Inspired by Psalm 93: A Dwelling Place

A Dwelling Place

I thought that I had found the place where you live,
amongst the dewdrops in the morning.
While combing through thick fog to find
the tall rocks near the ocean.

May that I rise to meet you.
Lift me with the ocean spray,
following the contours of your coastline
with a photographic memory.

I thought that I had found the place where you live,
tensing and relaxing the waters,
In the shadow of the sun,
rotating with the earth.

May that I rise to meet you,
As a patch in your interstellar canopy,
Knowing not your beginning and ending,
knowing only where we are connected.

I thought that I had found the place where you live,
beating delicate wings on strong winds,
Coming down from your high places,
to taste of human life.

May that we meet on earth.
Be that gentle itch
Prompting my hands to reconnect
with their own skin.

I thought that I had found the place where you live,
reverberating through my quivering soul.
Enmeshed in the shimmering darkness,
Where all distinctions collapse.

May that I draw in to meet you.
Locating the wellspring
From which your wisdom flows.
Fortifying the bones
Of your people.

Today, the world has lost one of its greats.  Maya Angelou’s poems were the first that I remember hearing.  May she rest in the peace she so deserves.

Masculinity, Homophobia, and The Myth of the “Real Man”

The internet has exploded with information about Elliot Rodger since his shooting spree left 7 people dead (including himself) in Isla Vista.  For the most part, I’ve been keeping up with it, since UCSB is a place I hold close to my heart.  A lot of friends from high school went there and I managed to make some friends there while at UCSC.  Isla Vista holds some strange, if not fond, memories.

I’ve been following the different angles different news sites have been taking with this story waiting for this story to appear.  For those of you who didn’t click the link, the article from Pink News titled, “Fox News Psychotherapist: California Shootings Were Caused by ‘Homosexual Impulses'” tells us that Fox News has decided to reduce Rodger’s actions to those of a gay man, therefore a “lesser” man.  At one point in the video, this “psychotherapist” even says that “maybe he couldn’t even feel like a real man.”

I’m hardly surprised.  I’m also sick to my stomach.

Let me just say that I know that it’s not worth it to waste words on Fox News.  That said, I have seen this opinion floating around the internet in various forms, and wonder just how many people outside of the conversations about misogyny accept this as sound logic.  Those who follow Fox represent a significant portion of the voting population.  As much as I would like to dismiss it, I can’t.  It’s part of a larger problem with the ways we frame masculinity whenever events like this take place.

By turning Elliot Rodger into a gay man, they further uphold the “real man” standard by implying that gay men are not real men.  It plays into the American fear of gay men while keeping them outside of the boundary of “real.”

The Myth of the Real Man

Gay men are real men.  Trans-men are real men.  Cis-men are real men.  In fact, let’s drop the qualifier “real” all  together and just say that trans, gay, and cis men are just, simply, men.  While the male experience is not universal, the expectation to live as a “real man” is, and that pressure is rarely born out of realistic expectations.  We have made the “real man” into a myth that we pressure young folks into being, and punish them for not achieving.  Higher rates of depression and suicide are often experienced among gay and trans populations, where they are more than likely to be harassed for not meeting the standard definition of “real”.  Even if Elliot Rodger had been gay, it wouldn’t make him any less affected by the pressure of trying to be a “real man” and it wouldn’t make his crime any more despicable.

Violence is committed by “real” men each day.  To say that “real men don’t…” turns those literally real acts of violence into abstract ideas by ignoring the fact that literal real men do.  The #YesAllWomen hashtag is testament to the actions of real men.  Here it is in plain sight: men aren’t violent until they become violent.

Of course some dude will chime in with “Not all men” as his rally cry–that’s not the point.  Regardless of whether all or some men are committing acts of violence, enough men do so.  It’s possible that not all women have that fear.  The reality is that enough do.  Enough men make enough women question their safety.  Enough is enough.

Fellas, if we’re going to be involved in the discussions about misogyny, we have to get out of the mindset that there is some “real man” standard floating above the actions of everyday, embodied men.  It’s time to turn inward and talk about what it means to be men without assigning successes and failures to some ridiculous, hierarchical standard.  It’s time to let the myth die by looking at masculinity under a microscope to see both its beauty and its ugliness.  Examine it so that we may address those hurts caused by not “measuring up,” and to cultivate a version of masculinity that allows us to be our fullest selves.

My love and prayers are with UCSB and the families that lost their dear ones.

 

Photo Credit: http://hispeaceuponus.files.wordpress.com/2012/09/realest-man.jpg

The Friday Night Post #1

Hello!

I just wanted to let you all know what’s been up.  It’s been a while since my last post, and life shifted in many ways that required my attention.  I left in the midst of some really hard times and it’s been a struggle to keep up.  I had to think hard about everything I was doing and, naturally, some things got lost in the shuffle–this blog being one of them.  Now that I’ve finished my first year of grad school and have taken the time I needed to focus on those important shifts (which I will discuss more in later posts), I’m once again feeling that invincible spirit I had before I left California.  I’m excited to come back to this with energy and a renewed spirit.

I’ve come up with some format changes that will hopefully keep you as interested as they will keep me engaged.  I want to be posting more, but since there’s only one of me, I can’t commit to long posts every day.  My graduate student’s schedule will not permit that.  So, I will do one longish post each week and have some shorter posts throughout the week.  Here’s the schedule:

Sunday: Sunday Night Slowjam.  I have a deep affection for slowjams.  Seriously.  For whatever reason, I find them inspirational and moving.  They very well speak to the heart of the human condition.  Ok, that may be going a bit far.  If anything, they’re nostalgic and as fun as a merry-go-round.  I’ll post my favorites here on Sundays nights.

Monday: The Monday posts will follow the format of previous long posts.  Some Bible, some philosophy, some personal reflection.  I’ll do my best to mix it up.

Wednesday: Poem based on a lectionary text.  These will be short and sweet… or not sweet depending on the text.

Friday: Friday Night Post.  These will be more of housekeeping and accountability posts.  Don’t expect one every Friday.  I will make them as I have announcements that don’t quite fit with the other content.  They will always be labeled as “The Friday Night Post” with a number so they are easily identifiable.

Hopefully this will keep it fresh.  As always, I welcome your feedback, questions and suggestions. Get to me through the comments or the contact page.

Thanks for sticking with me ya’ll.  You make a guy feel special!

<3 Taj

 

Untitled

After each death, I realize how large of a gift every person is to this world.  We are each other’s gifts, and that is all that matters.  Why focus on things other than the people around us?  The ones in whom I find great joy, comfort, and everlasting love–they deserve my focus.  Instead, I focus on all the things that I *think* will make me a better person.  I work myself raggedly until all I can think about is shutting myself away from the world.  This is wrong, and in this moment, as I ache, I resent the world that praises me for doing this.

I learned about death at the age of 14.  Some of my friends had lost grandparents; I lost a friend.  She was taken violently, and that experience has marked every experience I’ve had with death since.  Car crashes, illnesses, suicides, even murders–all of these are lessons in death that have taught me more about living than anything else.   I have learned to seek out what is good and beautiful in the world.  To hold it close, and then to let it go.  I have learned to take the time to praise small fortunes like the first patch of daisies in Spring, or an excellent cup of coffee.  I have learned about reconciliation, to say that I’m sorry and to mean it.  More importantly, I have learned to say “I love you” and to mean it.  To look into the eyes of a person and see the humanity coursing in their pupils telling me a sad, beautiful story.  In this, I have learned to appreciate my life for all of its wondrously chaotic splendor.  To love all of the mistakes I’ve made that have lead me to be exactly who I am in this moment.  Through all of it, I have learned to be, and to pray, and to cry.  These are all skills that I need.

As I write this, I can feel sobs welling up in my throat.  It’s far too soon to have lost someone else.  I get to go through relearning all of these lessons again.  I get to remember that I’m never done learning them, and that after each death comes its own unique process.  What will this one bring?

RIP Josh.  I will write you an excellent song, my friend.

Out of the Deepest Depths: A Coming Out Story

Let him who would move the world first move himself”

-Socrates

One terrifying day in March of 2009, I kicked open my closet door and staggered out gasping for breath.  It was overwhelming.  I had uttered the words “I’m a transman” to the seminary I was planning to attend.  The next day I made two phone calls.  One to my brother in our hometown and one to my friend J who lived across campus.  They were two very different calls.  I asked my brother how he felt about having a little brother to which he said, “Yeah ok.”  That was about the best I could expect.  I knew he would be great about it.  He’s always had my back.  The call with J went something like “OHMYGOSHI’MFREAKINGOUT! CAN WE MEET UP RIGHT NOW??” J was a little puzzled, but agreed to meet me later in the day.

I remember the two of us lying on a grassy hill.  I turned to them (used as a gender-neutral pronoun; still one person) and asked if it gets easier.  They thought for a second, head cocked to the side with one raised eyebrow.  Finally, they settled on a one word response: “Sometimes.”  I didn’t know what that meant, and I don’t remember how they proceeded to explain.  I was spinning and a little nauseas from my day of new birth.  I needed to take a nap.

I came out as trans the same year that I decided to start down my path to ministry.  I conflate these two things.  As I grew deeper into my faith, I realized that I had to confront the deep, dark thing that kept me from connecting with people and with God.  It was the thing that made me feel depressed enough to want to try to take my life over and over. It was what tormented me through school, up until I found myself amidst a group of people who played with gender like it was something they performed. I felt God pushing me to tread those waters, always with a hand on my shoulder.  So I did.  I started to play and found my Self under a sea of flannel and fake facial hair.  The day I asked my friends to change how they address me was the day I can honestly say that I felt the presence of God, all terror, wonder, awe, and love.

Today in 2013, I understand the answer that my friend gave me upon that hill.  The main trans* narrative wants people to think that all of our problems are solved the day the we emerge from our closets.  This may be true for some people, but it wasn’t true for me.  This large step gave me the courage to confront the other things in myself that made me so depressed.  From this door, I could see the host of other doors that remained unopened.  With new found confidence in both God and myself, I started exploring.  Today, I can say that I don’t constantly want to tear off my skin.  That’s not to say that I don’t have bad days.  I have days where I want to throw things at people for the all the racist and transphobic things they say.  Most days, though, I feel ready to take the world head on.  I wouldn’t trade that for anything.

I have made the decision to be out.  A lot of guys do not, which is okay. I choose to be out because I know that my transness isn’t visible otherwise, though it marks my existence on this earth.  For me, it’s important to lift up all of the lenses with which I view the world to say that I exist despite my struggles.  I exist even though there is so much telling me to my face that I don’t.  I exist, and that is subversive, if I tell my story.

Here are some pieces of it.

Happy National Coming Out Day.

‘I Own MY Body’ (and Other Capitalist Stories)

The other day, I was having coffee with a friend.  We laughed and talked, and as our conversation took many turns, we found ourselves mucking through the subject of bodies.  I don’t mean bodies in a necromantic sort of way, but as a philosopher would talk about bodies.  The body in relationship to the Self.  The conversation took another turn when I mentioned a word that is so often used without thought: ownership.  What does ownership have to do with the body?  Is it a concept that should be in relationship to bodies?

At once, I defended my position, but now I’m not entirely sure.  I fancy myself a feminist so it’s hard to think about what it means to own my body without thinking about the direct opposite.   The concept of ownership has a negative meaning in this way: it is defined by what it is not.  To own something puts me in direct control over it, which implies struggle with another and eventual recognition.  I own my body because no one else does or can.  Others recognize that I own it, and therefore, it is solely mine.  In cases where recognition is not won, I do not own my body and another can take control.  (This is all Hegel right here)  Minorities and women do not own their bodies because they are still subject to dominance and control.  With this, ownership means freedom from dominance and control.

My body is not property.  I have family a few generations back for whom this was not the case.  They were very familiar with the concept of ownership because they knew that they were not in control over their bodies, which is something that is necessary to be considered a person.  After almost 150 years, black folks are still not free from domination.  I know that a routine traffic stop could easily turn deadly.  I fear for my life when I see a cop beelining towards me even though I don’t do anything to get her attention.  In those moments, I fear that I will not be recognized as an owner, but as a subject in need of correction (literally and figuratively).  In those moments, I fear the exertion of dominance over me.

The one reason I like the idea of “owning” my body is because it reconnects me with what my dysphoria keeps at a distance.  My mind and my body are so disconnected at times that my physical appearance is jarring in the mirror.  Less so now that I’ve undertaken physical transition, but before I started the process I ignored my body to the point of not being able to recognize it when I saw it.  At this point in my life, I’m reclaiming my body.  I’m fighting to own my body through the ability to recognize my body.   The concept of ownership, in this light, makes it seem as if my body as MY body is a quest where at the end I am free.  I like the idea of freedom.  On the other hand, “freedom” is also a loaded concept.

What would the world look like defined by concepts outside of economics and property?  If I weren’t concerned with “ownership” what would I think about?  I mean really… I go to school and work hard so I can own things.  OWN. THINGS!  Bodies are not things.  It seems as if they should just exist and merit respect by means of existing.  But respect is recognition and with recognition comes ownership.  With ownership comes power and with power comes… a number of things when used differently in context.

I am a man in a constant process of reclamation.  I think that’s why I’m drawn to use the word “ownership.”  I can’t abolish a term that I don’t own in myself.  So I have to own it, then destroy it.  It’s a step in a process towards liberation.  It’s not the end goal.  I am reclaiming myself as MY self so that eventually, I won’t need to say that I own anything.

I’ll just be able to be.

A Letter to a Queen

9/22/13

Dear Cassidy,

When I read the news that you had been crowned homecoming queen, I thought, “things are changing for the better.” This would have never happened at my high school, but I am about 10 years older than you are, and didn’t have the courage to transition in high school.  When I watched this video, I couldn’t help but to feel like I needed to say something.  My words may not mean much to you.  I am not 16 and trans.  I am not a MTF, and I’m well aware of the fact that MTFs often walk a harder path than FTMs.  That said, your story is part of my story in this grand gender narrative, and I feel like I would be doing an injustice to you by not reaching out.

Yes, it is hard, and the world can be a mean and cruel place.  The internet is even crueler.   People in the internet have anonymity that they don’t have in the real world, so they say cruel things without having to take the responsibility for what they have done.  That said, I am 10 years older than you, and have seen the world shift so dramatically in that short time towards more acceptance of trans folks. The people who went down this road before me (and you) paved the way for us to be who we are publicly.

The fact is that you ARE a queen and it seems like the folks at your school love you enough to see that.  You’re a brave, tender soul who, though strong, needs support.  You need to be held up sometimes, and that’s OK.  You have support, not just from the folks at your school, but from so many people who admire your courage.  Right now, it may seem like you’re only hearing from the idiots who are shouting loudly, but I’ve seen your story across the internet and I can tell you that it’s effecting a lot of people in good ways.

There are hard days.  There are days where none of it seems worth it.  There are days where getting out of bed is the hardest thing to do.  But there are days where the sun shines on all of the beautiful things, and you face the world with a lion’s courage. In 10 years, maybe it won’t be as big of a deal when a trans kid wins homecoming queen or king because you will have helped to change the world into a place where that doesn’t matter.

By all means, cry.  Feel your feelings.  When you’re done, go back to being the fierce girl that you are.  Don’t let the idiots win!  You have so much to give.

Solidarity and Grace,

Taj

Intentional Healing Through God

“Which commandment is the first of all?” Jesus answered, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and all your soul, and with all you mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’  There is no other commandment greater than these”

Gospel of Mark 12:29-31, NRSV

This is possibly my favorite passage in the Bible.  I love it because it sums the whole of the Christian mission into a few succinct lines that speak to the heart.  The first passage is pretty straight forward: love God with every fiber of your physical, spiritual, emotional, and intellectual self.  God is the one through whom all things happen.  I don’t mean this in a dualistic sort of way, where God is responsible for only the “good” things, thus leaving the rest to whichever name for evil you want to conjure.  I mean all things.  Of course, “all things” means something different to a cynic than it does to an optimist.  That’s not to sat that those are the only two kinds of people; those are just two examples.

I’m learning to be an optimist.  Since I started walking deeper into faith a few years ago, I find it difficult for me to justify my cynicism.  Each day I wake up, and notice that the sky is a different shade of blue or grey than it was the previous day, or that the leaves grow slightly more yellow as the season progresses.  These things are beautiful, and the plight of the world cannot take away from me the natural beauty of it. That said, I’m still learning and I have hard days too.

For me, the meat of this passage rests in the simplicity of “love your neighbor as yourself.”  I love this because it’s so simple, and often repeated, but one of the hardest things in the world to do: Love your neighbor as yourself.  This command is two-fold.  Love your neighbor and love yourself.   Why? Because both you and your neighbor are worthy of the love of God.  Period.

I’m learning to be an optimist by learning to love myself through the love of God.  Tonight, I tapped into the deepest places in my muscle memory where I store some of my worst memories.  As I sat holding my shoulders and crying the hardest I ever may have in my life, the things that ran through my head were the times in my life when I thought that God had abandoned me.  I remembered “good friends” in high school telling me that I couldn’t be a Christian unless I turned my back on myself.  Flashes of people telling me that they worried for my soul because I didn’t know the grace of God even though I was sure in my heart of hearts that God was rooting for me.  In those days, I was depressed, suicidal, and lonely.  These were themes that would repeat themselves up until I decided to medically transition (not to say that medical transition is for everyone who is trans* identified, just my experience).

These days, the muscles in my shoulders are tight from carrying all the weight of those years.  Tonight, I imagined all of it melting away and coming out of me as I held my hands to my shoulder.  It did in the form of tears.  They were tears of hurt, yes, but past hurts that needed to be washed away in a sea of healing.  I am trying to heal myself.  I think it is working.  Since I’ve relocated, I’ve been able to feel in my body where anxiety happens.  I am cognizant of my triggers and actively working through them in all the manifestations of my spirit.  I’m happy.  Adjustment is hard.  It always has been for me, but I know that the difficulty will make me stronger.  So now, I grow into the happy person that I’ve always wanted to be.  I can safely say that I love myself in that I am committed to keeping myself healthy so that I can be the best me possible.  Loving God has helped me to love myself.  Each day that I love myself a little more, I love God that much more.  It’s a cyclical relationship in which I am happy to take part.  Love is a journey.  I’m in it, going through it, fighting for it, and, often fighting with it.  Above all, I’m intentional about it.  I can’t go in to it hoping that I will maybe change someday.  I work for it so that I change every day.

Each day, I get a little stronger.  Each day, I get a little more me.  It’s–seriously–the best feeling in the world.