Archive for ‘spontaneity’

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

February 7, 2013

“Love the new look.” Coming out to my middle school science teacher.

Last week I was working with a group of high school seniors and I made them brainstorm on a teacher, or teachers, who had made a positive impact on their lives prior to high school.  The “prior to high school” caveat was mainly because they were all still in high school and I wanted them to think back.  We talked about what makes a good teacher and eventually settled on the answer, “it’s the little things.”  Then I made them look up an email address or, if needed, a physical address of a teacher they remembered had made an impact on them though “the little things.”  We wrote letters, by hand and on computers, thanking those teachers for what they’d done, detailing that “little thing,” and updating them on where their former students were now and where they hoped to go in the future.

They told me I should do it, too, so I sat there contemplating the question.  I’d certainly had some great teachers and I’d had some really awful teachers.  Most of the good teachers were in high school and college and certainly not all of my “teachers” have been in schools.  But middle school had a dearth of teachers I felt like cared at all.

I got caught up in the rest of the day and didn’t really plan to follow through with sending off a letter and forgot about it until I got home and turned on my computer.  I had a Facebook friend request from somebody who had bullied me mercilessly in middle school.  I couldn’t figure out why she’d want to be friends; this was a girl who scribbled “fag” all over my backpack and was such a “nice girl” in front of the teachers that, when she told one of them I’d copied her test rather than the other way around, I failed and almost didn’t pass math.  And how had she found me?  I’d changed my name since middle school and there was no way she should have known to look me up.  I considered, strongly considered, sending her a nastily worded message about how bad she’d made my life.

It got me thinking again about those teachers who hadn’t done the right thing and played into the idea that bullies have low self-esteem and let them get away with murder.  Then I remembered an incident on the playground before school; this person was bullying me and my science teacher came up to us and completely diffused the situation.  I started thinking about that letter I hadn’t written.

I searched out my middle school’s website just to see if she happened to still work there.  She did.  I grabbed the letter format I’d made my high schoolers use and started to write.  Almost immediately I realized that I’d either have to come out as transgender to this teacher or use only my legal name and an old email address to avoid coming out.

I came out to her; I figured I lost nothing if she never responded, or thought it was spam, or didn’t care, or just never saw the email.  I explained why I was writing, thanked her for standing up to a bully for me that one morning (the little things!), let her know where I’d gone to undergrad and where I was in grad school, and signed off.

Less than fifteen minutes later she sent me a friend request on Facebook.

Okay, so much for her never seeing it, or not responding, or not remembering who I was.

So I did what I do.  Sent her a Facebook message.  “That was an awkwardly fast response to a completely random email.”  She responded that she’d been avoiding grading.  And we started chatting.  She had family in Maine and Boston, relatives associated with Unitarian Universalist Churches.

Then she said, “love the new look.”  I made some sarcastic comment about moving quickly from Dykesville to Tranny Town after high school but inside I was saying, “Oh, thank you, God.”  She was fine with it; it was a nonissue.

I don’t know why it mattered.  This wasn’t somebody I’d even really thought of since I left middle school and had she never responded to my email I wouldn’t have really thought about it.  And if there HAD been some issue with it then, hey, what did it matter?  She was my science teacher, for one year, thirteen years ago.  I’m pretty sure in the prioritized list of “people who need to accept my gender identity” that’s… pretty low.

I’m at the point in my life where I’m not closeted to anybody I’ve met in the past five years and anybody from before that who I’m friends with in any capacity online.  I’m out to my parents and my siblings and a couple high school teachers who I’ve stayed in contact with.  But because Facebook didn’t become public until after I left high school I never ended up friends with almost anybody I went to school with.  Anybody who tries to seek me out now won’t find me under my legal name.

Therefore anybody I contact from before I transitioned I have to make that choice with.

Should I come out to you?

Are you safe?

Does it matter?

Sometimes the conversation is great.  This teacher was wonderful about it.  Last time I came out to a former teacher she was… less okay with it.  She’s come around, and we’re fine now but her initial reaction hurt.  A few people never questioned me when I changed my name online while others asked about it and then never brought it up again.

But it will always be the little things that make the biggest impact.

“Love the new look.”

November 16, 2012

Corrupting the Future of America

I live with a couple of absolutely amazing kids.  DangerLad is 5 and AdventureLass (their parents’ picked the nicknames) is 3; I’ve known them since they were born and they’re tons of fun and I’ve lived with them for almost two years now.  DangerLad, at least, knows that I’m not a “regular” boy, or he did at one point but sometimes he wants it explained again.  It comes up really infrequently with him and is definitely not a part of our day to day conversations.  AdventureLass, frankly, is a three year old.  She just knows me as Andy and that’s enough for her.

Last night I took the kids out to dinner.  It was just a chain restaurant but they’re young enough that it’s still a big treat.  AdventureLass was sitting on my lap and asked what the button on the collar of my shirt said.  I took it off and pointed to the words as I read them.  “Trans Rights Now.”  DangerLad piped up with, “what’s that mean?”

It’s Transgender Awareness Week which ends in the Transgender Day of Remembrance so I wore my button from the Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition to class.  AdventureLass, being three, is interested in anything shiny.  But DangerLad, at the ripe old age of 5, wanted to know what the shiny thing meant.

This is where I feel like people get hung up on explaining stuff to kids.  They’re afraid that they’ll scar the kid, or that the kid isn’t ready to have their questions answered.  This is how I’ve chosen to explain being trans and the fight for equitable rights to the kids; I know that they won’t understand every word but hearing a message of inclusion is important.  Their parents have never specifically asked how I’ve explained my identity to them but their kids seem no worse for the wear and they trust me to answer the other questions the kids ask… so why not these?

When people are born their parents or their doctors either call them a boy or a girl and usually those little baby boys grow up to be big boys and then men and usually those little girls grow up to be big girls and then women like your mommy and daddy.

Sometimes, however, those baby boys don’t want to grow up to be big boys or men; they feel like they aren’t really a boy.  Maybe they feel like a girl, and maybe they don’t feel like a boy or a girl, so they might dress differently or cut their hair differently than people think a boy should.  And sometimes those baby girls don’t want to grow up to be big girls or women so they might dress more like boys and maybe cut their hair.  That’s called being transgender, or trans.

Some people are mean to trans people because they think they look different or sound different but that’s not nice.  In church we learn that EVERY person is important and that we should be kind in everything that we do and that we should treat everybody fairly.  That is what a “right” is – treating everybody fairly and being kind to everybody and not just the people who are just like you.  So “Trans Rights Now” means that transgender people, or trans people, deserve to be treated fairly like everybody else.

This isn’t, of course, verbatim what I said.  I checked in with DangerLad a couple times to make sure he understood, and he asked a few questions that led to short tangents.  It was more of a conversation than a lecture.  But… yeah.  That’s how I explained being transgender to a 5 year old.  He’d heard most of it before, in various ways, but it never hurts to repeat it.  It also never hurts to answer questions.  And as he gets older I’m sure he’ll have more questions that either I, or his parents, will answer.
So yes, folks, this IS the gay agenda.  We corrupt children over cheap faux-Mexican food.  Be afraid.

February 11, 2012

Let’s Hold a Revival

Let’s find a field in the middle of nowhere.  Preferably in a “flyover” state.  Maybe somewhere in the Midwest just to really mess with our “northerner” sensibilities.   Let’s find a field and let’s pitch a tent.  And maybe put up a little stage, but that’s totally optional.  Let’s make sure we can have bon fires, though.  Those aren’t optional.

Let’s invite the best and the most passionate of the “up and coming” folks in our denomination to come and preach.  Let’s make sure we arrange for folks to be able to carpool and let’s bring tents.  We all own tents now, after OccupyEverywhereInTheFreakingUS.  So let’s break out those tents again and let’s camp.  Let’s be alive in our faith without worrying that we look silly or ridiculous or too passionate.

Let’s hold a revival.

I’m thinking August 2013.

Who’s in?

December 11, 2011

A Whole Lot of Life

Occupy Boston has been evicted. I will, for the foreseeable future, be sleeping in my own bed. It’s not the end of the movement, at least that’s our mantra, but when I stopped by this morning to see it leveled and behind its own type of bars I had to cry. Just for a little, just because transition is hard. And then the police escorted me away.
At church we say, “our worship has ended, our service begins.”

Our physical occupation has ended, the next phase of our movement begins.

But it is so hard.

It’s been an amazing, hard, beautiful, hard, awe-inspiring, hard, flat out gorgeous experience. It’s an experience that I wish so fervently I never had to participate in but… damn. Damn.

I went to the jail where the women were being held this morning. We hugged and sang as people were released. We moved on. We marched to the jail where the men were being held. We hugged more, we sang more, and we waited. I stood by the exit, handing out food to each released protester and letting them know where to get something to drink, people with a charged phone, and a spot to be away from the media.

It wasn’t warm today in Boston, and even though I’m now starting my fifth winter in New England I wasn’t dressed appropriately. I left the house in that marginally frantic “I have somewhere so much more important to be” mode. I also forgot to eat for a good portion of today and I didn’t drink any water from the time I left the house until I got home.

(Self-care is on my to-do list, I promise.)

I was one of the point people for organizing a multireligious solidarity service prior to our first post-raid General Assembly. We wanted to call folks together, let them air some of their pain, let them be heard prior to entering a very procedural meeting. We wanted to continue the faithful, religious, spiritual voice that had been part of the Occupy Boston movement since before Dewey Square was even occupied. We weren’t leaving now.

I can only hope the service provided something of that space. I was so cold, so tired, so dead on my feet by that point that I don’t remember almost anything of what I said. I know we sang a lot. Snippets stand out; taking a minute to breathe while one of our wonderful and involved priests took the service in her way-more-capable hands for a few minutes, encouraging people to keep singing as somebody was screaming behind us, and making eye contact with friends who I didn’t know were coming and feeling reassured.

But it still felt so final.

The movement meant so much to so many people, but to me it meant that I’m in the right place in my life. I’m doing what I need to be doing. I feel good about who I am, where I am, what I am doing and where I am going. I’m proud of the decisions I’m making and I’m thrilled to be with the people I spend my time with.

I’m not always happy with the decisions that Occupy Boston folks made, autonomous action or not, but I’m thrilled with the role that I, and the Protest Chaplains, have played. I’m thrilled with what we’ve done with what we’ve had. I can’t wait to see what we do next.

After, of course, we sleep.

December 5, 2011

Consent Done Well.

Sometimes it smacks me in the face that I’ve immersed myself in queer/radical sex/culture for a long while. It will come as a shock to me that not everyone practices radical and explicit consent in their relationships. Somebody, even a close friend, will touch my leg or go in for a hug without asking and I’ll recoil. The reaction isn’t even necessarily because I don’t want that person touch me but because they didn’t ask; they assumed that I wanted that kind of touch at that moment. People assume that because I’ve agreed to touch them in the past in a certain way that I’m in the same space the next time I see them.

Consent is important for every person of every identity, regardless of age or ability or any other defining factor. But for trans folks it becomes something we end up guarding near and dear to us because the world already thinks it has access to our bodies. People will ask, shortly upon meeting me, whether I plan to have top surgery, if I’m going to start hormones (or, more often, when I am going to start hormones), they will make comments about my voice, my height, or my apparent age. People assume they have the right to dissect and analyze the bodies of trans folks they know just because we are trans. We remind ourselves that we have the right, as all people have the right, to consent and to desire and to utilize our bodies as we want to, regardless of the opinions of the world AND we have the right to NOT discuss that with anybody we don’t want to.

When you move into the world of intimate relationships and sexuality it gets even more complicated. Unless you want to have sex within a really, really small group of people it’s almost like you have to lead a consent workshop before any and all sexual encounters. Trans people experience violence, sexual and otherwise, at higher rates than the rest of society. Talking to my trans friends about sexual history and experience with sexual violence is a testament to how prevalent and painful rape and molestation are in society, and I’m no exception to that rule. Whether it happened before or after we were out violence is yet another way of saying “you don’t get to control your body.” It’s taking away that right to say “no” and the right to say “yes.” It’s taking away the right to ask for what you want and to set limits and to explore new things safely.

And this consent stuff doesn’t just apply to touch. You, as my friends and allies, do not get to question which bathroom I walk into when I’m out with you. You don’t get to question how I answer my phone when it rings if I suddenly change up my pronouns (“This is she.”). You don’t get to question it when I choose to not interrupt somebody to correct them on my name or pronouns and you don’t get to correct them for me unless you’ve asked if that is what I want in public situations. These things are not your things to question or analyze. When I use the women’s bathroom it’s because I don’t feel safe in the men’s bathroom. When I choose to not correct somebody on my name or pronouns it’s because I don’t feel safe enough with that person to do so, or it’s because I am sick of derailing the conversation for somebody who doesn’t seem to want to respect my identity, or it’s simply because I’m tired and don’t feel like explaining my identity to every third person I speak with on any given day.

It can sometimes seem like way more work than it could possibly be worth, but when an interaction goes right, goes how I intend it to, or when a bad situation is rectified in a way that celebrates trans identity rather than shuttering it off to the side it’s beautiful. When I get to spend time with other folks who practice the true essence of radical consent those moments are beautiful. When a friend asked if I wanted to cuddle down at Occupy once and I realized that, yeah, I did! Because I felt safe with him and knew that he’d asked because he really wanted an answer. When I lay in bed with a partner, or multiple partners, and in those lazy morning minutes one will mumble, “is it ok if I __?” with the full expectation that the answer could be yes or no and that that’s okay. When I ask a kid for consent before I give them a hug, or teach them that there are alternatives to physical contact if they want that (“Do you want a hug, a high five, or a wave?”).

There is so much beauty in respecting our bodies, and in respecting each other. There’s a certain amazingness to owning what we have and in other people radically acknowledging that.

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.

May 15, 2011

Now comes the “tell me all about it!” part

Well over 80 of you signed up to go to church today! That’s AWESOME!

Now comes the second part of this little experiment.

Fill out the survey! Thanks in advance, friends!

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