Leading with Love: Part 2

Last week I celebrated. This week I am looking at the more difficult things I encountered around the marriage equality decision. I find myself struggling to find the words to describe how it feels to see friends on Facebook express their dismay that marriage has been deemed a right for everyone. In my experience, the polite-acceptance-despite-this-being-an-abomination-to-god has caused more harm than the violence that comes at those of us who are gay or transgendered. It’s fairly easy to blow off the ugly venom from the likes of Fred Phelps. He’s an extremist that gives gay people a good name.

Far more damaging are the subtle silences and disapproval that come from those who love and like us as individuals. Very often their words are framed as “God’s word.” You all matter. Your quiet disapproval goes inside too easily, it carries too much weight. I know because have taken it in–until way to recently. I have agreed with you and wished I were worthy of your love–as if your love were more legitimate, more important than my own. You have the power to harm and you have used it–with or without understanding the impact you were having.

I haven’t always known how to hold my heart open and make room for those who do not see as I do. If I didn’t shut people out in righteous anger, I slipped silently away to protect myself from anticipated pain. I have struggled not judge those with whom I do not agree, to figure out how to share my experiences of how what they have expressed has impacted me. I have excised my voice to keep peace, to avoid uncomfortable conversations.

Writing my blog posts in the aloneness of my living room is my first step toward speaking instead of disappearing. If I can break my silence in silence, perhaps I will find the ability to speak directly to the people who posted the things that struck me in the heart.

So here’s what I believe. To say LGBTQ folks are unloved by God is harmful. Invoking “God’s judgment” when it is really just a person’s own, takes a huge toll on those of us who have felt the longing to be a part of God’s love. Being straight is not a choice. Neither is being gay or bi or trans. Embracing those who are–or refusing to–is. Many Christians and other people of faith have claimed that being gay and choosing to experience the beauty of the love and sexual expression that grow out of that is an abomination to God. Just as many people have seen LGBTQ people’s right to marry as coming into alignment with the love of God.

What I want is for the people who are comfortable in their belief that God has no room for the LGBTQ community to go within and struggle with their beliefs as we have struggled with ours. We had to create lives of meaning and joy in the face of being told nearly everywhere we turned that we had no value. Some of us couldn’t do it. We have lost so many precious lives to drugs and suicide; we have lost too much light to lives lived in the shadows. We need you to go within and really know that your beliefs have the power to devastate the lives of LGBTQ people. You have a choice. You can make a difference. Use your power for love.

Leading with Love

I’ve experienced so many emotions over the last couple of weeks as I poured over the news of the murdered men and women in Charleston; the validation of the ACA by the Supreme Court; and the announcement of marriage equality. In the midst of all that, I watched Out in the Night, a film about four young black lesbians from New Jersey who were jailed for defending themselves from attack, and read Dream Things True by Marie Marqhardt, a young adult novel about a young woman in the United States illegally since being brought here from Mexico at the age of two.

With all of that swirling around inside me, I just want to focus on the celebrations for a moment before we all head back to the work yet to be done.

The eulogy by President Obama for Reverend Clementa Pinckney was powerful. If you haven’t seen it, please go hear it for yourself.

I am so pleased that the Supreme Court upheld the legality of the ACA. Too many people have not had the safety net that this insurance measure provides. It may not be perfect, but it is better than the nothing that we have had for those who do not have insurance through an employer. That system just doesn’t make sense. As long as you are healthy enough to work–and are working a substantial enough job that insurance is provided rather than three or four jobs that don’t net you any insurance–you can have insurance. But get sick enough for long enough, lose your job and all of a sudden, just when you need it, no insurance.

And then came marriage equality. It was such a wonderful feeling when I heard the news. Not being able to marry someone I love has never felt like a big loss for me personally. But for many people I know and love it has. Despite my lukewarm feeling toward marriage, this ruling filled my whole body with joy. For far too long, the way love and desire works inside me has been deemed an abomination by my government. Not any more. It is interesting what an impact that has on a person–being different and welcome, versus different and tolerated or even rejected and deemed as not being worthy of basic rights. There is still a lot of work to be done to ensure equality–and welcome–across the board for all who live in this country. We aren’t done, and won’t be until it happens. With love leading the way, it is bound to.

One of the most heart-warming things for me around the marriage equality celebration was seeing how many of my straight friends were celebrating the SCOTUS decision. Many of them were friends from my childhood or college years that I have had no contact with outside of Facebook since. Mixed in with my joy for this is also a sadness. My choice to slip silently away rather than risk being known–and possibly embraced in full friendship–has robbed both my friends and me of richer relationships. I owe each person that I never personally came out to an apology for not seeing you accurately, for not trusting you to love me and make room for me. I also owe you an apology for projecting my own inability to embrace myself fully onto you.

You all look beautiful in rainbow.

Black Lives Matter

When I heard the news that nine people had been murdered in Charleston, SC, last week, I was riding the bus home. As I sat next to strangers, I was overwhelmed with grief. At our Sunday morning service, we a spent a moment in silence after the name of each person was called and their picture shown on the wall. Taking in those beautiful faces, knowing that they are no longer here with us, I felt the loss again.

It is time for us to say “No more.” No more violence, no more fear, no more refusing to see the value and beauty in every person in this world.

What can one person do? I am surely not the only one who has asked this question. I am surely not the only one who has felt too small in the face of so much. Perhaps I cannot change the world, but I must change myself–and that is no small thing. When I skirt around the edges of despair at just how huge this problem is in our country, I keep coming back to LOVE. We have got to breathe through our fear, our despair, our anger–whatever it may be for each of us–and see with the eyes of love.

Last month, Natasha Ria El-Scari spoke at CSL about living the Science of Mind principles in the face of racism. One of the many things she shared that touched me was her story of being shoved by a white man at the gym where she was exercising. He had clearly gone out of his way to do it. She followed him and asked him why he had. At first, he denied having done anything. She held firm and calmly replied that it was clear that he had, and she asked again what had led him to behave that way. He finally apologized and she accepted it. To us Natasha said that she was aware that there are two acceptable ways for a black person to address racist acts–one is to pretend it didn’t happen and the other is to go into a rage. Neither works for her. If she remains silent, she becomes complicit with the act of racism. If she responds with rage, she is dismissed. Either way, the behavior itself remains unchallenged. Her approach, instead, is to “get all up in people’s faces with love.”

Speaking up has always been my struggle. I have not known how to address things that felt wrong to me. Stuck between two choices–fly into blaming, shaming, righteous mode; or remain silent–I have not spoken. I feel in the turmoil of my soul that my silence–our silence–makes it possible for horrendous acts of violence against black people to continue unchallenged.

Natasha offered a very clear alternate path. Love wants to speak through me. I may not feel that I have the power to change the world, but I can open my mouth. I can set my fingers to write when my throat won’t loose the words inside me. I can let Love speak through me. Doing so will change the world.

The Porcupine of Truth

The Porcupine of Truth by Bill Konigsberg. Published by Arthur A. Levine Books, 2015.

How could you not pick up a book called The Porcupine of Truth? The title led me to the inside flap — boy meets lesbian — which led me to the first chapter. There I found writing that engaged me just as much as the premise of the book.

A summer of exile from New York became an adventure on a number of levels for Carson Smith. Carson, facile of verbiage — except in the presence of beautiful young women — finally manages to speak to one. It turns out not exactly to be the adventure he was hoping for, but . . .

It all began with Aisha offering Carson a tour of the Billings, Montana zoo where his mother had just dropped him. She was headed to his father’s house to get things organized for their summer visit with the dying man. Neither of them had seen him in the 14 years since they left when Carson was 3.

Turns out that Aisha is not only a lesbian, she is newly homeless – kicked out by her father. She joins Carson in his basement room, and as the two of them are trying to bring some order to the space, they discover a carton of letters from his grandfather who had abandoned his own family when Carson’s father was 17. Most of the letters are unreadable due to water damage, but the one they can read leads them to believe that Carson’s grandfather may still be alive — and that the abandonment story in his father’s head may not be accurate. They grab the one clue available to them as to where he might have gone when he left Billings and they hit the road.

It isn’t long before the trip becomes three parallel journeys: the physical trek; an exploration of messy human relationships, how they form, and what they require those in them to become; and a journey into faith and spiritual meaning. I wasn’t expecting all that and was delighted to discover just how rich this story is.

In many ways, The Porcupine of Truth reflects my own story. It is interesting to me how often books seem to find me when I need them. In this instance, I have been working through the whole concept of privilege, and how it is so ingrained in us that we don’t notice it when it’s our own. Ever since I went to hear the two talks at CSL last month about racism and transphobia, I’ve been roiling around in my mind about my own privilege and how I can make an impact for change around a world that is too small for too many of us to fit into. How do I balance not making myself smaller than I am — which I have done all my life — while recognizing that this world does try (really hard and viciously sometimes) to make a lot of people smaller than they are. How do I not take advantage of privilege I am afforded as a matter of course because I am white, petite, aligned in my gender expression (mostly anyway — a little androgynous, but definitely a female in a female-gendered body)?

Is that even the right question? Maybe it’s less about giving something up than it is ensuring that everyone else be afforded the same “privilege” . . . because they are perfect expressions of God, exactly as they are. I’m still working all that out, and Porcupine has given me more fodder for doing so.

I loved both the main characters in this story, and my heart was touched by the people they met along the way as well as the people they came home to. For all that I make it sound like an earnest book, in truth it is funny as well as heart warming and real. Carson is kind of an ass a good deal of the time. He doesn’t seem to get that it’s not all about him. Even his gesture of giving a gift to Aisha in the form of leading her to a group of gay kids morphs into a petulant fit on his part when she actually wants to hang out with them. Yet Aisha and Carson don’t toss each other out despite their very human reactions. The book is a lovely exploration of the developing of friendship, of the healing of painful family relations, and of the belief in something bigger to help make sense of it all.

Cruise to Nowhere Takes Me Back Home

The texts started at 5:30 a.m. informing us that our cruise was delayed–for the second day. Lying in our beds in the dark after the buzzing had subsided, Julianne and I ended up moving into a deeper conversation than I’m used to having at that hour. 

At one point, Julianne said to me that it bothered her that my family didn’t have an adult relationship with me, that they didn’t have room for me as a lesbian. I was immediately awash in a sea of possible meanings (which is as close as I ended up to an actual ocean that trip as it turns out). I wondered if it had played into the ending of our dating relationship. Was a family that welcomed her (as her family did me) important to her? Then I wondered if it was not about my family but about me not including her with them. It made sense to me, and still does, that a thing like that can have a damaging impact on a relationship, though I had never felt like it was a big issue for her. After a moment of spinning through possibilities, I finally just asked what she had meant. Julianne replied that she wished that my family welcomed all of me, that there was so much of my life lost once all the editing is done. 

She wanted that relationship for me. She knows me like that, knows how I enjoy my family but that it starts to wear on me the longer I hold pieces of myself out–or in–when I spend time with them. 

She had named something so elemental. I know because I felt the grief well up in me; the grief that comes from being seen by someone who loves you and wants more for you than you have decided to settle for; who sees all the pieces of you.

As we lay there quietly in the dark, I thought about how I have contributed to the silence in my family about my complete self. Whether or not it had any impact on my relationship with Julianne, it struck me that my silence with my family can take a toll on my relationships with other people who matter to me, because it absolutely takes a toll on me. I’m starting to open to the idea that my silence about the fullness of who I am just might be detrimental to my family, even though they might want that silence.

I have journeyed so far and for so long, determined to find a place for myself in the world. I am determined to let go of the belief that has dogged my heels since I was a child that there is not enough room here for me. As I lay there, I silently celebrated how far I have come, how many ideas about myself I have released–ideas that formed the foundation of my decision to not “impose” the truth about me on my family. It occurred to me, lying in that gentle silence with my beloved friend, that the only place left to travel is back where I came from.