Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Transformers

I can't claim to know what it's like to be openly gay or transgender, but, I do think I understand to some degree the feelings that come with knowing that the standards/practices/expectations you're born into are "wrong" for you.

Or, more aptly, that you're "wrong" for not fitting into them.

I was raised in a Republican, conservative, Christian home, and, as a child, I embraced all of these. I believed as I was taught. It was comfortable.

But 'round about puberty - about the time that a child begins to question and reason for his/herself - aspects of these teachings started to nag at me.

I remember distinctly three events in sixth grade wherein what I'd been taught was discordant with what I felt in my gut to be "right" and "just." I didn't know it at the time, but these three events planted the seeds that would grow into my complete redefinition of self in my 20s and 30s.

Event 1 - My best friend was Jewish. I'd been taught anyone that didn't accept Jesus as their personal Lord and Savior was going to Hell. So frightened was I of her being condemned forever to damnation, that I acted in desperation to save her mortal soul - told her she was going to Hell.

You can imagine the fallout.

Her parents got involved.

My parents got involved.

The teacher got involved.

My friend's defense, when I said this to her, was that God knew her heart and would judge and forgive her accordingly. My parents/teacher response however was something along the lines of "Yes, we believe that, but you're not allowed to say it."

I don't like being told what I am and am not allowed to say.

I never have.

It's always gotten me into trouble.

But I especially didn't understand why authority figures in my life would want to silence me from speaking what I had been taught was the truth.

This registered on my hypocrisy and justice meters. And it also got me thinking about what my Jewish friend had said.

I thought about what I'd read in the Bible. I thought about how God accepted humanity prior to the birth of Christ - how those people (Noah, Moses etc) were all presumably in Heaven. So why the sudden cut off date? And what did that mean?

Like Mary, I "pondered these things in [my] heart."

Event 2 - I've always been told I am Native American on my mother's side.

My mom has pics of my great (maybe a second great in there, not sure) grandmother who was full-fledged Cherokee.

Having studied basic US history, I knew Native Americans had been in North America for thousands of years.

And Jesus came 2K years ago.

And there was no internet back then...

So...

"Mom, what about the Native Americans? They couldn't be "saved." They didn't know who Jesus was and didn't have any way to find out. What happened to them when they died?"

You can guess the answer.

I was PISSED.

I couldn't have been more than 12/13 years old at the time, but even at that tender age I knew that policy was COMPLETELY UNFAIR and I wasn't having it!

By that logic, either God was a fucking cruel asshole or what I'd been taught was wrong.

As I wasn't quite prepared to believe God was an asshole (I'd question THAT later), that left only one conclusion: what I'd been taught was wrong.

This was earth-shattering.

What else was I wrong about?

Holy crap...was everything I'd been brought up to believe a lie?

What was true and what wasn't?

What does the word "true" even mean?

Y'all - I was SHOOK.

But I began to question everything that no longer made sense.

I began to ask the hard stuff that the teachers couldn't answer during Sunday school. "You just have to have faith" was always the response. "That doesn't answer the question" - my retort.

Suddenly those waters that had felt so warm and calm in my childhood were changing. I could feel the temperature slowly rising, along with the tide.

Not only did this way of thinking not fit me anymore, but, if I stayed in, it might actually drown me or boil me alive...but WTF was I supposed to do about it?

Event 3 - At a very early age I sexually experimented with female friends. Just seemed the thing to do.

I told my parents about it, and they absolutely forbade me from engaging in such activity in the future.

I was so young when this first occurred, I didn't really understand why.

I just knew it was dirty and wrong and upsetting somehow, and therefore not to be done.

I refrained for some time, but, again, around puberty, I returned to the behavior. But this time I knew to keep it a secret.

The secret "came out" (yes, I know what I did there) in sixth grade, when the aforementioned "best friend" decided to tell the whole sixth grade class over some perceived slight.

Immediately I was both pariah and source of fascination.

I was stared out, spoken about in whispers, and also suddenly invited to hang with all the popular girls because...hell, I dunno.

Y'all, it was SO uncomfortable.

I didn't know which way was up or down.

Was I gay?

Was I going to Hell?

Should I ask forgiveness?

Would this be forever?

I mean, surely God made me this way?

Or was I being tempted by Satan?

Was Satan even real or did people just use him as a scapegoat for their own shitty behavior?

Was I engaging in shitty behavior? I mean, I wasn't hurting anybody... or was I?

WTF WAS GOING ON?

...

In the years that followed, one by one the convictions of my childhood fell away.

I was exposed to "forbidden" things that turned out to be some of the most beautiful and inspirational in my life.

I met gay people - good people - and I liked them.

Continued exposure to "difference" made me uncomfortable.

But not uncomfortable with the difference I was encountering - uncomfortable, instead, with myself.

...

I was raised in a Republican, conservative, Christian household.

But as the years passed I didn't identify with any of those things.

Each was like the boiling water with the choppy seas.

I was going to drown.

Or burn.

Or be strangled to death by a lifestyle that didn't fit.

Something had to give - I had to embrace my own change.

And so I have.

Today, I am an Independent, liberal Jew.

I'm married to a wonderful Jewish man and plan to stay that way, though I no longer see any shame in same-sex relationships or any call I may have or once had to them.

I no longer believe I - or anyone else - is going to Hell.

I don't think it exists.

I think Satan is more or less the name we've given that tendency within all of us to act selfishly and generally shittily.

I don't believe any faith - or absence of it - has it exactly right.

I believe human beings are capable of great and terrible things.

I'd like to be part of the great things and help prevent some of the terrible ones.

That's who I am.

That's the skin into which I "fit."

Today.

I reserve the right to change though.

I reserve the right to continue to grow, to continue to experience, and to continue to slough off those shackles that constrain me, even if they once felt comfortable.

And if those experiences lead me in a different direction than the one I am currently on, I reserve the right to change course.

Without fear of persecution - from myself or from others.

Without fear of condemnation - from myself or from others.

Without fear of hypocrisy, because growing and changing when faced with new experiences/information is how we learn.

Some will be born, live, and die subscribing to the labels under which they were born. Others must transform.

I proudly count myself among the transformers.

I can't claim to know what it's like to be openly gay or transgender, but, I do think I understand to some degree the feelings that come with knowing that the standards/practices/expectations you're born into are "wrong" for you.

And, for whatever it's worth, fellow transformers: I believe it is your right to make it, and yourself, right.

Whatever that means to you.

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