Posted in Faith, Identity

From a Friend of Bat

Alex

The UUWorld’s Family Pages section is always a delightful and beautifully crafted magazine insert that offers stories and resources appropriate for children and people of all ages along a common theme. I’ve always enjoyed reading it, except on one memorable occasion. The Fall 2012 Family Pages section offered a story based on an Aesop’s Fable, entitled “Why Bat Has No Friends.”

In the story, Bat kept switching sides in a war between mammals and birds, and his lack of allegiance resulted in the other animals banishing him to the night, telling him: “Because you could not choose your friends during war, you will not have them during peace. From this day forward, you will only fly at night when everyone else sleeps. You will have no friends among the mammals or the birds.”

I’m here as a friend of Bat to set the record right. Continue reading “From a Friend of Bat”

Posted in Activism, Identity

Can I Use the Adjective “Diverse”?

Alex

You might think that nerdy grammar geek / copyeditor and radical anti-oppression activist wouldn’t necessarily be a combination that could uniquely change the world, but you would be wrong. With these powers combined, many things are possible, including amazing flowcharts!

Can I Use the Adjective Diverse flowchart

It has long been a pet peeve of mine (wearing both my copyeditor hat and my anti-oppression hat), that the word diverse is widely misused in the English language. Diverse is defined by my favorite dictionary, Merriam-Webster, as (1) differing from one another and (2) composed of distinct or unlike elements or qualities. Unfortunately, the word gets used to refer to people or things that differ not from one another, but from what is considered to be dominant or the cultural norm.

If you follow this to the root, what it’s based in is the idea that there is a neutral, majority, dominant way of being, and that diversity is the addition of non-normative elements to that normative environment. This is a falsehood. The truth is that diversity is what humanity inherently contains—we all differ from one another. The idea that there is such a thing as “normal” or “neutral” creates a lie that there is a universal white experience, or a universal straight experience, a universal able-bodied experience, or a universal experience among any group of people that shares one aspect of identity or background.

So it may seem like a small act to use the word diverse in a manner that is true to its definition, but it’s a small act with big ripple effects when you refuse to buy into a system that teaches us what “normative” is and then defines everything else as Other. Diverse is not Other. Diverse describes the collective beauty of humanity.

Posted in Faith, Identity

Choice

Alex

I want to talk about choice.

I want to talk about the fact that just because someone who is out to destroy you says you chose to be the way you are does not mean the path of best protection is to counter with “no I didn’t, it’s not a choice, I was born this way and I’ve always been this way.”

Is who I am—my sexuality, my gender—a deep and real part of me, close to my soul? Yes. Are there choices involved? Of course there are.

I have made one choice after another to feel more at ease, more vibrant, more alive. I chose to change my name. I chose to allow myself to open to the idea that I might be attracted to women. I chose to open myself to the idea that first of all genderqueer people exist, second that I might be one, and third that I might be attracted to other genderqueer folks. After all of this, I chose to remain open to the idea that I was still attracted to men and might actually like being in a relationship with one. If I hadn’t made these choices I never could have lived into my full authentic self.  Continue reading “Choice”

Posted in Identity

Shapeshifter

Alex

I am a shapeshifter without ever changing form. I am straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual, queer, transgender. I am wife, son, boyfriend, best friend, partner.

Look at me and in your eyes I become whatever life has taught you to associate with a being that looks, moves, sounds like me. I become a reflection of your culture, your comfort zone. Register the things about me that fit the labels you’ve applied to me and don’t notice the rest. Fill in the blanks of my story and my self with facts from the card catalog of your experience, all neatly sorted and logically applied.

Look at me. Who am I at an airport, on a dance floor, in a church choir, on a sports field, in my parents’ house? I am a shapeshifter without ever changing form—all that changes is the gaze that considers me, as I blend into the world as you know it.

Until I don’t.

Until I’m a dyke whose boyfriend just arrived. Until I’m a teenager who just handed you an ID that is not the slightest bit fake. Until I’m a woman who you just saw go into the men’s room. Until I’m a trans not-quite-man who just brought an intention to become pregnant someday into the conversation. Until I’m the son who just produced a wallet to buy the shirt dad helped pick out.

Until I shift my shape right in front of your eyes. I become a shapeshifter without even changing gazes, as your mind works to re-figure me. Who am I then? Something else you recognize, or someone uncategorizable?

Look at me. I am not the story your mind creates about me. Your gaze does not define me. I am self-made, self-defined, and divinely inspired. And neither of us is limited by your imagination or mine. We are bigger than that, part of a shapeshifting universal spirit.

So look at me. And then let’s welcome the surprises we find in each other’s true selves and histories. We are both shapeshifters.

Posted in Activism, Faith, Identity

On Marriage

Alex

When I was 17 years old I got married to my dear friend Chris. I don’t remember who proposed to whom or even what inspired us to have a ceremony, but I remember the service well. It was held at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Columbus, GA, which is where at least twenty of us had set up camp, our sleeping bags covering the floor, after our pilgrimage to protest the School of the Americas at Fort Benning.

The ceremony was conducted fully in pirate-speak, officiated by our friend Duncan, who I was convinced was endowed with the power to do so by virtue of claiming to have once been a captain of a ship. Whether or not his credentials were legit is rendered moot by the fact that we were not in international waters at the time, not to mention the detail that we were both minors. But we had a flower girl, who somehow rustled up some baby’s breath, and there was even someone who objected to our union on purely fraudulent terms just to add some drama.

My love for Chris was something that I couldn’t seem to explain in words anyone could understand. Ours was a fierce, intimate, platonic love. Our marriage gave us a way to express in no uncertain terms that we would always love each other, that we were committed to the friendship we had for life. The rings we made each other out of beads and pipe cleaners gave me something solid to remind me that my real world existed outside my high school building, that the dominant teenage culture wasn’t my home and there was something more and real in my life.

Continue reading “On Marriage”

Posted in Activism, Compassion, Faith

“An Experiment in Love”: An MLK Day Sermon

Alex

I was invited to deliver a service in honor of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day this year, and it was remarkable to be asked not only because it’s an honor to receive such an invitation but also because for the last two weeks I’d been completely ensconced in King’s writing. Once upon a time I worked for Beacon Press, and I still do the odd freelance job for them. A few years ago Beacon became the exclusive publisher of King’s books and future collections of his work, and for a couple of these new collections, I’ve proofed and checked the manuscripts against previous versions to ensure accuracy. It’s pretty incredible to do this—sometimes I’m using the original transcriptions of his sermons, and once in a while I encounter King’s own handwriting in the margins.

For the last few weeks I’ve been working on Beacon’s latest King project—an anthology of King’s words for high school students. “I Have a Dream” is in there, and “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” and a careful selection of other pieces that really show the breadth and depth of his vision. So here I am ensconced in his work, and reading bits out loud to Teo every night, and hearing King’s words resounding all around me, and I get invited to deliver a chapel service in honor of MLK Day and share some of this magic with others. I couldn’t say no to that.

Whenever I am blessed with the opportunity to read or listen to Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., I never fail to reflect on what a tiny sliver of his vision has been handed down through popular culture in this country—how little of him lives on through mass media, textbooks, and bank holidays. And what is resonating with me right now more than anything else is his vision and grounding and message of nonviolence, which was so central to everything he did and everything he preached. It was central because it was tied to his theology and his faith. King’s full vision of nonviolence as a spiritual way of life is one of the biggest things that is pretty much missing from the way we talk about him and learn about the civil rights movement and honor his legacy in this country. Continue reading ““An Experiment in Love”: An MLK Day Sermon”

Posted in Activism, Identity

On Equality

Alex

A few weeks ago in Phoenix I heard a passionate plea for LGBT equality and it stuck in my craw, left me bursting with frustration at the definition of equality that formed the unspoken, unquestioned bedrock of the plea: an underlying presumption that equality could and would be attained through particular legal changes.

The prophetic voice in my heart shouted that any movement that focuses on the pursuit of rights and equality through the legal system leaves behind all of the people who do not have equal access to that system and its protections—those people who live on the margins, the undocumented, incarcerated, homeless, children and youth, disabled, economically dispossessed. Those who are criminalized and oppressed by the criminal legal system itself.

I thought to myself: Are we so quick to forget our history? That long history we’ve had of criminalization and oppression by the criminal legal system because of our gender expressions or the gender of the people we love and partner with? It’s only recently that some of us have begun to be able to access the legal system and its protections. Not all of us have access. Many of us are still criminalized and oppressed by the system. For those who are, employment non-discrimination legislation will do little to alleviate the struggle. Hate crimes legislation will only exacerbate the struggle. And extending the charmed circle of those who can get legally married will ultimately fall short of equality. Continue reading “On Equality”

Posted in Faith

On Faith

Alex

It seems only right to get this blog started with one of the biggest questions of all: What does faith mean to you?

I have long felt something bigger than myself at work. I would never consider it to be sentient — to describe it using such human terms is to disrespect it. It is larger than sentience, more dimensional than simple understanding and intellect. It has no use for reason; it simply is. I believe this force/spirit flows through all beings and things, all gas and liquid and matter, deeply connecting everything, making each of us part of a huge larger whole. We use reason and science to try to make sense of this force/spirit, but ultimately it is beyond our understanding, and science and reason are beginning to come full circle in support of this truth.

One of the most amazing and resonant things you’ve shared with me about doing martial arts speaks to my conception of the place beyond sentience. The novice martial artist will think carefully about how to execute a kick — where to position their body, how to best react to what their opponent has done. The person who has spent a lifetime practicing martial arts will move without conscious thought, move in relationship to their environment, intimately knowing — without thinking — what an opponent will do next before the opponent has any idea themself. That, to me, speaks to the difference between relying on science and being one with the spirit of life.

Faith comes in because of my belief that this larger spirit/force works in service of balance. It flows through all things and pushes the whole of creation toward balance. And each element and being has a part to play in that. So I believe that things happen for a reason, even though I think reason has nothing to do with it. I can’t comprehend the answers to the biggest WHY?s because they are beyond my comprehension, but I can and do believe that in small and enormous ways everything is tugged toward balance.

I see the presence of the spirit in things like perfectly geometric patterns in plants, shells, and snowflakes. I am connected to the spirit when I sing and am surrounded by music. I feel it course through me and connect me to another being during times of intense physical intimacy and sex. I am left in awe that I am intimately and divinely connected to every living thing — which is to say, everything. Awe, gratitude, faith.

Teo

I really appreciate your willingness to take a leap and write about faith first.  Trying to articulate my spiritual beliefs and the role faith actually plays in my life is one of the most vulnerable experiences I can have.

This Kevin Griffin quote grabbed me recently: “I need to spend less time trying to name god and more time trying to know god.”

I can’t always explain what I believe or believe in, but I know that feeling of touching my forehead to the mat in child’s pose.  It’s the place and the space where I meet god without fail.  I can almost hear the welcome home.  Everything in me melts.  I know I am loved and wanted.  Somehow I can remember that I am needed, that there is a purpose for all of my experiences and struggles.  I don’t have the words to articulate that experience, it just washes over me.  When I was younger I was afraid to talk about the intimate experience I felt at times.  I was less able to seek out the connection, but it was there especially when I needed it most.  At the lowest points, when I was ready to jump off a bridge or just roll over and quit, I would sense a faint “knowing” that kept me grounded just enough to stumble through.

That song by Libby Roderick you were singing the other day is the essence of what I “hear” from the divine when I am in child’s pose.  How could anyone ever tell you / you were anything less than beautiful? / How could anyone ever tell you / you were less than whole? / How could anyone fail to notice / that your loving is a miracle? / How deeply you’re connected to my soul.

Part of faith for me is much like it is for you.  It isn’t something that happens in a church.  It is something I am called to walk, both in trusting a power greater than myself and in being willing to walk that calling.  In twelve step meetings I heard “walk the walk” all the time, walking my faith is the way I carry out a lived relationship with the divine. The best way I can describe it is the feeling of being kept company, a gentle touch on the shoulder and an invitation to get up because we have work to do.

During our first dinner together you asked me about my spiritual path and we had a long conversation about the role of faith and spirituality in our lives.  I didn’t think I would ever meet a radical queer identified, genderqueer identified human being who craved the kinds of conversations I craved.  That you were irresistibly handsome was a huge bonus (grin).  I am ever grateful for your courage in being visibly genderqueer, visibly radical and visibly a person of faith.

Posted in Uncategorized

What are we up to here?

Alex

You know those conversations that are like a good meal? The ones that have all the best parts—storytelling, personal engagement, intellectual stimulation, a topic you’re passionate about. Where all participants in the conversation have an equal and valued voice and keep chewing and marinating on the ideas raised long afterward. Where you don’t want the conversation to stop; where you feel your soul filled and your mind expanded and your heart touched.

One of my very favorite things about being with you is that I feel like one of those conversations could happen at any moment and I can’t wait for the next one. It will be about faith, or identity, or where we came from, or the world we are dreaming into being.

Creating a written and public space for some of my favorite conversations means I get to chew on them more. The act of writing gives me the chance to develop my thoughts further than I get to when I’m talking with you. I want to be able to create that space and intention for myself, and I also want to be able to invite others into the conversation.

I’ve been thinking lately about how being in relationship with another person can be in and of itself a spiritual practice. Opening yourself to a real connection with someone means taking risks, calling your highest self forward, opening yourself to the infinite ways of being that the other person might inhabit and experiences that they may bring to the table. To believe as I do that the spirit of the universe lives in all beings, each conversation is an encounter with the divine.

Teo

I can picture your excited expression when reading your dinner conversation analogy. It made me smile. Your eagerness to engage and to listen, to sit quietly and patiently while I try to articulate wisps of concepts I have kept close to my heart and to do this all without judgment have been the very things for which I am deeply grateful on a daily basis. I have been craving conversations around living faith, spirituality, and queer and gender identity in safe space that also allows for passion and action. My hope in creating a more public forum for the conversations we have ongoing in the car while you read to me, while making dinner or walking the dog is to honor the depth and meaning of those conversations in an intentional way and to invite others into our conversations without having to cram everyone into our very small apartment.

My hope for this blog is to share with the world what I get on long car rides all the time. Powerful conversations that call me to my highest self, that help remind me that my faith is a lived experience rooted in connection and service and all in a spirit of elemental kindness and playfulness.