Identity is Not a Label

Oh, identity label. No matter what term you are—gay, Black, blind, Jewish, straight, young, Latina, fat, kinky, white, Deaf, trans, or a thousand others—what a complex existence you have.

queer weapon coloredIn the hands of a bully, you are a weapon. You are hurled as an insult in an attempt to force people into being more “normal” or “right”—or just to make them feel crummy about themselves. You are a cage, something to lock people into in order to define the limits of “acceptable” behavior for them, or to make them feel powerless and defined only by a single unchangeable (or falsely perceived) aspect of themselves. You can be used to cause shame, fear, defensiveness, ridicule, confusion, and hurt. Continue reading

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Vibrancy on the Margins: AIDS, Solidarity, and Justice

I don’t always know how to express where my calling to do transformational change work comes from. I don’t always know how to give voice to what motivates me to not only act in solidarity but keep showing up and even on some level pay a cost for showing up. What won’t allow me to be quiet, what won’t allow me to get quiet to get along.

But when I think about where my sense of solidarity comes from there is one particular moment from my life that I go back to in my consciousness, one moment I revisit in order to understand even a little bit what my black and brown friends and communities of color in general experience in the world, what #BlackLivesMatter is really about. If you have never encountered cold, impersonal hate, then I don’t think you can understand both the paralyzing fear that it creates, and how alone the system leaves you feeling—the profound sense of isolation that comes with meeting hate like that. I have encountered it, and it’s a moment in a lifetime of such moments that I will never forget. Continue reading

Categories: Activism, Compassion, Identity | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

Testosterone, Week 7: Still Here, Still Genderqueer

My decision to start taking testosterone seven weeks ago wasn’t one I came to easily. For months, if not years, I wrestled with an enormous, tangled ball of yarn and rubber bands made up of conflicting emotions and a thousand stories running through my head about what such a decision would mean.whac a mole colored

One story that kept popping its head up out of my unconscious mind, like a whac-a-mole game, was that I would somehow be giving up on being genderqueer if I started testosterone. A small vicious voice seemed to whisper in my ear that taking T would mean I was retiring my charade of being neither man nor woman and finally picking a side, finally transitioning.

Whack.

I’m here to deliver the death knell to that whac-a-mole gremlin. Giving up on being genderqueer, on being myself? Nothing could be further from the truth. Taking testosterone is an act of rededication to my full, fabulous self; an act of love; a gift I am giving myself—not a resignation. Continue reading

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A World with No Closets

“When did you come out?”

It’s a question that I get asked often, and it never ceases to make me smile wryly due to the impossibility of answering it in the straightforward and simple way that is invariably expected.

“When did you come out” presumes that the act of naming one’s truth and self-identity is a one-time, all-encompassing event, a clear and unmistakable milestone on the linear timeline of one’s life. It also presumes that there is only one facet of self-identity that is deserving of such a declaration. Continue reading

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Tinkerbell and the Gender Wars: A Genderqueer Childhood

“Boys are gross!” I yelled down the stairwell, my words echoing off the painted brick walls as I slammed the door behind me, shutting the book on the happier chapter of my childhood.

I was nine. At the bottom of the stairs was my best friend Jason, a boy not much different from me—fair skin, slight build, whip-smart. In my mind he is perpetually the age he was that day, his light brown hair cropped short except for a narrow rattail at the back of his head (because the midwest hadn’t gotten the memo that the ’80s was over). I was trying to grow my hair down to my butt—I wanted it to be as long as Ariel’s in my favorite movie, The Little Mermaid—an attempt that was tragically doomed due to how fine my wavy blond hair was. It straggled to a pitiful stop barely past my shoulders, but I wouldn’t let my mama cut the uneven end because I was so determined that it would keep growing.

I will never forget the feeling I had after yelling those words. I was sick to my stomach. I knew with every fiber of my being that what I had just done was wrong, my words the most epic lie I had ever told. It was as though the real me was stuck deep inside, shocked and hurt as some other self created the first layer of an armor that would quickly grow so thick that I’d lose touch with that small nine-year-old self, the self who was Jason’s best friend. Continue reading

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Testosterone, Day 1: The Weight of What it Took

doodle bag coloredYesterday should have been Day 1. But when I got home from the pharmacy I didn’t have the heart to even open the bag with my testosterone in it. Instead of excitement, I just felt sad and exhausted.

Exactly one month prior, I had skipped through the pharmacy’s doors with my prescription in hand. (You doubt me? You don’t know me. There was skipping. And giggling. And not-so-surreptitious documenting with my iPhone camera.) But after a month-long circus act on the part of my health insurance provider, the excitement and joy were gone. I felt completely worn down, emotionally drained, my resilience on empty. Continue reading

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Testosterone, Day 0: Claiming My Truth

My entire life, I have forged a path for my sense of self without clear road markers.

I wish I could say that this lack of reflection of myself out in the world meant that I learned to trust only myself and my own truth, but if I said that I’d be lying. Instead, somewhere along the way I internalized a sense of not trusting my own truth, I accepted the invalidation of my experience, I felt inherently wrong, misfit, untrue.

I am only at the beginning of the journey to reclaim myself as worthy and my truth about myself as true. Continue reading

Categories: Identity | Tags: , , , , | 7 Comments

My Complicated Relationship with Survival: Twenty Years with HIV

I have a complicated relationship with survival.

That relationship involves monumental loss, and deep love. It is the space where heartbreak and resilience live. The very space that makes me me in so many ways.

Twenty years ago today I was a 28-year-old who was far too young and far too old at the same time. On July 15, 1995, I was sitting in the health department in St. John’s, Newfoundland, listening to a doctor I had never met coldly tell me that I was HIV+. This was a time just before effective medication. HIV was still a death sentence. I knew that, deep in my bones, because I had buried friends and acquaintances and would bury many more over the years to come. We were all too young and too old at the same time. Continue reading

Categories: Compassion | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment

On Priests and Police: The Role of Good People in Ending Systemic Sickness

I was raised Roman Catholic at the tail end of an era of seeing priests as infallible, as inherently good. It was unthinkable to question a priest’s motives or moral authority even if my own survival depended on it.

In the article “Ex-Cop to Americans, ‘I’m a Black Ex-Cop, and this is the Real Truth About Race and Policing’” Jay Syrmopoulos mentions a recent Gallup poll where Americans rank police in a list of top five ethical professions which also ironically includes clergy. The irony feels meaningful.

Do I think that a majority of priests sexually abuse children? Heck no. I believe an overwhelming majority answer the call to the priesthood to do good work. A very small minority of priests actively hurt children, but—and this is a big but—the system protected that small minority in such profound ways that it forever altered the system for the worse until it became impossible to see any good. For the Catholic Church to harbor the insidious evil that it did and to do the damage that it did, it required good priests and non-clergy to ignore the un-ignorable over centuries. Continue reading

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The Spiritual Practice of an Open Heart

This joint sermon was delivered at Arlington Street Church in Boston, MA, on August 3, 2014.

You can listen to an audio recording here (in my opinion, the audio recording is much better than the written word—I swear! We’re more charming in person).

Teo

We aren’t taught in this culture to be openhearted. There’s no lesson. And I came to openheartedness as central to my spiritual practice the hard way. Whether it was the violence I was growing up with, the shame and the struggle around being queer and being gender nonconforming, whether it was being 28 years old and being diagnosed with AIDS at a time before medication was available.

Every turn I came to in life there was a reason for me to armor up. There was a reason for me to not let anyone near me. Because the outside world was telling me that if I wanted to stay protected I needed to curl in a ball. The last thing I ever needed to do was leave myself vulnerable. But at the same time that the world was telling me that, there was always this soft, loving voice of the beloved telling me that that was not for me. That I was meant to be openhearted regardless of the information I was getting from the outside world. Continue reading

Categories: Compassion, Faith | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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