And the Skaters Skate On

Yet another Sunday morning I was awakened by phone texts telling me of a mass shooting involving the queer community. When it happened with the Pulse shooting in Orlando, I arose at 5:00 and wrote a new sermon I preached at 9:00 and 10:30. This time I was in San Francisco, preaching at City Church.

I had not finished my sermon until close to midnight the evening before, so early Sunday morning I set about making changes to the message. I didn’t write anything down. The sermon was already memorized. I made the changes in my head. I had a big suite in my hotel that allowed me to walk in a circle, past two windows that looked out on Union Square and its lit Christmas tree and skating rink.

As I put words to my thoughts about the Club Q shooting, I noticed that everyone was skating counterclockwise. I was mesmerized watching the skaters turning back time. Now, as I added to my sermon, I wished I could turn the clock back eight hours and warn everyone to flee before the mayhem began.

Occasionally people come to Left Hand Church that draw suspicion. I hate that, but in today’s world, we have to protect our church members. Just a few weeks ago someone arrived well before the Sunday evening service with a lot of questions that aroused concern. Kristie, my co-pastor, engaged the person in conversation and they left before the service began. We monitored the doors for the remainder of the evening, and every Sunday since. Unfortunately, that is our reality.

Attacks of the queer community have been on the increase since 2016. Thankfully, in my case the attacks have only been emails, letters, texts, and a few phone calls. But I am always aware of my surroundings.

The veteran who tackled the Club Q shooter and undoubtedly saved lives was a straight man, at the club with his wife and children to see the childhood friend of his daughter perform in a drag show. That’s the kind of place many queer clubs are nowadays. Everybody wants to see a drag show, and the time around the Transgender Day of Remembrance is when many reach out warmly to our community. I do not want to lose sight of that. The majority of Americans support us. A vocal minority do not.

The preachers and politicians vilify us, and then wait for the young men with an unfinished prefrontal cortex to do their bidding for them, buying long rifles, and on marching orders from their leaders, gun us down in mass. Then their leaders abandon them and say, “What? Who, me?” And they have the rest of their lives to think about their blind loyalty to the rhetorical instigators of very real violence. All of this while the preachers and politicians can’t find the connection between inflammatory rhetoric and tragically misguided action. Some of the instigators were running for their own lives down the halls of the Capitol building after the violence they incited on January 6. Still, they didn’t get it.

Outside of the messages I receive, I do not face much prejudice. Last weekend I coached TEDxMileHigh speakers, emceed part of the show, and not a single person made reference to the fact that I am a transgender woman. I have served on the Town Board for the Town of Lyons since April, and not once has anyone made reference to my gender identity. In the world I inhabit, being transgender is old news. No one cares. Will we pass the town budget? That’s the important stuff.

Until another shooting takes place. Then I am forced to confront the reality all around me. I read about another precious transgender man or woman who loved people without exception and whose death left a gaping a hole in the fabric of their chosen family. Many of us have been rejected or marginalized by our families of origin. Our chosen families are precious to us, and we cling to them with a tenacity that shows how hard-won that family is.

Chosen families go together to Club Q, or Left Hand Church, or the taco restaurant, or the big table at the pizza place where we can laugh and cry and live inside the bonds of a shared life of precious meaning. And yet again, that sense of place and belonging was shattered, this time just minutes before the beginning of Transgender Day of Remembrance.

At City Church, after my sermon, Emily McGinley, the lead pastor, read the name of every trans person murdered in America in the past year. She did not yet have the names of those who died the previous night. The list was already long. The names were read with reverence, each pronounced tenderly.

I had preached on the death of Lazarus, and how Jesus mourned with Mary, showing solidarity in her suffering. I suggested that it was the shared mourning that caused Mary to cast her lot with Jesus. He understood. He understands. Hatred has its day, but love wins. It is the hope onto which I tenaciously hold. It is the Christmas tree on Union Square in San Francisco, and all the queer couples who gathered around it on Sunday evening, after the shooting, as if they knew to come to the manger for hope.

What do we do now? We keep telling our stories and staying in close proximity to those who are frightened by us, to show them our humanity, and for us to see theirs. Meanwhile, mothers and fathers grieve and mourn. Chosen families lose their grounding. And those described as “the sweetest person you’ll ever meet” will meet someone no more. And life goes on. The skaters skate counter-clockwise, unable to turn back time, and the losses mount. life after precious life.

Dear God, save us.

The Emperor’s New Clothes

When Jonathan was little, he would sit for hours in the corner of his bedroom with his record player, listening to books and stories. One of his favorite stories was about the emperor who had no clothes. The story reached a crescendo in which a young child cries out, “Look at the king, the king, the king!” Then the narrator sings, “The king is in the all together, the all together, the all together, he’s all together as naked as the day that he was born.” (You can relive the magic via the Danny Kaye version on YouTube.)

I think of that story and song often. I think of the child who proclaims the truth about the king. The tragic reality is that people who declare that the king has no clothes are in for a rough time. People say they want to know the truth, but most people do not want to know the truth. We live by our illusions. Tell a fundamentalist there is no God and they will disappear from your life. Tell an atheist there might be a God and they will disappear from your life. We hang out with our own. It’s easier that way. Our assumptions don’t have to be challenged. We can make life simpler and don’t have to struggle under the weight of possibilities. Hence, our dislike for the child who cries out, “Look at the king, the king, the king!

The song does not tell us what happened to the boy. I can tell you what happened to the boy. He and his family were driven from the kingdom. It is happening all across America to transgender children and their families. They live in states becoming increasingly hostile to trans kids, passing laws threating their parents with legal action if they choose to love their children. The worst laws are in the second most populated state in the nation, Texas. I cannot tell you how many people I have met in Colorado who moved here from Texas. They were driven from their home because of their love for their children.

I experience trans hatred on a regular basis. I don’t write or talk about it much because I don’t want to give power to the haters.  Besides, I have enough privilege behind me to withstand the onslaught. I was told I should not attend my 45th high school reunion because there would be trouble. I still flew to the region. I just visited with friends, family, and individual classmates instead. Being barred from the reunion was no huge deal. But it’s not that easy for a child whose very existence screams out that the king has no clothes, or for the parents of that child. The second the child speaks his or her truth, life as they know it is over.

There is, of course, an empowering freedom in telling the truth. The king is naked, and the child knows it. The child’s parents know it, and it is liberating to speak the truth. But it can also be life threatening. Transgender adolescents have a suicide completion rate 13 times higher than their peers. I’m not sure when Republicans will give up their damaging campaign against trans kids. Two of the most egregiously anti-trans governors, in Texas and Florida, were re-elected by wide majorities, not exactly a hopeful sign that the siege is waning.

Just a few years ago I thought the narrative on transgender people was shifting toward the positive. But based on the hate mail I receive and the 286 anti-trans laws introduced in 2021 and 2022, that is clearly not the case. Over the past two years, a total of 39 anti-transgender laws have been signed into law in 19 different states.

A senior adviser to Greg Abbott’s campaign for governor said laws restricting care for transgender youth were a “75 – 80 percent winner.” Alabama governor Kay Ivey said, “We’re going to go by how God made us: If the Good Lord made you a boy, you’re a boy. If he made you a girl, you’re a girl. It’s simple.”

Uh, it is? First, last I checked we are not a Christian nation, so a “Good Lord” who is male is a decidedly Christian fundamentalist assumption. Second, a God who “makes” people one gender or another is a decidedly Calvinistic God, a demiurge worthy of Plato. Third, there are 150 different intersex conditions, so “simple” is hardly an appropriate word. I don’t even know why I’m countering Ivy’s fundamentalist argument. It is simplistic and uninformed. The problem is that a sizeable minority of Americans agree with her.

Most of the time I just ignore the anti-transgender rhetoric. It is just background noise in my personal life. In four of my five jobs, the fact I am trans is purely incidental. It has nothing to do with why I was hired, elected, or contracted to do that particular work. Even in my public speaking, fewer than ten percent of my speaking engagements are primarily because I am transgender.

I am fortunate. I do not have to live this nightmare as trans children are forced to live it. I don’t have to spend time in Texas. I can even avoid flying through Dallas. I don’t go to Florida much anymore. But with their hard turn to the right, those are not places I’d be inclined to visit anyway.

I don’t pay much of a price for saying the king is naked. But oh my, how I pray for those children whose lives are threatened. By simply existing, they are screaming out, “Look at the king, the king, the king.” The problem is that the king has the power to destroy them. Here’s to the states like Colorado that say, “Come, and abide with us. Here, you can cry out whatever truth you see.” I used to think it was that way in the whole nation. I now realize that was always the narrative of the privileged. Now I know better, and it is frightening.

This is Getting Really Scary

When I was in college, we frequently had chapel speakers from the conservative side of my denomination. They yelled loudly about the fires of hell, quoted from pamphlets published by the John Birch Society, and attended the Kiamichi Men’s Clinic where they bragged about not shaving or showering for a week. On the whole I found them rather innocuous, a fringe group of primarily rural southern preachers whose education was considerably less than their hubris.

After moving to New York, I was less affected by evangelical culture because I was no longer immersed in it. I worked for an evangelical ministry, but virtually none of my friends were evangelicals. They were Jewish, or Catholics, or no religion at all. The group with the greatest effect on the development of my spirituality was my Catholic reading group, which turned out to be a wonderful 25-year experience of spiritual formation.

Since I remained employed in the evangelical world, the gap between my work life and personal life grew exponentially. A tectonic shift in that gap occurred in the months leading up to January 1, 2000. Many of my evangelical friends were obsessed with Y2K, the notion that computers were programmed to self-destruct at the stroke of midnight on January 1.

In New York, there was awareness of a problem that needed to be addressed, but there was no panic. And sure enough, concerns over Y2K were unfounded. All went well on January 1, 2000. How did my evangelical friends become so obsessed with Y2K? I asked around, and was surprised by what I discovered.

Sometime during the 90s, my friends had started watching the opinion television shows on Fox News. That was the media outlet stirring up viewers over the coming apocalypse that never was. I thought my friends would pick up on the empty rhetoric of Fox News after the Y2K fiasco. They did not.

Fox pivoted to the next big threat, and when that didn’t pan out, the next big threat, and the next big threat, and my friends kept tuning in. That is when I began to realize my days in evangelicalism were numbered. My theology had been shifting for decades. I was already identified with the left of our denomination. But now I began to wonder if I would be able to stay at all. The more these friends were influenced by conservative media, the more they endorsed Christian nationalism. I was alarmed. When would I actually leave the evangelical fold? My transition made that decision for me. But it would have happened anyway. The handwriting was on the wall.

And where is evangelicalism today? Consider the recent American Values Survey completed by the Public Research Institute. Their survey of white evangelicals discovered these alarming statistics:

71% of evangelicals believe the US has gone downhill since the 1950s.

50% believe God intended America to be the new Promised Land.

61% say society has become too soft and feminine.

61% believe discrimination against white Americans is as bad as discrimination against racial minorities.

63% view Trump favorably.

54% believe the Big Lie.

84% believe gender is immutably determined at birth.

61% believe transgender people already have too many civil rights.

25% actually know someone who is out as a transgender person.

Far too many evangelical Americans have been influenced by right wing media. Their views disagree with objective facts, as they have abandoned the rigorous search for truth.

This all makes me terribly sad. Evangelicalism is my heritage. My roots go back to the beginning of what is known as the Stone/Campbell Movement. I had literally thousands of friends and acquaintances in that world. And now, increasing numbers of those same friends have been captivated by right-wing media. In doing so, they have become a threat to our democracy. I hate that. These are good people who, by getting their information from a handful of fact-free sources, have been recruited as soldiers in an ideological war that could destroy our nation.

When I was in Bible college, I never saw the far right preachers as a threat to my denomination, let alone my nation. But that was before Rupert Murdoch and Fox News. That was before Donald Trump and Tucker Carlson and company garnered huge audiences by ignoring the facts.

I am frightened. I should be.