Crossing the T

Life at the intersection of Church and Trans with Rev. Allyson Robinson

Archive for Advocacy

Finding freedom from fear

finding_rin_tin_tin

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.

Can I Quote You? Monica Roberts on the state of civil rights

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.

TransGriot blogger Monica Roberts, in a post dated yesterday

Can I Quote You? St. Ignatius of Loyola on self-sacrifice

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.)

Can I Quote You? Karl Menninger on what to do if you’re about to have a nervous breakdown

Lock up your house, go across the railroad tracks, find someone in need, and do something for them.

Karl Menninger (1893-1990), American psychologist.

And a comment from me: While I certainly don’t agree with all of Dr. Menninger’s ideas about psychology (particularly his thoughts on possession as a possible cause of mental illness), this particular quote seemed worth sharing.

Thanks to Garrison Keillor’s Writers Almanac for today.

My activist manifesto

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.)

Recent and Readworthy: New Resources edition

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. 

Ex-gay torture chambers in Ecuador and spiritual abuse

Please read Jim Burroway’s post at Box Turtle Bulletin about LGBT Ecuadorians being committed against their will to “treatment centers” that can only be described as torture chambers. (Translations of the series of articles Jim cites can be found here.) Here’s an excerpt from a 22-year-old transgender woman who experienced their treatment:

“My father paid $1,000 [approx. $350 dollars] to have them lock me up in a clinic because he wanted me to change. Four men practically kidnapped me on the street. I wore my hair long and, since I had already taken hormones, my breasts had grown. They clipped my hair. Me and another three homosexuals. They would lock us up in rooms of less than a meter wide. So small that we had to stand on our feet, in the dark, with flies.”

The place where she was taken was God’s Paradise, a drug and alcohol rehab center, led by Jorge Flor who some residents call “My Pastor.”

“When I tried to escape,” says Chiqui, “they hit me until they broke my nose. They’d ask if I was a man or a woman, they’d take our pants down, they’d throw water between our legs and would put live cables to shock us with electricity.

How in the world can such atrocities be committed in the name of Jesus?

I’m reminded of a story from the life of St. Joan of Arc.  Before she revealed to her family that she had received messages from God calling her to lead the armies of France, her father had a recurring dream. In his dream he saw Joan leaving their home town of Domrémy in the company of soldiers, which he interpreted as a premonition that she would become a camp-follower and prostitute.  He swore to his wife and sons, Joan’s mother and brothers, that if such a thing seemed about to occur he would drown his daughter, and made his sons promise to do the same if he could not.

Such a thing flies in the face of our modern understanding of basic human rights–and yet such things take place every day in our world, and in Jesus’ name.  And they don’t just take place far away.  Spiritual abuse happens in the church next door and the synagogue down the street and the mosque across town any time families are taught or counseled to mistreat their LGBT loved ones in God’s name.

What would have become of France had Joan been murdered by her family as she was departing in men’s clothes to meet with the Dauphin?  What beautiful destiny does the church unwittingly destroy when it abuses its LGBT members and their families?