“As a pastor, I have found,” said one woman, “that if you welcome a person from a place of capacity, engaging what they have to offer, rather than from a place of need, deciding how you can solve their problems with your answers, that they tend to open up more.”
What she didn’t go on to explain was why greeting them with a question — what are you bringing to us? — is so much more difficult than greeting them with an answer.
With an answer, you are asserting your own beliefs, staying in control.
With a question, you are opening to change, being willing and even desirous of having your understanding changed, your group changed by the contributions of another. You come from a place of openness and vulnerability, expanding your world by adding a new relationship, a new view and new gifts to it.
“What do you want?” a pastor asked me once.
“I want what everyone wants,” I replied.
“Surely everyone wants different things,” he sniffed.
“I want to be seen, accepted and valued for my special and unique contributions to the community.”
He thought for a moment, then agreed. “Yes,” he said. “That is what everyone wants.”
For me, the essence of queer, of engaging teachy preaching over preachy preaching, is the willingness to open to seeing the world in a new way and being transformed, growing, through that experience. The preachy way is to impose your own beliefs on the world, but the teachy way is to never stop learning new ways to have your beliefs sharpened and deepened, learning to put your values into practice.
One pastor decided to tell us that she had a bad experience with a non-passing transperson who was just too needy and demanding. Her question was about how to not have to take on the burden of broken people, even the challenge of entering their journey and helping them find the resources that they need.
I am not safe in any community that seeks to erase my own nature for the comfort of the group. I understand the pull towards stability and the apparent peace of non-challenge, but I know that is a false and vain comfort. I am a non-passing transperson and to ask me to work to pass for the comfort of the group is to ask me to conceal and deny part of my truth.
“I was at a service and a transperson read the lesson,” the same pastor said, “and I felt so open, safe and welcomed. This person crossed many barriers, of class and race and status and was so embraced by the church that I knew that I would also be embraced, that I was safe there.”
The difference between coming into a place where you have to be the one to fight to open the hearts and minds of those around you and coming into a space where those hearts and minds are already open, people having done the work to be inclusive, queer and valuing of the wide possibilities of humanity is heart rendering. If no one has been able to open them before, what chance do you have?
When we welcome someone from capacity and not need, we expand and build our world, making it a little bigger and a little stronger. We also make it a little more messy and a little more challenging, but that is always a side effect of growth and healing. We cannot stay neat and proper and also open to new creation and new compassion.
As a transperson, the most difficult thing is engaging other people’s fears, as I also said in 2002. The fear that their neat and comfortable world may be disrupted by people who have walked right through the wall that separates the genders, that they may have to recalibrate what “normal” is to them is one that is very hard for a visibly queer person to engage. We become the problem, the target, rather than them owning their own fears.
I know I am gifted with much to offer. I have had to do the hard work of accepting my own queer gifts, that big bold painting as I wrote in 1994. Finding a way to return those hard won gifts is always a challenge, as Joseph Campbell reminds us.
The gift of gracious receiving
is one of the greatest gifts
we can give anyone.
— Mister Fred Rogers
The greatest gift we can give one another
is rapt attention to one another’s existence.
— Sue Atchley Ebaugh
Opening to the capacity of another person isn’t just a gift to them, it is a gift to ourselves and to our community, expanding both.