of non-holiday movies and things involving marvel comics. I’ve been present for a couple of rants they have had on church, religion, etc. Not a religious household by any stretch of the imagination is what I’m going for here.

So I posted on my private blog, which was somehow harder than posting on my public one. And she commented. And I almost didn’t want to open the email from her at first. When I finally clicked on it she’d said one thing.

“That is one king hell of an interesting consideration.”

So I texted her.

“Not so much seeing me in the pulipt? :-P”

“Exactly wrong. You’d be awesome.”

“Really?”

“Yep.”

Not what I was expecting, especially from this friend.

October 20, 2010

CONSIDERING. Key word here. CONSIDERING.

I have never been very good at kayaking. It’s something I love to do, and this summer I got my own kayak and it brought me dozens of lovely hours out on lakes and bays. This doesn’t change the fact that I am really not very good. I can never make a kayak to straight, never coordinate the paddles to go as quickly as my friends, get tired far faster than others seem to, and usually have at least a few bumps when I run into a rock in a shallow area or almost tip the kayak while reaching for my water bottle.

Like I said, I’m really not very good.

As a combined result of my love for kayaking and my complete inability to do it well I tend to spend a lot of summer hours alone in the middle of lakes wondering why on EARTH I purchased this stupid kayak in the first place because I suck at this. Of course, then I take the kayak out again the next morning or the next weekend and do it again.

There have been a lot of things in my life that seem to have followed this pattern, and many times I just convince myself that I will never succeed at something so I don’t even bother trying. The number of times that I almost dropped out of college is frankly astounding, and if they made it even a little bit easier to do then you can bet I’d have quit before my first year was up. There are conferences I never applied to present at, scholarships I never submitted my name for, and job offers that I didn’t take because they were too far, too skilled, too SOMETHING that I didn’t consider myself capable of.

And now I’m facing this problem, or this adventure, this SOMETHING. This conundrum. This THING that wont’ stop THUMPING ME ON THE HEAD. This THING that is jumping up and down in front of me, waving its hands and screaming “HEY HEY LOOK AT ME PAY ATTENTION TO ME LISTEN TO ME WHY AREN’T YOU LISTENING TO MEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE??????!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

I’m considering applying to seminary. CONSIDERING. Not making any decisions, not saying anything definitive or even close to it. But I am talking to people. Talking to ministers. Talking to friends. Talking and reading. Reading blogs, sermons, essays, articles, reading rules and regulations and statistics. Wondering where the hell this is coming from?

I posted before, months ago, that this was something I considered, and wanted, when I was in middle school. But I gave up on that. I said no because it wouldn’t happen and it couldn’t happen because of certain aspects of my identity that I couldn’t or wouldn’t or didn’t want to hide or pretend didn’t exist. And I was FINE with that no longer being a part of my future plan. I stopped thinking about it entirely for over 10 years. And then I met a queer minister. And then I met about 10 more. I realized that ministers can be, and are, people like me. That I don’t have to pretend that aspects of my identity don’t exist in order to MAYBE pursue this.

But I have to wonder if this is like kayaking and college, which I loved and loved to hate at times, or if this is like that time I decided that what I should really do with my life is work with kids with special needs, which has led to more nights of tears, more institutionalized bullshit regarding my identity and my imposing “immoral standards” on children, and more lost jobs or jobs never offered than I care to remember.

My friend says that she hates the words “should and shouldn’t.” She said this while I laid on her shoulder crying in the emergency room waiting area after a really, really bad day. I felt I shouldn’t have been mad about something, and she told me, basically, to shut up and just feel what I was going to feel. She was much nicer about it than I am making it sound. It was actually very sweet. Anyway.

It’s with THAT in mind that I am trying not to ask myself if I SHOULD do this.

CAN I do this? Maybe.

Would I, in ministry, be good for others? I don’t know. People generally like what I have to say, whether in or out of church. I have often been the one that people come to to talk to. But that doesn’t mean much.

Am I ready? Not even a little bit. I’ve been at the church less than a year (November 4th was when I went to my first service, January 20th was when I actually became a member). I have never been to GA, only been to maybe 5 services not at my home congregation. And, frankly, seeing what happened with the church last spring, getting rid of a minister I really liked, really respected, and really wanted to know better keeps making me doubt this. I can’t look at the situation and wonder if that’s where I will find myself. My minister was younger, queer, unique in her style, and had a lot of the same “politics” I do. The same views on queer issues, classism, racism, etc. We are, of course, not the same person. But we are damn similar in a lot of ways. Why would I fit in a church when she didn’t?

The more I think on this the more I think parish ministry. Because it was a big thing for me to walk into a church service and see somebody I could identify with up there. I think that a LOT more queer kids need to have that experience. It’s one thing to walk into a room for a talk on queer theological perspectives and hear LGBTQ people talk about their views on religion. It’s a different thing to walk into a sanctuary with a group of all different kinds of people and see a queer minister up there, talking to everyone, being heard by everyone. And in looking at stats and demographics from around the country the retention rate (ok, there’s gotta be a church word for that) for queer ministers? Seems pretty damn low. So I have to work through all of THAT stuff before I really look further into this. I know I’m not ready.

But SHOULD I? Who can really answer that.

There’s a whole ‘nother piece to this that is about religious institutions and uncovering a lot of bullshit from my past surrounding that, and how a LOT of my community has been hurt by religion. It is hard to consider something that will, almost definitely, remove me from a large part of my LGBTQ community. But that’s a topic for another post.

October 15, 2010

Dear Church

Allow me to introduce myself. I am a young adult member of your congregation. I may be the only young adult member of your congregation. I come every Sunday, or nearly every Sunday, and sometimes I volunteer to help out with stuff. Just here and there, nothing major. Or maybe I have led a service a time or two, or lit the chalice, or read announcements. And that one time, a few months ago, I helped lead an adult RE class, except nobody really came. But that’s ok.

Hi.

So here’s the thing, I really like coming to church and you really seem to like having me there. People come up to me after services and ask how I am doing and they remember things that have happened recently in my life.

I like that. It makes me feel like you care.

When I take part in a worship service people come up to me after and tell me that they liked what I had to say, or the songs that I chose, or that I have a great presence.

I like that. It makes me feel like you value my participation in the congregation and in the pulpit.

And when I share something during joys and sorrows you make sure to send me a card, or give me a hug, and tell me that it will be OK. You give me advice that, really, doesn’t help much because things have changed in the past 35 years. But that’s OK, because I know you mean well.

I like that. It makes me feel loved.

But there are other things that happen in our community that I don’t like so much. That make me feel like, maybe, you don’t quite get how to have younger people involved in the congregation.

Our church has almost no web presence. We have a Facebook page that some enterprising person set up but it’s almost never updated. I spend a lot of time on Facebook, and so do some of the other congregants. If we updated it more often it would be a lot easier for me to share with my friends. I almost never pick up the phone to say, “Hey, my church is having a cool worship service this week. You should come!” but if I can share something on facebook, or retweet something on twitter, my friends are more likely to read it. Social networking is big right now. I think our church should recognize that.

I don’t like potlucks. Or gardening. Food and flowers are all well and good, but I really wish there was another way for me to get involved. Why can’t we hold a wall painting party where we spruce up that awful brown wall in the community room, or maybe update the bulletin boards a little more often? Or we could have a movie some night that appeals to a more broad spectrum of people.

If I offer to hold an adult RE class, or agree to do one after being asked, don’t market it as “for young adults.” My voice deserves to be heard and it deserves to be heard by the entire congregation. I have done a lot in my 20-something years, and I’d like to share that with everyone. When you relegate me to a position of ONLY being able to talk to people in my age group it makes me feel like you don’t think I need to be heard by the whole congregation. Let me speak to everyone.

Please stop telling me how “cute” I am.

Understand that when you ask my ideas on getting more younger people in the congregation, and then I give those ideas, that the next step is for you to respond to those ideas in a productive way, even if that productive way happens to be, “right now our church probably can’t swing this, but what if we did X instead?” It would show that you want to use my ideas, even if they aren’t the right things right then.

Also? I do have a life outside the church, so sometimes I will miss a Sunday. My schedule is not as concrete as people who have steady jobs, families, or commitments. But just because I may miss a week here or there because I am out of state, out of town, or simply not out of bed doesn’t mean that I am not as committed, it just means that I’m committed in different ways.

I guess what I am saying is “keep doing what you are doing, but also, please change.”

Thanks for listening.

October 12, 2010

My National Coming Out Day Speech

First off, I just have to say this: Lisa, I swear, I don’t actually mention and/or quote you in everything I write.  I just happen to mention you in this, and in my phoenix sermon.  Please don’t think I’m a total creeper.

——————————————————————–
This is the speech I delivered at the Bangor, Maine National Coming Out Day Rally
——————————————————————–

This is a repeat after me phone number!

1 – 866 – 4 – U – TREVOR

Alright, now, take notes because there is a test at the end!

Fabulous! Hi, my name is Andrew Coate and I am a member of The Trevor Project’s Youth Advisory Council. The Trevor Project is a national suicide lifeline for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer or Questioning youth. We offer free, confidential phone counseling to youth who may be feeling depressed, isolated, or suicidal.

There are also Trevor Project members around the country who are trained to facilitate our Lifeguard Workshops that bring awareness to LGBTQ suicide and bullying. We present in schools, community centers, places of worship… pretty much anywhere we are invited! If you are interested in having a lifeguard workshop in the ellsworth/mdi/bangor area please feel free to come up to me afterward!

There has been a lot of attention around LGBTQ Youth Suicide in the media lately but it’s important to remember that this is not a new phenomena. So speak up, speak out,and be proud of who you are. And remember, the trevor project is always there if you need us!

Now, to that test!

(I threw lollipops to the people who answered these)

Who can tell me the Trevor Project Phone number!

Who can tell me what our workshops are called?

Who can tell me how you should get in touch with me?

Who wants a sucker?

Thank you SO much

Now, excuse me for just one minute.

 

 

 

 

 

 

At this point I removed my Trevor Project shirt

My name is Andrew Coate and in addition to being a representative of The Trevor Project I also wear a lot of other shirts. I am genderqueer, I am pansexual, I am a recent college graduate, an activist, and I am totally, unapologetically , and compassionately in love with the world.

I came out as a lesbian in 8th grade, though I didn’t choose to tell my family at that time. Over the years my identities have become both more grounded and more fluid, moving from lesbian to transgender male to genderqueer to just out and out queer.

When I was asked to speak today I wasn’t sure what I would say. Should I talk about my family? My activism? My school? My ridiculously long final project at college on the No On 1 campaign and the reasons we lost?

I sent out some texts to some friends that said, if I remember correctly, “AGHHH WHAT DO I SAYYYYY WHAT DO I DO I AM GOING TO FAIL AHHHHHH”

Again, more or less.

I got a lot of suggestions from “talk about the importance of your allies” to “tell the story of how you came out as transgender” to “Why legislation matters.”

One friend finally said, “Honey, just speak from your heart.”

So I decided to go with that. And talk about church.

Today I am coming out. Not as LGBTQQIAAbcdefg… but as a loud and proud liberal religious person who is, as I said, totally and compassionately in love with this world. Coming out as queer to this crowd is easy. None of you, for the most part, are going to say anything bad or negative. Coming out as religious is harder. The LGBTQ community has been hurt a lot by religions. There is almost a visceral reaction to religions in many parts of the LGBTQ community.

Which is unfortunate.

I have been rejected a lot by family, friends, and communities for various reasons, some having to do with my identities and some not. I was really in to church in middle school, a very evangelical Christian church, and when one of the pastors there found out that I had come out at school they tried to “cast out of the sin of homosexuality” from my soul. It didn’t work very well. I left the church.

I left all church. I left religion. I was emphatic that I did Not Need That In My Life.

What I did need in my life, what everyone needs in their life, is community. Community that is tolerant and open and accepting and affirming of you and your life choices and your decisions and is willing to say “I do not get why you are doing what you are doing but I support you in it.”

For a lot of people that community comes from friends. For many others it comes from family. For some it comes from a sports team, a college, or your every other Thursday night punk knitting club.

For me I finally found that community in religion. Not specifically in my church, but in religion. In a religion full of good people who want to be good people. In a religion of people who have, as their first principle, their first “standard” that they try to live up to, “the inherent worth and dignity of every person.”

Every. Person. That means me, and that means you, and that means that guy at work who keeps keying your car RIGHT across your rainbow bumper sticker no matter how nice you are to him every morning. Every person is inherently worthy. Every person deserves dignity.

Do you know how powerful that statement is? How powerful that would be to a LGBTQ or questioning young person who has NOBODY affirming them? How much that could, and does, mean to people who have been rejected for their identity?

Do you know how powerful that was for me the first time I read it?

You. YOU are worthy. You. Exactly and precisely how you are. Right now.

You are worthy of a community that loves and supports you.

Don’t be afraid to look into alternative communities. Communities that might not pop to mind first thing when you think “accepting of LGBTQ people.” Knitters. Ornothologists. Kickball teams.

Churches.

We have GOT to stop having these visceral “no that CAN’T be right because of x, y, and z and also because it’s just NOT how things work” reactions to things. We have to stop!

Maybe is has been how things have worked for all of forever and then some, but things change. We change. People change. Society changes.

Yes, it is national coming out day. So come out, today.

You are NOT only gay, straight, lesbian, bisexual, queer, questioning, transgender, pansexual, or any other identity. You are not only one thing.

You are a , fabulous, wonderful, amazing human who cares about change, about love, about yourself and your friends. You are beautiful. You are SO many things. Come out as ALL of your identities! Let people know that you are a lesbian, who really likes thai food, who has dreams of becoming a united states senator, who recently completed a complete diagram of the human digestive system using only recycled soda pop cans. ALL of you is interesting.

My name is Andrew Coate. I am queer, I love to read, I am a little bit in love with Barack Obama, and I am a Unitarian Universalist.

The Reverends Lisa Kemper and Janet Parker recently made a youtube video for the It Gets Better Project. I leave you with their words. “God made you. In all of your wholeness. In all of your gayness. In all of your fabulousness. God made you and God loves you and God wants you to be here. And we want you to be here.”

As we say in church, Blessed Be.

As we say LGBTQ spaces, be fabulous.

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