This is the question that leapt into my mind this morning as I laid aside my reading. It startled me, though it was simple enough to see where it had stemmed from. I had just finished reading From Sin to Amazing Grace (Cheng, 2012) and the chapter I had skimmed the fastest was “The Self-Loving Christ”. It was a difficult to read about how Christ’s self-love provided a way to persist in his ministry, even in the face of adversity at a time when my own reserves of self-affection feel depleted after my work at General Convention.
I woke up this morning to a nightmare. I was running frantically though the Salt Palace convention center, trying to figure out if “255C” was up or down stairs, terrified that I would miss my chance to speak. I don’t usually place a lot of weight on dreams, but the connection between that nightmare, the challenges I’ve faced in the early stages of healing, and the resounding question of this morning made me feel this was worth exploring.
I think the root of that dream is a fear of not being heard. I went to General Convention with the realization that my ministry would likely be centered on demonstrating that people like me exist. It was work I thought I’d prepared for, but it turns out no amount of preparation can make you ready to feel as though your very existence is a lot of work, or at the very least an inconvenience. Most conversations about transgender people, and nearly all of the ones that cover non-binary gender identities often start with a disclaimer “we know this is hard, but it’s worth it”, or more often “this is too hard you need to accept that we can’t get it”. Even simple things like correcting people’s misuse of my pronouns often leads to me being told that “there’s not need to be nasty” or “short”*.
This sense of existence as imposition is compounded by the lack of restful places to escape being gendered or hearing that people like me aren’t real. I picked up three books at Convention, one (“Salvation on the Small Screen”) was meant to be a silly way to decompress, another (“Where God Hides Holiness”) was a favorite that kept me in the church even as I initiated a Title IV process for discrimination based on my gender, and the third was From “Sin to Amazing Grace”. On Monday, I turned to this trove and found binary language within the first chapter of each of them. Setting each of them aside, and growing more and more hurt I began to wonder if I had lost reading as a way to relax.
I’ve often felt that each new thing I develop language around to describe myself often pushes me further and further into exile. As soon as I reach a place where I can articulate where I am, I am challenged to explore a new part of my experience. With each new injustice I discover, the less able I am to participate in the restful activities I once loved as I grow keenly aware of how in them I am told not to be.
This transition of places of life becoming places of fear and burden cannot be better demonstrated by the manner in which I once approached the Eucharist, and the preparation I now must undergo. In the podcast the Collect Call I spoke of my initial experiences realizing the limitations of binary language in the liturgy. After more than a week of attending daily worship at General Convention, and hearing people like me aren’t a part of the church in every single service, that sense of alienation has been accentuated. I left convention with a sense that I must first prove my realness before I can partake and truly enter into the body. Yet even when I do take action to draw attention to the gaps in our liturgy, there are always things I miss.
Take this past Sunday for instance. Exhausted from convention, worn thin by repeated explanations and spiritually ready to hide from the world for an extended period, I chose to push myself to still attend the service mostly due to the face that I had volunteered to set up for coffee hour. Concerned about the language of the service as I knew we would have a supply priest, when I went over on Saturday night to prepare the treats, I also glanced over the bulletin. Seeing the words “Eucharistic Prayer B” I immediately went into damage control mode, debating options, gauging my emotional spoons, and trying to decide which course of action was simultaneously both Christian and healthy.
This apparent conflict between my baptismal duty to “continue in the apostle’s teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers” and my obligation to love this life I’ve been given, and to honor God’s work in creating me as I am has continued to escalate as I encounter more and more spaces in the Episcopal church that ask me to choose one over the other. That Sunday I decided to arrive early and to speak with the priest about my concerns. He listened attentively and said he would try to remember. During the Eucharist he did use “the everlasting heritage of your descendants” as I’d requested. This was a change that I almost missed because I’d forgotten that we’d be using the preface for baptism and “received us as your sons and daughters” was still echoing through me. The added burden of coming early, starting a nerve-wrecking conversation, and explaining its importance led to one change, providing hope, but the service still left me feeling hollow due to what I’d missed.
Do you love yourself? On the surface it seems like a simple question with an obvious “right” answer (yes). But as it tumbles through me I couldn’t help but ask a question in return, how? How can I love myself when everything around me tells me I’m a burden, an oddity, an exception or simply not there? How can I find this “inner core” that people tell me to rely on when I have yet to find a space where I’m not expected to defend as real those parts of myself I haven’t yet come to accept, let alone love.
Sitting with this question I finally found an answer I can live with. I can’t say “yes” or “no” for at this moment both would be untruthful. What I can say is this, I commit myself to the work of self-love. I can acknowledge that I have been corrupted by the sin of a world that doesn’t want me alive and by the grace of God I can and I will resist that message. I give myself permission to read what I can, when I can without judgment for the knowledge I can’t obtain in my infirmity. I promise to celebrate the victories I’ve already achieved in simply living to see this day. Above all, whether in church or outside it, I offer myself to Love, not only love for my neighbor but also for the God who made this body, this spirit so determined to keep going long past the point it made rational sense.
*Both of these phrases were used when I gave blood yesterday. The technician who was handing me off to her supervisor said “he…umm she” and then got very upset when I stepped in and said “they”. I was told by them that I should feel guilty for not just “going along” with the needed questions, which are actually needlessly invasive as I was only changing my name and not my gender marker on my Red Cross records.
**This post is also shared on the Episcopal Peace Fellowships Young Adult Delegation blog as it wraps up some of the lessons I've carried home from General Convention. If you'd like to see more about what it was like to do this work while there I'd recommend checking them out.