Sunday, December 11, 2011

"The Bus" Stopped in Topeka

“The Bus” Stopped in Topeka: Along with Nate Phelps

"The Bus" played Off-Broadway (59E59 Theaters) in New York City for pretty much the month of October. An amazing story, cast, and crew bring to life a small town, a big church, and a bus – which serves as a rendezvous point for two gay teenagers. Nate Phelps is the estranged son of Fred Phelps (Westboro Baptist Church) who is now committed to raising awareness and bringing about change for members of the Lesbian, Gay, Bi, and Transgender (LGBT) community.

I have never been more moved by any experience in my life than to be a tiny part of the phenomenal presence of "The Bus", in our town. Topeka has shifted a bit more away from bigotry, and a bit closer to equality. The hearts and minds of those who were fortunate enough to be a part of this experience will be forever changed.

That Nate Phelps was here in Topeka, with us, made the experience perfect. For me, there is a great connection with Nate. We are both working to create a different world, me in my own little way, and Nate with his larger than life love for humanity. "The Bus" was just the perfect vehicle that put us in the same place, on the same two days, in Topeka.

In the play, there is a piece shared by "the little girl" (Julia Lawler) where she is speaking as the pastor of the Golden Rule Bible Fellowship, "Mr. Harry Deforge, what do we have up here that’s so threatening to you? Is it our new sanctuary? Our smiling faces? Our fellowship? Or is it simply because we shine?"

Shine is not the word I would first attribute to Westboro Baptist Church. Nor is it the word that I chose to attribute to Golden Rule. There is no explicit message about how the church feels about people who are LGBT. Each audience member is left to discern this and many other things own their own.

This viewer had little trouble imagining that the pastor and members of Golden Rule would have seen the LGBT community as not acceptable in the eyes of God. Accordingly, this viewer also had to reflect upon her own prejudices and exactly why she made this assumption, as well as many others in the course of the play.

This is an amazing part of the magic of this play. Every member of the audience will experience it quite differently. And if brave enough, examine ourselves in the mirror the play so capably places in front of everyone who is blessed enough to see it.

The play is not about Westboro Baptist Church. However, Jim Lantz (playwright and producer) expressed a desire to present the play as closely as possible to WBC, and thus, "The Bus" stopped in Topeka.

For me, as the chair of the Topeka chapter of Kansas Equality Coalition, I have come to know that Westboro Baptist is not the problem with Topeka. WBC is but the most visible symptom of a cancer that carves daily into the heart of our community.

Fred Phelps and Westboro Baptist have the courage to speak openly of their hatred for gays and lesbians. Hiding behind them, are the thousands of Topeka citizens who willfully discriminate against LGBT people, and claim righteousness in that "fact" that they are "not like" WBC.

These thousands of people are not the majority. Most Topeka citizens are in favor of LGBT equality. Unfortunately, most of them don’t vote.

To the teenager who has just been rejected by their parents for being gay, it matters little who is a bad as whom. It matters only that the people who are supposed to be there for them unconditionally, have failed to do so.

Does the hangman's noose swing differently based on who said what, or who did what? People die. Unable to continue down a path they see as impossible. At the hands of people who believe they are empowered by God to destroy another human being.

There is great value in having people who are willing to stand up for justice. Stand up to hate like Westboro Baptist Church spews into the air. I love that people are proud enough of our country to stand up to the hate and display American flags. I believe that they inspire others to stand up as well.

But true change comes from people who are willing to stand up before our elected leaders and share the horrors of discrimination. True change comes from allowing everyone to see our humanity.

It was truly an honor to meet Nate Phelps. Here is a man more courageous than I can imagine and stronger than anyone I know. He is willing to pick up the task that has been laid at his feet as an agent of change. I will always remember one thing Nate shared. The reason I will always remember is that I know it to be true. You must reach people in their hearts first, and then their minds. This is the exact description of the gift left by the play.

"The Bus" stopped in Topeka. Ian and Jordan, Harry and Sarah, and Sloat will always live here. The little girl has become a part of me, and the woman I strive to become. I will remember them all, the characters that they brought to life, and the people I have been privileged enough to get to know a bit.

Yes, "The Bus" stopped in Topeka. I will remember them the day we stand in front of the Topeka City Council, and achieve the end of legalized discrimination against our LGBT citizens. I will remember them indeed.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Fear and Courage in Brownback's Kansas

Let me begin by saying that you have already taken everything from me. I have nothing left to lose. I once said, "Fear becomes only a shadow in the light of nothing left to lose." I can say that, because I have lived there.

When the mighty governor of the state of Kansas flexes his muscles against an 18-year-old high school student, you have seen the ultimate act of bullying.

I was recently speaking with two intelligent and well-spoken Topeka area students about the policies Kansas Equality Coalition of Topeka was instrumental in passing. The Topeka 501 School Board added protections for LGBT students and staff. I was informed by these students, in no uncertain terms, that the new policies won't help because nobody stands up to bullying.

In the light of that conversation, I see no alternative than to stand up to Brownback's bullying of the student who tweeted, "Brownback sucks." And his bullying of the residents of Kansas Neurological Institute. And his bullying of women. And his bullying of the poor. And his bullying of LGBT Kansans.

There are only two pathways here. The first is to stand up to oppression. The second is to live in oppression.

The first time I told my story, in the safe confines of a high school Gay Straight Alliance, a transgender student came up to me, and hugged me, and said that I had changed her life. But what also happened was that she had changed my life.

It was in this moment that I could see what it really means to lose everything. And what it really means to have nothing to lose. And what I began to understand, was that the freedom of the spirit is the most precious of all possible possessions.

I have spoken publicly about my journey far more than a hundred times. Dozens of times, someone has shared with me that their life has been changed. I will never again be the same.

I have spoken in front of state legislators and city councils and school boards. In front of Baptist ministers and at national conferences. With strangers in parking lots across the state of Kansas. Is it courage? No, it's not courage. It's just not fear.

So, if the adult people in the LGBT community believe that I am doing what I do for them, it is not so. Neither do I do it for me. I do it for the young people. That they might not find the same world I found. Face the same desperate future I faced.

And so it is, that I still have nothing to lose. Not because I have nothing. I have more than I knew it was possible to have. Because what I have, can not be taken away.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Turning Circles

Turning Circles

In the beginning, I knew. I was born female. I was born into a male body. I don’t remember coming to this conclusion. I just knew. Things being what they were at the time, it never occurred to me that my situation was not truly mine, but a gift from a society that did not know, and did not want to know. Sadly, things are still not that much different.

In that “truth”, I tried to play by the “rules”, and the “roles”. Every moment of my conscious existence was an exercise in futility. A battle between who I was, and who I thought I needed to be. At times, the battle lines seemed to be drawn between me, and the God who created me.

For 48 years, I struggled. The woman on the inside of me lay dormant, like a seed awaiting the springtime. Unable to grow in the absence of light. And the woman on the inside of me fought for her very life. Forced into the shadows. Desperately yearning for the light. The ever increasing torment leading to a new truth: Death would come, and the pain would finally end.

When things became so bad that I just couldn’t take it anymore, I decided to pursue the woman of my soul. Enter the light. By the grace of God, through the love of many, in the moment that waited a lifetime, I was born. “God, bless your daughter, for the faith she has shown in you.” These are the words I heard in the moment of my birth, as Stephanie took communion for the very first time.

In the last three years, Stephanie has experienced life. She is no longer bound by the leashes of society. The tethers are cut by the need for the human soul to reach into the realm of truth, and the subsequent inability to ever return to a world of delusion and denial.

The truth. God’s truth. I am a woman. I did not become a woman. I have always been a woman. I stopped pretending to be a man. When I stopped pretending to be someone else, I began to discover the woman who was always there.

Today, my soul reaches into the unknown with the innocence of a child, and the faith that comes from having seen the difference between fighting God, and surrendering to God. There is no tomorrow. Only today. And in this day, if I breathe the air of womanhood, and I walk in the light, I live in my soul. See it shine.

I have been blessed with a gift. The same precious gift that most 3-year old girls have. It is mine. And I will keep it to myself until I find the one with whom I will share all of me.

In the meantime, I stand in the living room turning circles, twirling around like a little girl. For in my soul, this is who I am. After all, I have only been alive for a precious three years.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

The Godless Religious Right

The people who throw around hate in the name of God, do not know God. They do not represent God. They do not pray to God. What they are really praying to, is their own twisted mentality.

They pray for destruction of God's own creation. They might as well be praying for the destruction of all the world. For the destruction of God.

The notion that lesbian, gay, bi, and transgender people are not of God, is insulting to God. The religious right has placed hate where they claim God to be. Indeed, they have become godless in their pursuit of discrimination and judgement. Setting themselves up as the gatekeepers of Heaven. Telling God's own children that there is no place for them in God's love.

It is not God who fails us. It is people who assume the place of God who viscously attack us. Sin, I have heard it said, is putting anything between yourself and God. Perhaps a more egregious sin, is putting anything between God and someone else.

Yet, I must remember, it is not my place to judge them. On the other hand, I am not asking for their civil rights to be taken away. I am not claiming they will burn in hell. I am not saying that God doesn't love them.

I am asking them to stop pushing our LGBT children away from God. To stop pushing our LGBT children into suicide.

The religious right is godless. There is no other explanation. The time is come for the truth to be told.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

If I Won the Lottery

If I won the lottery, what would I do?

Would I buy a house? Yes, a big one.

Would I buy a car? Yes, a minivan or a small bus.

Would I buy new clothes? Yes, lots of them.

What would you do if you won the lottery? Would you spend money on houses, and cars, and clothes?

I would. But there is a little bit more to it than that.

I suppose I should begin at the beginning. After I found Metropolitan Community Church of Topeka, and thereby found myself, I also found that there were a lot of transgender people who need more help than I can provide. But I decided that maybe I could help some by being open about who I am, and trying to educate people about transgender issues.

Then, one day, this amazing lady, named Joyce Jenkins, came into my life. She was the new girlfriend of another amazing lady, Annette Billings. I was there when Joyce and Annette were married, and when Joyce died, far too soon after their blessed day. Joyce came to see me talk in the Topeka/Shawnee County Public library about my book, "My Long Walk Home - A Transexual Journey". She did that four days before she died. That's just the kind of thing that Joyce Jenkins did.

When Joyce and I met, we talked about the work I was doing to try to facilitate change for transgender people. She talked about the work she had done with the City of New York, helping people find solutions. Among the people she helped were the homeless transgender people of New York. She spoke with passion about the need for a place for them to go because the homeless shelters could not or would not properly accommodate them.

So if I win the lottery, I will buy a house. I will buy a bus or a minivan. I will buy clothes and lots of other stuff. I will put all this stuff, I will park my minivan, at the Joyce L. Jenkins Home for Transgender People (if Annette doesn't mind me using Joyce's name).

There are a lot of other things that the money could do as well. Scholarships for surgery. More extensive transgender education. Legal fees, the costs of therapy, name changes, and more.

If I win the lottery, I will buy a house. Maybe two.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

My Road to Feminism

Note: This blog is only my opinion, and is not intended to limit or devalue anyone's right to their own beliefs.

It never crossed my mind as I entered into physical transition, that my views would become so changed. Many of my core beliefs have been cast aside and replaced with completely new ones. In no arena is that more true than in my understanding of how our world is set up to sustain male dominance.

From advertising to the Bible, and from birth, we are programmed to believe this is the natural order of things. It is the ultimate brainwash. It is no more true than the idea that the sun rises in the west.

Let me be clear. I don't think all men believe they are superior to women. I don't even think that a lot of men believe that. I think that most human beings don't realize how significantly the world is set up to promte discrimination against women. The reason I think this, is because I have seen the world from both sides of the fence.

I have watched the value of my opinion become less as I am now seen as a woman. I have heard the words spoken in men's locker rooms and women's restrooms. I have found it necessary to examine the ways in which I participated, unknowingly, before I watched my status decrease in front of my very eyes.

I have become a feminist. Not the "I want to wear the pants" kind of feminist - if there is such a thing. The "I am not less valid today just because I live as a woman" kind of feminist.

My understanding of nearly everything has changed through my transition. My understanding of God is so totally related to my feminism. You see, I was one of those "guys" who frowned when a woman would say (about God), "or she or it", when she heard someone refer to God in the masculine.

It was simply true. The all powerful being just had to be male. In my studies of Social Work, this is called a "mechanism of oppression". Of course men are dominant. Of course men are more worthy. After all, God is a man too.

I simply can not believe in a God that is limited by gender anymore. I have come to understand that gender is a human construct, and a human limitation, neither of which are relevant to God.

Alas, I have become one of those women who say, "or she or it", when I hear someone refer to God in the masculine. And I occassionally see a man frown. How dare I question the natural order of male supremacy in the universe?

How dare I? How dare I? How dare I not?

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Heaven, but . . .

What would you like to know about Heaven? Will the people who have gone before us be there? Will there be chocolate? Will we have a physical resemblance to our human selves? I suspect that a number of people are interested in knowing how to get there.

Jesus is very explicit about this in Matthew 25. Feed the hungry. Give drink to the thirsty. Welcome strangers. Clothe those without clothing. Care for the sick. Visit the imprisoned. In particular, the marginalized.

The similarities between the Pharisees of Jesus' day, and the religious leaders who persecute LGBT people today, are so striking that it truly leaves no room for argument. What we as Christians often fail to see, is that these people (the Pharisees and the persecutors) are perhaps the most marginalized of all of God's children, for they are truly separated from God.

So, what does it all mean?

My task is not to respond in kind. My task is to respond with kindness. Any attempt at forcing another human being to change their heart is vain, misguided, and egotistical. Hearts are changed when a person allows another to see God at work in them.

Matthew 5:16 says, "In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your {Creator} in Heaven." My task is not to tell them what to believe, but rather to allow them to see how what I believe is of the light.

How do we get to Heaven? Open the door for someone else.

What will it be like? More amazing than I can possibly imagine. From I Corinthians 13 - "Now I see but a poor reflection, then I shall see face to face." And I do think there might be chocolate.