Posted in Compassion, Faith

Walking Faith

This reflection was originally delivered at The Sanctuary Boston worship service on April 18, 2013, three days after the Boston Marathon bombings.

Teo

Take a moment and just feel whatever is holding you, whether that’s the ground, the chair…

The aim of spiritual practice is not to protect us from heartbreak—our own or another’s. It’s to provide the grounding and the renewal so that we can deliberately put ourselves in the place of heartbreak. One of the most sacred things that we are called to do as human beings is to bear witness to another’s suffering. When they cannot hold hope it’s for us to quietly hold it for them. When we can live at the edges of heartbreak and still hold on to hope then that means that our spiritual practice has purpose and passion.  Continue reading “Walking Faith”

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 Faith, Identity, Social justice

Religion is Not a Dirty Word

This post is the second of a two-part response to the assertion among some yogis that yoga is not a religion. Read Honoring Yoga’s Sacred Religious Roots for part one.

Teo

The second part of my struggle with the declaration that yoga is not a religion is the underlying concession of the domain of religion to the Religious Right. I am simply not willing to concede that territory.

As a philosophy professor one of the hardest things to explain to the folks I was teaching was that for us to have an actual philosophical argument, we have to agree to the terms. We have to both agree to common definitions or at least acknowledge that we don’t have a common definition. We have to have that discussion first before we can have an argument, because if we are not using common definitions, if we don’t have an understanding that by you saying this you mean this but when I say this I don’t mean that, if we don’t have that understanding, then we can’t have an argument, or a debate, or whatever language you want to use. We can have a fight, we can have a shouting match, we can have a confrontation, but we cannot have an argument. We cannot have a debate. We certainly cannot have a reasoned debate.

And in this regard I will not concede the use of the word religion to the Religious Right. I will not allow them to have sole ownership of that word. I will not release and walk away. This is not a game of tug of war where I’m willing to let go of the rope. I’m not interested in taking the rope from them. I’m not interested in claiming sole ownership of the word religion but I’m also not willing to concede sole ownership of the word religion to the Religious Right. Continue reading “Religion is Not a Dirty Word”

Posted in Faith, Social justice

Honoring Yoga’s Sacred Religious Roots

Teo

In January, there was a flurry of posts on Facebook regarding some anti-yoga backlash coming from the Religious Right. At its core is the accusation that teaching yoga is an attempt to convert participants to Hinduism, and in January this accusation simultaneously came up around teaching yoga to kids and also in the context of using yoga as a treatment for PTSD in returning soldiers. On the one hand, the fear was that children were being brainwashed, and on the other, that veterans were being kept out of “right” relationship with God. The reaction to this anti-yoga backlash from many I know who teach and practice yoga was to emphatically state that yoga is NOT a religion.

I’m struggling with that declaration on two grounds. I’ll tackle the second later. Here is the first: yoga is part of a religious tradition. It is deeply rooted in Hinduism. To protest that yoga is not a religion is to do what white Americans have done for centuries. Take what we like from other cultures and other people’s lived experience (especially people of color) without being accountable to those cultures and people. Yoga is part of a religion. We may not teach it from that place in the west, but to deny it feels wrong to me. In his Washington Post article “The Theft of Yoga,” Aseem Skulka says that yoga is Hinduism’s gift to the world. He is not advocating that yoga not be available in the West. He is asking that we not deny its origins or its religious roots. As with any precious gift we are given, isn’t it our responsibility to handle it with care? To honor and nurture it? To acknowledge from whom it was given to us?

I don’t understand why we cannot simply acknowledge openly that yoga is rooted in a religion. It is a sacred practice that is not inherently incompatible with another religion. When we practice yoga and especially when we teach yoga, we are called to mindful stewardship of that sacred practice as it is integrated into a Western—and particularly, into an American—context. Yoga doesn’t require conversion to Hinduism, but to deny its foundation because we are afraid to battle the Religious Right over their assumed ownership of the definition of religion violates the very foundation of the yogic principle of Ahimsa (do no harm). I’ll leave that for part two.

Read part two: Religion is Not a Dirty Word.

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 Compassion, Identity

Square Talisman

Teo

Please read Preface to Square Talisman to provide context for this post.

There are times that I don’t even know how to articulate the pressurized environment that I live in. That it—all of it—is soul crushingly invisible. I often feel like I don’t even know how to begin the conversation. It shows up starkly in hospital/medical settings because I feel like everyone around me is having this experience of an ordinary day and it’s not an ordinary day for me and I’m not an ordinary person and I’m not having an ordinary internal conversation and there’s no room to bring me forward, so I go from being big to small—to big—to small—to invisible, and finally, to not there.

What does it mean to survive the unsurvivable?

Because I feel that’s what I’ve done—every step of the way I’ve survived the unsurvivable. To be born completely without a road map to my own body, to my own mind, to my own soul. To hold in my palm as a little kid a square solid object, but to have everyone else tell me it was round. Adult after adult told me “no, round is your shape.” And I knew—knew what was in my hand, as solid as anything else in my hand could be—THIS thing is square. But I pocketed that square because to show it… they might take it away. Fuck, they might take me away. So I put the square piece in my pocket. And over the years it got worn. From the grasping and the fist-tightening and the finger-rubbing. This talisman I carry in my pocket, my square, in a world that keeps trying to push round on me. If I were to pull that square out into the light of day it would shine. It would shine from the ritual rubbing and rocking—the need to remember that what I feel is real, that what I see is real, that what they tell me is not real. That I can survive the unsurvivable.

I brought it forward at the moment that I and the square might not survive anyway. And time and darkness had made it a tiny thing, but still a solid thing. A loved, solid talisman that I exist. That I survived the unsurvivable.

And I’ve survived the unsurvivable more times than I can tell you. I’m still here. But my still here seems like such a tenuous thing sometimes. A thing that I don’t have a lot of control over. A thing that far too many people seem to have a vote on in addition to myself.  I crave the dissolution of a voting block that I don’t understand or support or want.

I sat in the doctor’s office today having that rational conversation that feels so irrational to me. About what my body needs versus what the institution says I need and about how the choices always feel like the lesser of two evils of which both are life threatening. And it’s on these days that I feel like I might rub that square into nothingness, as I rock back and forth, desperate yet again to find a way to survive the unsurvivable.

Posted in Compassion, Identity

Preface to Square Talisman

Teo

This piece is a preface to the piece Square Talisman.

I was at a conference recently where the staggering number of trans folk who have attempted or died by suicide was being discussed. Among these numbers are trans folk who seemingly had a number of “protective factors” in their favor. They were well connected and well known. Did not appear to be isolated. Likely had people to reach out to, but despite all of that, they died.

Amidst these workshops and private conversations, a good friend of mine and I shared our own struggles and how we have been impacted. As is often the case for me, I am having parallel conversations in many other parts of my life. I think the message getting through to me is loud and clear.

There is a profound isolation that I experience but can often feel like it is particular to me. Some of it is definitely personal to my struggle and trauma. I am more painfully introverted than I might appear by my social nature, for example. But I am realizing, through my own personal reflection and in deep conversation, that many people on similar journeys are having the similar experiences of judging their insides by other people’s outsides. My friend at the conference said he often feels uncool, awkward, disconnected, unworthy amidst the crowds of pretty, well-connected LGBTQ activists at this (and other) conferences. It is a painful internal conversation I am familiar with.   Continue reading “Preface to Square Talisman”

Posted in Faith

Invitation to a Multi-faith Playground

Teo

So many of us bristle at the language from someone else’s religious, spiritual or humanist tradition. Perhaps we bristle because we believe that our path is the True Path. Perhaps we bristle because we have been hurt in religious spaces—those words a trigger of past trauma.

I had the blessing and the challenge of participating in a multi-faith service this morning. I was asked to bring some of my tradition forward, as were others. I knew that some of what I was to hear would not be language I have always experienced as friendly just as I knew that what I would say would feel the same for someone else.

As I meditated and breathed into the experience, an image came to me. A playground filled with children. Not the playground of my childhood where some belonged and others were alone or worse bullied. This was a playground where I could see and imagine the sounds of childlike joy. The giggling. The singing. The squeals of glee. Some children were in large groups. Some in pairs. Some on their own. All with the same joy.

What if this was a religious/ spiritual/ humanist/ atheist playground? What if another’s joy was infectious? Continue reading “Invitation to a Multi-faith Playground”