My, How We’ve Grown

This morning, I’m finally watching Monica Lewinsky’s TED talk. I hadn’t had time to watch it yet, but I’m being selfish with a few minutes on a Saturday morning. I think you should watch it, too. Like the best of TED talks, Ms. Lewinsky bravely wraps her personal story around knowledge about how others have been harmed as she was harmed, and insight about how her story is a starting point to changing the world and making it better for all of us. She does, incidentally, just exactly what Teri and I have been trying to do with Our Narratives. And Monica used the opportunity to do this on an explosive, national scale, in that unique way only TED truly allows for.

In 1992, I, myself, fell a bit in love with Mr. Clinton – while I had been used to fighting for environmental action and other causes, I had never stumped for anyone in my life, but a classmate and I spent our volunteer hours stuffing mailboxes and trying to “rock the vote” and get people out to vote for Bill and his, at the time still somewhat zombie-like sidekick. He’s still the only president I’ve ever done something like this for, so I guess in my own way, having never met him, I can sympathize particularly with that element of Monica’s story. I remember, in conservative Holland, going to a downtown restaurant and celebrating the Clinton/Gore victory among the tiny cabal of Democrats. I didn’t (and don’t) identify strongly with the Democratic Party as a whole, but I felt it at that moment*.

By 1998, I was still a budding feminist (I’m just a couple years younger than Monica, and I will turn 40 at the end of April). In the past years, I had spent time as a contributor, editor, and ultimately editor-in-chief of a news journal at the University of Michigan, the Michigan Review. The Review and my time with it is a complex story. At times, it has been a neoconservative hotbed, and I am sometimes loathe to admit any affiliation with that. In my time, it was a dynamic balance between social conservatives and libertarians, who often did not agree or see eye to eye, although we all valued the individual and our talent, creativity, and passion as the basis for change and for progress in the world. That ephemeral balance, in those days, was something magical, and an important part of who I am.

I rode in amongst a wave of other libertarians (although I didn’t even know what a libertarian was at that time, and once, a fellow editor told me to ask a prominent local libertarian what the difference was between a libertarian and a libertine, without educating me on what the question meant… good prank), but I recognized tensions with the social conservatives. Most of the social conservatives I rode in with were respectful people, who tolerated difference even if they did not celebrate it. But not all. Sometimes, I stood up. I remember that there was a particularly obnoxious young man who came to the Review. He became infamous in our time on Michigan’s campus – it’s not that easy to stick out amongst 40,000 people. Once, he wrote an “article” in which he stated that a protestor “smelled like a wet Pakistani.” I led a nixing of this foolishness. Another time, in a staff meeting among many young women, he pitched an idea on how he had just turned 21, and gone to a strip club, and how he wanted to write, again #airquotes, an “article” on which girls would “do stuff” when he stuck dollar bills in their panties. I ran him out of that meeting, as managing editor, and damn proud am I. Other times, I sat silently and uncomfortably, on my hands, as women and women’s rights were mocked in our space, and sometimes, I even stooped to the level of token minority, or pretended to laugh along, in order to hide my inner revulsion. I am sure I was an Uncle Tom at many other times, much as I frequently feel like the Uncle Tom (or Aunt Tomasina, or whatever) of the trans community these days. Occasionally, though, I got it right. I actually found (it’s on page five, here) one of the articles I wrote, of which I am somewhat more proud, and Teri and I re-read it, and … I’m still at least not mortified by it**.

I continue to push myself to feel in the real world in each moment, and not to discount my experiences because they are mine. Now, I recognize how much of this was my internalized and self-directed misogyny, as well, although that was something I did not grasp, then.

I continue to push myself to feel in the real world in each moment, and not to discount my experiences because they are mine. Now, I recognize how much of this was my internalized and self-directed misogyny, as well, although that was something I did not grasp, then.

But, at that time, although I questioned her treatment, and I usually avoided the vulgar jokes, I didn’t have the tools or the words to express or understand what was so wrong with the way she was treated. I remember also, clearly, from that era, how I had not understood what had really been going on with Anita Hill. Much as I was a libertarian before I understood the term, and this often led to me not being able to articulate my viewpoint effectively or rise appropriately or summon courage consistently when it was needed, I was a feminist before I properly understood the term, and my early implementations of feminism were, honestly, weak. It would be a few years, around 2001, until I became properly versed in feminism, spending a seven-month period of joblessness, superimposed on 9/11, reading Gloria Steinem, Shulamith Firestone, Andrea Dworkin, Kate Millet, Naomi Wolf, and so many others, as well as backing philosophers like Michel Foucault, the rave of feminists “back in the day.” It was at that time, that I went back to Zora Neale Hurston, Toni Morrison, Richard Wright, and even Frederick Douglass (whom I keep quoting), and re-contextualized what I heard***. And it would take the next 15 years, following that, for feminism to work its way through my tissue and cure me, and like vampire poison, sometimes, I still feel that sense of womanhood and sisterhood coursing through me and curing me, yet.

Now, looking back at all this, 20 years later, I recognize the blatant sexism and mistreatment Monica endured. After some feminist or other explained to me why anyone would reference a “pubic hair on a coke can,” and what the comment had meant, and after Toni and Zora explained to me just a little of what it is like to be black woman in America, now, I better understand what happened to Anita Hill, too. By the time Hilary Clinton was in the news for something called “cankles,” I still had to look the term up, to understand what it meant, but I had a fair idea of what was being done to this accomplished and dedicated leader. And like Monica did in her talk, I now recognize the overlapping and intersecting aims of bullying as it is leveled against not just women, but the LGBT community, and everyone who is not rich, white men and their sons (as long as the sons don’t turn out to be poofters).

By now, I can clearly and comfortably say, that Monica should be so proud of this TED talk. And all women should be proud alongside her, as I certainly am. The way she was treated, twenty years ago, was an attack on all women. It had little to do with the ethics of cheating or leadership impropriety – serious issues but just a front for the subtext in that era – and everything to do with the objectification and denigration of women’s bodies and women’s experiences, a celebration of the sexual double standard, an an entrée into the emerging world of cyber slut-shaming, cyber bullying, and all the brave new things technology fused with hatred brought us in the internet era.

I was not equipped to understand that, and speak out ferociously, in 1998. Neither was Monica Lewinsky. But we have grown into fierce middle-aged women, not in spite of ourselves, but because of ourselves. We just had to overpower the messages society sent us about our value, and reinstate our internal notion of our worth.

My, oh my, how we have grown.

* Later, the second time I felt moved by a candidate would be in Chicago in 2008, when I saw elderly African American ladies waiting at the bus stop, in church lady dresses, with Obama t-shirts pulled on over the top of them, and I was overcome with this magical sense that these women had never felt like the President of the United States of America could belong to them, and I reveled with them in their delight.

** As it turned out, thus far, I have not “turned to the bottle,” but I have experienced, briefly, unemployment, if not any kind of economic deprivation.

*** I was an engineering student at Michigan, and in those days, at least, engineers had maybe 17 credits altogether to spend on everything other than engineering and “hard” science. I think many of the engineers found “blow off” classes to knock out these requirements. I exempted from freshman English, which is hard even for the liberal arts students and nearly unheard of for an engineering student, but I was also the only one I knew who did her liberal arts sequence in English literature. African American literature was probably my favoritest class at Michigan, even better than quantum mechanics (which I also loved). Prescient, non?

Why I Believe in Magic

So a few months ago, we (all the managers and leaders at Hope Network, my base camp for changing the world) took a personality inventory that gauges our leadership style. Psychologists famously pooh-pooh this kind of thing, especially because of use of the Myers-Briggs inventory*. But it is kind of fun, and, well, you know you take Playbuzz quizzes, so don’t even start with me.  We used a tool called the DiSC in this case – it analyzes people based on four personality characteristics – dominance, influence, conscientiousness, and steadiness. Most people, according to the model (which at least, in any event, is closer to the most validated five and three factor personality models) are somewhat more reliant on one of the four dimensions than any of the others. Somewhat unique to the business application of this model, it also analyzes a “natural” style – how one behaves when not under stress or pressure, and an adapted style. Some people change their style dramatically, whereas other people (like me) make more subtle changes, whether because we are self-confident or arrogant. It also provides some analysis with respect to how people perceive someone differently, under varying degrees of stress. I might seem bubbly and enthusiastic under low stress situations, and more of a shameless self-promoter under high-stress situations.

In my case, I am an “influencer” at the core (we apparently rate the only lower-case letter in the acronym, although apparently it’s just branding), and this is a very pronounced bias.

It's not because they don't like me, it's not because they don't like me, it's not because they don't like me

It’s not because they don’t like me, it’s not because they don’t like me, it’s not because they don’t like me

I like to promote and be passionate about things. I like to build an army of friends and people who love me, and act indirectly, through them. One thing that was somewhat different from how I perceived myself, but actually, when I stop and think about it, makes sense, is that I always thought of myself as not liking to make decisions and then becoming dominant when I didn’t see anyone else acting. The tool said, in contrast, that I can be somewhat dominant when I’m not under stress – but I actually become much more passive/submissive when stressed (see how the red bar drops on the left graph, below). I do think this makes sense, when I stop and think about it – I know that in high stress situations, I feel a sense of bitterness or annoyance that I’m the one who has to make decisions (although I usually feel like I’m better than many people at making decisions that value everyone’s concerns), whereas I actually don’t mind making them in day-to-day life. It can, and sometimes does, make me passive aggressive in those situations, whereas I am not very passive aggressive by nature.

Apparently, when backed into a corner, I become submissive and try to use my charm to get out of trouble....

Apparently, when backed into a corner, I become submissive and try to use my charm to get out of trouble….

My results generated some less-than-flattering generalizations about me. “Flattery will always generate a positive reaction from her**” and “Mira tends to break the rules and then attempts to sell you on the fact it was the proper thing to do***.” “She believes rules exist to serve rather than to be followed by her****.” Apparently, I really want everyone to like me, and not because it makes me happy, but because it’s good for them (it is!).

What??? Not effusive? Robbed, I tell you, robbed!

What??? Not effusive? Robbed, I tell you, robbed!

One of the things that came out of the analysis of my personality style, and this was something I was already aware of, but I’ve reflected on a lot more in the last few months (I originally took this quiz at the end of October last year), is that I am really drawn to the notion of life as an adventure. I don’t relish drama in the sense of interpersonal conflict (although I’ve learned not to always shy away from it). But, I do relish drama in the sense that I need everything – even my trips to the grocery store (okay, this isn’t an exaggeration, and so it goes in a parenthesis and not a footnote, I’ve blogged about the grocery store as an adventure at least once) – to be epic.

I remember taking the MMPI-2 back in graduate school*****, and there was a question that was something like, “I like to go to parties where there is loud, lively music,” and I used to quip, “I like to go to breakfast where there is loud, lively music!” If I were just a neuropsychologist who put on her white lab jacket and saw a few patients everyday, then wrote my notes, and hung up my jacket, I would be sincerely bored. One of the things I love about Hope is how much this is not my job. I get to create things and change kids’ lives, and I get to play, every day. And I do need that, desperately – no clarifying footnote or anything. I need my life to be an adventure. People who just have a “job” that “pays the bills” make no sense to me whatsoever – it’s like I know they exist, conceptually, and I’ve learned to understand how they think and act, to some limited extent, but I have no intuitive grasp of them at all.

I mean, seriously, do I look like I fit in with neuropsychologists who refer to their clinic as a "laboratory"? A couple weeks ago I went to work with Solo cups bobby pinned to my head.

I mean, seriously, do I look like I fit in with neuropsychologists who refer to their clinic as a “laboratory”? A couple weeks ago I went to work with Solo cups bobby-pinned to my head.

This is reflected in my icons – my namesakes who lived an epic life (Princess Mira) or wrote epic stories (Charlotte Bronte). It’s very much reflected in the stories I love. I understand and accept that there are tragedies and dark endings, but I need everything to be a love story – I don’t get stories that aren’t love stories of one kind or another. And I see the epic in everyday life. Mostly, Teri and I don’t watch much science-fiction or fantasy or anything like that, but I do get him to let us watch a lot of epic love stories (and usually he likes them as much as I do). Last night was fantasy. It was Teri’s pick, Stardust.

Okay, I kind of glow like this when I see Teri, too.

Okay, I kind of glow like this when I see Teri, too. Go watch Stardust on Netflix. They said I’d give it only 4.5 stars. Pssh. 

So, so satisfying. Later that night, I did have another one of those nights when I spent a little bit of time crying in the middle of the night, nestled in between Teri and Iago. Like the lost star in the movie, Yvaine, who fell to earth, I thought about our child, lost and alone out there, looking for us but not knowing how to find us, just as I was lost and alone, not knowing how to find Teri, until I finally did. I know our child is strong and will survive and persevere. And I thought about Teri going through things in his life – leukemia, bullying, family challenges, and so much more – and how I couldn’t be there for him, yet (Teri says I was there in spirit, and he’s right). But Teri pointed out that, like us, our child, out there, frequently lost and alone, would see life as an adventure, just like we have always seen and will always see life as an adventure. And like us, our child, out there somewhere, will have so many adventures, will make so many friends, will have so many people echo in a small way the love that they will know when they find us, before they ever come to us. Our child will know joy before we finally meet, because people like our child are the reason there is joy. Because our child may not carry the marker that they are our child because their eyes look just like Teri’s, or their smile looks just like mine, but our child will be marked in this way, and when we finally meet each other, we will know it. Just like Teri and I knew.

Way back when – and I’ve referenced back to it a couple times – I mentioned the very first book my book club read, Life of Pi, and the challenge it makes to the claim that the adventure is not “real.” This isn’t some psychotic dream. I don’t see dragons, and I am no damsel in distress. Magic may not let people disappear in clouds of smoke, or turn into doves, but it is real. It exists in this world, drawing meaning and deep structure between us. There are not wizards or Muggles, per se, but there is another kind of magic, and in some it runs deeply, and in others only a trickle or not at all. The magic runs deeply with me, and it is why my life is full of the amazing experiences with which it has been stocked. It runs in places, and those places call out to people like me, but people like me also infuse places with magic. The magic is why magical people sense a natural kinship and stay near to me, whether by miles or by the units of distance of the heart. Like the impromptu party towards the end of The Fountainhead, when we magical people draw near, we have a natural kinship that crosses boundaries of wealth and experience and time and space.

This is how I see life. It is my strength and weakness, both. I believe in it. And I embrace it.

* Oh, psychologists, why ya gotta hate on pseudoscience?

** Okay, kind of true.

*** Okay, totally true.

**** It’s like you know me. Stop talking.

***** It used to be a thing, that psychology trainees had to be patients of their professors or adjuncts associated with their department, as part of graduate school (this is more of a psychoanalysis era thing), and that MMPI’s were not only administered but had to be shared and interpreted by one’s professors, in a clear conflict of interest. We were simply asked to take it, to know how it worked and to see the results, ourselves, without having to share them with anyone. Now, this was my first year in graduate school, at the tail end of the most severe era of my eating disorder. I saved my MMPI, and I still sometimes show it to trainees as a cautionary example of understanding the resiliency of humanity. My (completely valid and not at all just suggesting I am histrionic) profile suggested fairly extreme, “lock her up, stat” distress in those days… I think I had six of 10 significantly elevated clinical scales, and this was during a time when I was making new friends, succeeding (and frequently knocking it out of the ballpark) in an extremely challenging graduate program, adapting to life in the South, training to run a full marathon for the first (and ultimately only) time, and recovering by pulling myself up by my bootstraps. That time was incredibly hard for me, but without medicines or therapies or anything but the kind of magic this post is all about, I not only survived, but this time became a gateway into thriving more than I have ever thrived.

Why I’m Giving Up Picking Fights within the Sisterhood

Back when my friends, whose religious practices involve sacrificing something for Lent, were making their picks, I quipped that I would give up picking fights within the Sisterhood* for Lent. It became a little less quip and a little more aspiration, over time, and “for Lent” gradually became a provocative question of what life would look like if I (we) never picked fights within the Sisterhood. I’m not going to pretend that I’m doing that now, or that I will ever get there, but that provocative question gradually became a mission. When I take on missions – I don’t take them on lightly. I don’t know who coined the word impossible, but I bet it wasn’t a Sister.

I'm not stopping cracking the whip altogether. I'm just doing my best not to crack it at other Sisters.

I’m not stopping cracking the whip altogether. I’m just doing my best not to crack it at other Sisters.

Sisterhood** is a powerful thing. A powerful thing in my life – whether it was Gloria Steinem, or Jane Austen, or Charlotte Bronte, or so many other Sisters of the Revolution, who spoke to me as a Sister, and helped me find my own Sister’s voice inside me, or so many Sisters in my life yesterday, today, and tomorrow. It breaks down barriers. It allows me to talk with, to advocate alongside, women who are different from me in so many ways – our skin color, our socioeconomic status, our politics, our life experiences, our education, our queerness or straightness – and I have seen, so many times, we are instantly Sisters, and although all these other things remain, Sisterhood is more fundamental and more immutable. Of all the things worth preserving to me, as a woman, Sisterhood is the greatest***. And my choice is predicated on my treasuring of this most precious thing, on this day that belongs to us, and to me. 

I wrote last year, and spoke at last year’s V to Shining V, about the idea that fights both within and among marginalized communities inevitably stand to benefit our oppressors, and oppression itself as a force, and to fail to help any of us. I stand by that claim. This does not mean that Sisters should not continue learning to cultivate spaces in which inclusive and earnest dialogue occurs over our differences, because we will have differences – because of our experiences, because of our perspectives, because of which part of the Struggle in which we have embedded ourselves most passionately. We would do well as Sisters, also, to include people who are not Sisters in that dialog, because the truth is that there’s a lot of oppression in the world, and it isn’t all directed at people “like us.” And we would do well, as Sisters, to embed ourselves, when welcomed, within dialogs where we ourselves are the outsiders and allies.

I want to be careful here, because telling other people not to pick fights is, frequently, itself picking a fight. Or making some kind of subtle or not-so-subtle assertion that a certain narrative – usually a dominant narrative, like, inside the Sisterhood, the middle-class, white, straight feminist narrative – is more important than other narratives – like, inside the Sisterhood, the narrative of multiply marginalized Sisters. We know as feminists that this is precisely what is done to women – we’ve spent generations and millennia under patriarchy changing the world and then giving credit to our husbands (and even, often, having the gall to say that, with them is where the credit belongs). And, sometimes, we’re angry about it, and we probably do go about voicing our anger in ways that are counterproductive as measured by our own outcome desires (for instance****, in comparing the role of Suffragists in Abolition to the point our sister Patricia Arquette tried to make and the way in which she made it, at the Oscars). Anger is okay. And if my Sisters choose to direct it at me, or at each other, I am not going to judge them (or pretend to be better than them). I am just going to learn not to participate. And I am not going to conflate the Sister with her anger.

I am writing also, a little, and processing still a little, in response to the claims that feminism in Social Media is a toxic thing. I think most Sisters have seen the Sisterhood get toxic. I don’t want to deny this can happen, because it would sound absurd, even to me. But, aside from the ideological analysis of this kind of attack, how it is levied, on whom it is levied, and what its likely function in a system of oppression is (hint, it probably isn’t reducing marginalization), I think I, like many Sisters, reacted to this instinctively in a negative way, because the cloud of women we know in social media (and more generally in the Sisterhood) had done, are doing, will do so much to support us, lift us up so many times, be a cheering voice in our triumphs and a commiserating cry when we fell short. When we think of the Sisterhood, we know this is what we do. Whether modern feminism is toxic (it must not be allowed to be or become so) or whether some of these behaviors are toxic (they are) is just not a fight worth picking. That would allow the toxicity to define us, and it simply does not. Rather, it is reminding ourselves, focusing ourselves on, aligning ourselves with, each other as Sisters, on which we must focus. That defines Sisterhood, and that defines us and makes us who we are. So how am I going to give up picking fights? Without gagging and binding myself? This is what I am learning to do, and what I am pledging to do.

  • When there are opportunities to do good, to make progress, to change the world, I am going to focus my efforts on doing just that. This is probably the biggest thing I’m going to continue doing. My behaviorists talk about replacement behaviors (although there are limits to this philosophy, as we know), and I think this is really the Sister’s ultimate replacement behavior, because alongside connecting with and empowering each other, this is what we do best. So try and stop me.
  • I will continue to tell my own story. Because it’s the only one that’s truly mine to tell. And because there is no point in feminism if it creates a world in which Sisters matter conceptually, but not in practice, as individuals. We would then replace the patriarchy with some internal censer who places our narratives in a hierarchy and uses semaphores to direct us when to speak and when to be silent, and at that phase, the Sisterhood would cease to be revolutionary.
  • I will continue to listen to other Sister’s stories, and to all stories of oppression. I will never own stories other than my own. But having learned to know when our voices were missing, and to call the bluff on histories that pretend to be complete without us, I will continue to listen for the voices that do not get heard, because this is perhaps the most revolutionary act of radical feminism.
  • Whenever I can collaborate with you, I will. Not because I owe it to you, but because I believe in Us, because I owe it to me, and because although we are strong as individuals, Sisterhood makes us far stronger together.
  • If and while you choose to be a fight-picker, you may find yourself on my ignore list. Sisters don’t have to be suckers. If you are the person who wants to constantly ask why I don’t stop telling my own story or changing the world in the way that I’m changing the world, to tell someone else’s story or do what you think needs to be done, or if you want to nitpick or establish yourself as my critic, I’m just not going to respond to you, and please allow me to re-refer you, in advance, to the first bullet point. This also means there are a whole bunch of fights I’m not going to weigh in on, because they seem, to me, just opportunities to argue, and I have decided to be too busy changing the world to argue.
  • When I get angry at a Sister, I will ask why I am really angry. Solidarity in the Sisterhood doesn’t mean man hating (or masculinity hating). But I will remember my own claim, that this infighting is a tool of our oppression, and whenever I am angry at a Sister, I will ask myself what the patriarchy’s game in this is, and I will direct my anger back at oppression, where it belongs.

If you’re somebody who loves me, and you see me get off track with this pledge, please tell me. Preferably, in private, and definitely, in love. I will try to listen to you. And if you’re somebody who loves me, I hope that you will know that I will fail – will fail repeatedly – in my way to achieving this goal, and you will keep loving me anyways, not because I deserve it (I don’t), but because it’s who you are (it is).

It’s International Women’s Day. And women should celebrate by doing whatever they want to do. Because, well, that’s rather the whole point. What this Sister wants to do… is change the world, and she is paring down all the stuff that gets in the way of that.

* By Sisterhood, I really mean radical feminist women (I do embrace that term), but… well, see the next footnote. This raises a whole bunch of red flags to certain people, I’m sure, already. I’m going to talk about “us girls,” and in so doing, I’m talking about and with girls and women who make a choice to co-advocate alongside other girls and women for the good of girls and women. This isn’t really a blog post about whether men can be feminists (of course they can, my mister is a feminist). It isn’t really a blog post about whether or not other gender minority groups belong inside the big tent of women, either as guests or as members (I think they do). But I celebrate the right of women to talk about themselves and not only spend all their time talking about someone or something else.

** I chose Sisterhood as a term because it’s the one that means something to me. In some ways, Sisterhood is the movement wing of what we do in feminism (as opposed to the theoretical wing of what we do). On another layer, there is something sort of else about it. I think all the Sisters know what I am talking about. Probably, if I look at it really carefully, there are people who are women who make nuanced choices not to be Sisters, or who make thoughtless choices not to be Sisters, or who just find themselves not experiencing the connection of Sisterhood. I don’t judge any of them, but I do recognize that, probably, I like any other Sister, can only partially understand what that’s like. Not all women are highly relational, and of course, many men are highly relational. But there’s something special about being a Sister. It is also, admittedly, as much a not mythical thing as it is a mythical thing. It can go awry, which is the whole point of writing this blog and of taking this stand. Still, within the prism of my own experience as a woman, to me, Sisterhood is the best thing about being a woman.

*** And I’m an only child, saying this.

**** In fact, even trying to provide some gentle, inclusion-focused, non-shaming retrospective analysis of a situation, itself, becomes very quickly fight-picking.

On Wanting Family

One of the things with which I really struggle, mostly quietly, is wanting desperately to have a baby. I mean, to bear a child. I love this life. I am so thankful daily to have been given all the opportunities and to have been able to see all the wonders I have seen so far, and each day adds new wonders to my hope chest. I find myself easily not bitter about most things. The one thing I find hard to embrace is never being able to bear a child. Of course, I want so desperately to be able to have that one thing I cannot have. And each day, I find ways to make it okay.

There isn’t much I wouldn’t do for these kids…they get me through a lot. So I find strength in all of them. All my families – the ones I was born into and the ones I found. I find strength in Teri’s arms*. I cradle Iago (those moments, at night, tucked in-between my two boys**, are so wonderful). Sometimes, I cry about it. More than just once in a while.

I also got used to the idea that it isn’t something people are going to understand. So many people – and I mean people who really, really love me – instantly, dismissively, remind me that I can adopt, that adopting is just the same. But it isn’t, really. Or worse, they tell me, of course, that isn’t possible***. Or worse yet, they tell me that I’m better off without kids. Maybe. I’m happy that there are people who find meaning in all kinds of things. And I’ve found so much meaning in so much. But I also feel that I am meant, amongst many other things, to be a mother. If being without a child is some kind of affluence, surely, I am meant to be poor.

A friend, who is a trans man, recently commented that he is sometimes accused of being selfish, because he bore a child before he transitioned. He responds, simply, that he wanted children, and he could do it, so he did. Childless women, and childless couples in general, are a political hot-button topic, too. People too easily make all kinds of incorrect inferences. So let’s just be clear. So many people who choose not to have children give back to society in so many ways. And some people who do choose to have children give little back to society, or sometimes even to their own kids. And not everyone (myself in particular) who is childless is childless by choice. I did not have the option that my friend did. To me, although I want desperately to have a child, I could not stand the thought of being a father to one – it is simply not a role I am meant to play. So, for me, the only real route to a child of my own blood was not something I wanted to pursue, and I don’t regret it, because I don’t think it was what was meant to be.

Then, one night, swathed in blankets and in the gentle sleeping noises Teri and Iago make****, I was up at night, crying. I do this, sometimes. Not a lot, but sometimes. Teri awoke, held me, comforted me, and wiped away my tears, asking me what was wrong. But this time, they weren’t very sad tears. I started to learn to see my plight in a different way. I have felt for some time – ever since I met him – that Teri is my Prince Charming. That our spirits were always looking for each other. They (we) knew each other instantly, after so much yearning, so much searching, and so much wandering in all the years we were apart. I am in turns very Christian in my sentimentality, and in turns very spiritual in a more general sense, but I believe unwaveringly that there is a deep structure to the universe, in which we are embedded, and that our lives have more meaning, more purpose, and more importance than just the interactions we have with the atoms in which we bathe. I guess I don’t really know if it’s true, but like Pi Patel in the Life of Pi, it colors the way I see the world, and to me, the world is far richer seen this way. So, to me, Teri’s spirit and mine were always meant to be together. We didn’t really have or need love at first sight, because our spirits loved each other long before we met – they were always made for loving each other. Loving Teri is not something I choose, but something I am. Teri was what I had always been looking for, even if I wouldn’t have known how to describe it, or known fully how to prepare myself to be ready for him, when he finally came.

I also recognized that I had little part in that moment when our spirits finally came together. Our meeting happened by chance. This is the story that’s in our StoryCorps recording, in my PFLAG speech, etc., etc., I guess, I can’t stop telling that story, and I probably never will. It was all chance strung from chance hanging from chance. I was always looking for Teri, but the most I can really claim for myself is that I was ready to jump into his arms when I finally found him.

What if this…is…the same? I had been grieving, all this time, and still struggle with, even now, my barrenness. But I found that Teri’s spirit was out there, and although it required years of faith and waiting, our spirits were always meant to be together, and now we are. What if the child I am supposed to mother is out there, too, in spirit? Maybe a spirit that hasn’t even been born yet. Or, maybe a spirit that is lost and alone, out there, desperately trying to find a way even now to us. It breaks my heart to think the spirit of my child is out there, struggling without us. That I cannot now comfort that pain or kiss away those tears. But a spirit that belongs with us, out there, seeking us out…. I know that my child is strong, and brave, born of the same courage from which Teri and I came. Like me, I don’t think my child is fearless, because I have been – am – so scared, so many times, but I know that my child has a spirit that perseveres, that is not stopped . Most of all, I know my child sees life as a gift, like we do, and that someday, when that moment comes, when our spirits can be together, just like I knew to leap to Teri with all my might, our child will know. And we’ll know, too.

And then, we’ll be together. And, much as I remember all the years before I found Teri, but they didn’t make sense – really make sense – until I met him, and he put them in context, I will understand why my path to motherhood has been so long and treacherous, and I will recognize that it was the perfect path, and the only path I am meant to follow.

For now (and, well, always), Iago is my baby

For now (and, well, always), Iago is my baby. It’s a story for another time, but Iago, knew, too, and he was always meant to be with me.

* Teri supports me through this wonderfully. Recently, he’s talked more than once about wanting children, but I think we both recognize the depth of pain about this is something I really go through alone, inside myself.

** I’m crying, writing this blog. Teri made Iago move so he could hold me, but Iago went around Teri, got back up on the other couch, and climbed into my lap, so I have one arm typing from above him now, the other below.

*** Yes, I am quite cognizant of that fact, thank you.

**** Okay, they both snore sometimes, but at that moment, they were gentle.

Mira and Teri Record with StoryCorps

This is a picture from last week (Valentine's Day!). Some pronouns changed in our relationship since August, but the fire still burns hotly.

This is a picture from last week (Valentine’s Day!). Some pronouns changed in our relationship since August, but the fire still burns hotly.

You may have heard of StoryCorps. They’ve been recording stories across America since 2003, archiving more than 50,000 of them in a little more than a decade. A few of their recordings get edited down professionally and published on NPR, and you’ve probably heard one of them at one point, or another (they’re online!). The rest of the time, they archive the digital recording at the Library of Congress, in their American Folklife Center. One cool thing about StoryCorps is that they try to oversample underrepresented stories. Last summer, they came to Grand Rapids, and they worked with OutPro, The Network, and others to help collect more LGBT voices. We recorded with them on August 16, 2014. This was kind of amazing timing, because just around that time, the Smithsonian’s LGBT collection plans were unveiled, and there has been talk about possibly creating duplicates of LGBT narratives, like ours, and also putting them in that collection, which is something that’s happened with StoryCorps recordings in other target areas.

This is the actual StoryCorps trailer, it has a mad fierce sound booth tucked away in it, and you can actually get a great audio recording even while there's a festival going on in Rosa Parks Circle right outside the door.

This is the actual StoryCorps trailer, it has a mad fierce sound booth tucked away in it, and you can actually get a great audio recording even while there’s a festival going on in Rosa Parks Circle right outside the door.

Technically, you can go listen to our story at the Library of Congress. Unfortunately, right now, the unedited stories do not go online. However, the StoryCorps people provide a CD of the recording and permission to excerpt and publish that. I’ll have to admit it took me all the way until January to finally rip the CD onto my Macbook Pro and start editing it down in Audacity, and I just finally figured out how to do some channel mixing and compression on it, get it to a manageable size (the interview is 45 minutes long; this excerpt is only 10), and upload it somewhere so I can stream it from this blog.

The excerpt here focuses on the story of how Teri and I met (I know, sickeningly sweet) and fell in love, and how we find that our relationship allows us to strengthen each other in our passions for serving children, me with my roles at the Center for Autism and with the AACRC, and Teri as a facilitator of our LGBT Youth Group at The Network. In picking 10 minutes to share, I was challenged with what to admit. Somewhat to my surprise, I didn’t keep the parts about LGBT advocacy, really, even though this is a huge part of our lives. I did save one part, where Teri came out to me, for the first time*, in words, about being trans himself, since back at that time, we were publicly lesbian identified (and not yet heteroqueer). I cut out a lot of me talking about my little autism kids, because, well, we have other videos on that topic (and once you get me started, I scarcely have the ability to stop). I really decided to focus on our love story. Why? Because it’s my favorite part of the interview. Because it’s the story that just gets better (and perhaps slightly more exaggerated) every time we’ve told it**.

I suppose that opens me up to criticism of bleaching away the queerness of our story, but in my defense, I think it is important to remind the world that even we, two trans people in a loosely heterosexual relationship – even we have love stories just like anyone else’s. So, it isn’t me preaching feminism. It isn’t me talking about the amazing future we have, when NT’s and NNST’s start building the world, hand in hand. It isn’t about the message of a day when we are equal in our lives, our loves, and our gifts. It’s just a love story. Hate it if you may, dear reader, but in hating love stories, must you not also find yourself hating love? And without love, what are we?

So, here it is:

I hope you like it!

* Yes, in the sound booth, girlfriend. It was not, however, the biggest shock in the world.

** I know, we tell it a lot. It’s become kind of legendary among my close friends.

Teaching People to “Get” Privilege

At the beginning of the year, I wrote a blog post* outlining why I felt a shakeup in our notion of being an ally was critically needed. It followed up on my attempt to start a conversation around redefining privilege, begun publicly at the West Michigan TDoR a few months earlier. I started, in essence, with how I am dedicated not just to recognizing the marginalization of the LGBT community, but to ending it. And the end I foresee is a world in which we are valued for the gifts we bring, where people know that we anchor communities, where people know that we make towns and cities vibrant, and where people feel motivated to keep us safe not because they feel sorry for us, but because it’s in their own self-interest. To get there, I argued, we needed to become more aware not just of marginalization as we experience it, and privilege as others experience it, but we need to be aware of the privilege each of us carries, and become increasingly willing to leverage that privilege we have to engage audiences, tell stories, build relationships, and change the world.

The second place I engaged in this conversation was by starting Our Narratives, along with my Teri and others, as the Network‘s new initiative to help LGBT people know their stories, relate their stories to the Struggle, and use their stories to advocate for change, both big and small. We started this with our November 2014 Our Narratives workshop (and we have another one coming up, in a couple of weeks). Our Narratives was a critical piece of what needed to be done, because it is difficult to use privilege to advocate for change if you don’t really understand how to advocate for change, or how to broaden that story beyond just your own story. We showed with that inaugural event that our participants came in feeling they knew their story, but they didn’t know how to relate it to the struggles of others (or distill the universal theme or align the societal statistics with their story), and they really didn’t know how to use their own story to advocate for change or understand why their own story was relevant in advocating for change**. And we showed that we could change all that, just in a day. Teri commented, also, that he was blown away by the intensity of these stories, and he felt kind of badly for having underestimated our community, going in. This, I think, really recapitulates my point at TDoR. That passion behind that storytelling… is a kind of talent or privilege, and it’s just one of the many talents*** we don’t recognize or leverage as a community.

So, I’ve got people talking about and understanding their marginalization. But my belief is that we cannot be good allies unless we understand our privilege, too, and we begin to understand intersectionalism of both marginalization and privilege. So, really, I set out with So You Want To Be An Ally (SYWTBAA), which happened at the end of January, with two goals. First, I want to learn to teach people that we exist within an intersecting web of privileges and marginalization – it is fundamentally flawed to think of “us” as marginalized and “them” as privileged. Second, I wanted to socialize our people to critically analyze our behaviors as allies. Again, pulling us out of an “us v. them” mentality, I want us to be good allies to others (because it will stop unfortunate things like ethnic minority groups attacking LGBT rights, because they perceive that “our” freedom is incompatible with “theirs,” when in reality, we are all “us,” and there is no “them”).

I’m coming back now to talk about where I succeeded, and where I’m still trying. SYWTBAA was a three hour seminar with group activities interspersed. Unlike Our Narratives, it placed a heavier emphasis on instructor led content. I originally conceptualized it as being co-led by an LGBT person and a heterosexual ally (and had one picked out). But, the more and more I thought about it****, SYWTBAA became not primarily about heterosexual allies working with the LGBT community, but rather, a broader and more conceptual thing. I got feedback, privately, from some people I trust and respect, that I needed to thin down the feminist theory, because people who came to such an event would be well versed in it already. I respectfully disagree (and I’m sticking with that assessment). At least, here, in Grand Rapids, we do not have people show up to these events with bell hooks under their arm. And I would challenge, that, honestly, while there are a few of us out here, we do not even make up the majority in our own activist/advocacy spaces, let alone the majority of mobilizable people that can make the army we leverage to end oppression. A simple analysis of how many HRC bumper stickers one sees and the sales data on the feminist classics quickly reveals that.

So, the workshop ended up being more of a solo presentation, by me. I would like to broaden the examples I drew on, but I used examples from multiple kinds of marginalization – related to disability, mental illness, different racial and ethnic groups, the young and old, women, and, of course, the LGBT community. I used examples ranging from the Victoria’s Secret expropriation of Native American culture three years ago, to raising the possibility that the 99% may just be the largest of all marginalized groups, even larger than women as a group (or the 51%, as we like to call ourselves). I acknowledged my heroines, provocatively putting Andrea Dworkin and Julia Serano on the same page*****. And I preached feminism. I talked some gay – I explained why we don’t have a straight pride, as an example of how privilege assumptions and the power structure they maintain form an asymmetrical view of the world.

There was some good stuff. Unlike the very targeted before/after results we saw for the flagship Our Narratives workshop, we saw broadband improvements on all five of the questions we asked about our participants’ before and after experiences. But, the biggest gains were in understanding one’s own privilege (that is, understanding of one’s own privilege improved markedly, whereas improvements in understanding one’s own marginalization were more subtle), and feeling able to critically analyze one’s behaviors as an ally. So these are exactly the things we set out to do, and this preliminary data, from the first time we did the program, were very favorable. It also turns out that Keynote makes totally fetch slides, and although I used it at First Event earlier in the month, this is the first really meaty presentation I made in Keynote, and it was much more sophisticated than that prior one.

#Geekgirl loves her data, so here are the numbers – again, noting the big gains on the top-most and middle items:

Participant survey data from our January 2015 So You Want To Be An Ally

Participant survey data from our January 2015 So You Want To Be An Ally

There were some surprises. Using the Network’s detailed identity question****** on our post-hoc survey, only 55% of respondents classified themselves as allies (#FAIL? Or humility?). Of course, with all the work to make sure there were plenty of presentation materials, it went a little long. The last exercise was supposed to really critically push people to identify both when they were an ally and when they were an accomplice (and really, all four roles in the paradigm I borrowed and presented earlier). I do not feel like I fully got across the idea that things like reverse racism are not valid constructually, because of global effects overwhelming the local effects (so that in a majority black neighborhood, like the Hyde Park neighborhood of Chicago, where I lived before I moved back to Grand Rapids, the national/systemic racism against black people overwhelms the fact that Caucasians are a minority just in those few blocks, even though the President of the United States of America lives 2.5 blocks away, etc.). People also still tended to think of themselves as primarily privileged or primarily marginalized (and I really should’ve asked a poll question about this, and I did not – I really want people to come away from something like this understanding that we are all both).

Don't make me do Michelle Obama side eyes.

Don’t make me do Michelle Obama side eyes

Overall, though, I was pretty happy with the conversation. In spite of the early critiques that the feminist / conceptual approach would not be what people wanted, we had a pretty sold-out event, and we had really positive feedback from the participants. One, who leads a drop in center for homeless and runaway youth, followed up by inviting me to a training panel discussion to talk about this content. There was interest in exporting the training to another group, which is something we’re possibly open to (although we really want people to come in our doors). We want to do this quarterly, so I’ll be curious to see if we can find 20-25 people who want this training every three months (I think we should be able to – there are, in any event, to me, more than 20-25 people who need this training every three months).

What’s next? Well, we’re looking at ways other than dramatic / prose speaking and blogging to teach people to tell their stories. Maybe spoken word art, maybe something video-based, so we can go wreck YouTube. I’m also thinkiI’mng of more content elements. I’m wondering, particularly, if we need to QueerTheConversation on racial justice – still giving you side eyes if you talk reverse racism at me. We could come clean (or even cleaner) about how everyone who’s been on our Board of Directors in the last couple of years has been Caucasian or Asian (and, as I’ve argued, there are many ways in which I feel a need for pause and caution, and I do not consider myself a good spokesperson for racial injustice), and much more strategically talk about our outreach to ethnic minorities, both in terms of building support for LGBT people from these populations but also building a reciprocal ally base, because we’ve got a lot to give back to people. We’ve been talking about that a lot, but right now, I feel like we need to double down on that. Amidst all the other things were trying to revolutionize and all the other systems we’re trying to wreck (now, usually I don’t do this, but why don’t you go ahead and break them off a little preview of the remix?).

I guess it turns out that Queering the New Year is a resolution one really must keep all year long.

* Slash manifesto

** For instance, it is also a narrative we can leverage that, in the midst of fighting over whether transgender people should be equal (or should be excluded), my narrative that I am societally accepted, largely by everyone, that I’m here in Grand Rapids creating jobs and opportunity for adults and teaching kids with autism how to communicate and learn, and that I am in danger not of killing myself, if I can’t have rights, but of not building as many jobs (mostly for straight people) or helping as many kids (again, predominantly straight people’s kids) – my narrative is an important narrative, because it dovetails exactly with what the rest of the business community has been saying about our civil rights act. It’s just, by and large – and not for want of talent, see the next footnote – I’m the only trans person saying it. But this is an example of a privilege-based narrative, used to advocate for good. Making me something more like Tesla and Elon Musk, arguing, “Hey, your life would be better if you changed your laws for me.”

*** Sometime, let me write a blog post about all the kinds of people I know because I’m engaged in the LGBT community, that wouldn’t normally be in my social circles… sure, there are doctors, lawyers, engineers, and CEOs, but actors and actresses, airplane pilots, retired Navy SEALs and Army Rangers, authors, poets, comedians, magazine editors, … I’m really not kidding when I say my network broadened by coming out, and didn’t contract really at all.

**** And, well, because we woke up early and finished the last bits of the program the morning of the event, itself, and Teri even cooked us breakfast, so that I could finish.

***** I should be even more provocative, and have some male role models too, and in truth, I do, although most of my strongest inspirations are other women, and I put up six pictures of women. For the record, they were: bell hooks, Gloria Steinem, Shulamith Firestone, Andrea Dworkin, Julia Serano, and Mira Nair.

****** For a lot of our own surveys, we use an inclusive identity question, where a long list of options is presented, and respondents check all that apply, with no validation process. Currently, our list is: female, male, androgynous, agender, bigender, cisgender, transgender, genderqueer, gender fluid, cross dresser, intersex, heterosexual, gay, lesbian, bisexual, pansexual, polyamorous, sexually fluid, asexual, aromantic, questioning, two spirit, queer, and ally. There is a free response “other” option, and my smart-ass boyfriend put in heteroqueer. So we add items as we go – it had less items the last time we used it. Recently, I’ve been asked how to do this on surveys, and I agree that this approach is cumbersome for someone other than an LGBT organization. So my second approach, when we’re trying to make it simpler, is to ask two questions, modeled after the two-question approach of identifying ethnic/racial grouping. There, questions are asked separately, here in the US that is, about being Hispanic/Latino, and about ethnic affiliation. I propose something similar, which is (1) Do you identify as trans/transgender, genderqueer, gender fluid, gender non-conforming, or non-binary? (Yes/No/DK) and (2) Do you identify as (male/female/other). This is nicely subversive, too, in that the questions make more sense and are more welcoming if trans people are put in front rather than put in as an afterthought.

A Mission to Christianity

Last week, Calvin College brought Mark Yarhouse to speak about the transgender community. Christian LGBT community members raised concern. On digging further into the matter (I had heard neither of Dr. Yarhouse nor of the Regent University from which he hails), much of this concern is rooted in Dr. Yarhouse’s historical body of work. At its best, he takes a non-judgmental* approach to supporting Christians (predominantly) who are trying to reconcile their sexual identity with their Christian identity. At its worst, it stoops precipitously close to apologetics for conversion therapy, teetering on an edge (although, from Dr. Yarhouse’s perspective, trying not to go over that edge) of what is considered criminal in multiple states (although not Michigan), and what is considered clearly unethical by a preponderance of us as psychologists.

I, in turn, reached out to friends at Calvin and summarized these concerns. They very graciously had me out to tea to discuss them further. I understand (and welcome) their spirit of trying to create dialog across what they perceive as a chasm (although, in truth, we are quite able to sit at the same table, drink the same tea, and find common language with little difficulty). I also understand and accept their challenge in working with a broader range of stakeholders, ranging from their students (who are generally quite accepting) to some of their older constituents (who are, sometimes, otherwise).

gender-dysphoria-cover

Based on Dr. Yarhouse’s presentation, I cannot recommend his forthcoming book.

I went to hear Dr. Yarhouse speak, and up until now, I have been largely silent (or, as I am sometimes accused of being, “diplomatic”). I did so out of love for my friends at Calvin – and I do sincerely consider them friends – who I am very convinced are trying to do right (and good). I do so out of love for my Calvin alumni staff – anyone who knows me knows how much I love my team, and that I would make (and sometimes have made) all manner of sacrifices for them. My friends at Calvin worked very hard to make this a non-combative atmosphere for discussion, and I do appreciate that, although there are subtle nuances of these choices that are more problematic**.

I have held off because I have been balancing various other perspectives, as well, causing me to wait before I responded. I balance the very different perspective my own organization is in the process of taking towards its own mission of Christian service (one which I wholly endorse, for no simpler reason than that it is based in love), and even the wonderful things Calvin College, itself, is doing for its trans students, like a whole campus network of gender inclusive bathrooms***. I balance my duties to the LGBT community – many of whom would not be willing to even listen to this. And I balance my obligation to live my life, to be the sort of woman God made me, to be what and whom God has seen fit, to be unashamed and unabashed, to try and be a source of support and kinship for others. Again, anyone who knows me really knows how much I love the wonder of this life. In speaking now, I accept and embrace that I am doubtless to be scorned on the one side or the other, and most likely, on both. But I – we – must live our lives against what is right and not against what will receive scorn. From anyone.

Yarhouse spoke about many things. Semantically, he used marginalizing language under the apologetic of recognizing that “we won’t all agree on words.” Scientifically, it is my opinion that he misrepresented and selectively presented data – for instance, in discussing the increasingly common practice of suppression / delay of puberty medically for trans kids, he included data that indicates that young children who do not conform to their birth assigned sex have a high rate of “desisting,” or not being transgender-identified by adulthood, but he ignored data that adolescents have a much lower rate of return to cisgenderhood. He ignored large scale data on the safety and efficacy of transition. This data is not inaccessible or esoteric to the researcher – much of it is summarized in the World Professional Association for Transgender Health’s Standards of Care****, commonly considered the international, scientifically accepted, gold standard, and endorsed widely by other provider and specialty organizations (and freely downloadable – you should read it, if you have not already). He included some references to neuroscience, ignoring much of the most recent cognitive neuroscience data. There is much more that could be said about the scientific content of this lecture. But I think this is entirely not the point*****.

Rather, it is the Christian content of this lecture that most troubles me. On one level, the Christian content of this lecture was deeply problematic because it included discussion of the kind of “deadly passages” that are used, and used absurdly, in Christian discussions of LGBT people. To caution for deep pause and great consideration of scripture such as the Deuteronomy quote, “No one who is emasculated or has his male organ cut off shall enter the assembly of the Lord,” is to forget the gospel (or worse, to fail to understand it). But the real point that bears discussion goes beyond this kind of legalism, too.

My last blog post was a continuation of a discussion from a year ago. In some ways, this post, too, is a continuation of a prior thread of discussion. What remains from that discussion is this question of why full and easy acceptance (for me, particularly) comes from all corners of society except certain elements of the church (which do not include my friends at Calvin, or even Calvin as an organization, and which does not generally include my own church, but which are exemplified by conversations like the one led by this speaker). I am drawn back (again) to Frederick Douglass’s claim that, under the surface, there are two separate Christs – one of the Cross and one of this land. Whereas the former accepted, included, and fought for social justice, the rather, all too often, back in his day, and still today, looks for permission to hate, reasons to exclude, limitations on welcome, and the development of a Christian body that is more concerned with its organization and prosperity, than with serving God. A Christian body that uses religion not as salve, but as weapon. A Christian body that uses its senior leadership not to motivate believers to love and nurture people, but who motivates them to shun them (or, in a weaker form, to have conversations about whom and what they are still ‘allowed’ to shun). The same sort of people who cry foul that Christians are a mistreated minority (in America, no less) while, in the same breadth, fighting marriage equality.

I find, since reading over the foregoing Narrative, that I have, in several instances, spoken in such a tone and manner, respecting religion, as may possibly lead those unacquainted with my religious views to suppose me an opponent of all religion. To remove the liability of such misapprehension, I deem it proper to append the following brief explanation. What I have said respecting and against religion, I mean strictly to apply to the slaveholding religion of this land, and with no possible reference to Christianity proper; for, between the Christianity of this land, and the Christianity of Christ, I recognize the widest possible difference–so wide, that to receive the one as good, pure, and holy, is of necessity to reject the other as bad, corrupt, and wicked. To be the friend of the one, is of necessity to be the enemy of the other. I love the pure, peaceable, and impartial Christianity of Christ: I therefore hate the corrupt, slaveholding, women-whipping, cradle-plundering, partial and hypocritical Christianity of this land. — Frederick Douglass

In Douglass’ day, it was the conflation of Christ with slavery, whereas today, this phenomenon is best seen at looking at too much of the church’s attitude towards women and gender/sexual minorities. But, the phenomenon, itself, is wholly alive. And, sadly, quite well. Although there are times when we let ourselves infight as marginalized communities, and one cannot ignore the overwhelming magnitude of the body of depradation wrought by the Christians who championed slavery, and I have no wish to pretend that I have been subjected to those kinds of horrors, still, the mechanics are the same. In those days, Christians had these very same conversations asking whether Black men were men, whether Black women were women (“like our women”). The fundamental problem with Dr. Yarhouse’s talk – and with “Christian apologetics” and the way transgender people are treated by the church – is a failure to recognize that God’s making us in His likeness is a two-way street. God is in heaven, and we are on earth, yet the reality is that merely existing is not enough to be Christlike to anyone, and failing to love, to understand, or to accept, particularly when done in the guise of Christlikeness – is morally wrong.

Early in my coming out process, once, I had a gay man tell me, presuming that I must be interested in him at all, that I could not be his girlfriend, but that I must be his boyfriend. In saying what is the point in understanding what is wrong with the lecture I went to see, I can only say simply that both he and Yarhouse miss the point of my existence entirely, and in exactly the same way. Yarhouse seems genuinely surprised that a gay Christian would perceive more in common with other LGBT people (as gay) than with him (as a Christian). He would be surprised, likewise, that I would shun this olive branch of being told that I can be accepted, not as the woman that I am, but instead, as a “biological male presenting female” or some other self-evident absurdity (again, evident to everyone except certain members of the Church). But far more than this, this line of reasoning runs the risk of ignoring the inevitability that denying what God made me, must always be a denial of God, Himself, as well.

In truth, I felt the greatest wall separating my closeness to God, all the time between when I realized the woman I must grow up to be, and when I finally let myself be her. When I finally accepted the charge to be myself, that wall – those scales – they fell away at that moment of finally accepting the full truth. In those days, I did make a lifestyle choice – one that kept me from my place as a daughter-child of the divine. I left that choice behind, and I became – am becoming – whole again. Not sin-free, not screw-up-free, because I do many things I feel unworthy of the woman I am called to be, and perhaps, most of the time, find myself generally inadequate at this and many other things. But as whole as a wicked girl like me can find a way to be.

Much as it was not my accepting the truth of who I am that kept me at arms length from God, but rather my refusal to do so, for many years, Yarhouse fails to understand that it is not now any choice of mine that prevents these Christians from being Christ for me. It is their choice. Their lifestyle. Their denial of God’s truth (or even the very small part of it that is evident in my existence) even when presented directly with it. This, I fear, is very much the same to be a disciple of the Christ of the land, and not of the Christ of the Cross, to look for excuses not to love, rather than opportunities to love. I am not the one being intransigent in this case – for being that woman is not one of my many sins. I know that I find myself bathing****** daily and hourly, in all manner of guilt that I did not do more, love more readily, work harder, be less weak, and I scarcely feel capable of being Christ for anyone, but I do not spend my time looking for excuses to not love, to not accept, to exclude, to discriminate.

Thus, the premise underlying Yarhouse’s statement is fundamentally flawed. I appreciate your desire to be Christ for me, but if you wish to call me these names, if you want to have this kind of discussion over my living body, then you’ve already made your decision not to do so. This is your decision, and neither I nor God have made it for you. And again, my fear is that anyone who makes such a decision will find themselves aligned with the Christ of the land. I won’t judge you for making this decision – it isn’t my place. But, like Douglass, I will respectfully decline to be interested in that sort of Christ.

That choice is their moral quandary. But thus, I am left with what becomes my moral quandary. Christ spent time in synagogues. He debated and spoke with elders. But he spent much more time loving people, and being out among them. I must ask myself, what is the opportunity cost of spending time (any time) trying to build inroads into the dwellings of this Christ of the land, instead of being out loving? What is the point in this dialog? What is the point of feeling the rage build up inside me, at the injustice, for all these days since that talk, and before I wrote this? Who was I not able to love, because I was too busy hurting, these last days – hurting man-made hurt? Could I not shed the tears I shed, just now, as I wrote this, for something more worthy? To me, the truth is, it is the Church that needs our prayers, with the “issue” of transgender people, not me. Save your prayers for me, please, for my million actual flaws and shortcomings, and not one of the few things that is not wrong with me.

I don’t have an easy answer to this quandary. In my feeble attempt to be like Christ, I try to spend most of my time out loving others. On most days, I am simply thankful for all the kids God has given me, for the rich work I have been given and for the surprising ability of my small hands to do even a tiny part of it. But, like Christ, I also long for a day when the structural injustice is undone, and the Church can again establish itself as a home for the broken hearted, and not for exclusionary movements.

* What, in my sister, Miss Austen’s, time, would have been called “disinterested,” when that word still meant a good thing, that a person was supporting another person out of a desire for that person’s good and not their own.

** Calvin uses – this is not unique to this event – comment cards for Q&A. The cards are moderated, with a subset being presented to the speaker by a faculty facilitator. In general, this has the significant strength of creating a more civil, and a more continuous discourse. It is also probably ultimately faster, allowing for answer to more questions and questions of more substance. In this kind of a case, however, it, unfortunately, amplifies the fact that this is a conversation on transgender Christians but not by or with us – by further silencing our already marginalized voices from the conversation. When Frank Foster, an outgoing State Representative, who fought for change to our civil rights amendment, but made a tactical decision to sacrifice the wellbeing of transgender people for the sake of a bill protecting the less marginalized (but still at risk) gay/lesbian/bisexual components of our community, only, I did feel it was my responsibility to gently raise the issue that we do, in fact, exist, and that our voices belong in the conversation about us. I do not represent trans women, or trans people, but I am one, and, if no one else will speak, I am willing. I also frequently promise not to pick (verbal) fights, and most usually, I keep my word. But, promises to behave oneself were made somewhat superfluous by the manner of the lecture.

*** Although, I do also hope the point is clear that I welcome this, but that I do not generally need/use gender inclusive bathrooms, myself, and I am content to use the women’s room like any other woman, which is also the only generally accepted policy from an HR standpoint.

**** I am a member of WPATH but was not involved in writing the Standards. As of this writing, Dr. Yarhouse does not appear to be a member of WPATH.

***** I often quote my friend, Mara Keisling, who heads the National Center for Transgender Equality, when she says that, “Science is our best friend.” So this may, especially in conjunction with my own pedigree as a neuropsychologist, for the best of readers, strike as somewhat a surprise. Do let me explain. I do think that there is science underlying my claim that I do not “identify as,” “present as,” “live my life as,” but rather, that I simply am a woman. Science that has to do with my brain. Science that establishes the safety and efficacy of transition-related medical services. Science from an anthropological standpoint that demonstrates our stable presence over time and space, across cultures, a marker of a likely biological/genetic/epigenetic phenomenon. But, for people who have not yet accepted gays and lesbians on this same ground, and who in some cases (this happened at a Christian Reformed event, held by a grassroots effort called All One Body, a few months ago) have still not come around to the idea of what they refer to as “interracial” marriage, I think a scientific conversation is really a waste of time and effort.

****** Alongside all the other more trivial, daily, guilts, of having eaten too much, of having not been ladylike enough, and so many other things.