By Ryan Struyk
Calvin College Chimes Editor 2013-14
I’ve spent most of the last 18 months here at Chimes trying to get the full story: asking the tough questions, sending writers back for another interview and doing whatever it takes to get the “full story.”
And regrettably, I don’t think I’ve succeeded once.
There is so much behind every story that it’s impossible to capture the full behind-the-scenes angle that personifies and allows us to completely understand.
Because behind every decision, every action and every change, there’s a person making that decision, performing the action and leading through the change.
Chaplain Mary Hulst spent the first half of Saturday’s rivalry basketball game comforting the wife of a man who collapsed during the national anthem and later died, only to enthusiastically run the Calvin flag around the court less than an hour later.
Student body president David Kuenzi explained to me the hardship of sacrificing many hours of his finals week to represent the student body on the committee that was making difficult, last-minute decisions about budget cuts last semester.
Provost Claudia Beversluis teared up when she told faculty senate that she has read every word of letter after letter from alumni, pleading with her not to cut certain departments — but she still needs to make tough decisions.
And just like in journalism, life is full of conversations and situations where we don’t know the full story.
While I was struggling to come out to close friends last fall, a wise friend told me: “Everyone’s got their stuff.” (He didn’t actually say stuff, but I’m not going to print an expletive, even if it is my last editorial.)
Many of us are wrestling with depression, especially now during the winter. Some of us regularly get crippling migraine headaches. Some of us struggle with eating disorders. Others of us come from broken families. And as this paper pointed out this fall, some of us are enveloped in fear over our sexual identity.
And you can’t tell any of this when you shake someone’s hand.
So I offer the same simple thought that one of my role models, former U.S. senator Olympia Snowe, told us at lunch after the January Series last Thursday: “Be kinder.”
Theologian Ian Maclaren expanded that thought a bit more: “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”
My own experience being closeted on Calvin’s campus has taught me this: you never know what’s going on in a person’s life behind-the-scenes.
So give hugs a little more often, smile a little more and give the benefit of the doubt more than you probably should.
Why? It’s this kind of grace – lavished on other people without condition or reservation – that God gives us.
But while we don’t know the “stuff” in the lives of other people, we know that God sees all the “stuff” in us — the brokenness, the pain, the shame and the insecurities.
And we don’t have to worry about the judgment or betrayal or gossip we might expect from other people, because the Father sees Christ in our place.
Pastor Mary said it beautifully in LOFT on Sunday night: in the world, our very acceptance depends on covering our blemishes. But as Christians, our acceptance depends on us having blemishes — and bringing them to the cross.
So be kinder. Love freely. And remember that accepting God’s grace and sharing it with others is what God’s “full story” for us is all about.
Posted online in Chimes, January 16, 2014
We have a saying in Christianity that “you will know them by their fruit.” Drawn from Jesus’ teachings in Matthew 7, the expression means that the true test of faithfulness to Christ is not in simply believing or saying the right things, but in displaying the fruit of the spirit—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and self-control.
“A good tree cannot bear bad fruit,” said Jesus, “and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit.”
I spent this past weekend with Christians bearing very good fruit.
I went to the Gay Christian Network’s “Live It Out” conference in Chicago a little unsure of what to expect, a little perplexed that someone like me would be invited, and a little freaked out about what to say as a straight woman to a group of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender Christians—many of whom have been severely wounded by the Church.
But within a few hours of arriving, it became apparent to me that I had little to teach these brothers and sisters and everything to learn from them.
I speak at dozens of Christian conferences in a given year, and I can say without hesitation that I’ve never attended a Christian conference so energized by the Spirit, so devoid of empty showmanship or preoccupation with image, so grounded in love and abounding in grace.
As one attendee put it, “This is an unapologetically Christian conference.”
Indeed. There was communion, confession, powerful worship, and fellowship. There was deep concern for the Word. (The breakout sessions about the Bible and same sex relationships were by far the most popular, with Matthew Vines’ session so packed there wasn’t even standing room!) There was lots of hugging and praying and tears…and argyle.
I spoke with attendees from a multitude of denominational backgrounds—Catholic, Southern Baptist, Nazarene, Churches of Christ, Pentecostal, Mennonite, you name it. I met gay Christians who felt compelled by Scripture and tradition to commit their lives to celibacy (Side B) and gay Christians who felt fee in Christ to pursue same-sex relationships (Side A). And I heard story after story of getting kicked out of church, of being disowned by parents, of losing friends, of moving from despair to hope.
“I think we connect with your work because you write so much about Jesus,” a man who came all the way from Australia said. “For a lot of us, everything about religion has been taken away. All we have left is Jesus. So we love to talk about Jesus.”
The event wasn’t perfect, of course. As with any conference, there were tensions and disagreements, a few awkward moments and misunderstandings. But these were handled with such profound patience and grace I couldn’t believe what I was witnessing. Many of these folks have every right to walk around with permanent chips on their shoulders, but over and over again I encountered nothing but grace….big, wide, unstoppable, unexplainable grace.
I suppose this is what happens when a bunch of Christians get together an actually tell one another the truth.
About our pain.
About our sin.
About our fear.
About our questions.
About our sexuality.
Telling the truth has a liberating effect on everyone else in the room, and this was evident in the final night of the conference when we listened to one another’s stories:
From the young woman who had been called vicious names since grade school and who told us that this was the first time in her life she felt safe among other Christians.
From the brave mom who, choking down tears, told us that before this weekend she had been ashamed of her son, afraid to tell her Christian friends and family that he was gay. Now she had the courage to tell the truth and love him better.
From the man who, after twenty years of trying desperately to force himself to speak differently, dress differently, move his hands differently, and love differently decided to finally tell himself the truth.
From the conservative pastor who used to be an apologist against homosexuality, but whose friendship with a lesbian woman slowly, over many years, changed his mind. “Her life was her greatest apologetic,” he said, before openly weeping. “I was wrong. And when I hear about the pain many of you have experienced, I know that I was the cause of some of that pain. I am so sorry. I am so, so sorry. Please forgive me.”
From the man in the wheelchair who, with words he struggled to form, declared, “I’m black. I’m disabled. I’m gay. And I live in Mississippi. What was God thinking?!”
From the lesbian couple whose conservative church chose to break with its denomination rather than deny them membership.
From the young man who said that when he finally worked up the courage to come out to his parents “it didn’t go as well as I hoped,” and in the painful silence that followed, far too many understood.
From the denominational leader whose peers wanted him to “see what these people are so angry about" and who choked up as he said, “I’m going to go back and tell them you’re not angry. You weren’t anything like I expected you to be. I’m going to go back and tell them you’ve been hurt and it’s our denomination that needs to change, not you.”
From the parents who said they learned, too late, to love their gay son “just because he breathes.”
It was church if I’ve ever experienced it. And as I wiped tears from my eyes, I became as convinced as ever that if the Church continues to marginalize and stigmatize LGBT Christians, then the Church as a whole will suffer. It will miss out on all this energy, all this wisdom, all this truth, all this fruit. It will miss out on these beautiful people, these beautiful families, these beautiful relationships.
I was in a conversation with someone the other day who said he wondered if perhaps LGBT Christians have a special role to play in teaching the Church how to engage thoughtfully around issues about sexuality.
I think he’s wrong. After this conference, I’m convinced LGBT Christians have a special role to play in teaching the Church what it means to be Christian.
After all, movements of the spirit have never started with the “right” people. The gospel has never made as much sense among the powerful and religious as it makes among the marginalized. As I said in my keynote, what makes the gospel offensive isn’t who it keeps out but who it lets in.
…And who it calls to lead.
I realize that standing with and affirming LGBT Christians—both those who identify as Side A and those who identify as Side B (though, for reasons I can explain later, I'm personally inclined toward A)— puts some of my work in jeopardy. I realize that this post will be used to discredit me and that I may lose readers and opportunities as a result. But here I stand—not to lead, but to follow; not as a mere “ally,” but as a sister; not because I have it all figured out or have all my questions answered, but because I know in my heart it’s the right thing to do.
I’m so grateful to GCN for welcoming me into your family last weekend. You told the truth. You extended grace. You let me ask dumb questions. You loved me well.
And as long as you are part of the Church, I think her future is bright.
Dear family & friends,
Especially friends from my childhood and high school years who have found me for whatever reasons on Facebook, and family with whom I’m not particularly close, and coworkers from previous jobs who I have perhaps never had this chat with:
THE “GENDERQUEER COMING OUT” PART
I have something to tell you: I’m genderqueer. That means I live my day-to-day life somewhere between “man” and “woman,” often facing all sorts of daily interactions where the general public doesn’t “get” my gender, from kids in the grocery store asking, “are you a boy or a girl?” and their mom hushing them and turning away, to little old ladies in the women’s room staring wide-eyed and backing out of the restroom slowly, only to then return with a confused and self-protective look on their face, to service industry folks saying, “Can I help you, sir? Uh, ma’am? Uh … ?”
That confusion, that in-between state, is precisely it. That’s who I am. I’m neither, and both. I’m in-between.
You may already know this about me, just from following me on Facebook and doing whatever sleuthing you’ve done about my projects. You probably know I’m queer. But, if you want to know, I’m going to explain a few more things about my gender for a minute.
If you want to delve a little deeper into my particular gender, I consider myself butch, I identify as masculine, and I consider genderqueer part of the “trans*” communities, using trans-asterisk as the umbrella term to encompass, well, anybody who feels in-between. I’ve been identifying as “butch” for a long time—perhaps you’ve heard me use this word, an identity I consider to mean a masculine-identified person who was assigned female at birth. I consider myself masculine, but as I delve further into gender politics and theory and communities, the boxes of “woman” and “man” feel too constricting and limiting for me to occupy them comfortably.
I have for years thought that it was extremely important for people like me—masculine people with a fluid sense of gender and personality traits, who don’t feel limited by gender roles or restricted by gender policing--should continue to identify as women as a political act, as a way to increase the possibilities of what “woman” can be. That’s really important. And I still believe that is true, and heavily support that category.
Problem is, “woman” has never fit me. I had bottomless depression as a teenager (perhaps some of you remember I was sent to the principal’s office once for “wearing too much black”), plagued often by the idea of “woman” and adult womanhood. I could not understand who I would be in that context. And honestly, I still can’t.
But—even though it is in some ways harder, living outside of the gender norms—this in-between makes so much sense to me.
ON PRONOUNS (This part is important.)
For a few years now, I’ve been stating, when asked, that I prefer the third-person pronouns they and them when referring to me. That means, if you’re speaking of me in a sentence, you’d say, “They are about to walk the entire Pacific Crest Trail, it’s true,” or “Did you hear they just published another book?” or, “I really like spending time with them.”
Lately, when people ask what my preferred pronoun is, I have been saying, “I prefer they and them, but all of them are fine and I don’t correct anybody.” I don’t mind the other pronouns. They don’t irk me. But when someone “gets” it, and honors the they/them request, it makes me feel seen and understood.
There are other options for third-person pronouns which are gender neutral—or rather, not he or she. “They” is the one that I think, as a writer, is the easiest for me to integrate into sentences. I completely believe in calling people what they want to be called (that has always been one of my mom’s great mom-isms), so I always do my best to respect pronouns, but I still struggle with the conjugations and the way those words fit in a sentence.
Some people—particularly those (ahem like me) who were English majors and for whom grammar rules are exciting—think the “singular they,” as it’s called, is grammatically incorrect. But it’s not. It’s actually been used in literature for hundreds of years. Here’s one particular article on the Singular They and the Many Reasons Why It Is Correct. Read up, if that intrigues you.
WHY THE BIG DEAL?
I haven’t sat any of my family—immediate or extended—down and said, Hi, I’d like you to use they/them pronouns for me. I don’t generally tell people that unless they ask. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about whyI haven’t told you, what I’m afraid of, and what is keeping me from this conversation.
I’m not particularly afraid that you won’t “get it” or that you won’t honor it. If you don’t, that’s actually okay. I am part of some amazing trans* and genderqueer and gender-forward communities full of activism, respect, advocacy, and understanding, and I’m very lucky to feel whole and respected in that work.
And really, I believe that the very vast majority of you actually really wants to know, wants to honor my choices. I think you are probably curious about this. But for whatever reason, my (and probably your) west coast sensibilities are keeping us from having a direct conversation.
So, here ya go. It’s not particularly personal, but it’s the beginnings of something, and it’s my offering to you to talk about this, if you want to.
See the thing is, by not having this conversation with you, by not giving you the opportunity to respect my gender and pronouns (even if you think it’s weird-ass and strange and don’t get it), I’m limiting our intimacy. I’m not giving you all the chance to really know me. And maybe … you want to. Maybe this will open up something new between us.
Or maybe you’ll just go, “Huh. Okay. Whatever.” That’s fine too.
If you have questions, or want to talk about all this gender stuff, I am open to that. Ask away. (You don’t always get a free pass to ask weird questions, so you might want to utilize this opportunity.) But before you do, you might want to check out The Gender Book for some basic terminology, concepts, and ideas.
Sorry I haven’t told you yet. I’ve been telling myself that it “isn’t that important,” but actually it’s been a barrier between us, in some minor big ways.
That kid who was in English class with you in high school,
Your former coworker,
Your nibling (did you know that’s the gender neutral term for neice or nephew??),
The older sibling of your childhood friend,
Your best friend from 6th grade,
That queer who was crushed on you before they knew they were queer,
PS: Feel free to steal this idea for your own Facebook pages.
Reprinted from the Believe Out Loud Blog page
Debates over California's AB 1266, which is scheduled to go into effect in California in January 2014, are bringing out troubling arguments against transgender students in California.
AB 1266 restates existing state and federal laws that ensure transgender students can fully participate in all school activities, sports teams, programs, and facilities that match their gender identity.
Katherine Svenson, a Delta County, Colorado, school board member, recently made her stand against transgender students at a school board meeting:
I would like to pass out something that shows people what is going on in the rest of the country. Massachusetts and California have passed laws relating to calling a student, irrespective of his biological gender, letting him perform as the gender he thinks he is, or she is, and I want to emphasize, and they're actually talking about joining girls sports teams going in the girls locker rooms and bathrooms, and I just want to emphasize not in this district. Not until the plumbing's changed. There would have to be castration in order to pass something like that around here.
Sadly, this sort of statement is not uncommon lately. Such arguments stem from the efforts of Privacy For All Students, a political organization working to overturn the new California law.
Arguments from opponents like Svenson are troubling for a number of reasons. First, they demonstrate and work to instill an ugly anger at and fear of transgender people. "They're coming to get us," this argument says: "They're going to try to let some transsexual urinate near you beloved children." Feel the horror.
These arguments tap into every toxic narrative about trans people, especially trans women.
They say that we're either confused or deceptive, and they claim there is something inherently threatening about trans people. Just look at what Svenson's comment about castration—that's a violent word right there.
When asked about her comment, Svenson said, "I don't have a problem if some boys think they are girls, I'm just saying as long as they can impregnate a woman, they're not going to go in girls locker-room.”
Her arguments imply trans girls should be treated as rapists and sterilized as children. These arguments keep making appearances in discussions of trans people's rights: “How do we know that trans people are really what they say they are?” “How do we know that trans people aren't just predators pretending to be someone they are not?”
As a trans woman, I often don't know quite what to say in these situations.
How exactly can I prove I'm not a dangerous pervert? I can try to be charming, I can tell my story about always knowing I was a girl while I was growing up, or I can talk about being an Iraq War veteran or Christian or a small business person to tout my “nice, normal person” credentials.
Still, at the end of the day, I'm trans, and how does the world know if being trans is ok or not? I do not have some sort of certificate signed by God saying, “I do avow that S. Vivian Taylor is, in fact, a woman—so stop going on about it.”
As Christians we are called to love all people as ourselves. Part of loving people is to give them a chance, to value their personal experience even when it's something you have trouble fully grasping. If someone has an experience, and lives into that experience fully, who are any of us to tell them they are false?
Bills like AB 1266 do incredible work to protect young trans people, to stop bullying and other violence against young trans people. There is no evidence to support that transgender inclusion puts anyone else at risk, when in fact, not protecting trans students leaves them in harm's way. As followers of Christ, we must protect and support all people.
We must seek the truth and reject dishonest horror stories about people that are so often misunderstood.
If you are a Christian, I am asking you as your sister in Christ to listen to trans people instead of the people who fear us as you consider our rights and our place in the world.
- See more at: http://www.believeoutloud.com/latest/loving-trans-people-ourselves#sthash.qpLw6NMq.dpuf
From time to time a member of All One Body will post to this blog. We will also have guest commentary. Stay tuned!