Saturday, May 22, 2010

Hope for Trans Folk from Harvey Milk

I've just returned from a rally for transgender equality in front of the Massachusetts State House organized by Join the Impact Massachusetts. Today's event was part of a week-long celebration of the legacy of Harvey Milk, who would have turned eighty years old today, had he lived.

I was one of several people who spoke on a range of topics related to pending trans legislation, from an overview of the national and state movement for trans equality, to how we are all impacted by the gender binary, trans or not. After the speeches, we marched down from the State House, to Government Center, to Downtown Crossing and then back up the State House, providing Saturday shoppers with an unexpected interlude.

I pray and, in the tradition of Harvey, hope that our legislators will hear us and finally get ENDA and the Massachusetts Trans Civil Rights Bill out of committee and passed.


JTIMA Harvey Milk Day Rally for Transgender Equality
State House Steps, Boston, MA
Saturday, May 22, 2010

Hope from Harvey Milk

In his book The Mayor of Castro Street: the Life and Times of Harvey Milk, openly gay journalist Randy Shilts (may he rest in peace) described a San Francisco Sunday morning scene in 1978 when, with Harvey Milk sitting in the back pew, the Reverend William Barcus, priest of St. Mary the Virgin Episcopal Church, got up and denounced Proposition 6. This “Briggs Initiative” called for the removal of gay and lesbian people and possibly even their supporters from working in the California public schools. In an unusual move for a priest in that context, Barcus not only spoke of the God who stands with the marginalized, not only berated the fear-mongering, dehumanizing rhetoric of the Initiative and its backers, but he also witnessed to these truths with his own life, coming out as a gay man. He challenged people to, as he put it, “morally put yourself on the line, not after the fact, not after November 7th, but now” (pp. 241-242; for more on Rev. Barcus's sermon, see this LGBT chronology for the Episcopal Diocese of California by Rev. Kathleen McAdams).

On that morning I was across the Bay in Berkeley where I grew up, possibly in Sunday school, possibly sleeping in. I had no idea of the import of what was going on across the Bay and around my state. I was a shy new kindergartener, a little girl growing up to be a transman, a spouse, a dad, an academic and an Episcopal priest. What Harvey Milk inspired in William Barcus and countless others, I too came to appreciate as one who also knows something of what it feels like to be dehumanized.

What Harvey Milk goaded us into remembering with relentless wit and grit is the crucial importance of hope. Hope. “You gotta give ‘em hope,” he said again and again. He wasn’t the biggest fan of organized religion so-called, but by God he knew how to preach. Hope, he knew, is as essential to human life as the air we breathe, the food we eat and the water we drink. Without hope we shrink into ourselves, our capacities squandered, our stature cut short. Our ability to hope, as human beings, is intimately tied to our dignity.

When others deny transgender people our dignity, they attack the heart of our humanity. This happens as much in quiet, behind the scenes ways as in the bold, openly violent ways we mark every year at Trans Day of Remembrance. I am thinking of the violence of intentionally identifying us with wrong names and pronouns; the violence of quietly tossing our resumes in the proverbial circular file; of falsely telling us the apartment is already rented; of telling us we must wait our turn to ensure being treated with dignity and respect; and particularly in this climate, of shamelessly labeling legislation that would safeguard our basic civil rights a “bathroom bill.”

I’m honestly not sure how much transgender people were on Harvey’s radar in the late seventies, but I have no doubt that our struggle today would inspire and galvanize him. He would tell us that no matter what indignities we have suffered, no matter who might have rejected us, we do not have the option of giving up hope. In his Hope Speech, he said, “if there is a message I have to give… it's the fact that if a gay person can be elected, it's a green light. And you and you and you, you have to give people hope.” Harvey knew his election was a foot in the door for all who are marginalized. But he also knew that the hope he inspired was not automatic. It was something he called on each person in his audience to give. And I would submit, Harvey’s legacy renders that hope as something we must also claim.

The program for his memorial service at the San Francisco Opera House contained a line from Victor Hugo that he had recently hand-copied and posted on the wall of his office: “All the forces in the world are not so powerful as an idea whose time has come” (Shilts, 286). Trans people of Massachusetts, from around the nation and indeed the world, partners, allies, families and friends, lawmakers, people of all faiths: the time for full equality for transgender people has indeed come. The time is now for all of us — and particularly, I would say, for religious leaders of all traditions— to “morally put ourselves on the line,” as Reverend Barcus put it, for the dignity that is our birthright. The time is now for our legislators beneath this gleaming dome to finally take up the Massachusetts Transgender Civil Rights Bill, and for our legislators in Washington to take up ENDA, and pass them. Thank you.


Wednesday, May 19, 2010

A Service-- and Sermon-- of Renaming

The week before last at my congregation, we celebrated in the context of the Sunday Eucharist the legal name change of a community member, Anderson Michael C. I put together a liturgy drawing from several sources, including Justin Tannis's book Trans-gendered: Theology, Ministry, Community, the Standing Commission on Liturgy Music's book called Changes: Prayers and Services Honoring Rites of Passage, and a prayer written by another parishioner who is working on a liturgy for people in transition.

In addition, Anderson preached the sermon and gave me permission to share it on this blog. Anderson also created the graphic (pasted below where it was in his original text) which he put on invitations to friends and community members, and which I also used on the cover of the worship booklet.


Sermon – Anderson C's Rite of Naming – 9 May 2010

I am very happy to see you all here today. It means a lot to be able to share this special day with you and celebrate the claiming of my name, so I thank you for coming. I also thank Cameron and you for giving me this opportunity to preach the sermon today.

I think we are fortunate to have this particular Gospel reading today from John: Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you… Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid.”

With those words, the resurrected Jesus comforted the apostles just before he left them, and before they left each other to go out into the world and spread God’s word. I hope that we, too, can find comfort in those words for ourselves with whatever difficulties life presents as we go out and live in the world in our daily lives.

For me, one of the things I take with me when I go out from here will be my name, which I claim today. For you, the members of this congregation and also my friends who are here today for this Rite of Naming, I would like to offer to you my story because you all have played a part in it. And in this story is a lesson that I would like to share with you so that you can take it with you.

Last year at about this time, I was in this church for the Stations of the Cross on Good Friday, and something happened to me that had never happened before in my life. As I listened to the words, the description of what Jesus endured that day had an impact that I had never felt before. Prior to last year, the readings were just a story, like in a novel or a screenplay. Intellectually, I understood the series of events and their significance, but emotionally, I never felt them, until last year. It was then that I could see the events in the context of Jesus as a real person rather than, as I had in the past, just a character in a story. I could feel His vulnerability and suffering even though I had not been able to before.

Similarly, just as I had felt the pain of Jesus’ crucifixion, I also experienced the glory of His resurrection days later. The questioning when the tomb was found empty, the surprise when He appeared in a locked room with the apostles, the skepticism of Thomas, the relief, happiness and wonder when they realized He had triumphed over death.

You might wonder why I hadn’t experienced this emotional connection to the humanity of Jesus until just last year at the age of 48, or why I was even detached from it in the first place. The answer is that this was a consequence of my being transgender.

For some people who grow up as transgender, they learn how to present a persona that the rest of the world wants to see. There are so many signals to children about how they should be as people, and for some transgender children, the signals can be that the person they really are is “bad.” For example, in kindergarten, I was once yanked by the sleeve from the line of boys waiting to use the bathroom (which is where I thought I should have been because, after all, I was a boy) and I was towed over to the line of girls. The teacher’s aide who did the yanking said to another, “She did it again! Why can’t her parents teach her which bathroom to use?” So with that little remark, I received the message that if I did what I felt inside, not only was I wrong, but my mom and dad were bad parents. That is a really difficult and confusing message for a five-year old to grapple with.

So what happens in some of these cases is that some transgender children, to the best of their ability, construct a persona that matches the name and sex on their birth certificate and that meets the expectations of everyone around them, especially the people they love and want to please most -- their parents and siblings, their teachers, their friends. In doing so, their true self can become buried inside, their emotions silenced for the sake of survival, and they sometimes are unable to feel.

I was unable to feel. The analytical left side of my brain put the smack-down on the emotional right side when I was a child and held onto control for dear life. I went through the decades as a detached observer of my own life rather than as a true participant. Loneliness came from the inability to feel not only what was going on inside of myself, but also the emotional connections that people in my life tried to make with me. Intellectually, I could see how I affected others and how they valued me, but I couldn’t feel it. And the worst part of all of it was that I didn’t know that I couldn’t feel it. I thought that seeing it was feeling it. So I took the role of the observer, and somehow made connections with people by mentally translating their actions into crude emotional representations.

That held true for God’s love as well. I would sometimes lay awake at night as a child and remember what I had been taught about God’s love, and I would close my eyes and try to feel it, because I knew that if I could, it would feel wonderful. When I was unable to connect with it, I comforted myself as best I could by knowing that Jesus said that he loves us and so it must be true.

Eventually when I got older, I left the church. That’s not a big surprise considering I could not emotionally tie into God’s grace or even really connect with the other members of the congregation. I didn’t lose my faith though. I thought about it, reasoned it, analyzed it, but couldn’t act on it. Eventually, after years of being away, I returned because of an ache for the spirituality and communion of religion.

I attended a church that was down the street from my house. I was content for a while and derived comfort from attending services and the occasional church event. Then one day during mass, a woman sitting near me refused to share with me the sign of peace. I watched her extend her hand to everyone around her but then she looked me in the eye as I extended my hand toward her and she refused to take my hand in hers. Now all my life many people have assumed, based on the way I presented myself, that I was a butch lesbian, and this woman might have had the same judgment of me. Certainly, the way she acted was not in keeping with Jesus’ own peace that he left with his apostles and with us, as we heard today. I left that church that day and didn’t go back.

It was around that time that I experienced a small event that led to a momentous epiphany. The small event was a cab ride in San Francisco – the cab driver called me “Sir.” I analyzed that small event for several weeks until, in a defining moment of clarity that came while I was washing the dishes at my kitchen sink, all of the puzzle pieces of my life that had been suspended in a disorganized floating jumble suddenly aligned and snapped together, forming a picture of my true self. My mind could no longer support the persona that I had built for myself over the decades, could no longer pretend to be the woman that I and everyone around me thought I was. I suddenly realized who I was not, and I also thought that I was the “wrong” kind of person. I had worked for 45 years to smother the true person I was, so accepting and loving myself was a concept that was foreign to me.

And so the real work began, peeling back the layers upon layers of persona to reveal the real me, a painstaking process in which I was engaged when I came to this church for the first time. I came after attending Transgender Day of Remembrance here in November of 2008. I had no church to call my own, this one looked really nice and I knew the vicar. With an ache to once again belong to a spiritual home, I contacted Cameron and asked him what time that services were held on Sundays.

As I continued to attend this church, with Cameron’s help, I had the courage to be here as my true self, and it was the very first time in my life I lived simply as me. I cannot even tell you how validating and affirming that was. But a funny thing was happening at the same time. Apparently, I began to matter. I didn’t realize it, but Cameron would tell me that I did. He would take me aside and try to point out the impact that I was having in this congregation, but I didn’t get it. I couldn’t feel it, and so I would brush aside what he was telling me. And then we would look at each other, both of us perplexed, he, I think, because he couldn’t understand why I couldn’t see what, to him, was so apparent, and me because I couldn’t understand how he could be so sure about something that I couldn’t feel myself.

At the same time, my therapist was working on a similar project, trying to help me realize that I mattered, that people cared about me and that I was deserving of their love. I didn’t feel that either. It bounced off of me because I was unable to let it in. How could I accept love from others when I couldn’t even love myself? But my therapist kept trying, coming at it from different angles and using different methods, trying to help me accept and care about myself and see my own value in the world.

There were also close friends in whom I had confided and told about my “situation,” members of a support network I had formed in order to stay afloat as I navigated the sometimes treacherous waters of this process of finding myself. Some of those people are sitting in this room today. And those people, by accepting me after I told them the truth about who I was, also, in their own way, gave me the freedom to be myself. Their acceptance, your acceptance, helped me to accept myself.

So there was a continuous stream of caring from all sides. From members of this congregation, from my therapist, from my friends, who all worked, knowingly or unknowingly, to eventually erode the shell in which I had been abiding. Without the shell, my emotions were exposed, raw and sensitive, but I could feel. In addition, I became able to accept myself and to love myself and thereby also allow the love from those around me to penetrate, to come inside and allow me to stand free in the warmth of love.

God has been patiently waiting for me while I have journeyed to this point. And today, like Simon Peter when he heard the Lord call, I swim to meet Him and I clothe myself in my new name, to present myself to Him, and to you, as my true self. I would not have been able to do so without all of you.

And now you know my story, how I came to this church in the fall of 2008, how one year ago, I came to more fully understand Jesus’ humanity, and how I have reached the point of claiming my name. With this story, as I mentioned at the beginning of this sermon, there is a lesson for all of us, including me, which is:
When you help someone to love them self, you give them the ability to feel the love of others and the love of God and to allow that love to enter into their heart.

This is what everyone in this room has done for me. You gave me your peace, my heart is no longer troubled or afraid, and I feel loved. In this way, I can claim my true name of Anderson Michael C. For this gift, I thank all of you.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Bishops' Letter Contributes Momentum on Trans Civil Rights in MA

As the Massachusetts Judiciary Committee pushed back its deadline for reporting on the Transgender Civil Rights Bill to early June, Boston-based LGBT paper Bay Windows has reported on two new voices of support, Boston City Council and the letter sent last week by Bishops M. Thomas Shaw and Roy "Bud" Cederholm (Bishop Gayle Harris did not sign because she had not yet returned from a leave of absence). Read the whole article here. Excerpts are reposted below.

I would like to add that the article cites Virtue online as the place from which it got the text of the letter. Virtue Online reprinted without acknowledgment my exact post (which I posted with permission from the Communications Office of the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts to three blogs: TransEpiscopal, Walking with Integrity, and the Interfaith Coalition for Transgender Equality). This made it look as if Virtue Online actually had permission to post the letter, which it did not.


Transgender Rights Bill receives more support, extended deadline
by Hannah Clay Wareham
Associate Editor
Tuesday May 11, 2010

Amid resolutions and commendations, hopes are high for bill to pass.

Support for "An Act Relative to Gender-based Discrimination and Hate Crimes" (S. 1687/H. 1728), known as the Transgender Civil Rights Bill, is growing in Boston. The City Council last week passed a unanimous resolution backing the bill and joined the Episcopal Diocese of Masscahusetts in publicly voicing their support. The Transgender Rights Bill will remain under consideration by the Judiciary Committee for at least another month.

Gunner Scott, executive director of the Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition (MTPC), said that the organization "is grateful for the continued support of the Boston City Council and hopes that our state leaders will follow this wise example and extend civil rights to our state’s transgender citizens."

The Transgender Civil Rights Bill offers crucial employment protections for transgender people and outlaw anti-transgender workplace discrimination. If the bill is passed, the category of "gender identity and expression" will be added to the Massachusetts hate crime, employment, housing, credit, public accommodations, and public education non-discrimination laws.

The legislature’s Joint Committee on the Judiciary on May 6 extended the bill’s deadline, giving it at least another month to remain under consideration. The original deadline required that the bill be reported out of committee by May 7.

"As they say on ’Monty Python,’ we’re not dead yet," DeeDee Edmondson, political director of MassEquality, said. "The Judiciary Committee and our coalition [of organizations working together to pass the bill] now can get down to the business of producing a piece of legislation that can put transgender people back to work and bring stability and dignity to families throughout the Commonwealth."


On April 30, Episcopal Bishops M. Thomas Shaw and Roy "Bud" Cederholm of the Diocese of Massachusetts sent letters to Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, Senate President Therese Murray, and House Speaker Robert DeLeo urging the lawmakers to pass the Transgender Rights Bill. Attached were resolutions stating the full support of both the Episcopal Diocese of Masschusetts and the General Convention of the Episcopal Church.

"As bishops of the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts, our eyes are open to the realities of transgender people and their families," Shaw and Cederholm wrote in the letter, which was subsequently printed by "Many of them serve faithfully in the congregations and ministries of our diocese, as lay people, as deacons, and as priests. They are dedicated and loving parents, children, siblings, friends, and community leaders."

The letter encouraged lawmakers to act quickly in passing the bill. "Adding gender identity and expression to the state’s nondiscrimination and hate crimes laws is no isolated concern of a special interest group," the letter read. "The disproportionate suffering of transgender people should grieve the hearts of all who love justice and liberty."

The Transgender Rights Bill received an intensified focus from a wide variety of mainstream media outlets after Republican gubernatorial candidate Charlie Baker pledged on Saturday, April 17, that he would veto the bill if elected.