“Come out come out wherever you are…” Happy East-over!

One of the most challenging aspects of being LGBTQ over the last 40 years has been “coming out.”  Until Stonewall and the Gay Rights movement, it was assumed that if one led “a certain lifestyle” that one would simply stay quiet about it.  Rock Hudson, Paul Lynde, Langston Hughes and even people like Eleanor Roosevelt lived lives that clearly included same sex love, but they were not “out” in our modern sense of the word.  This was a potential way of navigating the world that was shared with me early on and with all due respect, it was one of the more painful options presented to me when I did ultimately come out to my family.  But we live in a different time now.

Right now, it is Easter for Christians and Passover for the Jews.  This is a time of gratitude; gratitude for sacrifice and gratitude for liberation.  It is the intersection of these two kinds of gratitude that I think makes the coming out experience of LGBTQ people the perfect Easter/ Passover subject for reflection.

In many ways, Christ was faced with coming out, time and time again.  Throughout the New Testament, Jesus reveals himself and is revealed as the Son of God.  I love this from John 4:25,26:

The woman said to him, ‘I know that Messiah is coming’ (who is called Christ). ‘When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.’ Jesus said to her, ‘I am he, the one who is speaking to you.’

This simple private confession is not a grand proclamation.  There is an intimacy here that reminds me of the kind of conversations that BFFs have where coming out can be matter of fact and really just a confirmation of what both people already know.  This is the way we would love all of our coming out stories to go.

But then in Matthew 26:63-66:

But Jesus was silent. Then the high priest said to him, ‘I put you under oath before the living God, tell us if you are the Messiah, the Son of God.’ Jesus said to him, ‘You have said so. But I tell you,
From now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven.’
Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, ‘He has blasphemed! Why do we still need witnesses? You have now heard his blasphemy. What is your verdict?’ They answered, ‘He deserves death.’

Frequently, this is how many people, particularly LGBTQ people of faith, feel like their coming out will go and unfortunately,  too often this has been the case.  Jesus cannot change who He is, nor does he want to, yet the non-believers wish to deny him his reality.  When we come out, this is what questions and statements like “are you sure” or “how can you know” or worse “you are not my child/friend/ family” can make us feel.  These are the attitudes that deny and condemn.   They put us to death.

Ultimately, Christ’s “coming out” leads to the ultimate sacrifice.  But it is this sacrifice that fulfills the prophecy and brings salvation by living (and dying) for a divine truth.  Through the lens of the LGBTQ coming out experience, there is a death (of hidden ways and secrets ) that also brings with it the promise of rebirth and an eternal life and legacy in who we truly are.

The Passover tradition, of which I am less familiar, but have been surrounded by since early childhood, may also hold great inspiration for LGBTQ people.  The entire story of the Exodus is one of great tenacity and dedication, but Passover, specifically says something.  For those of you who are unfamiliar with the story, in its simplest terms, the Jews’ ‘first born’ are spared during the worst of ten plagues that are brought to test the Jews for their release from slavery by the Egyptians.  The first born of the Jews are spared by marking their doors with the blood of the slaughtered spring lamb as a sign to the spirit of the Lord to “pass over” their homes.  There are many lambs in the Bible (Old and New Testament).  But I draw inspiration from the the symbolism of sacrifice in the Passover tradition where something has been sacrificed so that something else may live, whether the sacrifice be of  good things or bad things (true or false gods.)  LGBTQ people continue to have to sacrifice relationships, family, jobs, living situations and many other things to simply live freely as they must. These are the sacrifices that are in addition to those that are faced by all people and that remind us to be grateful for being led to our personal Exodus in addition to the historical Exodus of some of our faith traditions.

So this Passover/Easter season, a time of sacrifice, rebirth, gratitude and liberation is a perfect time to also embrace the journey and experience of coming out whether it is past, present or future; whether it is you or someone you know.  What is your coming out story?

חַג שָׂמֵחַ

Happy Easter!

Trans-Formation

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” (http://nbjc.org/) 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 http://transgriot.blogspot.com/), 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 (http://lavernecox.com/) 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.