I am sitting at Rookies Sports Bar and Restaurant right now. I was here exactly one year ago, the day that Howard died.
Today a I feel like the Ancient Mariner: compelled to tell my storyI need to tell the story again and again. So here I go again to tell the story of that day. If you’ve heard it before or read it before please feel free tune out. Go watch the pre-Oscar show or the NFL Combine. I won’t be offended.
It was a Tuesday morning and it was like any other. Howard drove me to work at the print center, as always. He had plans for the day. He had medical files to read and review and two checks to deposit for work he had already done. He was picking up new work. My own work was firming up. Things were finally beginning to turn for us financially. I was looking at the numbers and it was clear that we had turned a corner and were headed up at last.
Funny thing about being broke is that it didn’t hurt our relationship. I’ve seen relationships fly apart in the face of financial hardship but that didn’t happen to us. We just didn’t panic over it. We didn’t fight or argue about money. We both felt that it was only a matter of time before we got things together. Maybe we were overconfident but we just didn’t panic in face of financial hardship. We knew we were both doing the best we could and that eventually the table would turn.
That’s what we were both feeling as we stepped into that Tuesday. Howard drove me to work in the morning as always and we kissed goodbye and blessed each other into the day as usual. It was our habit.
It was a perfectly ordinary day. Work was work. The boss had to leave early for a family obligation so I was alone in the print center. Around 4pm a call came from the wife of Howard’s brother here in Seattle. Howard was gone. He had collapsed outside of the podiatrist’s office he was scheduled to see that afternoon. The EMTs were quickly alerted and arrived speedily. They took him to Harbourview Medical Center where efforts to revive him failed.
When I got the call I was all alone. I couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t accept it. I was too stunned. I remember calling my sister in Cleveland. I must have been incoherent. My sister-in-law took me to the hospital. I honestly don’t remember much. I remember being led into a room where my husband’s body was lying. I broke down and wept. At some point we recovered the car, my sister-in-law took me to eat at Rookies and the day ended or maybe I should say the day faded.
I admit that I’m out of it right now. I’m having a “fall-apart” moment right now. I guess I should stop writing because I’m about to start crying.
Last Friday I went to high school. I was asked to do a presentation on my experience as a transgender person. I have done this a few times and yet every time I do it I learn something new. I learn something new about myself and about how to talk about my experience.
It’s the questions that always intrigue me. The questions are usually about issues I’ve thought about already. I answer them as best I can. However many of the questions are complex and take time to answer. What I continue to find surprising is the interest in matters of religion. Even though I’m not there in my role as priest, the students are always interested in how I manage the whole business of church and gender. They ask about the intersection of theological perspective and personal experience, even though they don’t put it in that language. They are always curious about my different religious experiences in different churches.
I was even asked a wonderful question about “picking and choosing” when it comes to the Scriptures. I began by asserting that the Scriptures contain several different theological perspectives. Picking and choosing is inevitable. I choose a Christ-center hermeneutic. Of course I didn’t use those words. I told them that for me Jesus is the place where I go first and foremost and how I look at the Scriptures through him and my experience of him.
The other issue that comes up is race. It is actually the questions about race that I find the toughest to answer. It is emotional difficult to talk about because it often calls for me to do a critique of my own people. I am asked about my experience with the African-American community. It’s hard to talk about the pain I have experienced at the hands of my own folk.
I am always asked about my family. That is a topic I’m proud to discuss. I love to talk about how my deeply religious family embraced me.
Every time I go to high school I come away reflecting anew on my life, my beliefs and my take on gender and race. Somewhere along the line I end up thankful. I’m a 56-year-old black transwoman and for me life is good. An old woman like me gets to be with high school students. It makes me hopeful. It encourages me to know that the future lies in their hands.
I have heard jazz all of my life. However it wasn’t until I was in high school that I began to truly listen to jazz. I entered Lutheran High School East as a 9th grader in 1972. I graduated in 1976.
That was a time when jazz was fusing with rock and latin music and at the same time zooming off into odd and wonderful places. It was so different than anything I heard going on in other parts of my life when it came to music.
I my racially integrated high school R&B was supplanted by disco. Donna Summers had rising above Aretha Franklin. The BeeGees had blotted out the Beatles. In church tradition held sway but even there new music was pushing in.
Still for me, discovering jazz was like stumbling into Wonderland. Songs that didn’t need words to touch you deeply. It was music that felt expansive and alive in a way that I had not experienced before. It was songs that didn’t need to fit into a three minute radio slot. It was music that took its time and drew me in and said, “We will finish, when we finish.” Driving and powerful. Tender and heart-breaking. Funny. Gloomy. Painful. Ecstatic. Revelatory. Freedom and structure. Personal improvisation and yet communal music.
That is what I experienced when I first came to jazz. And it is still what I feel when slip into the music today. I’m so thankful for the gift that jazz is to me.
Over the last couple of years I’ve watched public awareness of trans folk and our issues grow. I have viewed this with a mix of conflicting emotions.
I’m pleased to see the issues that we face coming up for discussion and debate. I’m glad to hear and be a part of discussions about trans folk and healthcare, safety, housing, employment, and other issues that are critical for us.
At the same time I’m uneasy as I watch the popular media get involved. The popular media has great power to misrepresent, to over simplify, to sensationalize, to fixate on one image and ignore others, to amplify one voice and silence others, and to reduce real life to mere entertainment.
I’m afraid that cisgender folk will take over the representation of transgender folk. I’m afraid that trans people of color will be marginalized or narrowly depicted or reduced to types.
I’m nervous about trans folk turning into a cause for which celebrities will do benefit concerts. I personally have no desire to be rescued by famous people.
I cringe at the already sickening use of my gender issues as a football in the games between the right and the left. That battle is already old and tired and I don’t want to be used as ammunition in it anymore.
Most of all I’m horrified by the alarming number of murders and amount of violence aimed at trans folk and in particular at trans folk of color. The levels of violence are increasing as trans visibility increases. I certainly don’t want to end up getting TDORed. I just want the targeting of trans folk to stop.
In spite of all that I fear and all that I don’t like about the current moment, it is nonetheless upon us. It can be a kairos moment. This moment holds the potential for change and the possibility of hope being realized. So I stay in the struggle. I keep on doing what I do for my transgender sisters and brothers. In the end, for me hope overcomes hesitancy and love overcomes fear.
On Friday i go to high school but on Saturday I go to Portland. Why? Does one really need a reason to visit the Rose City? Still I do have one. I’m going to Portland to preach at an Absalom Jones Commemoration.
In the tradition that I come from sometimes a preacher has to “tarry.” I’ve been waiting on the Word of the Lord, trusting that God will keep the promise to pour out the Spirit so that the Word of Lord might no be rare as it was in the days before the prophet Samuel.
However this night the Word of the Lord has come. It came through Dr West tonight. He gave me the concept through which I will preach about Absalom Jones. In the words he spoke I saw a connection that I had not made before between love and justice. He put those two together in a way that was an epiphany (pun intended) to me. In a moment I had the core of what I will say on Saturday.
Dr West has a way of poking at the embers of the fire that is shut up in my bones. He has a way of fanning into flame the gift of God that is in me through the laying on of hands. He embodies for me how much I need the body of Christ to do the work that God has given for me to do which in turn builds up the body of Christ.
I’m excited about going to Portland. I excited to preach there. Consider it my contribution to Black History Month. Oh yes, and thank you, Dr West.
Quite by accident I found myself listening to Cornel West tonight. I knew it was a mistake. I knew that once he started speaking, I’d have to listen. I knew that once I listened that I would be disturbed, or should I say “stirred” or perhaps even better “troubled” as in what God does to the waters in one of the great songs of my people.
At any rate, when Dr West was finished it was midnight and I, who was snug in the nice warm bed, was now up and pacing through my part of the house I live in. Ala the parable, the voice of this neighbor had forced me to rise from my warm bed to answer the call that comes at midnight.
I should be asleep. I will rue this course of action when the alarm goes off at 5am. Yet the call has come to wake up and be summoned from my distractions and be attentive to what matters. I’m beckoned to come away to lonely place and listen to the Spirit’s voice.
Sometimes the voice at midnight calls me to give an account. The books are opened and I get a glimpse into a piece of my life that is shockingly out of line with the reality of who I am in Christ, It’s like looking at rose garden and realizing that there is a huge patch of Scotch Bloom that you’ve been cultivating and it’s threatening roses.
Such is this moment for me. I’m called to account. I’m invited into a better way to be who God calls me to be. This is one of those rare moments of clarity. I can see now that something that I’ve allowed myself to slip into is (in the words of Paul) lawful but not beneficial. It’s suddenly obvious to me.
The moment of realization comes quickly in this case. However the hard work now begins. Metanoya is also a process, the day by day process of change, the consistent ongoing turn from this to that.
On Friday I will doing a presentation for a class of high school seniors in which I’ll share my story. After that we’ll talk about their thoughts and questions around transgender issues. I’ve done this kind of thing often and yet I always come away astonished and impressed by the young folk that I encounter. They know more about trans issues at their age than I did when I was 32. Their level of knowledge is so far beyond what mine was when I was their age that it leaves me shaking my head in wonder.
I think of how much has changed between the time that I was in high school and their high school years. The information and the resources that they have now were simply not available when I was in high school. They can pull out a device out of their pockets and in a moment have access to more information than I could have possibly imagined when I was the same age. With one word they have access to a community of trans folk that I didn’t even know existed when I was in high school.
The trans community has also changed dramatically since I was in high school. Our issues and our folk are out there in a way that we weren’t in the past. My younger black trans sisters have done so much more in their lives than I have (or ever will). If I had my choice it would be Laverne Cox or Janet Mock or any of a whole list of others that would step into that classroom on Friday. But it won’t be. It will be me, just me,
I will do my best. I will bring my energy, my creativity, my experience and my perspective. I will also bring the church. Although the presentation is not overtly religious, the topic walks into the room with me. Church is such a critical part of my life story that it cannot be left out. So I will talk about church as I tell my story. And if past experiences are any guide, there will be questions asked about church and my views on God and religion. I will answer those questions forthrightly.