Friday, March 28, 2008

Would you let me...?

Life at My Church

In 2003, the United Church of Christ formally welcomed transgenders into the life and ministry of the denomination. While each congregation in the UCC is autonomous - meaning this resolution carries no mandate to all UCC churches - my church as embraced not only the letter, but the spirit, of this resolution.

I wrote earlier about that day, August 21, 2005 that I first entered the sanctuary in a quest to seek God's care for my recently passed mother. On that day, I became the first openly transgender to attend service at Country Club. What happened after that day has been a very remarkable spiritual journey for me, one that continues to this day.

So what has happened? Anyone can open their doors and have someone sit in the pews during a Sunday service then leave, perhaps with a smile and a handshake from the minister. It takes a little "more" to do "more" however. And I've been incorporated into much "more" at my church than I could have ever imagined.

It started that November, when I was asked to share my story with the entire congregation during our annual Open and Affirming service. When I got to the point where I mentioned my father excluded me from my mother's funeral, the collective gasp of the people could have cleared out the oxygen for the entire neighborhood. But asking me to tell that story was also easy, especially since this was a time set aside specifically to hear and honor our LGB and T members. And I was honored when I was included in the OnA service the next year as well, providing a one-year "update" that was both poignant and purposeful.

But that's not all. Not even close.

Would you let me teach Sunday School? At our church, this is a shared effort organized by our Youth Coordinator. I have long enjoyed being with kids, I taught at a high school for many years, I coached girls softball for nearly as long and I felt that I would probably never have that contact again - too many people make assumptions about transgenders. I came upon my first Mother's Day following my mom's passing with a fair amount of emotion. At the Mother's Day service, each woman is given a flower. I was given one too, but it did feel odd to me. A month later came Father's Day. While I had been working on repairing my relationship with my own father, there was still a cloud or two of anger there. And at the other end, one way my daughters have reconciled my situation is that they don't consider me their "father" any more. As such, I don't get a Father's Day card or call.

These back to back episodes made me want to connect with kids again, so I found our Youth Coordinator, Stacey, and asked if I could help out. My initial thought was more to be a helping hand with the younger ones. We have three groups, the teens, the elementary school ages and the young ones. Stacey replied "Great! How about teaching Sunday School next week?!?!?". What!?! Me teach Sunday School? I gulped and said "Sure!". Would you let me teach Sunday School?

Before our current minister arrived this past December, the task of providing the Children's Sermon was also a shared responsibility of the members. The minister would to it once a month, the rest of the congregation chipped in the other weeks. I was asked to do this, too. Twice! Would you let me provide the Children's Sermon at your church?

Would you let me serve Communion? This past Maundy Thursday - the day of reflection on the Last Supper and the pending arrest and crucifixion of Jesus - I was sincerely honored when our pastor sent me a note inviting me to join him in serving Communion at our Maundy Thursday service. This just isn't "any" Communion. The plan was to provide the bread and cup through "intincture". Reverand Scott would break the bread and give a piece to each person "The Bread of Life", and I would hold the cup for them to dip the bread into then partake "The Cup of Salvation". Would you let me provide Communion? On Maundy Thursday?

I have been asked to serve on the Evangelism Board, the Care and Nurture Board and the Board of Trustees. I will serve someday for sure. It is a little embarrassing that I've had to demur for now. And some have suggested I should sing with the choir. That will take a little more courage - not to mention the time - on my part to do...someday. Would you let me sing in the choir? As a baritone?

At our annual Christmas bazaar called Kristkindlmart - a German themed event with music and arts and crafts and food and a special project for kids - I offered my help "anywhere you need it". Imagine my surprise when I was assigned to helping the children make and decorate their gingerbread houses (little constructions of graham crackers onto small milk cartons). I loved watching the intense faces of the little ones making the most beautiful creations! Would you let me be with the children of the community for something like this?

At that same first Kristkindlmart, I was then transferred to another assignment where help was desperately needed, selling our home-baked cookies. Now just what, I ask you, is more "normal" for a middle-aged woman of faith than selling homemade cookies at the Christmas bazaar? Would you let me sell cookies?

It's not all glamor. I've also been "allowed" to chop pounds and pounds of onions, haul and clean refrigerators, set tables, make gooey icing, tape plastic tarps to the carpeting in the youth area and last year clear off several inches of snow from the roof of the badly sagging outdoor tent where the food and music is housed. Would you let me up on that ladder with a long handled broom?

I have been an usher. I have handled the sound system for the Sunday service. I have helped out in the office. I have helped unload the new pastor's moving van. Would you let me do these things? Would you even let me in the door?

This is Life at my church. As it should be for All. Isn't that the Promise?

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

At What Point?

An Honest Question

I have been following the situation with Barack Obama and his home minister, Rev. Jeremiah Wright of Trinity United Church of Christ. I, too, am a member of a UCC congregation. Rev. Wright has offered some sermons and other commentaries that some believe are inflammatory, perhaps even anti-American. I'm not writing to judge....but to question.

I had no heritage faith belief as a child. I wrote earlier that while I attended a Presbyterian church for awhile, I had little sense of what that meant...and really wasn't all that interested in learning. It was mostly a function of childhood friendships that an expression of faith.

Now, as an adult...and transgender...I have an honest question for those, especially other LGBT souls, who continue in faith traditions that have openly expressed condemnation for them. Why do you remain? At what point would you consider leaving a congregation or denomination which makes you feel uncomfortable or unwelcome. There are plenty of choices available. I mean no disrespect to anyone's faith tradition, but this is something that I have a difficult time grasping.

I do want my pastor to challenge me, to provoke me, to pique me into thought and reflection. I think, in his own way, that is what Rev. Wright was doing for his congregation. But there are things that I will not accept from my minister, there are things I will not accept from my fellow members, there are things that would cause me to leave. We all know which denominations are most vocal in their denunciation of our lives - there is no purpose served in listing them here, this is not offered as a condemnation of those beliefs.

Just like a menu at a restaurant, I can find dishes I would care to order and others I definitely would not. Heck, there are entire restaurants I would scarcely give thought to entering. Why then, would I be bound - there's a word Christian's like - to a belief, a congregation that has expressly or tacitly chosen to not accept me. I'd like to know!

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Tucker's Answer

A Young Voice Responds with Maturity

Earlier this month a State Representative in Oklahoma, Sally Kern, provided a hate-filled screed against the LGBT community. Her speech was actually taped and is available at YouTube, but I just can't bring myself to offer you a link to it. In her tirade, she claimed that the "homosexual agenda" was a worse threat to America than terrorists who attack so many innocent lives. Of course, Ms. Kern's home in Oklahoma City was the site of the worst terrorist attack by one of our own citizens in our history....something she may have forgotten.

For now comes a letter of poignancy and eloquence. From a high school senior. His name is Tucker and here is his response:

Rep Kern:

On April 19, 1995, in Oklahoma City a terrorist detonated a bomb that killed my mother and 167 others. 19 children died that day. Had I not had the chicken pox that day, the body count would've likely have included one more. Over 800 other Oklahomans were injured that day and many of those still suffer through their permanent wounds.

That terrorist was neither a homosexual or was he involved in Islam. He was an extremist Christian forcing his views through a body count. He held his beliefs and made those who didn't live up to them pay with their lives.

As you were not a resident of Oklahoma on that day, it could be explained why you so carelessly chose words saying that the homosexual agenda is worst than terrorism. I can most certainly tell you through my own experience that is not true. I am sure there are many people in your voting district that laid a loved one to death after the terrorist attack on Oklahoma City. I kind of doubt you'll find one of them that will agree with you.

I was five years old when my mother died. I remember what a beautiful, wise, and remarkable woman she was. I miss her. Your harsh words and misguided beliefs brought me to tears, because you told me that my mother's killer was a better person than a group of people that are seeking safety and tolerance for themselves.

As someone left motherless and victimized by terrorists, I say to you very clearly you are absolutely wrong.

You represent a district in Oklahoma City and you very coldly express a lack of love, sympathy or understanding for what they've been through. Can I ask if you might have chosen wiser words were you a real Oklahoman that was here to share the suffering with Oklahoma City? Might your heart be a bit less cold had you been around to see the small bodies of children being pulled out of rubble and carried away by weeping firemen?

I've spent 12 years in Oklahoma public schools and never once have I had anyone try to force a gay agenda on me. I have seen, however, many gay students beat up and there's never a day in school that has went by when I haven't heard the word **** slung at someone. I've been called gay slurs many times and they hurt and I am not even gay so I can just imagine how a real gay person feels. You were a school teacher and you have seen those things too. How could you care so little about the suffering of some of your students?

Let me tell you the result of your words in my school. Every openly gay and suspected gay in the school were having to walk together Monday for protection. They looked scared. They've already experienced enough hate and now your words gave other students even more motivation to sneer at them and call them names. Afterall, you are a teacher and a lawmaker, many young people have taken your words to heart. That happens when you assume a role of responsibility in your community. I seriously think before this week ends that some kids here will be going home bruised and bloody because of what you said.

I wish you could've met my mom. Maybe she could've guided you in how a real Christian should be acting and speaking.

I have not had a mother for nearly 13 years now and wonder if there were fewer people like you around, people with more love and tolerance in their hearts instead of strife, if my mom would be here to watch me graduate from high school this spring. Now she won't be there. So I'll be packing my things and leaving Oklahoma to go to college elsewhere and one day be a writer and I have no intentions to ever return here. I have no doubt that people like you will incite crazy people to build more bombs and kill more people again. I don't want to be here for that. I just can't go through that again.

You may just see me as a kid, but let me try to teach you something. The old saying is sticks and stones will break your bones, but words will never hurt you. Well, your words hurt me. Your words disrespected the memory of my mom. Your words can cause others to pick up sticks and stones and hurt others.


I'll close by simply adding "Amen".

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Am I Married?

The Legal Blackholes of Being Transgender

A friend of mine has been arrested and charged with perjury for "lying" about her gender on her marriage license. She has yet to undergo her surgery, though she lives fulltime in her desired gender. Thus physically - and legally - Mishell is male. And her application to marry Anita was fair and honest. The case continues and, thankfully, the ACLU is assisting her defense.

I'm not going to go into all the specifics of their case, but I raise the story as an example of how we create holes in the law in so many instances. I married in 2002, then transitioned in 2004 (with my wife's support) and had surgery in 2005. While most transitions result in divorce, many do not. Am I married? To whom will Mishell be allowed to marry? If not to Anita, then to Arthur?? We have witnessed marriage nullification in three different states - Florida, Texas and my neighbors of Kansas. In each case, the person had transitioned prior to the marriage. But in each case that came before the courts - Michael Kantaras in Florida for a child custody issue (which was later amicably resolved), Christie Lee Littleton for a wrongful death suit and J'Noel Gardiner for estate inheritance - the court found a tortuous way to declare the marriage invalid. Nevermind that, also in the eyes of the laws of those states (since all three allow transgenders born in their state to obtain "corrected" or "amended" birth certificates and driver's licenses in their desired genders) they were legally who they said they were.

Just how would you legally, authoritatively, prove your gender? Take a peek? Sorry...we have pretty nifty surgical techniques these days. Birth certificates? As I said most states (47 out of 50) allow post-surgical transgenders to fix that. Passport?? People who travel overseas for their surgeries can obtain a "temporary" passport in the desired gender prior to surgery to effect safe passage, then obtain a permanent one once they return following surgery. Ah..genetic test!?!?! Nope...we are not all XX females and XY males. In fact, there are XY women and XX men and any number of other genetic variations that result in what is called an "intersexed" condition. (Hmmmm...just who would they be allowed marry without perjury charges???).

Our legal identification - all lawfully accomplished - can identify me as BOTH genders. I am allowed to change my birth certificate - but not required to do so. If I don't change it, it will still say "Male" even though I've had surgery. I am allowed to change my gender designation with Social Security after surgery - but not required to do so. Thus it would be eminently possible to have lawful, legal identification in both genders. If I were to ever marry again, would I be allowed to marry a Man or a Woman - I can't be denied marriage completely. Our marriage laws - as restrictive as they are - only say One Man/One Woman. Fine (though I don't support this discrimination) I to be the "Man" or the "Woman" in the eyes of the small town District Attorney who is pursuing my friend? I don't want to face perjury charges - and possibly four years in jail - if I get it wrong.

Say a prayer for my friend.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

We Need To Change the Message

Ellen Says It Best

Please watch....

Please help change the message.

This isn't about gay marriage or transgender employment rights or whatever. This is about you and me....being different. I from you, you from me. You may not like my difference, and I yours. But, at the very least, we should be able to face each other and say "Peace Be With You and Unto You". That is the message. Pass it along.