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 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 Activism, Compassion, Faith

Go Ahead Call Me Naive

Teo

I bear the physical and psychic scars of a life spent on the razor sharp edge of survival. I still have to play hide and seek with whole pieces of who I am long tucked away safely out of reach from whoever might be swinging at them. My brain and my body not always knowing today isn’t those yesterdays.

Say I am naive. Tell me I don’t know how it really is. What the world is really like. As if I haven’t felt their fear my body might bleed, toxic puddle between us, my soul bleeding instead—an acceptable penance. I still hear the priest who held the life preserver I might have exchanged for the razor meant for my wrists. “No, child, there is no place in heaven for your kind, I’m sorry.” In my dreams with my eyes wide open I still see the fists and the belt. Watch the parade of their agents. Hear my own whimpers. Like I don’t know what the sweat on my skin feels like as I wrestle love apart from it’s weld with violence. Go ahead, tell me how it is while out of the corner of my consciousness I hear a debate about the cost of government funded health care. You think I don’t know Paul Ryan wouldn’t spend the forty grand a year it costs to keep a queer trans man with AIDS alive? Go ahead, tell me I am naive because my anger isn’t the first thing you meet.

Then let me tell you: my faith is my rebellion. Standing ankle deep in compassion anchoring my open heart while I bear witness to my pain and yours. My radical act—choosing love and hope over my cultivated fists or sharpened tongue as agents of change. Believing I am wanted and loved by the divine is my heresy. Speak your truth, it’s ok with me. I can hear the divine over the thunder of my heartbeat simply by touching my forehead to the floor.

Call me naive audio

Alex

You’re the one who gave the lie to the idea “if you’re not angry you’re not paying attention” and showed me that love and compassion are the real signs of attentive awareness and connection to the suffering and injustice in the world. You gave me permission to be my open-hearted self, to shed the ill-fitting armor of self-righteousness. You taught me that inside every angry person—no matter how vicious and hateful—lives a scared and hurting small self.

Right before I met you I was reading about Howard Thurman and his role in bringing the practice of nonviolence to the U.S. civil rights movement. I realized that I had never understood what nonviolence was. It is so often painted as passive resistance—a lack of violence—when in reality it is anything but passive; it’s actively choosing love and compassion and practicing lovingkindness toward those who are complicit with the forces of hatred and intolerance. Practicing nonviolence doesn’t just mean refraining from acts of aggression and force, it means finding love and compassion for those who would destroy you with hate.

The universe laid out pebbles for me to follow that led me back to staking a claim for myself as a person of faith—a faith grounded in love and interconnectedness. And then I met you, and one of the first things you told me was that you believed that the energy you bring into a room is the first and foremost way to make a difference in the world. My armor cracked and I found my feet solidly on the path of love, the path leading me back to my authentic self, back to wonder and hope.

Being hopeful and loving isn’t a sign of a sheltered, charmed life. It doesn’t mean a person isn’t paying attention. Choosing a path of love, compassion, and hope in the face of struggle and injustice is far harder than taking the easy road of bitterness and anger. That’s why it takes faith. I’m so grateful to be on this path with you.

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”