Welcoming Trans

The local “Welcoming Congregations”  group asked for 500-700 word pieces for the LGBT newsletter under the title “To Be A Blessing.”

Here is the draft I offered today.

Welcoming Trans
Callan Williams, Copyright 2013

We were about to pass the peace at an interfaith service being held under the auspices of the local LGBT center when the pastor next to me suddenly realized that there was someone across the room he needed to speak to.  In the middle of the service he got up and walked away from me, just before he would have to shake my hand and offer me the peace of his lord.

I was in a workshop at another event and a pastor said that she needed some LGBT people in her church, but, she made clear as she pointed at me across the table, not as queer as I am.  I was just too much for her church, she decided.

At a PFLAG meeting the chair talked about her son being gay, but she noted that it could have been worse.  He could have been transgender.  Some women in the room who knew my history just looked at me, knowing that truth would out.

I went to a church and talked to the pastor after the service.  I said I was glad I wasn’t the only transperson in the room.  He looked at me oddly, and then I knew that he hadn’t noticed the transman in the back of the congregation.

It’s more than once a pastor has asked me to attend their church as token, maybe to encourage those not yet strong enough to stand up and express their own gender difference, but sometimes just to show the flag.

When you walk into a new place as a transwoman, you can’t assume anything about how welcoming people will be.

Even people who have the intention to be welcoming may have no idea about the challenges of a transgender life. no idea how to connect with and respect transpeople.

The transgender experience is essentially different than the lesbian, gay and bisexual experience in a number of ways.  Identifying as transgender isn’t about the people you love, instead it’s a personal journey to expressing something that you know inside.  And it’s a complicated journey too, because you both have to stand out and be a unique individual and have to learn how to assimilate, how to fit in as a member of a group.   For many transpeople we want to be able to blend in, don’t want to be identified as different. That’s one thing that makes connecting with transpeople hard, because you can’t assume they want to be out and visible, nor can you assume they want their unique history ignored.

I had a pastor who had trouble with my trans nature ask me what made me happy.  I told him it was the same as what made everybody happy.  He though everyone wanted something different, but I just said “I want to be seen and valued for the unique gifts I bring to the world.”  He thought a moment and said “Yes.  That’s what everybody wants.”

Virtually every transperson, except maybe for the very young, has had the experience of not having the childhood they would have chosen for themselves.  We missed the support growing up, the socialization that valued who we knew ourselves to be.  Instead, we felt pounded into performing a role that didn’t fit us, that just hurt.

To welcome transgender people, you need not to just welcome their current presentation, but also have to welcome the struggle they made to get to this point, welcome the struggle they face tomorrow and in the future.  We may seem grown up and together, but the knocks of our experience always lie under the surface.  We work very hard to fit in with normal expectations, but it is impossible to live a transgender life and not come out very tender underneath.

There are very few congregations where transpeople can just slip in and sit with the other transpeople in the room.  We are alone, even in a room filled with many caring people.

Just because we can stand up and be boldly who we know our creator made us, expressing across gender boundaries to reach for some kind of continuous common humanity, doesn’t mean we are ready or willing to absorb the fear and disquiet of others.

In the end, welcoming transpeople, and welcoming their struggles, is welcoming not just brave warriors who show strength, it’s welcoming humans who are the same as you.

Callan Williams recent writing can be found at https://callan.wordpress.com

Too Much Story

I went to the grief group — “Living With Loss” — and I had a few minutes to speak about my story.

There wasn’t enough time to tell the whole story, obviously.  My life, a decade of taking care of my parents full-time, the last year and a half with them in and out of hospital, even the aftermath (two months today for my mother), well, no whole story would fit the time.

Instead, I just talked about some challenges that I faced.

It felt like I was pulling big pieces of debris from under the hood, still hot and smelling of burned grease, and just dropping them on the floor with a thunderous crash, the clatter of broken machinery.

How can I be surprised that people don’t know what to say when faced with a pile of shattered, twisted metal?

My parents lives have to be put in garbage bags.  There are a few pieces that will be valuable,  a few as keepsakes, but mostly, well, garbage.

It’s my job to clear up.  And that means combing the debris for stories before I dispose of it.  It means making sure that the real remainders of my parents’ lives, their stories are stored properly, kept and valued.  Turning that old brown cotton bole into the tale of a trip to Turkey that my mother cherished is just one tiny piece of a huge archive to be secured.

My brother and sister can’t really engage the stories.   They are consumed with the challenges of their own lives.   “In an information economy, attention is the ultimate currency,” and so many of us are just skint.

I know how to walk into other people’s worlds and enter their story, to help them get a handle on it.  People love it when I do that, when I serve them.  But entering my life, to engage my story?   Not so much.

So I have to figure out  how to do for myself.  But there is so much story to pack up.  Too much story.