My “beloved community” doesn’t quite get it.

I’m still watching responses to my survey trickle in – as of this writing 32 of you have responded. Thank you so much!

I’m going to wait a couple more days before I really start compiling all the results. But, seriously, thank you for participating. I’d like to do this again, with more planning, next fall. I realize that the end of the church year is not the ideal time to do this.

…………………………………………

What I want to post about today, however, is that I’m sad.

Last Friday I had a really, really fabulous meeting with my minister about, well, ministry. I left feeling really good. I was excited. “I could do this,” I told myself. People are coming around to different identities and as long as I was able to put up with some Very Special Teaching Moments I was pretty confident that some day I could find a place in ministry.

Then on Sunday I went to church. The sermon was given by our intern minister and was titled, “The Q.” As in “the Q” of LGBTQ. Queer, in this case, not questioning. It was a really good sermon. That is not what made me sad.

After the service I did the normal coffee/awkward conversation/try not to spill stuff as children hug me thing. I had a meeting at 1pm about General Assembly so I decided to check out the congregational conversation at noon instead of trying to occupy myself for an hour. Our congregational conversations happen once a month and this was the first one I had been to.

We used the “mutual invitation” style of discussion (which the 4th grade me still calls “popcorn talk!”) in which each person responds to the service and then picks the next person to talk. We started the discussion by having everybody say their name, city, and preferred gender pronoun (she/her/hers, he/him/his, ze/hir/hirs, etc). That was where my first problem with the discussion came in.

People were… not mocking it, but definitely treating it as something unnecessary. Using statements like, “you can call me ‘it’ for all I care,” and “it doesn’t matter what you call me” or “well you could just use my name!” These statements if coming from people who have sincerely spent time thinking about their gender identity are fine. But these statements coming from people who are cisgender and have clearly never considered gender anything they needed to consider? Then it’s just an enormous display of cisgender privilege. Or, as a commenter on my blog wrote once, “Saying you “don’t stress” about gender is actually just another way of saying you “have hella cis privlege.””

Yeah. That.

I was willing to let that go, though, had it not been for the rest of the discussion. It definitely set me on edge but I try to remember that a lot of folks really have never thought about the pronouns they identify with.

But then we got to the actual discussion, or rather “discussion.” I was invited to speak first, but passed for the time being because I didn’t a) have my thoughts sorted or b) know quite what I was supposed to do. And in a lot of ways I’m really glad I chose to pass because it gave me a little bit more to say when my turn came around again.

That hour sitting in the chapel was really one of the times in my life where I have most viscerally felt that people “just don’t get it.” As much as they claim to affirm and promote the inherent worth and dignity of all people they really have no idea how unwelcoming it is to be constantly misgendered and have to make the decision about coming out as trans to somebody and, therefore, derailing a conversation or ignoring it and letting people just continue without ever letting your gender identity enter their head.

A few people talked about how we are already welcoming, and another talked about how we shouldn’t have to focus on what we have to do but rather what we’ve already done. More than one person mentioned something about how “everyone in the room could be queer!” and others talked about boundaries being unnecessary, and one person even mentioned how our identity didn’t matter because it should be kept private.

I did finally get my chance to speak. I said a little, I did mention I was transgender, and I talked about how it was hard to hear some of those things because I didn’t really agree that we were as welcoming as many people felt we were. Then I passed the discussion to the next person… and everything I said was ignored.

So I left the room. I thought about walking out of the church – not just for that Sunday but saying, “You know what, no, clearly they don’t care.” Obviously I didn’t. But I was pissed. I AM pissed.

I’m pissed that a place that I felt safe suddenly became unsafe for me again. And I’m half-afraid to go back next Sunday, see those people who were in that discussion, and have to try to converse with them in a positive and cordial way.

But above everything else I’m mad because it proves my fears. It proves that congregations say that they are welcoming, open, affirming, and that they want you there. It throws me right back into worrying about ministry and whether I can ever hope to have a congregation who “gets it” enough to call me and be genuine with their call. It worries me and it makes me mad that this has to be a discussion.

I’ve been told that this was not a representative sample of the congregation! That other people felt uncomfortable in that discussion, too! That if I want to that they would love if I’d come in and talk about it, or go get ice cream, or coffee, or.., or.., or…

I don’t care if the group wasn’t representative of the congregation. They are members of the congregation. They are not outsiders, not foreign to what we stand for and what we hope for our highest selves to be. They are people I worship with each Sunday. They are part of my Beloved Community as we are so fond of saying. So it really, really hurt to realize that they do not really understand me and, furthermore, don’t really seem to want to. It hurt me, it scared me, it made me question everything I’ve been thinking for the past year or so.

Could I Should I Why WOULD I How When Where Am I Crazy?

It scared and saddened me. And I’m not sure what to do.

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5 Responses to “My “beloved community” doesn’t quite get it.”

  1. Just sitting here in pain reading through again what you’ve written. Sometimes our religious communities hurt us deeply – for me, most often when we can’t acknowledge the cultural curriculum asserting itself and closing out experiences not our own. I fail in religious community all the time. I’m failed by religious people and communities on a very regular basis. That failure is another call to learning, a way that, hmmm, isn’t the way to live the values I espouse, as I had imagined or not even thought about was okay.

    Sometimes people flee the uncomfortable facts of their own privilege and, often, that’s denying the reality of the privilege. I was in a community the other day that asked people to sing by binary gender separation. Where (if at all) to be silent? Where to sing? But conversation opened later.

    Welcome is different from belonging. Inclusion is different from being so much a part of the community one can’t be separated.

    I do think there’s changing hearts underway. But we only do so with a lot of being in uncomfortable and fearful places, being real and vulnerable with each, and saying “ouch!” when we hurt one another. Trust and mutual care really begin in that place of “ouch” and the one who hurt saying, “I’m sorry; tell me what happened” and a dialogue beginning.

    Yes, you can do this. No, it isn’t going to be easy. When I get weary, I turn back to the folks I have learned will be with me in my weariness, whether or not they share my experience. There is a growing number of those folks who can do that around gender in this religious movement. A lot of that group is going to be at General Assembly, and is very much involved in electronic community – as are all kinds of historically marginalized people, because it is part of how we keep body and spirit together, by connecting and caring for one another.

    I continue to learn and be inspired by how you share your life journey and what you have to give this world. Your presence does matter, as does the fact you love and have a dream of a community that is bigger than how some of us are able to live right now. That’s where the spiritual growth for the community comes in – going from how we’ve tried & failed to learning how to actually live what we dream and affirm.

  2. yeah. The first sign that you’ve got privilege is when you can’t imagine what this “privilege” stuff is people are talking about with regards to gender, sex, race, class, etc. Good luck teaching them, and may they “get it” and become eager to learn…

  3. My monthly meeting (of Quakers) recently revised a document that used to say “we are welcoming of everyone, including gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered people,” to say, “We welcome everyone.” “We welcome everyone” just didn’t work for me–I’ve been too many places where that means “we know we’re supposed to say this but we haven’t really thought about it and oops we don’t mean you.” It meant a lot to me to have things named. I’m going to have to talk to someone about it. But I get tired of having these kinds of conversations.

    Meanwhile, internet hugs and prayers from a stranger. I spent about 2 years in a state of feeling like I was one bad day away from laying down my membership, so I recognize that feeling you had as you left.

    I’m continuing to enjoy your blog. I’m also feeling called to ministry, in my case in a religion where there isn’t necessarily a clear path, so I’m watching you with an eye toward learning things from you.

  4. Andrew,

    I hope you won’t think me presumptuous, but beloved community -much like families, and religion, and life- is not always either easy or comfortable. Anyone who says different is either trying to sell you something, or running away from their own past or present or fear of the future.

    Perhaps a part of your own personal ministry, in your congregation and in this time, is to help people understand….

    I will hold you in my thoughts and prayers,
    Pax / Geoffrey

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