Today I let go of an identity prop I have had for almost 40 years.
I was 15, on retreat at a monestary, and one morning I entered the chapel and chose not to put a host in the chalice for vespers. That meant I had decided not to take communion, and I haven’t done so since.
Until today, that is. Global Communion Day 2007.
I have been churches for years, feeling like Goldilocks. One is too cerebral, one is not cerebral enough, so finding the “just right” mix of thought and emotion is hard.
The other problem, though, is that while I may feel like Goldilocks, churches and their members often see me as the Big Bad Bear. A transwoman is a great tool for a church to explore the bounds of Christian compassion beyond fear. Heck, I’ve even had a Unitarian pastor refuse to shake my hand as I left her church, and later tell me in an e-mail that she found me scary.
I’ve been to GLBT inclusion events and been too challenging for pastors there. One saw someone he just had to speak to across the room just before the passing of the peace, when he would have had to shake my hand. Another was in a seminar saying that she wanted some nice queers in her church to hasten the work, but then pointed at me in my tasteful JC Penny suit, and said that I was just too queer.
I’m used to walking into churches and just sitting in the back of the room with the trannys. That’s a joke, of course; there are never any other trannys to sit with.
It was impossible to escape the welcome this morning at United Presbyterian in Troy, “Where People with Differences Unite in Christ.”
One older woman, who hadn’t quite cottoned onto my history, asked why I came.
“It was the big rainbow flag you have outside,” I half-joked, meaning the ads and website and other parts of their “More Light” campaign.
The woman looked bewildered.
Margaret, who knew, smiled. “We have had three of those ripped down,” she told me. “We just put up another one.” I didn’t bother to add that I knew many self-professed Christians who would tear me down, too.
It seemed clear to me that women have a big part in running the church, from the woman pastor, Alexandra S. Lusak, to the moms who made sure there are stuffed animals in the pews and coloring clipboards in front for the kids. The congregation looked diverse; I suspected a few of those kids had two mommies.
I knew that the first Sunday was when this congregation celebrated the Eucharist, I did. But I wasn’t expecting to participate. I just went because this was the first chance since March to easily go.
The pastor preached about the importance of communion, not just the sacrament between you and God, but also the sacrament between you and all the other people who are at the same symbolic table, sharing the same meal with you. She spoke of the love that binds those in communion, and finished by saying that the table was ready for the sharing of bread, wine and love.
“Are you ready?” was her final question.
OK, well, that resonated with me. I thought it was interesting that I had felt no need to deconstruct her sermon, even if the Christic imagery was a bit much, but understood she was using her mind to speak emotion, to call not to intellect but to heart.
I thought of the passage in Wally Lamb’s “She’s Come Undone” where a person with AIDS tells Delores about the janitor who always was icy to homosexuals, but then, started showing up every Sunday on their way to church, family in the car, with a coffee milkshake.
People can only give you what they can give you, he tells her. So don’t worry about the past, or the strings, or how their response isn’t perfect. Drink the milkshakes they offer. That’s the lesson.
It seemed time to drink their milkshake.
I waited until the end, watching how communion was done in this church at this time.
When I came up, the pastor greeted me by name with a big smile, and welcomed me again, as she had during the passing of the peace. I took the cube of bread, then dipped it into the earthenware chalice of wine.
I walked back, trying to get back to hiding, and popped the wine-soaked bread into my mouth.
There it was. 40 years of resistance gone, a willingness to be welcomed by this congregation, a willingness to trust in their love. I knew from my experience at SCC that I needed to let myself be vulnerable, and so when I told this story to the pastor, I could feel the tears well up again, as they had during the service. I did save my makeup, though, and didn’t bawl.
I received about 15 invitations to come back for coffee and cookies, and I did. Everyone was nice, and Margaret kept an eye on me.
It was a good experience, even if, as I was going back to my car, a woman told me it was the wrong time to play dress-up.
I had thought of going to the Empty Bowl fundraiser, but driving by the Italian Community Center, I saw a hundred people or so in line. Instead, I decided to drive to the Seven Straight Nights event in Glens Falls. It was a lovely October day in the foothills of Adirondacks, sitting on newly fallen red leaves.
Diane Root, an lesbian ECUSA pastor in the Vermont diocese — this diocese clamps down against supporting queers — gave her piece about how there are no asterisks in Jesus’ words, that he assures us that God knows you, God loves you and you are a beautiful child of God with no disclaimers. It was good to hear those words from someone who preaches in the church I was raised in.
So here I was, trusting this group enough to share their meal; the wine, bread and love that connects them and all other Christians around the world.
It was scary, it was good.
I let go of a classic identity prop that separated me, letting it go when I was comfortable I had also dropped lots of other defenses, and comfortable that I was being seen more as I know myself to be, revealing the song God put in my heart, the one she always knew was there.
One step, ready.