Three Little Words

shoppingThis weekend was wonderful in many ways.  After a very trying week, I decided to just really have some fun.  Over the last year, I have had a great deal of strife and loss and to find myself in a position of financial and life security to be able to simply enjoy myself seemed like the greatest gift.

I started the weekend by going to a baseball game for the first time in maybe 20 years.  My friend Lee who came with me, got to witness something few people get the chance to see…me acting like a 10 year old.  We are both big New York baseball fans (him Yankees, me Mets.) Although this was an Oakland game against Los Angele, just being in the stadium and seeing the diamond and the players on the field was a thrill.  We had great seats at field level and a perfect view.  An icy beer and a couple of polish sausages didn’t hurt either.  What looked at first like it was going to be a cloudy day, turned into a bright crisp, perfect baseball atmospheric setting and what looked like at first was going to turn into a trouncing by Los Angeles turned, in the 5th inning, into a fairly swift triumph for the Oakland A’s.  I have kept minor tabs on Coco Crisp since meeting his sister Sheileah at a black figure skater’s event in 2003.  He and the rest of the team made us all proud…3-1 Oakland.

Throughout the game and then afterward over coffee, Lee and I enjoyed wonderful conversation about seminary and life and his latest passion the television series “Orange is the New Black.”  I have yet to watch an episode through, but have caught bits because last year I was fortunate to meet Laverne Cox at the National Black Justice Coalition “Out on the Hill” conference in DC.  She is a wonderful speaker and a passionate advocate for trangender rights and is breaking incredible ground with a starring role in a series like OITNB.  Lee and I would love to see someone like her make a connection with transgender folks out here in the Bay…maybe there’s a way…wheels turning!

I was light on my feet leaving Lee, feeling really nourished emotionally and intellectually, and went on to a great and unexpectedly fun party in Richmond with my friend Zak.  Zak tends to be as intense as I am about social justice and its refreshing to find someone who is willing to meet me on that level.  I think we would happily talk ourselves blue in the face about issues and policy and history, but we managed to actually also just have a laugh with people at the party that was a fundraiser for Richmond Councilmemeber Jovanka Beckles, a black, out lesbian, someone who is yet another force of nature.  What a treat to meet someone with that kind of energy and dedication.  As it would happen, I then had the opportunity to meet the Mayor of Richmond, Gayle McLaughlin.  This was extremely handy in that we’ve been trying to get her for an event at work.  What a stroke of luck!

Sunday was full of beautiful sunshine and church, reconnecting with my friend Julia and discovering that she might be a childhood connection with my friend Nicola in England and spending time with the youth at the church.  I spent the afternoon relaxing and catching up on my two guilty pleasures, Archer and Top Gear, U.K. By the time I went to do my grocery shopping on Sunday evening, I was fully spent and thoroughly satisfied that my weekend was complete.  I had connected with people I care deeply about, I had made new business connections and reflected on other important people who have been in and out of my life and thought about what a gift it is for a kid who grew up in the suburbs of Boston to brush elbows now and again with people who make great differences in the world.  After going to both Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods, I decided to look for a small tub so that I could soak my feet in Epsom salt.  Neither of those stores nor Walgreen’s carried such an item, but I knew that in a black neighborhood, at the local market there would be some kind of something that I soak my feet in.  Bingo!…a bright orange tub at the local Lucky’s.  I decided in honor of OITNB that this was quite appropriate.  And then all of the fun and privilege I enjoyed this weekend, all of the reflection on the famous and powerful people that I know and have access to faded in three little words.  They hit me like a slap in the face.  A middle aged white woman approached me and in an angry tone barked at me:

“You work here?”

I was wearing a sweatshirt, scrubs and sandals, my hair was a wreck and frankly, I looked like I should be headed to bed…most clearly not working.  There were white hipsters, black and Latino families, a real mix of people in the store at that time.  The employees of the store are easily identified by the crisp white shirts they wear and the brown aprons that say in big letters “Lucky’s.”  I looked down my nose at her and barked back “no.”  It is this kind of odd juxtaposition of situations, that I could have the weekend I had and be who I am and still have someone approach me in a supermarket, regardless of how I am dressed, and assume that I work there.  I have nothing against grocery workers.  My own mother, during our lean years, worked for A&P; several of my dearest friends through highschool worked at Stop & Shop.  I have even applied (and was no less turned down) for work with Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods and Safeway.  People work where they work.  I do however, have something against someone who all she can see is the color of my skin and therefore assume that I work there, wherever “there” might be.  But maybe my assumption is wrong as well; maybe she has a visual impairment, not just a cultural one.

Now you might think I’m overreacting.  But this is a regular occurrence.  I’ve experienced it my entire life.  But sometimes I get lulled into the pace and excitement of what my life is really about and I forget that for some people, in the end, I am just another brown face that is there to serve.  Post racial?

I think not.

Lee Wittaker “Coffee With God”


On the Metro last night, I sat opposite a white straight male.  That is I gathered by his appearance, and that is all I had to go on, that he was a white (his skin was pale, hair straight and light brown, eyes blue), heterosexual (he wore a wedding ring…which isn’t definitive, but it put him in the realm of likely to be married in some way) and male (he had visible facial hair, wore pants and grabbed his crotch at one point in a way that suggested he definitely had a penis.  He put me in a reflective mood. I thought of how his world may have many challenges, but the one thing he may have never had to question (particularly in these United States) is his gender identity and resulting social location.  Using him as only a jumping off point, because I knew nothing of this man and his desires or real thoughts, I thought for a minute “how lucky” and then I thought again…”how sad.”

I had planned on writing a blog post with the title Trans-Formation, because I wanted to do homage to the transgender community.  I have been blessed to have many trans friends over the years and have some key folks in my life right now who are some of my greatest support and sources of enlightenment about myself.  But I’m finding that this post needs to be something different.  After spending the last couple of days at the National Black Justice Coalition “Out on the Hill” ( conference surrounded by my black LGBT brothers and sisters and among them some of the most articulate, active and impassioned  leaders I have ever encountered (check out Monica Roberts’ blog TransGriot, I find myself wanting to say something different under the same title.  I find myself wishing the whole world could see transpeople as I do: light, inspiration, depth…and somehow much more human than the rest of us.

My ministry and my blog are about bodies.  There’s a through line in case you haven’t gotten it yet.  I am obsessed with anything to do with the body, how we use it, how we see it, how we accept it.  I love bodies…I think our bodies are the magical.  And the body is the first thing we tend to think of when we speak of the trans community.  Everyone wants to know, like some kind of science experiment, about “the surgery.”  This week, I had the privilege of hearing the glorious and eloquent Laverne Cox ( speak twice.  First as a Transwoman and second as a successful member of the media.  No, I correct myself…I heard her speak at all times as a PERSON who has a gift for language and humor and honesty.  A whole person who is beautiful in both spirit and body.  Nowhere did it seem either appropriate (or at all more interesting) to wonder or ask about “surgery.”  She said it beautifully, “We need to get away from the surgery narrative.”  It is not just insulting on a certain level, it is naïve and downright childish.  Do we ask women who have had breast augmentation about their boobs? Do we ask men with impotence about penile implants? Asking about anyone’s surgery is incredibly narrow and places someone on a level that is “outside” of human.  It identifies them as a medical procedure.  Transmen and women are so much more than surgery.  They are artists and models, parents and children.  They have jobs and struggle to build relationships like anyone else.  It is a shame that  gender expression is so personal, but in our sex obsessed culture, it is also a public calling card for labeling and otherizing.  This needs to change.

The other element of this blog is spiritual.  As an aspiring minister, I ask all of my question about the body through the filter of a conversation about faith.  I find this particularly important when holding up trans people.  These days, I am surrounded by trans clergy and people may find it more remarkable, that most of them identify as Christian, either born or bred.  But as I look at it, this makes perfect and divine sense.  They see themselves, as do I, in the message of Christ reaching out to everyone.  Love knows no gender or orientation.  Often I’ve heard people make reference to “the least of these” when including TLGB people in the conversation of an inclusive Christianity.  Although Matthew 25 speaks to the true benevolence of Christ, I say that trans people are not the least of anything.  They are if anything the most.  They are more carefully and thoughtfully male; more invested and involved in being female, and significantly more aware of the gift of being truly and wholly alive in both body and spirit.  For those of us who are cis-gendered, we take for granted our physical sex, our sexuality and our gender expression.  We never, or rarely think about how these three interplay.  I imagine that growing up trans, you have to do a level of self exploration that is worthy of a Ph.D in gender studies; understanding, reaffirming, defending, forgiving, and celebrating all of the incredible gifts that are given to you in your trans body.  True Christianity, and really any true faith, begins in the depths of the soul.  Trans men and women dig deep into their souls and they come up with gold.  Oh, that the rest of us would face ourselves as honestly.

So this post is not just an homage, it is really a love letter to the trans community, and it is a message to the cis-gender community to wake up.  If we all explored our bodies and our sexualities and our gender expressions to the depth that tran people explore theirs, we might change the world.  We would have no need for homophobia or transphobia.  We would understand ourselves so well and be open to the changing landscape of our own gender expressions in such a way that would allow us to let each other be…to lift each other up as beautiful, unique and complete and never ever have a need to ask someone about their “surgery” again.