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.”

January 12, 2013

We lost a hero this week

Did you know a hero died this week?  I suppose the argument could be made that heroes die every day of every week of every month but a hero died this week.  Jeanne Manford passed away at the age of 92 after living a life of acceptance with grace and compassion.  Manford founded PFLAG; Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays.  In 1972 she marched in the New York City Pride Parade carrying a sign in support of her gay son, Morty.  Morty’s life was cut short, as so many of my queer parents and siblings lives’ were, by AIDS.  Jeanne Manford continued to fight for acceptance of LGBTQ people; she evolved with the times, moved with the movements, and was an ally and a presence for her entire life.

We lost a hero this week.  The LGBTQ community lost not only an ally but a parent and a grandparent.  Because of activism like Jeanne’s so many of us were able to go further, faster, and with less fear of not being accepted and knowing we were entering a world with greater understanding.  She didn’t solve the problem of families that don’t accept their children but she helped let those children know that other people did accept them.  She brought allies into the movement; a necessary step in bringing the oppression of LGBTQ people into the greater public knowledge.

A prayer for the heroes

Thank you, God, for giving us the heroes
The down to earth folks who speak quietly
From living rooms
And computers
And through small acts of kindness

Thank you, God, for giving us the heroes
That shout from the rooftops
And the pubs
And the street corners
Whether anybody listens or not

Thank you, God, for the grandparents
Who stand up and say
No
Oppression wasn’t okay in my time
And it’s not okay now, either

Thank you God for the younger siblings
Who never question who you are
Since you’re always the person
Who stole Halloween candy
When you were eight

And thank you, God
For the blessing of those who stand
When we cannot be our own hero
Or when we don’t want to be
Or when one voice isn’t enough

Thank you, God, for the allies
Who stand by our sides
And let us lead
And follow with gusto

Thank you, God, for the heroes
The every-day
And the extraordinary
And the old
And the young
And the visible
And the invisible
God, thank you for the heroes.

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.

September 30, 2012

Trans folks and porn and legislating identity

This post contains frank discussion of pornography, erotica, and trans* sexuality.  Also there’s some less than “Safe For Work” language, though I’m going to * it so it doesn’t get caught by filters.

You have been warned.

The definition of trans* I’ll be working with here is anybody on the trans spectrum, including genderqueer, transgender, transexual, cross dressing, etc.  People who do not necessarily or at all times identify with the gender they were assigned at birth.

A few years ago I became kind of obsessed with porn.  There was nothing sexual about this, really.  I was obsessed with the trans* representation in porn or, more precisely, the lack of trans* representation in porn.  Porn acts almost as a distillation of society at its most basic; there’s no for nuance or dialogue or story.  You have to be able to pick up everything visually, in an instant, without needing back story or to think too hard.  And in mainstream porn there is very little trans* representation – and the trans representation that does exist only serves, really, to reinforce the gender binary.

Tonight a friend linked me to a tumblr that says it’s about FTM (Female to Male trans*) Porn; both actual porn and writing about porn.  I clicked over and scrolled down a few posts to find this post an FTM-person had written in response to a comment that has been deleted:

I don’t want support from the community. I don’t even belong to the community. I walked out when I realized how fucking stupid it was 2 months into my transition. I don’t want or need support from people who glamorize a medical condition and run around with your t*ts flopping around, being comfortable in your body when the only symptom of transsexualism is dysphoria. When you don’t show dysphoria, it’s hard for me to believe you’re not using testosterone as a beauty product. If you like your body, why alter it?

I don’t want to see t*ts and v*ginas in the ftm tag, sorry that’s a crime.

You can all spread your legs and rub your p*ssies all you want, but if you’re showing it publicly, I will not treat you like a man.

And that, my friends, is what we call a problem.

I know that there are a lot of transexual folks who do not consider themselves part of the trans community.  Once they’ve transitioned they’re done; they’re happy to finally feel whole or right or whatever term you’d like to use and they’re happy to identify as whichever gender they’ve transitioned to.  That’s fine!

When people try to push that off as the only way to be a trans person?  That becomes way not fine at all.  The only identity you can legislate is your own identity.  When you try to tell other people how to live their gender identity we end up with this gross oversimplification of gender and we end up with a lot of people who don’t or can’t fit into that binary getting shoved to the sidelines.

August 30, 2012

It begins

My minister has a framed picture on the wall of his office at church – it’s the Tichh Nhat Hanh meditation “I have arrived.  I am home.”  Since I’m in his office a fair bit, between meeting with him individually and for Pastoral Care Associate meetings and such I have stared at this picture a lot.  I love it.

 

I started seminary today.  I was a nervous wreck for the past few days and then… I got there.  And in all of its fluorescent lit, mediocre bagels and bad coffee glory I had arrived.  I took a seat and started talking to people.  People, mostly people close to my age, doing the same thing as me.  This thing none of my college friends understand even though they’re being really nice about it.  It felt so right.

We did all the normal orientation things.  It was explained what a venerable and esteemed institution we were at, the multifaceted, and I’m sure very unique, benefits were tossed around, and we mingled.  I met new people and old people and I laughed and I felt, well, blessed.  To be there.  To be able to be there.  I felt like I belonged.

After lunch four of us ended up outside playing Frisbee and already we have inside jokes (they involve me aiming at freshmen).  We went on a hideously long walking tour of Boston immediately after which we had to go to a fancy hotel to meet our professors.  We ate fancy-ish hors d’oeuvres and laughed at how underdressed almost everyone was.

It was good.  I returned home happy, and content, and thrilled, and all kinds of other adjectives.

And it was good, too, because when I posted a happy status about being in seminary over FIFTY of my friends “liked” the status on Facebook.  These friends who have been following me from when I first declared I may, possibly, be interested in seminary to today, when I started.  Friends from college and friends from church and minister after minister after minister saying “Good for you.  I’m glad.”  It was such a fun, good feeling.

Not everything was perfect.  Almost nobody got my pronouns right, and while my name was correct on my nametag it was incorrect on my folder and my advisor letter.  I am pretty sure there’s no gender neutral bathroom that’s easily accessible in the building.  I was too scared to correct people much.  I am incredibly dehydrated because, well, if you don’t think there’s a place to go to the bathroom you don’t drink enough water.

But I have arrived.  I am home.  It’s not perfect and there are going to be speed bumps and awful bits but, right now, in this moment, I’M THERE.  That’s what matters right now.  I am THERE.

May 9, 2012

All this gay stuff

Last week a North Carolina Baptist pastor went on a 55 minute sermon-tirade about amendment one, gay people, and most notably what to do if you think your son is acting “gay” or “effeminate.”  Though any parenting book in the world would tell you otherwise, this man recommended breaking the limp wrist of young boys and punching your son if he acted too effeminate.  Young girls, in contrast, are not to be allowed to get “too butch;” dress them up and make them objects of attraction.

The outcry from the queer community was immediate and intense.  Child abuse is bad; that’s just a baseline standard most all people operate under.  Moving on from that those in the queer community either personally know the pain of being “different” as a child or they have friends or partners who know that pain.  Allies in the fight for just treatment in society heard the sermon and said “no, that’s wrong.”  We united.

This pastor eventually issued an apology – sort of.  He apologized if we were offended.  He didn’t say he was sorry he said it.  He justified it by saying he was using hyperbolic speech to get a point across like in the bible.  He didn’t elaborate on which parts of the bible he found hyperbolic but I know I’d be interested.

This sermon-tirade occurred in North Carolina before the Tuesday vote on Amendment One, an amendment that passed and therefore reinforced the ban on same-sex marriage in North Carolina but also took scores of rights away from not married couples, same sex or heterosexual, that live together.  It’s an amendment that had no purpose whatsoever and passed only because of fear, homophobic, lies, and scare tactics.  I know what it is like to lose these fights; to sit around as your rights are voted on all day and then watch the polls come in not in your favor.  It’s heartbreaking.

There’s the heartbreak of those voting against you but there’s the added heartbreak of the “liberal” community who have decided they are “too liberal” or “too radical” or “above” marriage equality.  These are folks who tear down the victories many of us have fought long and hard for by telling us that we’re not being radical enough, or liberal enough, or that we’re buying into the system too much.  And when we lose something we fought hard for we’re told by these people not to be sad.  We were fighting for the wrong thing anyway.  Immediately articles about how we only car about marriage when, for instance, the prison industrial complex still targets LGBTQ prisoners and nobody cares pop up all over social networking sites.

The message is clear: if you fight for equality that buys into preexisting systems you are being naïve.

Today, less than 24 hours after Amendment One passed in North Carolina, President Obama came out publicly in support of full marriage rights for same sex couples making him, obviously, the first sitting president to do so.  I, along with hundreds of others, was elated.  We had a president, finally, saying something beyond evasive answers like “that is up to each state” and “civil unions that grant all the same rights and protections are comparable…”.  We had a president saying “I believe gay people who want to get marriage should be able to.

It’s a big moment.  We shouldn’t underestimate that.

Almost immediately those “I’m more liberal than you” folks came out, posting articles titled things like “Barack Obama’s Bullshit Marriage Announcement.”  Saying, again, “You’ve bought in.  It’s pathetic how much your bought in.”

This is an issue I’ve been passionately fighting for for years.  Marriage equality DOES still matter; we cannot wait for everything to be perfectly aligned, for all other injustices to be healed before we celebrate any wins.

I’m happy that Obama came out in favor of marriage equality.  I’m going to celebrate that.

April 22, 2012

Earth Day Prayer

After service today a number of people asked where the prayer I led came from. I told folks I wrote it and would post it on my blog.

Feel free to use it as you like with attribution to Andrew Coate, April 2012.


Please join me in the spirit of prayer, of reflection, of blessing our Earth this day and all days.

God that is this earth, the soil beneath our feet, the oceans too vast to comprehend, the air that gives us life and the sun that gives us warmth; help us remember that the wind is not documented; it does not get held captive by one country.  The oceans do not carry papers when they travel in great twisting paths around the globe, mixing and churning and forever changing.  As spring turns barren land into new life plants do not ask permission to bloom because of fences or walls or checkpoints.

Today we pause to remember that our earth sustains us only as long as we sustain it.  Let us remember that we are only just a part of this fragile system; we are not in charge but by virtue of what we have done we hold temporary responsibility.  We survive and thrive only as long as we sustain one another and sustain where we live.  Earth day is not about only the soil we stand on and the air we breathe but the encounters we have on this earth and with this earth and how we can recognize, sustain and enhance the good. 

Allow us to live for the good of the earth.

Amen and blessed be

April 21, 2012

Odd (online) Jobs – I need money

My job isn’t giving me enough hours to really make ends meet right now.

Does anybody have any online jobs I could do to earn a little extra money?  Data entry, transcription, etc?

I just need to earn a hundred or so bucks to get me through to next payday – May 1st.

April 5, 2012

Wanted: One (1) Easter Basket

Should contain nothing of nutritional value.

No large rodents necessary for delivery.

Stuffed animals optional.

I dislike jelly beans.

What?!  ONLY KIDS GET THESE THINGS??!!??!!

So not fair.

March 12, 2012

The Foreign Country of “College”

I went to the nicest college I’ve ever heard about.  It’s not the fanciest, or the most expensive (it’s not the cheapest by a long shot!).  We’re not churning out folks in congress (we do have one, though).  My college isn’t well known, and it doesn’t earn the same amount of immediate “respect” upon mention as, say Harvard or Brown.  But it’s a wonderful place where you learn a lot in and out of class and where the people are genuinely nice.

There aren’t really bullies at College of the Atlantic, not in the traditional sense.  If you lined up all the students, which wouldn’t be that hard since there are only around 300, you probably couldn’t pick out who the most popular ones were, or the ones who led student governance, or the ones who spoke the most in class.  In some ways we’re a school of misfits and outcasts who have a lot of good ideas and found a place where we were told to speak up.  You’re in a class of MAYBE 10 other people; if you don’t make your opinions known it’s noticeable.  So you learn to be heard.  Not necessarily to speak, but to be heard.

I learned to speak up before College of the Atlantic; I was carefully groomed by some well-known LGBTQ organizations on how to speak loudly, proudly, and on topic.  I’ve been through more media trainings that I know what to do with, and I know how to pick three talking points and stick to them.  I know how to not get injured while protesting and I know how to deescalate confrontation if it needs to be deescalated.  I know how to make protest signs that cannot be misconstrued by media on the opposing side.

What College of the Atlantic taught me was to be intentional; that it’s actually okay to “sit one out” when something comes up and you’re just too exhausted for it.  It’s perfectly alright to let a chance at organizing, protesting, or giving a speech pass you by and assume that somebody else will take it up.  College of the Atlantic was homogenous enough that I was able to fit in and, therefore, relax.  I didn’t have to be on eggshells there because I was just another one of the quirks at the school.

There’s this thing about college though; it ends. I graduated in 2010, moved out of town then out of state and suddenly I was back in the real world.  The world where my haircut signifies something other than “owns a pair of clippers” and where I can’t expect to introduce myself as Andrew and not have folks question it.  The world where it wasn’t accepted that folks would engage in debate about an issue while sticking, somewhat, to accepted rules.  The world where you can’t point out privilege to somebody and expect them to know what you mean.  The world where people lock their doors at night.

College of the Atlantic, and I’m assuming lots of places like it, gave you enough comfort to fight for what you truly cared about rather than everything that came across your path.  I took a ton of interesting classes there but that lesson, of fighting for what I felt was truly right rather than what I felt I had to fight for, was far more necessary than many of the classes.  It’s not something you can learn in a weekend retreat or a week long class; it took three years to even start making sense to me, and I’m still sorting stuff out almost two years after graduation.

In short, College of the Atlantic taught me to say, “no” when I needed so that I could say, “yes” to life.

And then I left.

It was almost like having lived in a foreign country during your formative years and then being dropped right back off in your country of origin as soon as you hit your stride.

I’m still struggling a little bit; misspeaking here and there, and having some major flops at times.  I forget that it’s not totally acceptable for me to speak up when I feel something isn’t okay in the same way I have been.  That’s not necessarily a good thing, but there are existing power structures that I get to play in to as I move forward toward ministry.  There are some pretty gross examples of people using their power and privilege over me in ways that I hadn’t experienced before because in the past that stuff would have been called out and stopped immediately.  It’s hard for me to step back and say “there’s a power structure here that’s much bigger than me, and I don’t have the right to change it right now.”

This isn’t better than the system at my school.  This doesn’t make those existing and limiting power structures okay.  And this doesn’t make the people abusing their power and privilege over others right or responsible or okay.  And sometimes I’ll explode a little because somebody is being so monumentally ridiculous in private and the antithesis of who they claim to be in public.

But we will get there.  Heaven knows how we will get there.  But we know within.

Right?  Please tell me that’s right.  Please tell me we will get there.  We’ve gotta.

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