Monday, November 17, 2014

The Blazing Butterfly Saga Part 1: Origin Story (Acts8 BLOGFORCE)

 This is a fitting time to open the caverns of memory and begin the tale of how I became the person of faith I am today. You see, this Wednesday, November 19th is golden anniversary of my baptism.
Me, November 19, 1995

I was raised in a conservative evangelical church and heard the message that baptism equaled salvation for my entire conscious life. Even as a precocious six year old I knew I needed to be baptized. So I asked, and asked and kept asking until the youth pastor agreed to baptize me. A tiny girl in a dress came forward, and upon being asked “Amanda, do you believe that Jesus is the Christ, the son of the living God”; I answered with a loud “YES”, eliciting chuckles from the congregation. A reading from Acts followed, with another short homily, providing time for me to change. Then we headed out again, my head barely visible above the foliage that decorated the baptistery. A quick splash, and bang, instant Christian.

Or so I thought. In fact I kept believing this was it throughout most of my childhood. I spent my summers at VBS and church camp, amazed the AWANA’s leaders, was a card carrying member of the 66 club and competed in Bible Bowl.

By high school I was about as “Christian” as you could get, fully indoctrinated into the fundamentalist ideal. For example I once got in trouble in zoology for arguing against evolution. Not only was I a Christian, but I was THAT Christian, the one you didn’t want to sit next to for any length of time.

Summer 2012
For all I appeared to belong with that church, as I hit my teen years I began to have questions, and began to realize the answers I was being given where  on the cheesy side (another example: 1 cross + 3 nails =4given was considered adequate for theological reflection). At the same time my youth group gradually became the source of the most painful peer-pressure, feminization & the purity culture. Warned repeatedly about the evils of sex & sexuality I didn’t learn what “gay” meant until college. Worse my withdrawn tomboyish tendencies were seen as my fault, a failure to be the good Christian girl I was supposed to be. 

Christ in Youth, 2012

All these influences culminated at the 2012 Christ in Youth Conference. In order to help me “fit in” better the youth group girls decided to give me a makeover. My hair was straightened, my face painted and I was told to wear the one dress I had brought with me. As we walked to the evening worship service I was aware of an intense discomfort, like everyone was staring at me.

Then the first song started to play, and I found myself seeing a woman dressed in armor standing in a field. I heard, well it would be more accurate to say felt, the following words within my bones. “You have a battle to fight, but I have chosen you and I love you.” The intensity of the contact, the fullness of love and belonging were foreign to me, and I was scared.

I asked one of the youth pastors for help that night and was told that I was demon possessed. If I just prayed harder the demons would go away and I’d be able to be normal. 

Actual Sign in KS
That was the day I left Christianity, turned my back on the church and accepted that I was going to go to hell if such a place existed. The years flew by, I dropped out of high school, got my GED and started college all before turning seventeen. At college the counseling center directed me to the campus Gay Straight Alliance. There my world was finally opened to the possibility that I could exist. This group also taught me a new form of hatred, an unquestionable belief that Christians were the reason we could be fired, denied health care and being kept away from our families. In all fairness, this assessment of Christianity in Kansas wasn’t entirely flawed. Christian signs and symbols are everywhere, proclaiming a message of hate. 

Eventually I realized that I was transgender, and began to transition in earnest. As I grew into the young man I needed to be at that time I found myself embracing a new confidence. I began to smile more, to enjoy getting up in the morning. As I settled into this new identity, as Andrew manifested his realness, I found myself freed to reexamine some of my abandoned questions. Around Christmas 2011 I realized this included faith. I went to church on Christmas that year because I missed the carols. As I was going back to the church I had grown up in I planned for two contingencies. A)I would be accepted as a stranger as no one would realize that I was the same person as Amanda or B) They would be furious at me for showing up and I need to have my arguments on why I could be transgender & Christian ready to go.

What actually happened was option C. No one said anything to me. I felt disjointed and out of place, sitting in the back, watching people I had grown up with move past me as though I were a ghost. Then the music started, and I found it reaching me in a way that the people couldn’t. Keep looking something inside me whispered. As we closed with Silent Night I felt a longing that I couldn't explain, yet still couldn't avoid.

So “see if I can tolerate Christians” made its way into my New Year’s resolutions. By this point I was active as a transgender educator on my campus, routinely taught workshops that explained exactly why tolerance was insufficient to offer another human being. Still, tolerance was the best I could muster for this unspecified “enemy”.

In early January I set out to make good on this resolution. I’d chosen the one church in town that had sexual orientation included on it's website, a family sized Episcopal parish I’d heard mentioned as friendly several times at work. Reluctantly I pushed my way past the bright red doors and found a seat in the back row and tried to look invisible as I wasn't sure I even belonged here.

Thelo! Mission Trip May 2012
Invisibility failed, I was quickly approached by someone who realized I was unfamiliar with the service. She welcomed me fully, showed me how to use the prayer book, and whispered instructions about communion. The sermon could have been written for me specifically, it’s exploration of the life-long nature of baptism fed the little girl I’d spent years running away from. In the midst of that Eucharist I found myself being held by something that I had thought was behind me.

 Over time tolerance evaporated, edged out by respect and love for these people who dared to show me that I could fully exist. For the first times I heard that the eager childlike faith I’d tried to abandon was completely compatible with my queerness. I found this was a church I could be, grow and find myself transformed.

Thus began my journey, the first steps towards coming home.

Tune in next week for EPISODE TWO: CATECHISM, CONFIRMATION & THE FORMATION OF A SUPERHERO (or something like that!)

TL;DR, Superhero Synopsis:

Strange forces surrounded Andrew Amanda from their earliest spark of existence. This young hero has undergone a gut-wrenching transformation in the depths of hate and despair. Brainwashed as a child, exiled as a teen, they have recently broken forth into new life. Meet the eager faith of childhood, watch as it is cruelly twisted into a mockery of religion before being dissolved in the acid of ignorance. Watch as the brave hero-to-be battles the forces of hatred and fanaticism within two communities. Will they make it to the shelter of the fortress guarded by the bright red doors? Can they survive the pressures of this world pushing them to conform? Welcome to the first installment of the BLAZING BUTTERFLY SAGA!

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