Archives for June 2011

Public Vs. Private (part one)

This is the third in a series of reflections on the Wild Goose Festival. Part one is The Power of A Tshirt. Part two is Apologizing to Over the Rhine.

This is a hard post to write. I’ve been stewing about what I wanted to say and how I wanted to say it. On the whole I had a wonderful time at the festival.

I got to hang out and camp with Brian Gerald Murphy and Matt Beams; two wonderful, wonderful men.

I met and connected with some amazing people. I experienced the powerful music of Over the Rhine and Jennifer Knapp. I listened to some wonderful speakers like Paul Knitter and Nadia Bolz-Weber. I listened to Glen Retief read from The Jack Bank: A Memoir of a South African Childhood and saw Peterson Toscano perform.

I engaged in lovely and loving conversations around sexuality and gender identity. I laughed a lot.

And yet. I came home feeling a sense of unease about my experience. A sense of disconnect. I almost hesitate to write about it, though, because I know that some will think I am just complaining. They will think I am making too big of a deal out of my criticisms, they will expect me to be thankful for what I got. But I feel I cannot gush about this festival without offering some hearty criticism because there were ways in which the festival was painful for me as a queer person. See, I certainly felt welcome at this festival but I didn’t feel affirmed. Nor did I feel represented. I want to be clear that I offer this critique because I believe in what the Wild Goose Festival could be. I believe that we need a progressive, experiential, experimental festival that is committed to justice and the arts. I want this to be a place that I attend each year; to build into this community. That’s why I feel I cannot stay silent about my experience there.

I went to the festival mostly to listen to speakers talk about issues of sexuality and gender identity. I wanted to see what was being said about my community. That’s where the rub begins: other than a few cis gay males (all white) and a couple of bisexual women and one lesbian all of the people who were speaking about sexuality as an “issue” were straight, cisgender people. And all of the folks speaking from the main stages (meaning not on a panel) were cisgender straight folks. (I am putting Peterson into a different category because while he spoke and performed on a main stage he was there as a performer and not as a speaker).

From the stage the conversation was basic. It was still about whether or not queer people are inherently sinful and whether or not they should be in the church. Obviously people came down on different sides: Some were fierce allies, others were quieter, some didn’t take a stand either way. I was troubled by the wishy-washiness of some of the speakers. And troubled by the very, very basic level of this conversation. We have been having the conversation about whether or not homosexuality is a sin for DECADES now. Can’t we please, please move on? I understand that this conversation is important for many folks, but at some point I think we need to refuse to engage this conversation on the public level. Instead if people want to know more about “the issues” they should read one of the dozens of books that have been written. I was struck over and over again by the disconnect that was happening between conversations public and private. Even folks who were not 100% on board with inclusion were able to have much more nuanced conversations with me one on one. Conversations in public became about platitudes, trite talking points, or shouting.

I am concerned about the ways in which queer people were isolated from the main stages. There were a few that were asked to speak on panels, etc. but most of the main talks about sexuality featured white, cisgender, straight men. Queer people were not invited as main speakers (to talk about queer issues).

The two main talks about queer issues (not including the panel discussions) were these: Jay Bakker talked about what it means to be an ally and I am totally in support of that. We need fierce straight folks to speak about what it means to be an ally. And Tony and Peggy Campolo did the same talk they’ve been doing for the past ten years about their disagreements on homosexuality and the Bible. As I watched them speak, all I could think was that this was so rehearsed. There is nothing new in what they are saying. Anyone who has done even a tiny bit of reading/research could have had the same conversation. At best it was innocuous. The problem is that it didn’t stay innocuous. As the conversation entered into a question and answer time, the talk got ugly. A questioner said that she belonged to a church that was welcoming and affirming but that they had not made a public welcome statement because they were partnered with an African American church and they were afraid they would lose their relationship with the church if they came out in support of queer people. Tony then said that there was a good chance they would lose their relationship because the African American community is more homophobic than white people. Then he went on to say that Prop 8 in California wouldn’t have passed if it weren’t for African American people. Several of us shouted “NO” to him on that point because not only is it incredibly racist, it’s also verifiably false. (You can read about why it’s false and damaging here and here.) And when he was told no he got offended and basically told us he was right about that. It is irresponsible for a public leader to be able to get away with saying ridiculously racist things from the stage. The reality is that it reinforces racism without at all getting called out. This is not okay.

We need queer folks to be able to speak for themselves.

There are queer theologians who would have loved to have spoken at Wild Goose. (I’m not going to lie, I am one of them.) There are queer people who are doing important justice work in our own communities. We are at a point when we need people to stop speaking “for” us or “about” us and start letting us speak for ourselves. And I say letting us because the reality is there are still gatekeepers at places like the Wild Goose Festival. There is still an invite list and a planning committee. There are decisions made on a higher level about who will be included and who will not. They made the decision to keep the conversation at a base level. They made the decision to invite straight cisgender men to speak about queer people. They made the decision to not include queer people as main speakers. That is troublesome.

I appreciated that there were fierce allies there, but I am also frustrated that there are people there who speak for my community that I do not want speaking for me.

Speaking now as a transgender person I must also say that my community was pretty much invisible on the main stages. Almost no publicly transgender people spoke from any stage anywhere. Some people tried to push for transgender inclusion (Phyllis Tickle was the most notable), but it was either brief or somewhat sloppily done. There was a lot of conflating trans* and intersex issues or of tacking on the “T” without having any idea why they were tacking it on. Peterson Toscano was the exception (and I will talk about his presentation more in a future post). He spoke clearly and strongly on trans* issues (as well as broader gender and sexuality issues). I know that this is because he has done his research and he has trans* people who read and comment on everything he does. He is the shining example of what it means to be an ally; to be led by the community you are being an ally for. (People, if you want to be an ally, you should follow his example!)

The reality is we’re still having the 101 conversation when we should be well past that. Here is what I want from my allies; here is what I want for the future of this conversation: That from the stage we REFUSE to talk about queer inclusion anymore because honestly? We’re in your churches. We’ve never left them. Queer people are preaching sermons, directing choirs, serving communion, etc. etc. etc. We are in your churches whether you think our lives are sinful or not. So let’s stop pretending that queer people are “outside”. Let’s also stop pandering to the lowest common denominator. Instead let’s try to raise this conversation to a new level. Let’s talk about the ways in which queer theology is opening up new understandings of God. Let’s talk about the ways in which the queer experience of God has things to teach straight folks. Let’s talk about how trans* theology opens up conversations about all of our bodies and how we learn to love them as holy in all of their complexity. Let’s move the conversation from acceptance to wholeness.

I left the Wild Goose feeling welcome but not celebrated. I am sick of feeling welcome but not affirmed. I am sick of still being considered suspect in a church that I was born in. I am sick of being treated like I don’t belong or that I am a newcomer in place in which I speak the language fluently and in which I have been nurtured since birth.

My friends, the conversation won’t change until those who are on board change it. It won’t change until queer people are given access to spaces to share their stories. It won’t change until queer theologians are given time on the main stage. Please, straight, cisgender christians, stop speaking for me! I beg of you, allow me to speak for myself!

If you want to be a good ally, then start calling out other straight, cisgender people. Stop speaking for queer people and instead start calling out people who aren’t for equality. I need you to confront other straight cisgender people because those folks need to hear it from someone who is not queer. But when it comes to speaking around queer issues, let us do that for ourselves.

* Next year I want to see the conversation shift from 101 to actually talking about queer theology.
* I want queer theologians to be invited to talk on the main stages.
* I need Tony Campolo to not be invited to speak about my community. There are plenty of spaces for folks who are not affirming to speak. They are welcome at churches and conferences all over the world.
* I want people who refuse to fully affirm the humanity and dignity of queer people to be asked to listen and learn instead of to speak. If Wild Goose really wants to be about justice then it needs to lead the way by inviting people to speak who are actively pursuing justice.
* Let allies do some trainings on how to be an ally.
* Let queer people lead the way on our own lives. You might be surprised how much queer theology has to say to straight, cisgender people.

Apologizing to Over the Rhine

(this is the second in a series of posts on the Wild Goose Festival. The first part can be found here.)

I love Over the Rhine. They are one of my all-time favorite bands. Their music is beautiful, thoughtful, and profound. They are amazing live performers; excellent musicians, flawless bands, soul and heart, everything you could want in a performance. I was so excited about getting to see them play again at the festival.

I have seen them play over the years, but each time they haven’t signed autographs so I had never gotten to meet them. And I wanted to. Not because I’m a fanboy (although I totally am), but to apologize. So when I heard they were signing at the festival I went and got myself in line. And this is what I told them:

“You probably don’t remember this, but I was introduced to your music when my college uninvited you from playing a show at our school.” They asked what school and when I told them, to my shock, they remembered the incident well. There was a photo within the liner notes: The photo in the liner notes was black and white. It’s a statue in the Musee D’Orsay. It was this photo that got them uninvited.

I continued: “I’ve always wanted to apologize to you for my school’s actions. I know that I don’t have to apologize for them, but it’s always bothered me.” They then officially forgave my school and we all chuckled.

I told them that I was a transgender man who survived that school. That when my school uninvited them I had a small epiphany: If we’re uninviting someone over something so ridiculous, going back on an invitation because of something so innocuous, what else is happening here that is wrong? It was a chink in the armor; it was another moment of doubt about the way I had been living.

It also introduced me to a group who would help to spiritually sustain me for years to come. They would walk with me through the pain of leaving my church, leaving my community, leaving my marriage. They would bring me Jesus when I couldn’t go to him myself. I would listen to this song and feel like maybe they were speaking the truth, even though it didn’t feel at all like everything was going to be all right: Such was the power of their music.

It was healing to finally be able to tell them this story, to thank them for their influence on my life. It was powerful to be seeing them in the context of a Christian event; powerful to be seeing them with me standing there as my authentic self.

Over the Rhine and Jennifer Knapp are both bridges for me, bridging my life from my fundamentalist days to where I am now. Jennifer was one of the only (possibly THE only) Christian musician that I was able to listen to after I came out and once I began transition. Every time I reached for my guitar I would play one of her songs. There was something in her that reached out to the very deepest places in me.

I quit listening to Christian music around the same time she dropped out of the scene. I hadn’t heard the rumors about her sexuality, honestly I didn’t even really know she had quit playing. I was shocked and excited when she came out a year ago. Excited that she was going to change conversations simply by being herself.

I had the honor of interviewing Jennifer this weekend (look for that in a couple of parts later as I manage to get things edited) and she is thoughtful, kind, and talented. I didn’t get to tell her about the impact her music made on my life, but maybe she’ll read my words here.

It was healing to be able to listen to her show in the context of this space. Another bridging moment causing me to feel like I was in the right place at the right time. Helping me to come back to myself just a little bit more and to reconcile the disparate parts of my journey. She recorded an “It Gets Better” video from the stage and I was so choked up that I couldn’t even join in with the crowd as they shouted out. It was a moving moment. She asked for the crowd’s permission before she recorded. There were conversations throughout the weekend that were fraught with tension around the issues of queer inclusion and yet in this moment the crowd was on board and willing to say those words. It was powerful.

I am thankful for her presence at the festival, thankful for her witness and her artistry. I am so thankful for her new music which is reaching me yet again.

The Power of a Tshirt

(this is the beginning of a series of posts on the Wild Goose Festival)

Many of the conversations started the same way, “What’s that asterisk on your shirt mean?” It was an easy in. The least (potentially) loaded part of the shirt to ask a question about. And so I would begin to explain: It’s the boolean search. If you enter part of a word (in this case trans) and follow it with an asterisk the search engine will return items wherein anything follows that term (in this case transgender, transsexual, etc.). It’s a way for the shirts to emphasize and celebrate the multiplicity of identities within the trans* community.

Then there were the responses:

* That’s really cool, where can I get one of those shirts?
* Huh. Well, thanks for being here.
* Are you trans?

There was the woman who burst into tears because her child is transitioning and she doesn’t know what to do, the people who wanted to know more about what the “legalize” part of the shirt meant, there were the folks who smiled at us but didn’t talk to us and the ones who looked at us strangely and then walked away.

Everywhere we went (there were three of us wearing the shirts and the other two have their own stories to tell) people wanted to talk, to ask questions, to tell their stories. There were folks who thought we were with some organization in particular and folks who thought there were more than three of us (apparently we managed to get around).

I wanted to attend this festival to “queer things up”. I wanted to be visible. To let people know that trans* voices should be included in our conversations. I wanted to let other queer people know that they were not alone. I wanted to be a buffer in that if someone needed to express their displeasure about queer people they could aim it at me. I would be able to take it and hopefully it would keep them from expressing their displeasure to someone who might not have been able to take it.

You might wonder what kind of activism can possibly happen just by wearing a tshirt; what kind of ministry is brought about by wearing a bold statement across your chest? I’m here to tell you that powerful things happened throughout the festival. There was a bringing together of queer attendees who knew they had people who were safe. There were the folks who were challenged to change because they met someone they liked who happened to be queer.

I know I’ve written before about not wanting to be out, but in this place I saw the power of a life lived loudly. Things were shifted in conversations because people were willing to be visible and out and loud. I also recognize, though, that in this space I wasn’t worried for my safety, there were several of us wearing the shirts (who are fierce allies and so I knew that if things got hairy I would have backup), and this was one weekend. From the moment the I put on the shirt on Thursday until the moment I left the festival on Sunday morning I went from one conversation to another almost non-stop. There’s no way I could sustain that kind of dialogue forever. But it did bring up for me that people are hungry for this conversation. People want to know; they want to know how to be good allies, they want to know how to love their trans* brothers and sisters. They want to understand.

I’m sure there were also folks there who were frustrated by us. Annoyed that we kept bringing up that “sexuality issue”. Annoyed that we were vocal and visible. I’m sure others thought we were just advertising shirts or trying to make some kind of bold statement (that last one might be true). Some may have thought that we were just trying to stir things up. There may have been some who wanted us to go away, who thought we didn’t belong there, who wished we would just shut up (even though we didn’t speak from stages or even in group sessions, our shirts were continually having conversations). But I don’t feel bad about making people uncomfortable nor do I feel badly about asking people to question or to taking up space. These are conversations that need to be had whether people are ready for them or not. People are hurting inside of our churches, not just outside. Trans* people are in our communities of faith and they are often being asked to be silent and told not to take up space. They are often being told they are sick and diseased and being excluded from church leadership. It’s time we stop worrying about making people uncomfortable.

That is the power of a tshirt. That is the power of a person risking asking a question. That is the power of an honest and straightforward response. I hope that people were moved along in their journeys this weekend. I know that I definitely was.


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Wild Goose Festival #1

I am just home from the festival and too exhausted to put anything coherent into words. But I did want to say a few (hopefully semi-coherent) things.

* This event falls into my top 5 of ministry experiences.

* You’re going to be hearing about parts of it for a while (although it’s not all I’ll write about).

* Over the Rhine is amazing and can do no wrong.

* This event was powerful and if they do it again next year (and I think they will) I strongly encourage you to attend.

To all of the folks who I met this weekend who have now stumbled onto this blog, welcome! I hope that you’ll feel free to enter into this space and dialogue. I hope that what you find here is helpful, moving, an encouragement, and a challenge. My contact info is to the right if you need to reach me.

Again, welcome!

Video Post: Valley Maker

Valley Maker is a project of Austin Crane. For his senior project he wrote a collection of songs based on the book of Genesis. The album is really wonderful. Here is a video of the song “Names”. As a transgender person I find the narratives of naming throughout the Scriptures to be incredibly inspiring and moving. I hope you enjoy this song.

Book Review: An Infinity of Little Hours

An Infinity of Little Hours: Five Young Men and Their Trial of Faith in the Western World’s Most Austere Monastic Order
By Nancy Klein Maguire. This is a fascinating book about the Carthusian monks. The Carthusians are a group that are almost totally cut off from the outside world and who live their lives mostly in silence. Maguire’s book looks at the order before the reforms of Vatican II. Before those reforms took place the monastic order has remained almost unchanged since the 1100’s. The author bases her work on interviews with many monks both still in the monastic order and those who left. She provides insight into the reasons that the men joined the order as well as what it was like to be in this most strict monastic space.

My only complaint about this book is that it was a little hard to follow. Her timeline was sometimes confusing and when the monks changed their names that got confusing as well. It made it hard to grasp continuity. However the insights into what goes on in the cell’s of the men as well as what it’s like to attempt to join the order make up for the confusing nature of the book.

The book raises lots of interesting theological questions for me. As someone who is an extreme introvert and to whom the monastic life is appealing, there is a certain fascination with the idea of going to live in a closed off cell, getting to be alone to read and pray, remaining undisturbed by the world. And if your theology holds that to be a good Christian or person of God you should disappear into Christ and prepare yourself for heaven then this kind of contemplation makes total sense. However I don’t think that is the purpose of the Christian life. I believe that in order to really “disappear into Christ” we must act like Christ; among people, in community, with the “least of these”. To me, that’s a more challenging call than to go off and live in silence (someone who is more extroverted would definitely disagree with me!).

I definitely find myself more in line with Benedictine spirituality; the balance of work and prayer. I believe that, especially as activists or ministers, we all need time for contemplation. Our activism should always be fueled by a deep reflection.

I’d definitely recommend this book if you are interested in learning more about the Carthusians. Along with this book you can also check out the documentary Into Great Silence (Two-Disc Set) which was filmed around the same time this book was completed and brings to life many of the things Maguire writes about.

Around the web: gender bending, resistance and more

* A post from “Pinch of Salt” a Christian anarchist website. This article asks the question “What Would Jesus Smash?” I sometimes have trouble with the idea of destroying property, but as the Berrigan brothers once said about the burning of draft cards, “Better the cards than the bodies of children.”

* An interesting story of a young boy who wore women’s clothing to school and got suspended. As Transgriot says, “It takes a village to reinforce the gender binary.”

* My friend Brian writes about “Entrepreneurship As An Act of Resistance” and offers his new manifesto for free. It’s a great manifesto and I encourage you to check it out.

* A total bit of geekery that is completely out of place on this blog, but whatever: The final “Harry Potter” trailer has been released and It. Is. Awesome.

* The U.N. has passed the first ever resolution on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Lectionary Thoughts: Romans 6.12-23

romans 6.12-23

12 Therefore, do not let sin exercise dominion in your mortal bodies, to make you obey their passions. 13No longer present your members to sin as instruments of wickedness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and present your members to God as instruments of righteousness. 14For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.

15 What then? Should we sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! 16Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? 17But thanks be to God that you, having once been slaves of sin, have become obedient from the heart to the form of teaching to which you were entrusted, 18and that you, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. 19I am speaking in human terms because of your natural limitations. For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to greater and greater iniquity, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness for sanctification.

20 When you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. 21So what advantage did you then get from the things of which you now are ashamed? The end of those things is death. 22But now that you have been freed from sin and enslaved to God, the advantage you get is sanctification. The end is eternal life. 23For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

This is a passage I heard a lot growing up. The final verse is probably one of the most popular. It was used to convince us of our need to believe in Jesus as our personal Lord and Saviour or else we would go to hell. But when the verse is read in context, it seems to send a very different message.

Paul is a philosopher. He’s interested in weaving theological and moral arguments. Sometimes he seems to go in circles. He’s trying to explain his very personal encounter with the Christ; trying to make it make sense for other people, to get them to understand this amazing thing that he has experienced. He tries to win people with logic and with analogy. It’s also important to remember, though, that he’s also writing to very specific groups of people that he had a personal relationship with. He wasn’t trying to write new Scripture.

In this passage he goes back and forth between the idea of being free because of grace and being a slave to righteousness. If we understand sin as simply bad things people do to make God mad then his argument is weird at best. If we have grace and God will forgive us and sin is only between us and God then it really doesn’t matter what we do. (Even as Paul says we shouldn’t use grace as a license to sin his argument isn’t entirely convincing!) But if we understand sin as something corporate, the failing that affect a community, then his argument is more compelling.

If one is only concerned about themselves then they have a license to do whatever they want. They can work for the good of other people or they can be selfish and in the end they only answer to themselves. But if you understand yourself to be a part of this larger community, then you have a responsibility. You are tied to this burden of righteousness. To the idea that when you sin it effects more than just yourself. When you hoard your money or benefit from privilege or when you stand idly by while injustice happens you are once again a slave to sin.

I believe that salvation comes when we live into our fullest selves. When we see ourselves as beloved and whole. But with that sense of belovedness comes a sense of responsibility to help others live lives of wholeness as well. It’s not just about personal sanctification it’s about the sanctification of the world; the redemption of oppressors, the overturning of unjust economic systems, the turn around of corrupt governance, etc. It’s about the kingdom of God being among us here and now and learning to live into that kingdom and helping others to do the same.

Video Post

Thought I’d do something a little different for this Saturday and share a song that I wrote. The video is a rough recording. I wrote this song while I was working as a closeted Baptist youth pastor. It’s my “Letter to God.”

Podcast: Rachelle Mee-Chapman

My guest on the podcast today is Rachelle Mee-Chapman. She is a former evangelical minister turned soul care provider. In this podcast we talk about her spiritual journey, her current work, and what motivates her. Check it out!

Rachelle Mee-Chapman

For more information:
*
Rachelle’s website and blog.

* Rachelle on Twitter.

* Rachelle on Facebook.