Archive for August, 2011

August 29, 2011

Influence and Discernent and… have I mentioned I hate puppets?

Sorry to all my UUs out there. And my childhood ministers. To the people who have sat with me for hours and listened to me discern or complain or cry. To the folks who have offered prayers in times of need, hugs in time of excitement or fear, or hundreds upon hundreds of Facebook comments offering advice, love, support, or joy.

I’m sorry because the most influential minister in my life was Mister Rogers.

How cliché, right?

I mean, really. This is turning into a “someone I admire” essay for my 4th grade teacher.

But I grew up in a not-so-awesome home. With a mom who was more concerned with drinking and the various men in her life than making sure her kids were being imparted with lessons like “you’re important.” With teachers who had little time to do more than control chaos. With a neighborhood that had more gang violence than picnics. And with grandparents who possibly did the best thing they could have done for me by accident; putting me in front of the TV on the mornings they watched me.

Oh, the other thing you have to know about this is that I hate puppets. HATE THEM.

Got it? Okay then.

I guess I learned some concrete things from Mister Rogers Neighborhood; what break dancing was, how crayons and bike helmets were made, and things of that nature. But mostly I learned compassion. And I learned that some adults wanted me to be curious, to question things I didn’t understand, and that I had things to teach other people. I learned that it was okay to be me, and that it was okay for other people to be who they were. I learned that it was okay to cry if I needed to; in fact, I had an adult man telling me so! I hated the Land of Make-Believe. Would turn off the sound during that part and grab a book to read so I didn’t have to look at the puppets. But I would keep the TV on so I could watch for when he came back, so he could feed his fish and say good bye and sing that he’d see me tomorrow.

Mister Rogers wasn’t a TV show for me. I didn’t really like TV. I liked the escapism that books offered me far more than any TV show. I learned to read at a really young age, mostly teaching myself, and I found a lot more comfort and safety in curing up in a corner with a book than sitting in the open living room with the TV on. I made the exception for Mister Rogers, though.

I think it’s fairly common knowledge now that Mister Rogers was an ordained Presbyterian minister; he was a deeply religious man that felt his calling was to show love and compassion and equity and kindness to all people, most specifically to children. He was a man of extraordinary heart who often showed that there was worth to every single person. He is quoted saying:

Those of us who are in the world to educate, to care for young children, have a special calling. A calling that has very little to do with a collection of special possessions, but has a lot to do with the worth inside of heads and hearts. In fact, that’s our domain; the heads and hearts of the next generation, the thoughts and feelings of the future.

When I think of who had the most straight-on religious impact on me the answer is probably the minister who brought me back to church, introduced me to UUism. But the minister who had the most theological impact on me? Unquestionably it’s Fred Rogers. The man who taught me to be curious, to never be satisfied with being treated as less than instead of equal to, and the person who sat with me morning after morning and sang to me and talked to me and told me that I was good, and I was worthy, and I was perfect as who I was, not as who others wanted me to be.

I do not want to be a minister because of Rogers. But I want to, in some small way, pay forward what he gave me. I cannot think that I will have the love and courage and wholeness to live each day with the sheer serenity that Rogers showed throughout his life in every interaction, recorded then or years and years later as a remembrance to his holy work. I can, however, hope and strive to use his words, his actions, and his strength of character to encourage me to be my best self.

August 25, 2011

It’s a… child! The lowdown on (some of) those wacky genderqueer folks.

There’s been quite a bit of talk over the past few years about transgender children. There was a 20/20 special on the topic, a Dr. Phil episode, any number of blogs, and people coming down for, against, and smack dab in the middle.

These stories have a, well… predictable flow.

Part 1: introduce little girl playing either a) in the waves in a bathing suit or b) with very stereotypically girly toys. Child is cute. It is “revealed” that, dun dun DUN, this child was born male.

Part 2: Introduce solemn parents sitting on couch. They talk about a) how happy they were to have a little boy, b) how at a very young age the child would try to mimic long hair, make frightening comments about his penis, and make some grown up sounding comment about God/The Universe hating him. They take child to doctor/run google search/see something on TV and realize that their kid is trans.

Part 3: The little boy is allowed to become a little girl which involves growing out their hair and buying a few dresses and coming out at school.

Part 4: Kid is interviewed and says that they are trans and they are much happier as a girl.

Part 5: YAY HAPPY KIDS, some vague talk about hormones/hormone blockers when the kid is older, cut to commercial and we’re out.

The Transgender Experience in 7 minutes!

The story runs pretty much the same if it’s about adults. Woman (it’s almost always a trans woman) tried to live as Very Stereotypical Male for her whole life, it didn’t work, came out to wife/children, is much happier now.

But for how many people does this rhetoric not fit? This “I was born in the wrong body” story that so many are now familiar with? It is what trans folks “have” to say if they want to get hormones from most any psychiatrist.

In the DSM there are two criteria for Gender Identity Disorder.

  • Long-standing and strong identification with another gender
  • Long-standing disquiet about the sex assigned or a sense of incongruity in the gender-assigned role of that sex

Basically you have to hate your own body, and covet the bodies of the other sex. And this better be a long lasting, inflexible thing in your life. It’s probably best if you tried to cut off your penis in the shower as a 3 year old.

This is the life story for a lot of trans folks – a huge discomfort with their assigned gender since birth, and a need to live completely and unquestionably as the opposite gender for the rest of their life. That’s fine. But that is not my story, and it isn’t the story of a lot of my friends. The trans and genderqueer folks who I know and love and talk with who are just as tired of this rhetoric as I am. Who don’t identify as either gender or DO identify strongly as one gender over the other but not so much that they hate their body. Who, well… like themselves.

It’s tricky to voice these feelings in trans communities – it sounds like I am saying that trans children shouldn’t be allowed to transition, or that the folks who don’t love their bodies are not as good or not as whole or not as spiritually advanced or not as something. That isn’t the case.

The problem is that those are the only stories being presented by any sort of mainstream media. And if that’s the case then what happens to the genderqueer kids? The little boy who may voice something about wanting to be a girl and the parents, being liberal minded and Aware Of Such Things, decide that the kid must be trans? What if that little kid is a girl… some of the time? Or most of the time? Or actually just REALLY likes skirts? Is that kid’s story less valid? It certainly isn’t being presented anywhere.

I may start hormones some day. I may not. There are good things and bad things to look at and, frankly, I’m actually not all that unhappy with who I am right now. I wish a few more folks who get the pronouns “right” but, seriously, it’s not that big of an issue until they are doing it purposely to be disrespectful. I certainly wish that more clothes fit me well and looked how I want them to but that wouldn’t change with hormones.

Accept your kids. If your kid really was born in the wrong body? Then let them take the steps to fix that – facilitate their journey as their parent. If your kid wants to wear sneakers and a skirt and a baseball jersey to school picture day? Fight like hell to make sure they can without teasing or stigma attached. If your kid identifies as a diehard lesbian all through high school, lives as a male for most of college, and grows up to be a high-femme bisexual woman who marries a cisgender man and has 2.4 children and a house with a white picket fence? Then that works, too.

We don’t keep one identity for our whole lives – almost every identity you have will shift and change and grow. That is OK. It’s all OK. It will all be OK. Breathe.

August 20, 2011

And a small cupcake will guide them

Today I worked almost a 12 hour shift and by the time we’d closed and I’d walked to the train station and found a bench I was exhausted. I’d JUST missed the train I needed so I knew I’d have awhile to sit. I pulled out my book and settled into the bench to read a little. I don’t actually mind waiting for trains as long as I’m not running late so, while I was tired, I wasn’t particularly annoyed.

Less than a minute after I’d sat down a family of five walks into the station, and two of the children and the mom sat down next to me, while the dad and the oldest boy stayed standing. The dad seemed to be on an ongoing tirade about same sex marriage. For a few minutes I pretended to ignore what he was saying, until finally I was fed up.

I put my book in my lap and said, “Sir, you totally have the right to think and say what you like, but I had a long day at work and I’m tired of hearing how immoral I am. Would you mind finishing your tirade later?” Seeing the somewhat angry look on his face, and knowing I wasn’t in the mood for any kind of a fight or a lecture, I quickly tried to figure out some peace offering.

“Also,” I said, not pausing to wait for his retort, “Would any of you like a cupcake? We had tons left over at work.”

The two younger kids, seated on the bench next to me, looked at their dad. By now he just looked confused, no longer angry, and definitely unsure what to think of me.

“Can we have a cupcake, dad?” asked the younger girl. He shrugged, and they both looked back to me. I gave them a pack of four cupcakes, and they grabbed them and said thank you. The mom asked where I worked, I told her, and we laughed that one of the perks and drawbacks of working at a coffee shop was the amount of free pastry available.

I asked them if they were visiting Boston for the first time, and the dad said that he’d been before but it was the kids’ first time. We talked for over 10 minutes about Boston, and Los Angeles (where I am from) and Tennessee (where they are from) and what kinds of things to see in Boston. I looked up an address on my phone for them. We laughed that we could see into one of the hotel rooms across the street and it looked like they were jumping on the bed.

I asked what they were up to the next day, and they said that they hoped to see the Aquarium and maybe do a Duckboat tour. Needing to just sneak one little jab in there I invited them to join me at church the next morning; their faces were predictably confused.

And a couple minutes later their train came. They all said goodbye to me, the kids thanked me again for the cupcakes, and that was that. We all, at least, left the interaction smiling.

So did I change any minds forever? Who knows; probably not drastically.

Did they get to hear a different position on the same sex marriage debate? Nope.

Did I bring up politics or the real injustices that gay people face or quote any bible back at them about equality, love, and compassion? Not even a little.

Because did I mention I’d worked an almost 12 hour shift? That I’d been out of the house for fifteen hours? That above all I was tired and just wanted to not listen to somebody bashing me and my family? That really was my initial motivation.

I’m so tired of fighting and fighting and fighting; of having the same argument with the same people and the same counterarguments flying my way. And I also do firmly and wholeheartedly believe that he did have the right to be saying what he was saying. I just didn’t want to listen, and I also didn’t really want to move.

So I offered what I had – cupcakes and advice about the city of Boston.

And, lo, it worked. They, of course, played a part too. They didn’t lecture me, or ignore my request, or target me. They accepted cupcakes from a stranger who they recognized they had been saying bad things about mere seconds before. They were interested enough, or at least feigned interest, in what I had to say, and I listened as they told me about their home back in Tennessee. We all chose to interact on that human level. That whole I-Thou thing we talk so much about.

So what’s the takeaway here? Always carry cupcakes seems impractical.

But maybe, “always be willing to approach an issue in a new way.” may be worth looking at.

Or, perhaps, “people don’t like being yelled at.”

Or maybe, just maybe, something about the inherent worth and dignity of all people? Or exercising justice, equity, and compassion in human relations?

Right, those pesky first and second principles.

I’ve been trying this thing recently, just in the past couple of months. When something upsets me I figure out what my first reaction is, and I don’t do that. I wait a minute and think, “ok, how else can I deal with this situation?” It’s led to some really neat conversations and interactions, and this is a really fun and concrete example of one.

I, like most anybody I can think of, am just tired of politics and rhetoric. I don’t want to have the same argument about the over 1400 rights that married couples have in the US. I don’t want to talk about how trans people can be fired just for their identity. I don’t want to bring up LGBTQ youth suicide rates, instances of bullying, or any of the other stuff that are the go to talking points for “dealing with” the anti-LGBTQ crowd. I want to have these conversations in new and different ways; or maybe, instead of having “those: conversations, I want to talk to people about their families and I want to let them know who I am; that I am more than a ballot question that they vote against.

So no, I probably didn’t change their minds. And I will be shocked beyond belief if they show up to church tomorrow. I have no doubt that they will go back to their Independent Fundamental Baptist church in Tennessee (I’m not making assumptions; they told me) and nod along with the minister if anything anti-gay is said from the pulpit.

But we didn’t fight. We DIDN’T FIGHT. That’s a step, right? Please, let it be a step.

August 17, 2011

Please stop asking when I’m going to seminary.

I know it seems counter-intuitive – after all, I talk about it all the time on my blog so I must want to talk about it all the time with individuals, right?

But the truth is that I’m scared. I am scared that I can’t do it. That I can’t get into any halfway decent school because I’m not smart/don’t test well/went to a weird school for undergrad. I’m scared that nowhere will want me and the plan I’ve been building up for my future will be shot down before it even gets started and I won’t know what to do. I’m scared that just through the admissions process they will somehow see “the real me” that even I don’t know about and just intuitively know I am “not minister material.”

I’m terrified that even if I did get in I wouldn’t be able to afford it because of my crappy finances and student loan troubles. That I’d have to give up on it because I won’t be able to scrape together the money to pull it off.

And what if those two hurdles disappear, and I realize I can’t do it? I can’t “do” the biblical history classes or the polity classes or whatever and I just fail? What if I’m just simply not smart enough to do it all and I realize it’s not for me.

Are we sensing a theme here, folks?

So many things terrify me about the whole process. Pretty much every step terrifies me. Beyond what I’ve mentioned above…

The idea of the RSCC terrifies me – that I could go through almost 2 years of school and then have them say “yeah, no, you suck.” The MFC terrifies me – that, hell, I could finish school, have completed all or nearly all the steps and still be told, “No.” It terrifies me that at nearly every step that there is one group or even one person who can decide “yes” or “no” and have that be, essentially, the final answer.

And it scares me beyond what I can articulate that I may be able to get through all of that, with the applications and the paperwork and the committees and the internship and the actual school part of it and then, just… not have a place to work.

My identity is still a big barrier for a lot of folks and I recognize and even appreciate that. But it scares me. Just like every other step of this process, it scares me.

It’s pretty much recognized and accepted among friends (and I suppose most who read this blog regularly) that I intend to go into ministry. That is true, I do. I have stopped using “maybe” because, really, I wasn’t fooling anybody. I want to do it; if other things or people stand in my way then I may not, but it won’t be because I don’t want it or decide against it at this point. But the blocks do seem stacked against me.

But what I said above? That’s not what people want to hear when they ask where I am in my discernment process. They don’t want to hear “well… here are the seventeen and a half itemized reasons it won’t work complete with subcategories and footnotes.” At least, I assume that they don’t and even if they do I don’t really want to go through it with every person. Because I don’t want to hear, “I’m sure you’ll be fine.” Or “everyone is nervous when they start out!” or any other platitudes that don’t carry meaning. You don’t know that I’ll be fine, that I’ll find the money somewhere, that I’d be great in ministry, that a congregation will call me, that a school will accept me, that I’ll find an internship or any of the other myriad of things you’ve promised me. You don’t know that. You may have faith that I will, but you don’t know it.

Thank you so much for caring; for asking where I am and what I need. But what I need right now needs to come from within.

(also, do you REALLY think you won’t all know immediately?  I mean, really – through some combination of twitter, facebook, this blog, texting, emails, or (for a very select few) exuberant phone calls… I promise, you’ll know)

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