Very Good News, Indeed!

I was surprised by this week’s monumental Supreme Court decision on LGBTQ rights.  I cried when I read the headline in the Washington Post.  Unlike the two minority opinions, the majority opinion written by Neil Gorsuch was clear, cogent and consistent.  The discrimination to which I have been subjected is, in fact, about my sex.  I wish Aimee Stephens, whose job loss led to the lawsuit, had lived to see the decision.  She is a hero.

It is important to note, however, that the decision would have done nothing to stop me from being fired, because religious institutions are exempt from anti-discrimination laws.  The separation of church and state provides a safe haven for those who would continue to discriminate.  That is not going to change, at least not for anyone identified as clergy.  Evangelical churches might try to tell you that their religious freedom is threatened by this decision, but let’s be very clear.  It is not.

Nor does the decision immediately guarantee health care coverage for transgender people, something the administration withdrew this past week.  Nor does it immediately change the ban of transgender people serving in the military or guarantee fair housing across the nation.  The decision does not have any effect on employment in companies with fewer than 15 employees.  They are already exempt from Title VII.

When I mentioned my initial response to the decision on my Facebook account, there were a lot of comments and likes, over 500 and counting.  I even heard from a physician who was very kind to me on the day I was fired from the Orchard Group.  I am humbled by your encouraging words.  They mean the world to me.

The decision will not much affect my day-to-day life.  I am fortunate that I have found sources of income that are not dependent on my gender identity.  But I do have many friends and acquaintances who are greatly affected by the decision.  They are breathing big sighs of relief.

There are a lot of ways in which I am at a disadvantage as a transgender woman.  I do have to be concerned when I go to a new medical provider.  It is not always a positive experience.  When I travel outside the United States, I restrict myself to Western European nations and other countries with a positive history toward transgender people.  For my own safety, there are parts of the United States I avoid.  And for my own sanity, I stay away from evangelical churches.  But all in all, I do not face the same difficulties many other transgender people face.

I was a comfortable and successful white male.  As I often say, I brought a lot of that privilege with me.  I have a beautiful home in the foothills of the Colorado Rockies.  I have a loving family, a wonderful church, and good friends.  I am able to earn a living doing what I love to do, preaching, speaking, counseling and writing.  While it is true that my income is a fraction of what it once was, I am still far more financially comfortable than most.  I am aware of my privilege every single day.

Twice a year or so, the views of my TED talks increase exponentially and garner thousands of views a day.  Cumulatively, they’ve had over 5 million views.  When their popularity soars, I hear from a lot of people who are considering transitioning, at least one or two souls every day.  I try to answer every piece of correspondence I receive, though I am usually unable to do more than provide a brief reply.  People often say, “Well, you transitioned, and it worked out well for you.  I’m thinking it’ll work out well for me too.”  I encourage them to be cautious.  I remind the people that I have been incredibly lucky.  A single TED talk changed my life in ways I never imagined and gave me a platform far larger than I experienced in my previous life.  I now earn four times as much for a single speech as I was ever paid for speaking when I was Paul.  That is not the experience of most transgender people.

A lot of people write and tell me how brave I am.  I very much appreciate their kind words, and I do know I am brave.  But my bravery pales in comparison to trans women of color, or those in Central and South America, Africa, and the Middle East.  I am very aware of my blessings.

This week, a lot of LGBTQ people in the United States are breathing easier.  But until housing, healthcare and military service are added to the good news of this week’s Supreme Court decision, our work in the US is not finished.  And until LGBTQ people around the world have basic civil rights, and systemic racism is dismantled across the globe, we will be far from having the just and generous world this fragile planet so desperately needs.

Grief Observed

I have not written a blogpost for five weeks, which is about four weeks longer than usual.  The truth is that I am grieving.  I am grieving the loss of my father, which though expected, was more difficult because I could not be with him for the last days of his life, or have a funeral service, or be there for his burial.  It is difficult to grieve from a distance.

Last night I dreamed I could not find my father’s grave in the cemetery where he and my mother are buried, a cemetery I have visited since childhood, when my grandparents lived nearby.  In the dream I kept walking from grave to grave, growing more and more desperate as gravestone after gravestone did not reveal his name.  He died five weeks ago yesterday, and the last flowers are wilting from the many beautiful bouquets I received.  I want to keep them alive just a bit longer, a visual reminder of my grief observed.

In 2013 our town was devastated by a flood that permanently changed the landscape.  There are still areas waiting to be repaired.  In the first months after the flood, whenever I became weary of seeing the damage, all I had to do was leave the Lyons Valley and drive a few miles in the direction of normalcy.  Today there is no normalcy to which any of us can drive.

We know the major gateway through which grief comes into our lives.  It is through the death of a loved one.  The truth is that eventually we will lose everything and everyone that is dear to us.  A decision to love is a decision to grieve the eventual loss of that love.  It is inevitable.

But there are other gateways into grief, many that we are collectively experiencing now.  In his book, The Wild Edge of Sorrow – Rituals of Renewal and the Sacred Work of Grief, Francis Weller describes five gateways into grief.  In addition to the loss of a loved one, there is the gateway of what we expected but did not receive.  We all arrive on this earth with gifts to offer the world to lessen its suffering, but as we journey through life, we are surprised at how often our gifts are not welcomed.  We begin life excited about the offering we might bring, but end up grieving that what we had to offer never found its full expression.

The third gateway into grief is the sorrows of the world, long ago acknowledged by the first noble truth of the Buddha – suffering exists.  The suffering we see around us now is for many of us, the worst we have ever known.  From the streets of Minneapolis to the ICUs of Elmhurst, Queens, our senses are overwhelmed with troubling news that ushers in great grief.  For millennia, we only received news that was local and filtered by our community.  Today, much of the world’s grief is a touchscreen away, confronting us over our morning tea.  As it makes us aware of injustice in the world, this is good.  But the human brain was not designed for the kind of neural bombardment we receive today.  We cannot bear all the sorrows of the world.

The fourth gateway to grief is grieving the love we have not known.  As we grow through adulthood, there are awful aha moments that arrive unexpectedly.  We did not receive the love we needed from those who had been entrusted with our care.  Unfortunately, all of us who live into adulthood discover we are still wounded children in adult bodies.  Our children also eventually come to understand that painful truth as we bring those wounds to another generation.  In family systems theory it is called Multi-Generation Transmission Process.  That is a fancy way of saying people who have been hurt, hurt others.  Hurt people hurt people.

The fifth gateway to grief is ancestral grief.  That is what we are experiencing now across America.  From Washington to Minneapolis to Hazard, Kentucky to Seattle, we are collectively grieving our systemic racism. Every white person in this nation has benefitted from 400 years of racism, and we carry that ancestral grief with us.  It is time to be more than allies. It is time to be accomplices, asking people of color, “What do you ask of me?”  Their ancestral grief is monumental.

It is difficult to find the strength to do that work when all the pathways of grief converge and overwhelm.  But we are stronger than we think.  We are more capable of change than we realize, and grieving done well is empowering.  Consider these lines from Naomi Nye:

Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,

You must know sorrow as the other deepest thing

You must wake up with sorrow

You must speak it till your voice

Catches the thread of all sorrows

And you see the size of the cloth.