Walking Between Worlds: Interfaith Presentation: Part One

July 17, 2011 at 9:36 pm (Walking Between Worlds)

So, I have been away for a while. As some of you know, I have had a few struggles of late; these have taken a toll on my energy. Your patience has been a gift. In all of this, there has also been a lot of good. For one thing, the wedding plans are going well despite financial worries and continued health concerns. Di and I are on track for the big day in October. In addition, I have had the opportunity to begin work on opening a non-profit that has been my dream for some time. The non-profit is called “grasp”: Gender Revisioning and Sexuality Pathways. We are progressing. Recently, I was invited to speak at a local United Church of Christ in regard to the expansion of their open and affirming welcoming statement. There were two sessions, the second of which took place this morning. Below is the content of the first session. The content of the second session will follow soon. I hope you will visit for both. These sessions were developed in response to four questions that the church council and the worship committees felt were most important. Here are my answers to the first two questions.

1. Celebration:

The willingness to have this dialogue is an obvious example of the things that are to be celebrated in Parkway’s welcoming and affirming path. This topic is a difficult one and certainly a topic from which most individuals and groups shrink—regularly. It takes enormous courage to openly deal with this topic and even more courage and spiritual insight to seek understanding that leads to real acceptance. The desire to gain greater understanding of gender issues demonstrates a significant spiritual maturity. It is relatively easy for most intelligent  people to accept Gay men and Lesbians—it is not easy to extend openness to a group of people who are not well understood even in our “own” community. There is a high degree of transphobia among our own. [other “isms” exist as well because the LGBT community is still a community of humans…]

In my observation thus far, the other thing that stands out as an ongoing aspect of things done right is the overall openness at Parkway. There is a warmth and a sense of genuine caring here that speaks volumes about the personality and culture of the collective heart. It is one reason why we kept coming back. Similarly, the attitude of social consciousness and responsibility at Parkway is no small thing. The welcoming and affirming presence here is, I believe, an arm of a spiritually-based social awareness in theory and in practice. That a reach is being made to include all those actively—or silently—viewed as “other” is a gift to the community at large. And, in my opinion, is both word and action carrying the spirit of the Christ message:  radical love and justice.

2.  Areas for Growth:

I am not sure that it could be said that there are things being missed in the welcoming effort. What I have to offer in this area is more of a gentle cautioning—one which comes from years of experience as a person often adversely affected by even the best of intentions. It is a fact of human nature that a profoundly felt desire to right a wrong or to address the healing of damages done out of injustice, fears, and hatred can manifest in emotionally charged zeal. This is a good thing—passion is necessary for any lasting transformation of ourselves and our society. There are times, however, when passion becomes overzealous and, thus, becomes behavior without forethought and wisdom. It is easy when something is heart-felt to create—with good intentions—the very thing we are trying to correct:  a king of backward discrimination, if you will. We can go so far to include that we create yet another category of difference. If we are not gentle and thoughtful in our delivery, we can send the message that we are reaching out to a group because they are different rather than because we want to embrace them as an extension of our own humanness, as being ourselves in another. Or, as Paul says, being “all members one of another.”

So, to this end, to the desire to greet the Christ in each other, to affirm in each of us both the greeter and the greeted, simply be yourselves. Breathe first. Relax. Focus on the fact that we truly are members one of another and leave room for the spirit to move through the spaces between. It is easy to try too hard when the heart-felt desire to make things right overpowers the simple truth that, when we greet one another in love, everything already is right. When we are simply open, love moves among us and the wrongs are righted—gently, quietly, often without words or explanation.

I would also say that the more we learn about the human condition the more a profound truth becomes clear:  that we are bound by more common ground than we are ever separated by difference. So, the more we can educate ourselves about the aspects of human experience we perceive as outside of the realm of our own experience, the more we find similarities of experience, a range of universal feelings, and thus commonalities. Read. Hold discussions. Engage others. The more we reach across the illusion of difference and unfamiliarity, the more we find familiar—and the more we are all lifted up.

Your Pastor stated this was an opportunity, as well, to share with you—if you would like—some of my experience with the adverse perceptions of others. Because of the nature of our discussion, I am choosing to focus only on experiences related to religion, the church as I was raised in it, and I am avoiding general references to my overall adverse experiences moving in the world in this body. Those stories are both ancient and as new as yesterday; and they are for another time. It is interesting to me that I had never considered certain aspects of my experiences as violence until Craig and I were talking and emailing about this discussion. This is, for me, another example of the ways in which even self-aware adaptive people like myself develop levels of denial as we attempt to cope with our status in the world. I have been experiencing layers of growing awareness concerning the many things I had suppressed about my identity for some time now. It might be more appropriate to say that I acknowledged the anxieties, insecurities and fears, but made mistakes about their origins or causes. For example, I now see that many things I assumed were attributable to lesbian angst were really as much about gender angst. Within the church and my experience with religion, however, one was a bad as the other.

Two things stand out immediately to me.

I was raised in the Baptist church. Throughout, my parents insisted that I wear dresses to church. I was taught that I was to present my best self to God in respect and reverence and, since I was a girl, this meant wearing a dress. There was never a time that I felt comfortable. I felt awkward and out of place—as if, in fact, I were cross-dressing. At varying levels of conscious awareness, I felt like a boy in a dress. Clearly, this was noticeable because I was constantly reprimanded to “stop walking like a boy”—or, at least to “walk like a girl” which I had not even the vaguest idea how to do. I would protest that I was just walking. I was admonished to sit with my legs crossed, to sit “like a lady.” It was actually painful to try to do that. My parents had no intention of doing emotional violence to me; they had nothing but the best of intentions in regard to preparing me for adult life as a woman. The message I got, however, was that God wanted me only if I could be acceptable as a female. While in practice this was a message initiated by my parents, it was reinforced within the church after.

Around the age of 15, I announced to my parents that their protocol made no sense—that if God was God, then He saw me every day of the year and saw me all day long dressed in jeans and t-shirts. I further pronounced that a God who was all-knowing and all-powerful already knew who I was and who I was going to be…and, if what we were taught was true, then God played a huge role in my creation. All that said, God either loved me as I was or did not. And, if He only loved me on Sunday and only because I looked like a proper girl, then He wasn’t much of a God worth worshiping.

I stood my ground firmly, stating that one of two things were going to happen: either I wasn’t going to church ever again; or, I was going to wear dress pants and shirts when I went. My parents eventually caved as I refused to go Sunday after Sunday, hands raised in the air proclaiming my independence: “I am old enough that you can’t make me go…and what is the point if I am only going because you make me. Doesn’t God know that too?”

When I was allowed to attend dressed as I wished, the reaction by my peers and many of the adults was not easily hidden. It was as if they were seeing me for the first time. As if, somehow, the girl costume had partially hidden the something-amiss, the something-different about me that had been lurking under the surface. I was boyish. Physically as well as psychologically. The other girls looked at me with distain and something akin to shock. The guys seemed to realize why they were never drawn to me like they were the other girls and why treated me as a pal. Because I was one. I was one of the guys. But, because I was in a female body, they were uncomfortable and, thus, rejected me. What followed my first steps toward outing myself was not pretty. It was, I now see, religious violence of the worst kind.

As I attended church dressed as myself, a change occurred. Those who had initially begun to cast me out even further [I was always kind of different], now began to seek me out, to talk to me and invite me to things, and to make efforts to befriend me. Having few actual friends, I naturally was sucked in. But not for long. Because their gestures were false to begin with, they were also irregular, infrequent, and undependable making the pretense obvious. It became clear to me—and my parents—that something was amiss. Of course, in my mind, the something amiss was me. I wasn’t good enough. There were many episodes where my so-called friends stood me up, or I fell out of fashion for the week or the month and was let down, disappointed and hurt. Things came to a head. My mother intervened. It was discovered that a particular woman and some members of her clique had decided that I was troubled and did not have enough love in my life, that I needed the church to love me and heal me of my troubled state. They had taken it upon themselves to advise the youth to take me in and show me some love and friendship. I had become their project. Through false love and acceptance, they were going to fix me. Untrouble me. Bring me into the fold. Get me right with God.

With their intermittent, forced attention and pretense of love and acceptance, they nearly destroyed me. This was my first experience with false prophets. And their minions. My first real run in with zealots. By the time I was 17, I had refused to go back.

It is important to point out that there are two forms of violence here. One was the violence directed at me, the “other”—a violence of pretense, of assumption of insight about me and my needs, of self-serving gestures and attempts to change me through a perverted greater good enacted in Christian self-sacrifice. The other misdeed may be just as destructive; this being the violence toward my peers, the violence of misleading those who are being used to serve an end that they did not conceive of or understand. We all have seen this form of manipulation and its results at every level from small groups to governments.

The other thing that stands out was more painful. I had begun to attend the School of the Arts and was only home on weekends. One of my friends at home was dating one of the church youth workers. By this time, I was very clear that I was a lesbian. I was not really out anywhere but at school. I made the decision to come out to my friend. This was actually fairly well received. It was not a surprise to her, nor was it a problem. Even if they did not say so, most people assumed I was a lesbian based solely upon my appearance. Because I was boyish I must be lesbian. My friend was initially supportive. However, when the two of us told my youth worker, he came unraveled. My personhood and personal struggles somehow became about him and what he could or could not accept. He felt betrayed. He was angry. He was concerned about the state of my soul. He rejected me and our relationship outright. I can only imagine the reaction had I been able to articulate and take ownership of my gender issues. Over time, my friendship with the woman ended too.

Around this time, my parents decided I was unhappy and my issues with isolating and refusing to go to church concerned them—no small wonder, really. So, much to my chagrin, they sent me to a Christian counselor. The primary reason was that my parents feared I was lesbian. I spent time with one or two females or spent time alone. I was not growing out of being a tom-boy. This scared them. In my first session with the counselor, I said very little. What I did say was that I had issues, but they were not about my sexuality and that he could not help me because I was fine with who I was. I wasn’t necessarily fine with how others felt about me, or about God, or an array of other things, but I did not need help with who I was. He advised me that I was “gay” [even he masculinized me] not because I truly loved and was attracted to women, but because of the sin in my life. I was lesbian because I was a sinner and, if I accepted my sinful nature and turned my life over to Jesus, I would be able to love men as God intended me to do. The following sessions were spent with my sitting in silence until he finally accepted I would not participate and decided it was unethical to take may parents money. Later, my mother talked to our physician, began reading books, and came to understand and accept me. So did my father.

The messages I took away from these incidents were significantly adverse and affected my views of “the church,” of religion…and, unfortunately, of myself. I came to understand that surely I was an abomination according to the church and, clearly, at least to God’s people—if not to God itself. I came to realize that love from others was dependent upon my adherence to the ideas they held of me. That if I stepped out of that, I was no longer loved. My lack of trust in people deepened. I began to rely more and more upon myself, to require very little from others, and to develop keen instincts about who I could and could not trust. My already well-developed survival skills strengthened. Very few people were allowed access to much of who I was, what I felt, or thought.

I stopped attending any church.

I continued, however, to believe strongly in the spiritual nature of humans. I continued to seek some kind of believable, healing spiritual path. I was a believer with no real sense of belief…or even a sense of safety in believing. I practiced Buddhism intermixed with the Native traditions I had identified with as a child during visits with my grandparents inArizona. A desire for a spiritual path was part of who I was and never left me. A sense of God was always with me despite the mistreatment by His followers. So, for many years, my path was solitary and spiritual in nature rather than religious.

One thing struck me throughout my experience with professed and highly visible followers of God. There seemed to be no boundaries for their ability to switch positions and change their views in accordance with what they perceived as the position of approval and, of course, greater security for and advancement of themselves. They could make these changes with no apology and do so as if were perfectly acceptable. There was no awareness of the consequences of their altering belief systems. At one point, a preacher I knew embraced me as a fellow believer. A few years later, when I called him to ask if he would talk with a friend of mine, he advised me he had changed his position and could not, in good conscience, speak to my friend. His lack of understanding that this blowing in the wind, this lack of conviction in proclaimed values, was destructive to those he claimed to love and serve made a significant impression on me. It also made a huge statement to me about the nature of a real faith system verses a professed faith that was clearly about other things.

I was in my late thirties before I ever sincerely stepped foot in a church.

There are other such experiences. These are the most significant. These are the lashes of the whip that tore the skin of my spirit—the wounds that it took years to heal. The truth is, the wounds are still healing. The scars are still sometimes tender to the touch.

NOTE:  This work is published here as proprietary and may not be reproduced, distributed, sold, or otherwise utilized outside the posting on this site without the express permission of the author; these works are the sole property of the author writing as Androgynonamous or DreadPirateRobert.

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4 Comments

  1. Jo Moreau said,

    Welcome back to the blogosphere, missed your writings very much.
    Congratulations on the new initiative, and best of everything for you and Di, especially for October!

    • androgynonamous said,

      Thank you. And, thanks for hanging around and being patient.
      Di and I both appreciate your well wishes!
      peace…

  2. Kim Andersen said,

    How very profound. As an ordained minister who is no longer in the ministry because I am gay, I can strongly relate to some of your experiences. All i know, all I need to know is that I am part of the WHOSOEVER that God talks about in John 3:16

    • androgynonamous said,

      Thank you for reading. And, indeed, our knowledge of our WHOSOEVER status is really the only knowing we need to be OK on the journey.
      I appreciate your pressence and your encouragement. I hope you will return for the second half of the talk. I hope to have it up later today.
      Take care,
      and peace to you

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