Archive for Activism
For our weekly Family Popcorn & Movie Night last night we watched a cute little movie called Finding Rin Tin Tin. It’s a children’s version of the story of the famous German Shepherd who was adopted by an American soldier during World War I and went on to become a beloved screen star in the 20′s and 30′s. It was a cute little film–the rare live action kiddie tale that can keep the interest of our whole family, from our four-year-old right up through Mom and Daddy.
This telling of the story has a sub-plot that centers on a French orphan boy, Jacques, who becomes separated from his parents when Paris is bombed. Rendered mute by the trauma, Jacques is placed under the care of the ruthless camp cook, who abuses him and even tries to sell him into slavery before the plot is uncovered by Rin Tin Tin. In the film’s final scene, Jacques is reunited with his parents as Rin Tin Tin prepares to leave France with the victorious American forces.
As my wife and I were laughing about the unabashed sappiness of that scene, my seven-year-old daughter, who was watching from a pile of pillows on the floor, turned around and started to climb into our laps. That’s when I noticed that she was crying. In fact, she was wracked with sobs–so much so that I assumed one of our boys, sitting on the couch behind her, had kicked her in the head and hurt her. (These things occasionally happen in our house.)
“What’s wrong, honey,” I asked. She was crying so hard it took her a few seconds to respond.
“Tears of joy, Daddy,” she sobbed–at which point all our cynicism about sappy movie endings dissolved and my wife and I joined in. Before the credits had finished rolling, the whole family was weeping tears of joy together, cuddled on the couch, relieved that after all he’d suffered, the probably fictional Jacques would have a chance to live happily ever after with his family.
I’ve taken pride in the past that my wife and I are raising children who are so in touch with their feelings and so unashamed to let them show. But when I shared my daughter’s story with a colleague this morning, she helped me see it in a way I hadn’t before. “I was just thinking about all that time you spent separated from your wife and kids while you were job hunting,” she said. “I wonder if she was remembering that.”
It hadn’t even occured to me to make that connection, but as I’ve thought about my friend’s observation, it makes perfect sense. Longtime readers may remember that our family was separated for almost ten months while I searched for a job after finishing grad school and transitioning. In order to minimize expenses, my wife and kids lived with her parents in Montana; because they did not approve of my transition and would not allow me to live with them, I stayed in Arizona with my mom. Though we did all we could to stay connected while we were apart (we spoke on the phone daily and I wrote letters to the children almost as regularly), it was still incredibly hard on us all. As my daughter’s sobs seem to show, the anxiety it created in my children lingers, almost a year later. I wonder how long it will last?
I know we’re not the only family that’s had to endure a long separation–families do it every day, and it has nothing to do with being trans. And yet I can’t help but think that it was avoidable in our case. If only my in-laws were more accepting, if only their church would speak from a place of compassion for trans people and not one of domination and oppression, if only it weren’t so hard for trans people to find meaningful work through which we can support not only ourselves but our loved ones as well…if only.
It has been said that all politics is personal. I think it’s truer still that all activism is personal. My reasons for doing the work I do are very, very personal. My daughter shouldn’t have to worry that our family will have to endure long-term separation again just because her daddy is transgender. Nobody’s child should. Nobody’s wife or husband should have to worry about the social cost of supporting a transitioning spouse. Nobody’s parents should have to be afraid of violence against a transitioning child. No trans person should have to be anxious about finding a job or a place to live or walking into a public rest room.
These anxieties have a very real psychological impact on a person and, I would argue, a spiritual impact that is just as real. They can cripple you, hold you back, hold you down, hinder you from fulfilling your beautiful, awesome, awe-inspiring potential. For me, turning my anxiety into action has helped mitigate those negative effects. By making my own small contribution to healing this hurting world, I heal myself. Not only that, but I help make it possible for my kids to grow up in a world that is a little less scary.
We GLBT people are the canaries in the civil rights coal mine. The health of our civil rights determines the health of civil rights in our democracy in general, and right now we are swaying from the efforts of a decade of poisonous attacks on them.
Teach us to give and not to count the cost.
St. Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1556), spiritual director and founder of the Society of Jesus (also known as the Jesuits). Today is his feast-day.
And a comment from me: Even in my most passionate activism, and even in my relationships with those I love the most, I am so quick to think of myself first. May I learn to ignore my selfish instincts, which objectify and dehumanize those I am called to serve, and give without hesitation to the utmost measure.
(Thanks to Garrison Keillor’s Writer’s Almanac.)
My activism is patient. It is kind. It is not jealous; it is not arrogant and never blusters or boasts.
My activism never acts dishonorably or unbecomingly. It is not self-serving. It refuses to allow itself to be provoked. It is not vengeful and does not take into account a wrong suffered.
My activism does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth.
My activism bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. This is my activism.
If my activism speaks with power, wit, and sophistication, but lacks any of these aforementioned qualities, it becomes merely noise.
If my activism is full of depth and insight, and if it persists beyond all human endurance, but lacks these qualities, it is barren and destitute.
If my activism prompts me give up everything I own that is of earthly value–even to the point of giving my very life–but lacks these qualities, it merits nothing.
This activism–my activism–never fails.
(Thanks to the Apostle Paul.)
From last Saturday’s Fresno Bee, via Box Turtle Bulletin, comes this little snippet about a straight religious woman, Renee, and her boss Michael, a gay man planning to wed his partner of 16 years. The money quote is at the end.
DeMusiak, 52, the florist shop employee, grew up with the idea that marriage meant only a man and a woman.
“I just always went by the Bible. Mom is mom and dad is dad. I was never really for gays getting married,” she says.
But in November, she plans to vote against the ban and for same-sex marriage.
She had only worked at Chase Flower Shop for two months when her dog got sick and needed expensive medical care.
“Michael gave me his credit card and told me to take care of her,” she says. “I’d never vote against him.”
She says her own search for a mate has been the stuff of blues songs: cheating men, hurt, and true love never arriving.
“I’m struggling to find someone. I see gay couples come in here all the time who have had better luck than me. It’s so important to have someone love you for who and what you truly are,” she says.
“I know religion is really going to come down on this one, but I just don’t think I can be opposed any more. I vote for people to be happy.”
It’s been quite a while since we’ve done a program examining the gay marriage issue. Our last treatment included the voices of 2 self-described evangelicals—Richard Mouw, the president of Fuller Seminary, and Virginia Mollencott, a Professor Emeritus at William Patterson University. We wanted to frame the conversation in the terms most often used in our culture to discuss it, so we chose two evangelicals. But we also wanted to go beyond the yelling and meanness of the debate, which may have reached a peak about the time we did the show. I think we succeeded.
But along with a good amount of positive feedback, and despite our deliberately conciliatory approach, we heard from people form all “sides” that we had hurt them, or offended them, or otherwise inflamed them. I mention this not to say I think we did it wrong, but because to me it’s a measure of how much pain people are in on this topic.
With the California ruling recently, the door is open to that state beginning to marry gays and lesbians as early as next week, and we have asked ourselves what our next forway into the subject might be. It seems clear there has been a great deal of movement in the last couple of years. Witness, for example, a press release that crossed my desk this morning about GLBT families, led by Jay Bakker (son of Jim and Tammy Faye) attending services on Father’s Day at Saddleback Church (Rick Warren’s church) and then meeting with its leaders. That perhaps would not have happened a few years ago.
What are your thoughts about how to cover this issue? Share your thoughts here if you have some.
The Father’s Day visit Kate mentions is the American Family Outing, a series of events being held this spring by Soulforce in order to establish dialogue between LGBT families and six of the country’s largest Evangelical churches and their leaders. The previous five visits have been incredibly successful, and many have ended with pledges to continue the conversation and build on the relationships that were formed.
I’ve got an idea, Kate. Perhaps Speaking of Faith could bring together members of the American Family Outing and leaders from the churches they visited at some point, say six months down the road, in a forum that encourages continuation of this dialogue? That’s a program I’d really like to hear. (Of course, I’m such a fan that you know I’ll be listening regardless!)
COLAGE, Children Of Lesbians And Gays Everywhere, has put together a veritable motherlode of resources for families with a transgender parent. It includes print publications, internet resources, email support groups, and much more. COLAGE is a spectacular organization and this is a much-needed list. Thanks so much!
The ACLU‘s Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Project has launched Get Busy, Get Equal, an online toolkit to empower grassroots organizing for change. Their page on transgender resources is particularly good. They also have a blog, newsfeed, and podcast. Definitely worth a look.
He who is not angry when there is just cause for anger is immoral. Why? Because anger looks to the good of justice. And if you can live amid injustice without anger, you are immoral as well as unjust.
St. Thomas Aquinas (c. 1225-1274), Italian Catholic priest and Dominican, theologian and philosopher.
And a comment from me: The challenge, of course, is to be moral in our anger. This is why I am so thankful for the teachings of Ghandi and Martin Luther King, Jr. on nonviolence. Paige Schilt recently wrote a wonderful essay on living out those teachings as a participant in Soulforce‘s American Family Outing at the Bilerico Project.
And an aside: This quote is widely attributed to St. Thomas, but after scouring the sections from Summa Theologica where one might expect to find it, I came up empty handed. Perhaps it’s from Contra Gentiles? If anyone can help me attribute this one, I’d be grateful.
I think that demonstrating to the world our common humanity despite our differences is our highest calling as trans women and men.
And a thought from me: I’m so encouraged to hear so many trans voices speaking about living openly as a way of fulfilling the mandate of a calling or of enacting and empowering change. I’m inspired by this kind of courage.
Virginia Ramey Mollenkott graced last month’s Transforming Faith–Divining Gender conference not only with her warm and wise presence, but with a wonderful keynote address. In it she laid out seven reasons that religious groups should embrace their transgender members. Here’s a summary, taken from my notes:
- The scriptures are trans-friendly; people who value them should be as well. For example, note the Yahwist creation account, in which God’s original creative impulse is toward a hermaphroditic creation. Jesus speaks well of eunuchs and condemns the use of “Raca,” which scholarship has shown means “effeminate” or “sissy.” Once we shed our cultural proclivities, we can see an ethos in scripture that takes a favorable view of gender variance and diversity.
- Transgender members help congregations transcend gender stereotypes. The binary gender construct does not merely differentiate between genders, but unjustly elevates one over the other. Transgender people provide congregations with a unique reminder that stereotypes are not objectively concrete and need not bind us.
- Transgender members remind congregations to use diverse and inclusive language when speaking about God. In Mollenkott’s words, “If God is male, then male is god.” Transgender people are particularly sensitive to the injustices caused by gendering God inappropriately. Transgender people do congregations a great service when they insist upon more accurate language for God.
- Transgender people have traditionally been recognized in many cultures as bridges between the seen and unseen worlds. Mollenkott made particular note of how Milton genders his angel characters in Paradise Lost. There is tremendous depth to this tradition.
- Transgender people have often reflected deeply on the connections between faith, justice, gender, and sex. Our congregations’ hang-ups on these topics have distracted them from far more important matters. Transgender people can educate their congregations on our lives and issues; they are “particularly suited to teach congregations about the multiple connections between sex, gender, and justice.” As outsiders, we bring a perspective our congregations need. Jesus himself defied many gender norms, and yet in spite of his gender transgression, subordinationism holds sway in many congregations. (Mollenkott drew very interesting linkages between the lengths to which some churches and theologians go to justify subordinationism and the reappearance of Arianism.)
- As occupiers of the “forgotten middle,” transgender people can help congregations get over their addiction to certainty. Our dualistic, “good vs. evil” worldview threatens to destroy humanity and the world. (I was reminded here of Karen Armstrong’s work on the Axial Age, a period of history marked by terrible violence out of which arose today’s great religious traditions with their focus on selflessness and compassion.) “Sympathy cannot be confined to our own group,” Mollenkott said. Transgender people know what it means to occupy a middle that defies artificial dualism. This makes us particularly well suited to teach others to love the Other across dualistic divides; we’ve learned to let our pain express itself as support for others. (She made note here of the Drag Mothers who mentor young trans people in Chris Beam’s Transparent.)
- Transgender people demonstrate powerfully that just as all races share one blood, so do all genders. Mollenkott reminded us of the old “one drop” rule of race, by which anyone who had one drop of African American blood was considered African American and a legitimate target of bigotry. The same rule, she said, holds today for gender norms. One drop of femininity equals feminine or “sissy,” as opposed to the pure or normative male. If we lined up the entire human race from darkest skin to lightest skin, she asked, where would “black” end and “white” begin? Similarly, if we lined up from most masculine to most feminine, where would “masculine” begin and “feminine” end? And, more importantly, what would those distinctions even mean in that context?