Monday, July 28, 2014

Queer Blood: A Bittersweet Victory

A long-time blood donor in college, today was the first time in two years that I was able to give blood again. The long delay was due to the “men who have sex with men” policy and my own insecurity with my gender. Early in my transition, while my focus was exclusively a binary push to be seen as the man I am, I changed my Red Cross gender marker to male.  Living into my truth as a man I tried to convince myself that I could accept not being a blood donor. I struggled with this for two years as I desperately tried to ignore the ache in my heart as I passed by each new blood drive notice.

You see giving blood was one of the few ways that I could find value in myself during my darkest times. There was a time my internal world consisted of insults, cycles of worthlessness and despair. By giving blood I was able to share the one thing I couldn’t yet appreciate, life. Transitioning from female to male freed me to fully embrace my own life, even as I needed to cease sharing it with others. Giving up blood donation was a perpetually painful reminder that even as I had finally learned to live, my life was considered "inherently risky".

Part of my decision to donate blood today was inspired by the quote: “When I accept myself, I am freed from the burden of needing you to accept me”.  

It occurred to me that as I’ve now embraced my femininity with the same vigor as I channeled my masculinity in my first transition, I should be able to tolerate being listed as a female if that is what it takes to give blood. A few phone calls later, and my plan was put into action. To donate I had to repeated clarify what was listed on my birth certificate, regularly correct pronouns and explicitly describe my surgical history.

My appreciation of myself held and as I made it through the hurdles. Freeing me to celebrate my victory. Even as I clicked “I am female” on the troublesome question I knew in my heart that I am also a man. I a man who’s had sex with a man AND is eligible to give blood. Even as the system cannot see my queerness, cannot treasure the nuance, I can delight in it.

The bitterness of today was the reminder that in many places I am not permitted to exist. I was told to choose a bubble, to watch silently as the structures of policy erase the gift of gender. Yet today was also a victory because I reclaimed a sacred space; a space where life flows from one human to another. I entered the maw of a broken machine and walked away unscathed. I chose the fullness of life, and found a renewed appreciation for my journey.  Even with the bitterness, this is worth celebrating.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

A Lenten Introduction

Since childhood I’ve found the traditional emotions hard to follow. Like Pavlov’s dogs I eventually learned that the expression with the corners of the mouth pulled upwards was a “smile” and connected to “happiness”. What I lacked was an ability to comprehend the sensations that others instinctively associated with those symbols.

In the Episcopal Church I’ve found a different language. One of the great gifts of that tongue is the liturgical calendar, a collection of ancient cycles which shape the Christian life day by day, week by week, season by season. Within these cycles are specific mindsets which have been shaped by a myriad of witnesses as they wrestled with the rhythms and dissonances of the human experience.

As a Christian I move with the seasons. I celebrate the resurrection of Easter, the expectation of Advent, and the revelations of Epiphany with the rest of my church family. At this time, even while fully embracing the other seasons, I also share a persistent abiding in Lent.  

My life is currently shaped by the gift of a Lenten wandering that has lasted for years. Daily I am challenged to lay aside the distractions in my life, to surrender the garbage so that I might appreciate the treasure I’ve neglected. In this wandering I have:
·         Left my home and moved across the country to a place where by not belonging I learned how to belong.
·         Forgone wealth and security to discover the treasure of hospitality and dependence on others.
·         Given up my clothes and found myself freed to live into an expression that delights in my difference, and frees me to rejoice in the differences of others.
·         Been forced to surrender my constant stream of employment as a workaholic. In accepting this (albeit reluctantly) I’ve found contentment which rejoices in daily gifts without worrying about uncontrollable forces.

By embracing this Lenten period in my life I’ve found a way to express the fluidity of my journey, opening myself to possibilities that I could not otherwise have imagined. In the desert I have been freed from a cultural narrative which links happiness with success to find joy in the journey.  By responding to a counter-cultural call to simplicity, I have discovered an inexhaustible complexity which gives meaning to even the smallest action and though.

While I anticipate this desert wandering is far from over, it is time for one major change. Up to this point my reflections have been entrusted to a select few who I trusted could be gentle with my ailing spirit; wounded as I was from discrimination, shame and internalized oppression. Yet in this past year I have grown into a new confidence. Centered in the love of Christ I can no longer refrain from sharing the song which inspires my bare feet to dance. Through stillness and movement I have come to respond in awe to the God who in the greatness of their wisdom has given us freedom to grow and change in love. Will you join me?