Invocation: November, 2017

There is a spirit, ancient and eternal, within and among us all,
holding us, binding us together across time and difference,
joining us in an ever-evolving web of interdependent, sacred abiding.

For this, let us be grateful.

There is a world we inhabit—beautiful, vulnerable; troubled by division,
misunderstanding, and fear; yet, there remains a lingering hope
we can repair it, perhaps transform it into something different,
something more: something compassionate and just.
We are part of this world; we are part of this hope.

For this, let us be grateful.

There is an earth, ancient too, fertile and threatened
by mistreatment and neglect, yet there is an earth,
for the time being, sustaining, still, all of us and all that grows,
swims and slithers, creeps, crawls
and flies—all that lives, abides and walks upon it.
There, too, is a sound, in breeze-blown leaves, streaming water,
cricket calls and birdsong, in the echoes of our ancestors,
whispering, “look…listen, take care,” reminding us:
We are of this earth and it is part of us.

For this, let us be grateful.

There is a people—vital and needful, invigorated
by a persistent being-ness, a particularity of personhood
in communal belonging; beautiful too, vulnerable,
and under threat; and yet: there is a people:
who daily dare resilience and some measure of thriving,
who dream, and hope, strive and contribute.
We are this people—we the living, who dare to persist.

For this, let us be grateful.

And to this, we are called:
to be a people, mindful that we are bound by an abiding relational spirit;
to be repairers of a nearly broken world and bearers of something sustaining;
to be walkers of the earth who look, listen, and respond:
to be a people who hope, who dare to persist, and who care for all the living.
To this, we are called and gathered. For this, we are reminded
to be grateful and to strive. May it be so.

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There Are Signs …

It’s that time of year when we are called to be still enough to reflect and express gratitude for all we have—even amid all that is troubling and not what we want, or perhaps, need it to be. These times we live in are, indeed, troubling and certainly not all that we want or need them to be.

And yet, the arc of human history reveals a paradoxical, but powerful truth: sometimes, our most difficult and trying times are precisely the times filled with the most promise and potential for meaningful and lasting change. It is also true that we humans, as a collective, seem to need for the call to seek transformative movement to become a nearly deafening roar so we may hear it.

In the din of revitalized racism, increased misogyny, classism, anti-LGBTQ sentiment and anti-transgender legalism; amid the cries of children and families in distress, food deserts, a planet in peril and willful capitalist neglect; in the shouts of mounting anti-immigrant nationalism—amid the droning of all the problems we face—the resounding call to measurable action is indeed roaring.
There are signs we, the people, are hearing the roaring call. There are even signs that we may be given to hope, inspired to reflect and empowered to act decisively and responsively for the world we desire.

It is hope-inducing to see eight openly transgender persons—especially transwomen and people of color—elected to positions of service at local and state levels. This we can celebrate, even as we acknowledge trans folks have always been serving in various and creative ways. It is significant that one of these persons, Danica Roem, has been elected to the House in Virginia. Yet, we also know from experience, that visibility is not necessarily (or always) a sign of acceptance—more, visibility is always fraught with risk and, often, danger. Visibility is, itself, an act of resistance; demands resilience, intelligence, and fortitude and carries responsibilities. We must remember this, even as we celebrate and hope. Our plight is not simple, nor is our ongoing intersectional work for an egalitarian justice.
It is all the nuance and complexity that makes it somewhat troubling, to me, for us to hear so many celebrating the idea that these persons have all been elected because they are transgender. I, for one, certainly hope not. I hope it is more than that.

Being allowed into spaces because we are transgender is not, itself, a meaningful or helpful goal. In fact, it simply perpetuates the ongoing trend of exoticism, exploitation, and commodifying consumerism of us—and our lives—we have endured for ages: the tension of being granted small spaces as entertaining personalities; curiosities to be consumed. Similarly, it adds to the threat. My hope—and, I think, a more meaningful goal—is that these trans persons have been accepted into these spaces, not because they are trans, but because being trans no longer excludes them. In such a case, their personhoods, gifts, talents, and contributions, as individual members of an interdependent collective, will be visible and honored. This is true, also, for all of us:
We will know we are seen and accepted as vibrant, valuable, contributive and necessary members of a diverse human community when we are given space and belonging not because we are trans, but rather, because being trans no longer excludes or prevents our being accepted and allowed to belong.

At the same time, the reality is that the movement to such a day—to a time when we are granted status as people of value, shaped and formed by our differences and our trans-ness—necessitates the presence of many among us who are willing to be exoticized and consumed, tokenized and exploited, visible and vulnerable. Given the overlapping and intersecting rings of our oppression, the closer one is to the jangling center where all those rings converge, the greater the vulnerability. And therein lies the trouble: the danger and the hope.

Sometimes, we are called to be willing to be seen as who folks think we are long enough to create an opening to be seen for who we actually are. And, isn’t this the core of all our human longing—to be seen long enough, perhaps deeply enough, for who we authentically are to be revealed in compassionate care, mutuality, and acceptance?

In my work, and in my travels, I encounter well-meaning people who too frequently ask: “can’t we all just be people?” My response is always twofold. Firstly, I too long for that day. Then, secondly, and most importantly, that day will not come as long as what defines being a person continues to be measured by the dominant narrative of a monolithic, universalized “person” of a particular socio-cultural invention.
That is to say, as long “people” are defined by being cisgender, predominantly male, heteronormative persons of white, Western European descent, with particular educations and particular economic statuses, then people who are not those “people” will continue to be “other” and be set to the margins. It is that simple.

At some point, if meaningful change is going to come, we as a culture must move from filtering through a personal experience accepted as a universal “norm” and begin to see that all of our social and cultural assumptions—and their systems—are based upon the perspectives, experiences, and goals of a small number of dominant-class persons. From there, we can begin to recognize the origins of these institutionalized assumptions and earnestly uncover the ways these narratives of human being-ness have been manipulated to privilege some and marginalize others. We need, also understand, collectively, that there are some people—very vocal and active people—who really do not want any meaningful change to occur. The truth is this is not so much about “us and them,” though on some significant levels that is true; it is more about learning that a society based upon egalitarian values is better for all of us.

Creating a society that deconstructs systems of privileging, provides for all its members, and works for the good of those who most need some measure of the good, will ultimately capture and care for all its members.  Centering the forgotten assures we are all remembered.
In fact, when our embrace captures everyone, on the farthest reaches, there are no longer margins, and we are all re-membered into a more full, actualizing, and vibrant community. We can all be people when we realize and value, in practical ways, that there as many ways to be a human being as there are now, ever have been, or ever will be human beings—and, more, when we value and care for all people by seeing and acknowledging our inherent human value, we are all made more humane. When such a day comes, then the exclusionary factors of race, gender, class, national origin, and other attributes will no longer exclude any of us because we will have done away with the need for exclusionary, marginalizing, privileging systems.

There are small, daily signs the call to collaborative and sustained response is being heard above the cries for liberation and justice. There are signs the means of making meaningful change are coming. My hope is we will be grateful for the signs—grateful enough to hear the call, feel renewed, and be increasingly inspired to work together toward a day when we are all re-membered into a new, more just, more expansive human community.

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A Different Response to the “Nashville Statement”

“Wake up, you who are in sound sleep, and slumberous people: stop hibernating, look into your deeds, repent and remember your Creator. Those who forget the truth in the vanity of time and wander in their sleep through nonsense and emptiness, which shall do no good nor save anybody, look into your souls and mend your ways and deeds, and each one of you shall forsake your errant paths and unworthy thoughts.” (Rambam)

The recent Nashville Statement, which followed 45’s ban on trans people in the military, is a fundamentalist, Evangelical last-gasp effort to unite and legitimize the Christian Right. Denouncing trans and queer folks, as well as those who love and support us, it is a particularly soul-less, anti-Torah, and anti-Christic document stuffed-full of condemnatory, self-righteous words.
Still… words matter. Hateful rhetoric harms. Impassioned vilifying language ignites fearful biases and incites multiple forms of aggression toward those targeted.
We trans and queer folks know the damage done by continuous, inescapable assaults on our very personhood. Surviving with some semblance of selfhood requires a range of skills that enable us to cope, develop systems of support, cultivate resilience and meet our daily needs. We develop creative ways to show up, make some meaning of our lives, and mentally turn down the incessant noise of negating messages.
All this, while tending the hyper-vigilance necessary to hear the proverbial twig snap behind us.
Because… the truth is, we are always in danger—some of us, more than others. Those who live without the protection of white skin, privileged access to resources, and the relative comfort of a perceived “appropriate” gender-blending presentation are in greater danger every day.

We live in a constant, droning hum of threat: to our psyches, our spirits, access to resources, the means of a daily life—and, to our flesh. We can turn down the internal volume, but we cannot turn off the nagging drone of danger. Truth is, we would perish if we did.
Any attempt to refute the Statement with counter theology might be well-intended, but serves only to pour good water out for bad. Worse, it gives credence to the very statement it proposes to refute. Still, many have chosen to make an article-by-article response to the Statement, attempting to meet proof-texting with proof-texting.

I much prefer to call the thing out for what it is.

The Nashville Statement is condemnation of personhood masquerading as biblical obedience. It is divisive, biblical gibberish and theological nonsense crafted to justify and legitimize the hate-based, self-serving agenda of soul-sick people. More, it is a morally-bankrupt doctrinal statement that squeezes, twists, and distorts scripture to fit it into a misshapen theological golem born of pre-existing bias—rather like pushing rich, earthy clay into a hideous pre-fab, plastic mold.
Bias informs their reading of scripture, not the other way around. In the same way that racism pre-exists and creates the construct of race, fragility-fueled hatred—plain and simple—begets doctrines that judge, vilify, and condemn human beings based upon their identities and self-understandings. Misogyny begets sexism which begets construction of gender binaries…which begets transphobia and homophobia.
And, of course, all of this is inherently tied to power: the amassing of resources and wealth by a self-appointed elite minority which secures its position by pitting the rest of us against each other, by whatever means necessary. The Nashville Statement is the intentional colonization and repurposing of scripture repeatedly employed to colonize land, peoples, and bodies. The “church,” writ large, has been doing this since its inception and collusion with empire.
There is little point in debating errant theology and its resulting doctrine. A mind that willing adapts to a hateful plastic mold and intentionally consents to cementing itself there cannot be reshaped. If we have learned nothing else from church history—or American history—we ought to have learned that proof-texting just leads to more proof-texting and undermines the apologist’s position as empty defense—which, of course, is what they want. I won’t be sucked into that.
My respect for scripture, and my love for those harmed, is too great.

Additionally, the Nashville Statement evidences an ancient, lingering double-speak.
Much of the content relies on select verses from the Hebrew Torah (the Five Books of Moses; what Christians call, the Pentateuch). Christianity, by definition, claims Jewish origins while judging and rejecting it. Christianity, generally, avoids a working, meaningful historical, cultural, or theological context for understanding Jewish scripture and practice. Christian thought, overall, does not have a frame of reference for more nuanced, contextualized readings of Hebrew scriptures. Nonetheless, Christian fundamentalists regularly co-opt Torah and put it on parade when it suits a pre-existing viewpoint.

For Christians to select a few verses from Leviticus (particularly) or other Hebrew texts and use them to legitimize their own doctrine is not only blatant hypocrisy, it is a flagrant, continuous anti-Semitic, re-purposed perversion of the Hebrew text. Moreover, when Christians invoke the prophets while simultaneously ignoring the heart of prophetic witness—seeking only justice, loving neighbor, and engaging social responsibility to all people, especially strangers, foreigners, and the outcast—the hypocrisy stands large.

The use of Christian texts in the Nashville Statement points to the ongoing failure to understand the religion, culture, and context of its claimed namesake, that fellow from Nazareth, Jesus. Jesus was a Jew, not a Christian. Thus, he was called to seek the soul of the Torah, which he knew well, and to try to live it. Jesus was rooted in the heart of Torah; that heart is conduct—how we live the soul of the instruction.
For all its institutional bluster otherwise, “the church” is anti-Christic. The Statement lives into a long, ugly history of embodying and proselytizing the exact opposite of everything Jesus taught—choosing instead, the conflation of “church” and empire, the death-dealing pursuit of worldly wealth and power, and the neglect of God’s people. The Nashville Statement is simply more of the same.
The Christian church has been on the wrong side of empire and the wrong side of history far more than it has ever been on the right side: the side of the prophets and of Jesus.

And, while I know many see me as a heretic—which I claim with pride if it means I’m recognized for refuting the sinful tradition of the imperialist church—I feel sure of this:
the Jesus we find in the gospels; the Jesus who up-ended the ways of empire; who lifted up the heart of the Torah, rooted in doing love, and lived it; the man who called us to love our neighbors and our enemies;
the Jesus who demonstrated, time and again, a preference for the outcast, the persecuted, the hungry, the sick, the marginalized;
the Jesus who did “women’s work” and fed the masses, healed the sick, spoke to women and lifted them up, reached out to foreigners, and turned away no one;
the Jesus who called us to throw off the ways of empire, to sell all we have (rather than amass worldly wealth and power) and follow a way of living counter to the ways of the world, to divest ourselves of alignment to socio-political ways, means, and securities;
the Jesus who called us to do as he did and shake the dust off our feet when we are turned away for living counter to the ways of men;
the  Jesus who accepted, cared for, and consorted with “sinners,” tax collectors, low-wage workers, sex-workers, widows and foreigners;
the same Jesus who taught the disciples the truth about eunuchs, recognizing all genders, sexes, and sexualities;
the Jesus who was, himself, marked by skin, heritage, and culture, and therefore, outcast, believed so much in his work he was willing to die for it;
this Jesus, my Jewish Jesus, weeps with us when everything he taught, demonstrated, and died for is co-opted by the very kinds of people he called out and whose ways he condemned.

So, my response to the Nashville Statement is not aimed at its crafters. I won’t give it credence by speaking to it. But, I will seek to counter it in my heart, my work…and my words.
Words matter.
To my trans, gender-expansive, gender-queer and queer siblings, I offer these words:
You are beautiful. You are valuable, necessary and wondrous manifestations of God’s imaging in a good and marvelously diverse creation. You belong. You have place. Your lives, your gifts, talents, questions, struggles, insights, and contributions—your very presence—is necessary to our ability to conceive of and understand a Creator who is vastly beyond our comprehension, transcendent yet always, somehow, near to us, present in us, and abiding among us. You make God bigger. You make us all bigger as individual images of God.
Without you, our human nature and our world, entire, is made small and enfeebled by the limited, insecure, self-centered and self-aggrandizing imaginations of small, power-mongering men. You are beautiful. You are necessary. You matter.

 

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Remembering and Imagining (Or…Looking Forward From Philadelphia)

When I was growing up in the 1960s, it was a particularly difficult time to be a child discerning a gender-identity different from one’s gender assigned at birth. In a time where everything our culture saw as normal and “just the way things are,” was being challenged—from whether war is ever just to the question of race and civil rights; from the nature and legitimacy of the “lesser sex” (women) to reproductive rights, naming only a few—those of us who questioned our gender were not well-received.

Like many of my generation, and those who went before us, I’ve spent a lifetime learning this: it takes a lifetime to become, fully, the person one has always been. The work of becoming is never one-and-done. And, ultimately, none of us does it alone.

Things are better now than they were then. But not by a lot. There is much work to be done.  This past week, I hit the road again, joining partners, colleagues and accomplices in the work at Philadelphia Trans Health Conference.

There, I found moments of the kind of world we can create, in the now, as we imagine and work for a society where we all, finally, are liberated, valued, free to be and have dignified, meaningful place in a common world. The work is difficult and slow going. Sometimes, it’s hard to hang on to the reason we do this work: the belief that we really can, together, change our troubled world.

Not every moment—or hour—was perfect. But there were moments, gifts perhaps, that rekindled my hope—a hope, lately, profoundly threatened. These moments are reminders: if we are willing to practice what we hope for, we can create and model the world we imagine, even as we work for and dream it.

The gift of collaboration:
when we mentally and emotionally commit to fostering collaborative spaces and projects;
when we set aside our fragile egos;
when we let go of the need to be the expert and embrace our unknowing;
when we set aside pent-up anger, acknowledge our fears, and embrace relational engagement;
when we place our shared vision above our personal attachments, we really can work together, learn from one another, contribute, grow, dare be changed, and create momentary revolutionary spaces. Those spaces, nurtured, can be transformed into lasting ways of being and acting in the world. Perhaps, then, moments can become hours; hours, days; days a new, just and life-giving cohabitation on a shared earth.

In these times, we don’t need more protective isolationism and fearful retreat into silos of safety and irrelevance. Now, we need visionary co-conspirators actively engaged in radical, revolutionary belief in the sanctity of all human life, love of mercy, and the doing of justice.

The gift of bravery:
            Believe it or not, bravery is contagious.
In world burning with a sweltering climate of hate, intolerance, violent aggression, and religious condemnation of trans/gender-expansive persons; in a world of heightened racism, classism, misogyny, anti-immigrant sentiments, and nationalism; it takes a fair amount of bravery just to leave the house—more, even, to do so expressing one’s gender self-understanding. It takes still more courage to gather, by the thousands, in a public building, daring to hold communities of support, learning, sharing, and change-making together. This, alone, is powerful.

But…when courageous, authentic presence is met with embracing the risky activities of listening to one another, holding dialogue, risking ourselves, and regarding disagreement and difference with grace and respect, seemingly small sparks of willingness can become flames that burn bright enough, long enough, to fight the fires of hatred with the fires of love, mercy, compassion and communal concern.
Bravery is contagious. Stand close; lean into risky, messy relational connection. Catch the fire.

The gift of remembering:
            As trans and gender-expansive persons, we live in a constancy of tensions. There are many: visibility against danger; invisibility against commodification and exploitation; isolation against tokenization; loneliness against rejection for coming out; the list goes on. Remembering, too, is set in tensions: desire to remember as part of self-understanding against things we’d rather forget; the work of remembrance in healing against those memories that are lost to us; the need of remembering our fallen while working for the living; remembering our profound resilience while striving for fuller, healthier lives that look to and imagine our future.

When we choose to come together in shared, supportive, risk-taking space, we can discover so much more than we can alone. And, we can be reminded that, ultimately, remembering is good.

Our past—personal and collective—is always with us. It shapes our present and informs our future. When we are held in community, we can remember in transformative ways. And, perhaps, we can be re-membered—put together in renewed in self-understanding; repositioned, given a sense of place and belonging, with ourselves and others.

And, finally, the gift of imagining:
            All our work for change, to my mind, is the work of imagining. So also, the work of healing; the work of community-building; the work of relationship-building.
Essentially, simply being trans is about imagining. We dare to live in the raw material of our bodies and lives, look deeply, sense and feel our way, and imagine bursting forth into the selfhood already present within us—then, we dare to make that personhood manifest. When we come together, opening the flood gates on all our vision-crafting, we can envision a way forward that leaves no one behind. That leaves no one unseen, un-cared for, un-imagined.

All these gifts of gathering came together for me in one poignant, amazing event.

Every year at the conference, there is a track for kids and adolescents. Many are trans in some sense of emerging self-understanding; some, the children of trans folks. They range in ages, races, ethnicities, family configurations, and personalities. This, alone, is a powerful thing.

In the afternoon of the last day, I was taking stroll through the vendor tables. Suddenly, there was the sound of noise-makers, laughing, and all manner of merry-making. People began clapping and cheering. I turned around to see what was going on.
There, marching through the hallway, was a parade of children—glorious, gender-expansive, beautiful children, accompanied by youth and adults who had been working with them. They waved rainbow and trans pride flags. Some were wearing rainbow tutus or hats. As they marched through the conference center hallways, everyone stopped, took notice, and celebrated them.

A joyful, affirming roar of clapping and cheers filled the building.

I watched them pass, remembering my own troubled becoming, aware of the gaps in my own memory. I breathed in their imagining made marvelous among us. For a moment, I imagined a world full of these children, perhaps growing to raise their own children, affirming them to be whoever is bursting forth within them. I envisioned what it must be like to be one of those children—to receive the collaborative gifts of those working with and caring for them, to receive being seen and celebrated by hundreds of trans and gender-diverse folks, queer folks, and allies. I reveled in their bravery. I remembered those whose courage and persistence brought us all to such a day. With the clapping of my hands, the cheers I shouted, I gave thanks.

Through trailing tears, and an uncharacteristically broad smile, I gave thanks for those children. As they moved into another hallway, met by more cheers and clapping, I gratefully wiped my eyes, and I noticed I was not alone.

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Deflection Politics: Tried and True Tactics

(Or…the Soothing Sound of Katydids)

It is evening here, in North Carolina, where House Bill 2 (the first of the “bathroom” bills) once loomed heavily, casting a storm of attention over our lives and giving the shelter of darkness to vigilantism and public policing of rest rooms all around us. Now, we live in the aftermath of the Bill’s year-long reign before the quasi-repeal, it’s protracted moratorium, and the reality that the damage was already done.

Repeal or no repeal, we gender-expansive folks had already been tossed onto the unholy alter of deflection politics and set ablaze, like a ritual bonfire before a sacrifice, drawing attention to our lives and inciting a special brand of hate-induced hysteria. Whereas, before HB2, trans and gender-diverse folks had lived in the relative safety of an equally troubling and problematic invisibility, large numbers of fearful people were suddenly all-too aware of us, empowered with false “education” about the danger we pose the “women and children” of decent people, and all frightened, unblinking eyes were watching anyone who looked like they might be trans…whatever that really looks like. Because there was, in the quasi-repeal, no acknowledgement of wrong-doing on the part of North Carolina law makers and there was no effort to correct the harmful misinformation invoked against us, the repeal-that-isn’t might as well never have happened. People who, for years, had been in public rest rooms with us and never knew it, people who had passed us, unaware, on city sidewalks and in shopping malls—people who sat next to us in movie theaters or, even more scandalous, in church pews—were, ever-after, turning a searching and suspicious eye to the person whose gender expression struck them as somehow off, somehow gender-transgressive.

The damage was done. The deflection from other pressing and important, though related, concerns stymying a just society was achieved. Issues of ruling-class power-mongering like the drawing of voting district lines, Medicaid expansion, living wage initiatives, and all manner of issues related to the lives and needs of the people at large were cast to the shadows of collective awareness as a huge, glaring light was cast on us and our unruly audacity to express our own gender self-understanding. It is no accident that HB2 was cast in the dark of night, in back office conversations and drafts, and approved the next day during a period of sustained political outcry (through the Forward Together movement) in response to the very issues that HB2 was crafted to divert.
This was, in fact, exactly the point.

The employment of deflection politics serves, at the least and immediately, two significant functions for the preservation of power. First and foremost, such tactics serve to increase negative public opinion toward a group of persons who are already outcast subjects of direct socio-political marginalization, fear, and hate-based discrimination. Thus, the already stigmatized become even more stigmatized; the already despised become more widely despised. The primary byproduct of deflection tactics is the creation of greater divisiveness among the populace, who are already competing for increasingly limited resources, and production of a measured unlikelihood that the people will unite against the governing elite. Consequently, emotional, verbal, and physical violence against such persons increases as the fear and hatred increase—if a few more of these persons meet with a bad end, it is no great loss, so the sentiment goes. To be clear, deflection politics begin with a pre-existing bias—or outright hatred—against a particular group and then pours accelerant on the existing, but low-burning fire.

The second intended function is that of diverting attention away from the other business as usual on the part of the governing body by creating an emotionally charged frenzy of fear, public panic, and outraged aggression in the general masses and an equal and opposing defensive, survival-based response in the targeted group. With a sufficient amount of distraction, the governing elite can engage all manner of other policy-making, legislation, and empire-building to preserve, increase, and promote their power. Deflection is an effective tool. And it has been employed by the powerful since the dawn of empire-building. In this country, deflection and scapegoating have been the tools of the powerful since the Crown began sending the poor, the unwanted, the low and expendable over here to build the colonies on indentured “contract” long before there were any Articles of Confederation, let alone a Constitution. The creation of increasingly creative deflection and scapegoating paradigms has kept people in divisive competition around a long list of contrived factors: gender, class, race, religion, ability, to name only the primary structural “isms” out of which all the other isms arise.
These are the continuing sins of our white European, cis-gender male, Christian predecessors.

It is nightfall, now. The summer sun has finally set on the day that He-Who-Is-Not-My-President utilized his primary method of enacting policy—Twitter—to announce his wish to reinstate the ban on transgender persons serving, “in any capacity,” in the armed forces. This, as we all watch with varying measures of anxiety, the evolving progression of yet another rest room Bill in Texas (SB 3).
The fire on the unholy alter flares.

The immediate and somewhat frenzied reactions to 45’s anti-trans tweet only serve to show how effective the tactics of deflection politics really are. My ability to pay attention to it all has worn as thin as the increasingly less humid evening air. The ether is practically sizzling with reactionary panic as if yet another in a long list of hate-speak tweets from our want-to-be emperor actually changes existing policy. It does not. Any change on the policy regarding transgender service in the military requires a decision from the Department of Defense. All the buzz is focused around this moment of distracting hate-speak. The deflection is working.
More than a potential to affect policy, 45’s tweet raises a greater kind of harm.

We gender-expansive folks, at various levels of experience, live in a rather constant state of inescapable exposure to all manner of negating, soul-wounding messaging. The effects of these messages on both our individual sense of self and our ability to cope are cumulative. Additionally, negative messages to our gender self-understanding are compounded when our lived experience intersects with other marginalized factors such as race, ability, or religious identity. When particularly harmful language (reminiscent of early American colonization) such as, “burden,” “tremendous disruption,” is spewed out into the public consciousness, followed by a call to “ban” these persons, it carries a certain emphasis. More, it invites others to follow suit.
The fires smolder on. Not unlike the southern, summer humidity that sticks the heat of the day to tender skin.

I wonder if our collective outrage might be more appropriately centered around the deeply problematic Presidential use of Twitter to spout derogatory, hate-instilling, and factless language that fans the flames of pre-existing bias against transgender and gender-diverse persons—or, for that matter, any other group. More pointedly, might it be worth our earnest analysis of why, collectively, we acquiesce to this behavior and, from there, vision-crafting a movement toward correction? Our collective, functional tolerance of this man’s continuous use of aggressively mean-spirited, hateful, and intentionally divisive language is a deplorable abdication of our own responsibility as citizens of the world, as well as our insidious participation in an ongoing oppression of ourselves and our fellow humans. These concerns, for me, are essential elements of conceiving ways to move resistance into purposeful action and action to meaningful, sustainable change—the ponderings that keep me up at night these sticky, summer nights.
In the meantime, this night, the air is finally cooler and the screened porch is an old friend, calling me to quieter reflection. The katydids are singing, accompanied by crickets. And, lulled by night-songs, my thoughts turn to other things: like, the marvel of how soothing it is to listen, deeply, to the rhythmic, harmoniously layered, pulsing drone of katydids, given subtle texture by the resonate crickets. There is no silence like this silence.
The questions will keep. And, in the lush absence of hate-speak, I’m reminded tomorrow is another day.

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Explorative Musings on the Insufficient Politics of Inclusion: (Part Two) Learning from Trees

Perhaps, the reason we struggle to create a society of equitable diversity
is precisely the result of the language, and thus the thinking, we use
to frame it.
To create something different, we have to think something
different. We have to envision, dream, language, and speak something
different.                                                                               (from, Part One)

Movement One—to shut up, enclose, contain between or within: 
There are over 11,300 known, accepted species of grasses, but there are over 64,000 named species of grasses which await full acceptance into the known world of grass. This is a human set of designations; grasses do not observably seem to be bothered by difference. These various grasses are likely populated by representatives of 11,000 known species of grasshoppers, within the order, orthoptera, and the suborder, caelifera—all of them, hopping, feeding, living, reproducing, and evolving within the many fields and meadows of diverse grasses and other foliages.

It is estimated that there are approximately 10,000 species of birds we might find flying over grass and grasshopper alike. There are, however, only seven living species of equus, including horses, zebras, donkeys and asses (excluding the human ass, which is a completely different, though proliferate, animal)—any of these might be found trotting through grasshopper-filled meadows.

I, personally, have seen at least two types of grasshoppers bounding and hopping between brushy outcrops while hiking in the Red Rocks of Arizona. But, then, I am prone to notice such things, to quietly lean in, looking more closely, whenever I sense a wisp of movement at the edges of my sight, or discern even the faintest of rustling sounds signaling some nearby creature being its creature-self: another living testament to the vast particularity of a diverse creation.

There are over 60,000 species of trees. Trees coexist with all manner of grasses, grasshoppers, and other trees, while also providing homes to all types of birds, not to mention insects and other fur-bearing creatures. Forest ranger and author, Peter Wohlleben has found, through scientific research and observation, that trees communicate, even count, form and hold memory, nurse and care for one another, warn one another of danger, and even feed ancient stumps of felled trees (The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate—Discoveries from a Secret World).  Others have noted similar qualities. Evidence suggests trees communicate with, care for, and protect one another; sometimes, across species.
In the genus grouping, homo, we sapiens are assumed to be the only extant species of hominids to be keeping company with birds, grasshoppers, trees, grasses, of course, one another. The term denoting our genus, homo, as we generally know, means “the same,” clarifying for us that we humans share the same overarching characteristics, genetic make-up, limitations and potentialities, and are capable of exchanging genes for reproduction. We’ve been known to claim our extant status is due, almost solely, to our having greater capacity for rational thought, ethical discernment, and creative survivability than other homo species. We are, it could be said, one. Yet we are not—we seem to be hell-bent on creating internal classifications of difference by which we then determine who is “in” and who is “out,” who is one of us and who is not…and, worse yet, who is somehow an aberration and, therefore, in need of correction, removal, or erasure. Unlike trees or grasses, or even grasshoppers and birds, we are violently adversive to and suspicious of intra-species difference. We set up all manner of exclusionary criteria and systems of hierarchal preference. Moreover, we do this to our own detriment—ultimately, to the detriment of our planet.

Perhaps, despite our big, overly-prized brains, we’re not as smart as we think we are. It would seem trees, which possess no discernable brain (at least as we understand brains), have learned things we have yet to learn.

Movement two:  something different—something that frees, rather than shuts in, all of us.
Still, now and then, despite our relative density, we discern it is beneficial to try to address this tendency to eradicate our kin, and we do so by way of “inclusion,” the invitation to others to join the fold, to be absorbed and take a place among the whole, as long as the invited include-ees are willing to assimilate their difference into the dominant group: the cherished norm; the favored; the collective hive, representative of the true genus—the mythical universal human.

On the screened-in porch this morning, I noticed, again: at a glance, hummingbird moths—also known as hawk-moths, or sphinx-moths—can quite easily be mistaken for small, young hummingbirds. Though the likeness is stunning, and more than a little astounding, hummingbird moths are not hummingbirds. Evolutionarily, these moths do appear to have adapted to mimic their namesake birds. Survival breeds its own forms of intelligence. It occurred to me that we gender-diverse peoples have adapted in similar ways. As I considered our various forms of survival intelligences, a red shouldered hawk (sometimes referred to as a brown shouldered hawk due to the brownish-red hue) graced me with a low-flying pass. Red shouldered hawks are like, but not the same as, red tailed hawks; they are, each, a different species of the genus, buteo. Conversely, trans persons—and our intersex siblings—are homo sapiens.
Likeness, indeed, does not mean sameness.
It seems grasses and trees, in some way, know this too.

Nonetheless, we have become subjects of our culturally transmitted language and thought systems—perhaps more accurately, we have become captives. Some of this language, to be sure, is intentionally cultivated by members of the powerful minorities who benefit from the ways linguistic frameworks become socio-cultural systems and keep us divided. Nonetheless, our collective imagination has been dulled. Because language forms all our efforts, it has also created the paradigms of injustice we seek to change. And because empires have been doing the work of empire since the dawn of empires, this change we dream of, envision, and work for is new to us all. To achieve it, we are tasked with visioning and creating something different—something that frees, rather than shuts in, all of us. To create something different, we need to think something different. We need to envision, dream, language, and speak something different.
Perhaps, we need the grassy brush of our imagination stirred by the boundless jumps of grasshoppers, illuminated by streams of light through the leafy branches of trees, fanned and whooshed by the flapping of bird wings.

Movement Three: Acceptance, Affirmation, Accommodation
In this work of reimagining, we are always beginning. We begin with our language: the thing that forms all our ideas, concepts, beliefs, and thus, our work. The more we use the homogenizing, minimizing, universalizing language of the dominant (and dominating) culture, the more we are at risk…the more we are simply groping around in circles in the shadows, grasping at word-scraps left on the floor in the master’s paradigm lab. Acknowledging that the just world we seek is a new thing means creating new language for a truly world-changing movement. At the very least, it means reframing the language handed down to us by the forefathers of oppression.

Inclusion, by definition, means that the included body does the work of adaptation into the space it is given; it embeds itself and conforms to the space it is allotted. This has been the case in our collective practice.  It is more than insufficient. Thinking in terms of inclusion keeps us—all of us—from becoming free to be who and what we are: grasshoppers trapped in a glass canning jar with holes poked into the lid, we can see the grassy field we might move into, the trees and plants that might shelter and nourish us; we can even taste the air, smell the smells, hear the sounds, and see the world of liberation out there, but we cannot get out of the jar.
There are, perhaps, more meaningful—and praxis-informing—ways of imaging a way out of the pretty glass jar.

Trees, we now know, communicate with, care for and protect other trees…and they do so across species.
Acceptance: refers to the action—the behavior—of receiving something offered, some person, thing, belief, or point of view; it means, first and foremost, to accept, to receive, the person, thing, or belief as favorable, to consent to regarding a person, thing, or belief as valid, correct, right or true, and worthy of receiving.  Trees, it seems, accept other trees.
Affirmation: refers to the action—again, the behavior—of affirming something, some person, thing, belief, or point of view; to affirm some person, thing, belief or idea is to recognize and to assert that thing, person, or belief is valid; it is to demonstrate belief in and dedication to the thing affirmed. Where acceptance is about regarding as valid and worthy and, then, consenting to receive with favorable regard something—or someone—seeking acceptance, affirmation is the overt assertion of the acceptance with high regard. Affirmation is about how we treat and respond to the person, thing, or belief we have accepted and consented to receive among us; it is about asserting validity and demonstrating dedication.
Trees, we can observe, affirm other trees by warning one another of impending dangers. Wohlleben has found that trees will actively support and nurture the ancient stumps of felled trees by feeding them a sugar solution through their roots. We homo sapiens seem to have trouble agreeing it is worthwhile to feed the living. Trees, incidentally, are rather gender-sex-expansive; it is not uncommon for trees to manifest both tree-sexes, so to speak. Some trees even alter, or change, their sex.
Accommodation: sociologically speaking, accommodation is about a process of mutual adaptation between persons or groups; it refers to the activity—yes, again, the behavior—of making changes and adjustments for a thing, person, or group; to accommodate another is to, purposefully and intentionally, make space for, adjustments, or arrangements for the care, stay, safety, or life of another. Making accommodation refers to making intentional changes, adaptations, to provide sufficient space, resources, and support to meet the needs of the other. It is the provision of receptive, affirming hospitality.
Trees accommodate, care for and make space for, other trees. Trees will adapt the growth of their branches to point away from their neighbors, making space for the others to access sunlight.

Beyond this stifling language of inclusion, I wonder if we can imagine a world among the trees—a fecund place where the light is available to all, where even a seemingly damaged stump is fed, where all are nurtured, cared for, made space for and protected.

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The Blinding Light of An Image of God

In our striving, in and through our various faith systems, to create a pervasive, active sense of radical welcome that moves us to a just, compassionate, egalitarian world, a central theme in our framework is this thing we call the imago dei: the image of God.

In Hebrew, the originating concept of the image of God is phrased as tselem Elohim: צֶ֫לֶם אֱלֹהִים. Elohim is the term used to refer to God. The word, tselem, like all Hebrew words, carries layers of meaning. From a root signifying, to shade, the word is meaningfully understood as a shadow, resemblance, representative image, a phantom, image, or implication of something; in this case, of God. There is much here to look into more deeply, if we dare to do so.

What we can read here—and, indeed, many have read—is that our likeness to God is like that of a shadow to the light which forms it. In other words, at a certain angle, from a certain perspective, we are creatures who are a shadowy resemblance of God, something that suggests—perhaps, hints at—the essence of God: this, in the same way a shadow points to the light which casts it. The shadow is not the light. More, the shadow cannot exist without the light. We could also say, more pointedly, that the light needs the shadow in order to be seen—to be distinguished and discerned. If all is light, we see only light. And, we go blind.

Explicit in all of this is a central revelation: this image of God is not a physical thing. Moreover, the phrasing “tselem Elohim” throughout the verses referring to humans, does not contain indicators of the definite article, “the.” Therefore, the text does not say, “The image of God” at all. Rather, the verbiage is “An image of God”—perhaps, an image God had in mind, a representative image God possessed; an envisioned thing; one of many. We earth-beings are individual creations God imagined, envisioned, and made, much like an artist images, then creates, a drawing or painting. It is the artist’s image, but is decidedly not the artist. Nonetheless, it carries, always, something of the artist in it. More, the image, itself, is always and ever, IN the artist. Thus, we can say we are in God, and God is in us.

At a deeper level, we can surmise that there is no definite article, “the,” for God or for the image because there is not, and cannot be, a single image for God. God cannot be reduced to a single image, concept, or manifestation. By extension, then, the same is true for any image God has of us. We are images of God’s imagining, intended to bear some resemblance of God in the world—some essence that, itself, points back to our Creator. So, we ask ourselves: what is the essence of this image of God we were created to bear forth in the world?

If we are shadowy resemblances of God, if we are the shade God casts on the world, then what is our purpose? I think we can glean that our purpose is that of the shadow: to point to, or direct attention to, the light that is our source. More, we are, perhaps, to make brighter the core of light within us. We are images that make clear there is a light that causes us to be, that makes us visible and distinguishes us, one from another. Thus, the essence of God that we point to—that we carry forth into the world—is spiritual in nature, intangible, and most assuredly, relational. It is our interaction with one another, our relationality, that makes our essence, our resemblance to the essence of God, accessible and tangible in the world we inhabit.

I am enticed to wonder: what if we were able to really embrace this concept? How might we greet and interact with one another if we took to heart that we are God’s envisioned images, creations ever pointing back to the Light that formed us? Not just some of us, but all of us? Each of us AN image of God.

How might we be transformed if we were to accept that even a shadow bears a point of light within it—that, at its center, even a shadow bears the light that birthed it? How might we treat ourselves and each other if we realize we, too, are resemblances bearing something of the Light of our Creator? It is, to me, a rather terrifying truth to consider…perhaps, this is what it means to stand before God, trembling in awe, as there is profound responsibility within such a realization; but, it is also equally exhilarating and inviting, potentially calling to our deepest longings.

Would we embrace, in the passing of the peace, the person who seems to be talking to their-self and appears a bit disheveled by our standards? How might we respond to the bearded person who enters our doors wearing a stunning dress and combat boots…or the apparently pregnant person, equally bearded, wearing a suit and tie? Could we recognize, in the homeless person we pass by, the grumpy person in line at the grocery store, the person who stole our wallet, the shadowy resemblance of the Holy Light that cast them? Could we recognize, in our own perfectly imperfect selves, the sacred Light that makes us, too, visible? Would we be able to see an image pointing us to the awe-inspiring Source, and lifting our heads seeking, stare full-faced into the Light? Would we allow ourselves, even for a moment, to gaze into the glaring brightness of that Light, squinting in joyous desire to see even more deeply?

Or, forgetting we are already in the light and the light is in us, would we turn away, fearing we’ll go blind?

 

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Explorative Musings on the Insufficient Politics of Inclusion (Part One)

Include: from the Latin root, includere, to shut-in; 1. to shut up, enclose;
contain between or within, as a whole does any parts or elements; 2. to place
in an aggregate, class, category, or the like; 3. to contain as a subordinate
element, (biology, geology, metallurgy) to contain a body or particle that is
recognizably distinct from the body or substance in which it is embedded.

Movement One—to shut up, enclose, contain between or within:
I first learned about inclusion as a child following eagerly behind my grandparents, learning everything I could absorb, as we went about rock-hounding and fossil-hunting all over Arizona. Traipsing around desert lands, dried creek beds, and mountains, discovering and looking deeply into the material evidence of an interconnected cosmos made tangible everywhere captured some deep yearning within me and held it. Some abiding longing for connection; understanding; origins; place. Perhaps, even belonging. What we learn from nature, if we turn our attention, never ceases to teach us. Gleanings from nature work on me, root into and shape, more and more, how I see the world.
Inclusion, essentially, refers to any material body that is trapped within another in its formation. Included bodies are distinctly different from the body they inhabit. They stand out. Sometimes, stunningly beautiful, nonetheless, they are enclosed, contained as a subordinate element within a larger whole. Included bodies are, by definition, not part of the thing that houses them. They are, perhaps, tolerated by the surrounding body, as their embedding cleaves a defined, but limiting space. Inclusions are contained.
As I got older, I learned about inclusion in the world. Through experience, I learned being included meant being absorbed, squeezed and conformed into something different, something not like me. I learned there were consequences to inclusion—fractures, confinements, losses of essential pieces. I am not alone. Others have learned this as well.

Movement Two—an aggregate, class, category, or the like:    
The framing idea of “inclusion” has dominated the rhetoric of movements for justice—especially, the LGBTQ movement for equality. If what we are seeking is, in fact, inclusion, then we have been successful.
The evidence of our success: an entire collective of diverse peoples, have indeed been included: trans/gender-expansive persons; all who are women; bisexual and pansexual persons; and all queer and trans persons of color, alike, share the same inclusion—we have been shut in, enclosed, and tolerated into a movement for equality that reflects the dominant culture and is not our own; a movement that is centered within a cultural history of constructed norms and ideologies that become the default measure of our progress. The lives of the rest of us, our experiences, and our interests, have been compressed into an overarching, homogenizing “gay” narrative: the aggregate class somehow, still, superordinate to the rest of us, the aggregate-of-the-aggregate.  Our voices and our stories exist at the farthest reaches, framed by a larger assimilationist bedrock. The gay rights movement for inclusive equality includes all of us, different-of-the-different, as the subordinate class at the margins.
Perhaps, the reason we struggle to create a society of equitable diversity is precisely the result of the language, and thus the thinking, we use to frame it. We have become subject to the language we use.
This is understandable; we are steeped in culturally transmitted, rhetorical conditioning:  colonialist capitalism, the culture of “whiteness,” the elitist myth of the American Dream, patriarchy-preserving science, suppositions of normalcy and deviance, ruling class Democracy, universalizing liberalism, and the misogynistic, racist, androcentric ideals that these systems of knowledge and power affirm and preserve. These ideals include into us, our psyches, worldviews and ways of being; they embed themselves, included material contained in our bodies—personal and collective—we carry them around, unconsciously, even as they cleave us, until we become aware something profoundly vital and visceral has been torn. We strive for change using the same systems and practices that mete out our oppression.
Intentional, reflective attention to the language that forms our efforts for change is the only way to create something different—something that frees, rather than shuts in, all of us.

Movement Three—to contain as subordinate element a particle or body that is distinct:
Words matter. Words are thoughts; thoughts are words. Words forge beliefs; have power. Especially, when we unwittingly turn them on ourselves.
I stir uncomfortably, inwardly resisting the language we seem to assimilate, almost unconsciously, without real reflection. Some words creep into our language, practically bellowing and hollering the unconscious acquiescence that moves external nomenclature to internal lexicon.
People of trans experience…trans-identified…gender non-conforming…preferred pronouns. These words consternate me. There are others even more troubling. Such is the plight of the subordinated—always sifting through the linguistic table scraps scattered about the ruling-class storehouse, searching for language that fits our needs. The language of revolution. Left groping, the language of inclusion sticks in my throat like bad food I’ve been taught to believe is good. I long for something more.
             Life seems to compel me toward an almost nagging impulse to turn again—to reflect, to question, to look more and more inward, to probe a little deeper, searching always for what will suffice, what seems real and meaningful. Half measures are meaningless. Transition is like that it seems. Never one-and-done. Never a discrete, finite thing. Transformation is so much more than a terminal series of easily distinguishable events. True for people and for worlds. Once consented to, once an opening is made, there is a rippling of interactive movements, widening, expanding outward and returning inward again toward deeper realizations of self and world.

A body that is distinct: distinct living bodies; enspirited; infused with self-understanding.
I am, among other attributes, qualities and quirks, a person who is trans—not trans-identified, as if I simply relate to being trans or comprehend it. While there are many paradigms and systems in our culture I choose not to conform to, while there are forces I resist with every thread of attention and intention I can weave together into a cohesive, active response, I am not simply choosing not to conform; I am choosing daily to accept and affirm my own gender self-understanding. I am an embodied person, endowed with identity, infused with a persistent is-ness of personhood, in a state of perpetual being, longing to become and belong and be in interconnected, interdependent relationship with others, with nature, and with the world I inhabit. I am a distinct body in a world with other distinct bodies. My body is powerful, fragile, odd and marvelous, perfectly imperfect. I am a person, doing the best I can to live, grow, thrive and contribute in a world that values sameness as a means for maintaining power for the few through divisiveness among the many. I grow increasingly resistant to inclusion. I am not alone.
We are all distinct, individuated, enspirited bodies, endowed with identity and personhood. We are not meant for inclusion. We are meant for more. No inclusion into a homogenized collective status quo can erase or minimize our individual selfhoods or value. More, a politics of inclusion will never move us toward the just liberation we are seeking. To create something different, we have to think something different. We have to envision, dream, language, and speak something different.
We were not meant for inclusion, for enclosure. We were meant—all of us, without hindrance and without bias—to be set free, unbound, liberated to be and become fully, distinctly, who we are.

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Us and Them, Within and Without …

All good people agree,
And all good people say,
All nice people, like Us, are We
And everyone else is They.

                                                                                      Rudyard Kipling, “A Friend of the Family”

The pervasive belief in “us and them” is killing us. In every possible way—from slow, subtle and not-so-subtle, psycho-spiritual death to actual, targeted violence. The sad truth is, though, this is nothing new.

Throughout history, our evolved human survival-imperative ability to discriminate—to distinguish between things and categorize friend or foe, healthy berries or poison, novel event or dangerous situation—has served equally to divide us as persons, groups, and nations, and to perpetuate a fearfulness of difference that seeks to other the different, colonize them, exploit them where possible, and erase them. Nothing new.
Yet, now, there are more and more of us humans, more and more complicated social structures. The definitions of who constitutes “us” and “them” have become more narrow. Socio-culturally, we have become increasingly confused about the features of likeness and sameness, thus experiencing a profound forgetting of, at least, two important realities of our existence: that likeness has never meant sameness, and, that difference is the fundamental underpinning and essential strength of the natural world. Colonialism and capitalism are built on and prosper from the exploitation and manipulation of difference. From gender to race, caste to ability, age and, even, education, difference maintains and legitimizes the powerful.

The element of difference is the source metal out of which an amalgamation of beliefs, codes, norms, and social systems are smithed in power-preserving fires that benefit the dominating few and disinherit the many. Snuffing out the forge of pathological sameness is about changing the beliefs, codes, unexamined assumptions, and norms that fuel the fire itself. The work of justice-making is about creating a groundswell of conscious awareness of, then changing, the underlying belief systems and social codes that make up the forge on which our lives, and our very bodies, are hammered and shaped. This is more crucial now than ever.

Or, as David Berreby observes, his book, Us and Them: “Today it is clear as never before that human kinds—those categories we use to explain human acts on every scale, from a morning walk (“Why were those men wearing turbans?”) to all of history (“Is war inevitable?”)—don’t depend on what people are, but on what people believe.

We, as trans/gender-expansive and queer folks, know a little something about the ways an intricate web culturally transmitted assumptions, beliefs, and codes become the manipulated means of “othering,” divisiveness, intentional disenfranchisement and oppression. We know because, in order to survive, we have had to intentionally dismantle all that culturally transmitted, assimilated nonsense about what it is to be a person, how persons come into being, and how we all discern who we are. We know.

Yet, in important ways—ways that, ultimately, harm us all—we forget this. And, as humans throughout time have done, when we forget the deeper truths of our condition, we recapitulate them—on others and, worse, on ourselves. We as trans/gender-variant folks know in intimate ways that people come into the world as persons and that it is culture that defines, codifies, and rewards or vilifies persons based on pre-existing, constructed beliefs about normalcy or deviance, superiority or inferiority, etc. We know these arbitrary norms reflect, always, the dominant group. As Ta-Nehisi Coates points out so powerfully (Between the World and Me): “race is the child of racism, not the father.”

This is true on all levels of intersectional oppression. The constructs of gender and sex are the fraternal twins of androcentrism and sexism—an insidious coupling of fragility and fear of impotence and irrelevance. The gender binary and homosexuality are the children of androcentrism sneaking around with a misunderstood, but no less enticing, mythic hetero-human, all painted and primped, strutting seductively, adorned with flashy bobbles and shiny beads. The myth of an Arian race is the child of anti-Semitism. The idea of “whiteness” and all its assumptions are the offspring of racism. The lineage goes on.

Yet, we forget. It’s not all that surprising, really. Humans are prone to forgetting if we’re not attentive to remembering. It’s as natural as our good-berry-bad-berry discriminating faculties. These instincts assured our survival.

But, honestly, I am wearied of watching our collective forgetting cannibalize us from within. Lately, I am concerned by a pervasive lack of awareness in our practice of change-seeking, that people, writ large, are not the problem: we—us, people—are in fact the answer to the dehumanizing, discriminatory systems we have all inherited through cultural transmission. We are all the recipients of culture. The targets of our efforts for change are the particular, and collective, ideologies of difference and normativity—the contrived beliefs regarding human nature, normalcy and deviance—intentionally preserved, curated, and manipulated to serve and benefit the powerful. The hindrance of a just and compassionate society is not the people, themselves, and who they are; it is what they believe.

Yes, it is true that some people are the problem because they are people who preserve certain oppressive ideas, curate them, and manipulate them for their own self-serving agendas.

This is certainly true of gender and race. But cis-gender people are not the problem; systemic misogyny, institutionalized sexism and transphobia are the problems. White people, in total, are not the problem; enculturated, systematized “white-ness” is the problem. These ideologies were, indeed, crafted and institutionalized by some affluent, self-serving, power-obsessed men whose light skin would be denoted “white” and whose bodies were iconicized as the superior human form, ordained by God (who is presumed “male”)—these, the false ideals heralded as all that is good, and right, and intelligent and “naturally” better. We know this.

But, in all our oppression(s), our half-healing pain, and our fatigue, we forget.
We forget that these are the very iconic beliefs we, ourselves, had to examine, interrogate, and reframe for the sake of our own survival, authenticity, and integrity precisely because we, too, were born into these frameworks and assimilated them—more, we must continue the ongoing process of social analysis proceeding, first, from personal examination of the layers of conditioning at work within us. For the truth is, there is reciprocity of affect and effect: what has been transmitted to others has been, also, transmitted to us with similar results, internally and externally. When we forget this, we are doomed to recapitulate the systems and practices that oppress us. More, when we forget, we stymie our own efforts.

This is so because the creation of a truly just and compassionate society relies on transforming the people—collectively, and writ large—enticing, encouraging, and inspiring ourselves and others to awaken the just, compassionate, egalitarian core within and live that into the world we inhabit. In such a world, the relative minority that feeds itself on separatism, greed, and facilitation of intolerance and hate will have no foothold. They will crumble under the weight of their own inhumanity and their mythological false ideals will fall into the recesses of antiquity. The creation of the just society we seek begins with us—within ourselves—and it moves out from there in ever-widening, increasingly influential spirals of relationality. We cannot cry we are hated if we, too, act in hate. We cannot call out oppression if we, too, oppress one another from within. We cannot protest exclusion if we, also, exclude.

It is a simplistic socio-political and cultural framework that oppresses us as trans and queer people. We cannot dismantle that framework with an equally simplistic analysis. More, we cannot achieve the justice we seek by making use of the systems, processes, and practices of our oppressors.
I long for healing of the breaches in our own communities, but also for a meaningful process by which we lead by example, envision and model this new thing we wish, work, and hope for achieving. And, I long for partners and allies in the work of vision-crafting ways to practice the thing we dream of, so that we all can be, collectively, a part of making a just, values-based, compassionate society a lived reality. I likely have more questions and curiosities around how to do this than I have answers. But I am willing and increasingly eager to be in community with others trying to figure it out and work together.

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Keeping My Eyes Open

(adapted from a journal entry written the day after Passover)

It is the day after Pesach—the Passover.
It is 4 days after the accident: the thing, the unexpected force, that by all the laws of physics should have torn my family—my spouse and our son—from my life, from in fact, the world all together. Thankfully, other forces were at work. Life-saving forces. The Laws of Physics, it seems, are inextricably bound to the Laws of Passover.

In her book, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, Annie Dillard talks of keeping her eyes open—of straining to remain open-eyed and looking intently for those “appearances that catch at [her] throat.” Likewise, I think, to see glimpses of the laws of Passover at work in the world around us requires keeping one’s eyes open, looking with searching intention to the things that catch at one’s throat.

Pondering this condition, I am reminded of a thing the rabbis say: that the whole world—the universe, in fact—is in the Torah; to see, we just have to keep turning it. Since the Torah is, first and foremost, a scroll, “turning it” means moving attentively through it, turning and rolling it from passage to passage, seam to seam, reading and re-reading; eyes wide open.

And, for what do we look, wide-eyed and searching intently: signs, glimpses, hidden-in-plain-sight indicators of the physics of Pesach. For the blood of some act of sacrifice, no matter how small, splashed on a door frame; the presence of still-living, first-borns. More, for reedy marshes wind-blown dry enough for crossing. For fresh manna in the morning, enough for the day entire. For sustaining water springing forth, at a tap, from desert rock. For evidence of clouds of smoke by day and fire by night.

I look for these. Again and again. I search in trees and streams, in wood and glen, in faces and in the skies over my head. I look in world and in Torah. And, I look—straining to keep my eyes open—for glimpses of these elemental evidences, these spirit-forces of Passover physics, in the stories of people who persist and who, in persisting, find some sign of God present among them.

Perhaps, a life is a scroll—a fragile parchment-skin, wrapped loosely around the grounding handles of earth and community, eternity and temporal now-ness, written in ever-turning and returning relationship and longing to be read.
Then, a life, too, can be read eyes-wide-open: turning and turning again, seeking after signs of Passover-physics at work in the bare and remarkable persistence of being. The appearance of each day, renewed and breathed-in against all odds. Strange movements of providence, unexpected, just-the-thing needful for hopeful going on to the next day. Perhaps, even, the mangled mess of metal, forced by carelessness through grass, trees, and wire boundaries, backwards, down a ravine to be caught and held by a stand of trees, barbed-wire fencing still clinging to its wheels: this testament, written in an instant, empty of the bodies who walked away. The only blood on the door frame, the tiny smear of a scraped knuckle.

I keep my eyes open to these things. I strain and strive to keep looking, turning again, looking closer still.

If a life is a scroll—or at least, a seam in a vast unfolding of a larger telling of the interdependent being-ness of every created thing—then, perhaps, not only is the whole universe in the Torah, but the Torah is in the whole of the world, shot through it all like green through the eternal springing of the stem: and, all our body-scrolls an individual haggadah in an ongoing recounting of Sacredness passing-over, hovering, brooding over the evolving telling of it—seam bound to seam, passage after passage, continuing Holy revelatory self-disclosure, the never-ending writing of the Law of Sacred Pesach Physics disclosed again and again in the remarkable, throat-catching persistence of being.

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