My #MeToo Story

My #metoo story is almost nothing, which is why I’ve never talked about it. I know women who have dealt with significant trauma from unwanted sexual advances, and I’m not traumatized at all. (For real. There are plenty of traumas in my life, but the following story is not one of those.) But I feel like the story still has some merit, for the lessons it taught me.

I performed in all of my high school musicals. One year we staged Grease and I was cast as Rizzo. It was super fun. She’s an awesome character and even though I was The Worst Dancer (OMG, so bad), I had a blast doing it. Of course, if you’re familiar with the show, Rizzo is pretty “easy”, so there was some stage kissing with the guy playing Kenickie. I knew that when I got the role, and that was fine. For all of the rehearsals and most of the shows, it was just stage kissing. We were supposed to be giving each other hickies, so we just buried our faces in each others’ necks and that was it. Perhaps not the most convincing acting, but it did the job and for an easily embarrassed high schooler who did not get around much, it was plenty.

However, the final night of a show was always the “prank night.” I don’t know when that became a thing – long before I was there, I’m sure. So I also knew that on the last night all of that fake kissing would be “real.” I hoped that it might not be, but was definitely prepared for that.

And as per expectations, kissing happened. I didn’t fight it because it was just tradition on the last night of a show, and nobody wants to the the person who pushes back against tradition.

Please know, I don’t hate the guy who played opposite me. He didn’t grope me, he didn’t use this as an excuse to try anything beyond the show, he didn’t hurt me. I don’t feel traumatized by this event. It didn’t make me distrust men, it didn’t make me feel weird about kissing later, it didn’t make me hate sex. There were no lasting repercussions as a result of this event. It was just two people kissing because it was closing night and that’s what happened on closing night.

Ultimately, I think it felt almost mutual because it was expected. We both had our roles to play, and that’s just what we did.

But why did adults think that was acceptable?Why did they treat something intimate as a joke? Why didn’t someone say, hey, you shouldn’t force your tongue into someone else’s mouth? And you don’t have to let someone kiss you if you don’t want to?

I have been following the allegations against Brett Kavanaugh closely over the weekend. I think Dr. Christine Blasey Ford is tremendously brave for risking so much to be honest about her experience. And I am so sorry that her honesty is being questioned by the same people who so often claim to want to protect women through nonsense bathroom laws that hurt transgender individuals. It sickens me to read tweets that take an attempted rape and reduce it to teenaged folly. To see mostly men suggesting that it’s just the way men act when they’re 17 and women should just move on. To question why a woman would bring something up decades after it happened.

I’m sickened, but I’m not surprised.

I’m not surprised because when someone kissed me without my consent, adults just laughed about it. Their inaction told me that traditions and expectations had more value than my body. That saying no would make me less fun, less a part of the group.

Both of us had roles to play. He was supposed to be the aggressor. I was supposed to submit to that aggression. It was, for the most part in this case, pretty harmless. But the lessons were not. Men don’t have to be aggressors. Women don’t have to passively allow men to touch them in ways they don’t want to be touched. Tradition does not outweigh agency.

Adults SHOULD NOT create a space for this, or excuse it when it happens. And they shouldn’t excuse it 35 years later.

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Posted in feminism, Politics, Writing | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

No Debate

Photo by Kristina Tripkovik

I’m having a bad day.

I can’t stop thinking about little Jamel Myles, the nine year old boy who killed himself a few days ago after he was bullied for coming out as gay.

He. Was. Nine.

I can’t stop thinking about his mother. No awkward middle school picture. No first crushes. No first dates. No prom. No wedding. No grandchildren. No complaints that he doesn’t call enough. Nothing. Just a grave.

All because some small-minded, fear-filled people couldn’t stop and see him specifically, and gay people generally, as people. No, they’re just problems to be conquered. Kids absorbed that ideology and told their classmate to kill himself, AND HE DID.

And it’s hitting me today, because yesterday a student got up in front of one of my kids’ classes and delivered a transphobic story to the applause of other students in front of my trans kid. They had to sit there, listening to trash about them and then hear other students applaud that trash.

I think of Jamel. Who was excited to share more of himself with his classmates. Whose mom did everything right. Who still couldn’t take the pain of unrelenting bullying and killed himself.

You may be sitting there thinking, “I’d never tell a gay or trans kid to kill themself! I’d never openly mock them!” And I believe you. I believe that you probably wouldn’t be like people in this video who suggested cutting off a 12 year old’s trans girl’s penis because she to used the girls’ bathroom. I believe that you believe that you can love the sinner and hate the sin and that no one gets hurt that way.

But what is your response to the bathroom debate? Do you think “they” should be forced to use bathrooms that correspond to their genitals? Do you use the correct names and pronouns, i.e., the names and pronouns you have been asked to use? Do you vote in ways that allow people to be fired for being gay, in ways that prohibit gay people from adopting, in ways that ban transgender military personnel from serving?

Because those actions and words chip away at worth, too. They tell kids, yes, even as young as nine, that their lives have less value than their straight or cisgender classmates. They tell kids, yes, KIDS, that they should be alone, that they are not worthy of your respect. They tell kids, kids made in the image of God, that they are a sin.

And you can’t, as others have tried to tell me and my kids in the face of the abuses they have endured, simply claim that it’s a difference of opinion.

My kids’ names aren’t up for debate.

My kids’ pronouns aren’t up for debate.

My kids’ sexual preferences aren’t up for debate.

My kids’ value is not up for debate.

Their lives are important to me. I hope they can be important to you, too.

Posted in Writing | 1 Comment

Doing the Unstuck

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Let me start by saying that if you haven’t watched Hannah Gadsby’s Nanette on Netflix, do what you can to fix that as soon as possible. It is one of the most powerful, life-changing pieces of art I’ve ever seen. Honestly, she has done something spectacular with this show, and I believe all of us can learn something from it. I will also say that if you haven’t watched it, I will be talking about it in this post, so there are some minor spoilers ahead.

The show is largely about Gadsby’s decision to quit comedy. I’m unclear about how long-term that decision is, but it does appear to be an actual choice that she’s making. One of the reasons she gives for making this decision is that she feels like she is arrested in the way that she has told her coming out story. She came out as a lesbian in a country where being gay was a crime until 1997, and didn’t have a great experience. She made a name for herself telling that and other stories where her identity as a gender non-conforming and gay woman were the punchlines.

She goes on to say that she now has a great relationship with her mom, but that doesn’t make for good comedy. Her mom responding in a negative way allows for better tension and release in laughter. But telling only that part of the story has left her with residual self-hatred, because in telling that story over and over, she has crystalized that moment of shame. She is arrested because she has told the bad part of of her story so many time.

As a writer, it’s so easy for me to want to write about the parts of my story that might draw more interest and more clicks. Write about the shame that surrounded me when I committed adultery. Write about the loneliness of being kicked out of a church. Write about the fears of raising a bunch of LGBTQ kids. Write about the grief of losing my son.

Sometimes I wonder if I have been having trouble writing because I’ve written a lot about those things and I’m getting stuck. Stuck in shame, stuck in fear, stuck in grief. Not necessarily in my life, but here, on the page. Feeling like I still need to tell every possible bad feeling I have experienced until I have atoned enough to move on.

Those are all true things. They are all part of my story, and I will revisit them from time to time, no doubt. But I want to explore now as well. I want to tell stories about being in a church that accepts me. I want to tell stories about my husband picking up all of the slack when I was sick with bronchitis for three weeks. I want to tell the stories about reminding my trans kids to put their busted breast form into the trash instead of leaving a boob sitting on the dog’s crate. There is humor and acceptance and love in my life and when I just write about the hurts in my past, I don’t allow myself to fully participate in the present.

Plus, the story of finding random body parts in your living room really is worth reading about.

P.S. The title is my nod to being a Gen X’er who loves The Cure. Congrats to those of you who got it.

Photo by SHTTEFAN on Unsplash

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What Was Lost

The question caught me off guard.

I went to Wild Goose this year without actually going to Wild Goose. A rotating group of friends have been renting a house near the festival for the past few years, and people come in during the weekend either to present or to attend the event or just visit with people they can’t see often. This year, I was in the last group. Just a tag-along, there to share a few meals and a few laughs with friends I seldom get to see in person.

I had just put a cake in the oven and was sitting down with a drink in my hand, and Jen Hatmaker asked to know more about my story. I started with the same story I’ve been telling for the past few years. Had an affair. Got pregnant. Had a stillborn son. Lost my mom to ALS. Have some trans kids. Got kicked out of a church. I’m pretty comfortable talking about it, as one of those open-book, over-sharing types.

But then she asked me the question that has had me spiraling for the past few weeks. The question that I wasn’t expecting.

“What did you lose in all of that?”

I was completely taken aback. As far as I know, no one has ever asked me that in the five years since everything in my life changed. I guess most people already have an answer for it. I lost my marriage of nearly 2 decades. I lost the trust of my kids for a while. I lost two churches. I lost my son. It was a season that was so filled with loss that I couldn’t really see anything BUT loss.

I stammered out some kind of answer about losing the ability to repent, because that’s not always the most obvious when I talk about that 18 month stint. But the truth is, I didn’t want to say out loud what leapt into my mind when she posed that question.

I lost writing with confidence.

Oh, there have been flashes of it in the past five years. I have written some things that remind me of the writer I was before. I’m proud of the work I did for Embracing Grief. I feel good about some of the pieces I’ve written about parenting transgender kids. I think I’ve been honest about being in a second marriage.

But most of what I’ve written in the past five years has been timid. It’s been apologetic. It’s been weak.

And no, that’s not the biggest or worst thing I lost. However, because it wasn’t the most important loss, I treated it like it was an unimportant loss. I let other big, important things fill that loss, and pretended that it didn’t hurt that much.

It hurts that much.

Enough that when I acknowledged to myself my lie to Jen, I made myself have a hard conversation with one of my best encouragers, Matthew Paul Turner, about how I could find my way to writing again. And when he told me that I just needed to carve out time for myself to write, and that I needed to scare myself with my honesty, I cried for fifteen minutes. Not because what he said was something that I had never considered before, but because I knew I haven’t been that honest in a long time. I’ve used the excuse that I don’t want to tell stories that belong to my kids or my ex or my family of origin, but the truth is, I’m just scared. Telling details about life is easy. Talking about what those details mean is hard.

Just this week another friend, Nish Weiseth, talked about getting back to blogging. Back to just writing for the joy of it. Back to stories. Back to something that may or may not have a point.

I miss that. I miss sharing my life in words.

So I’m going to do what Matthew suggested. I’m just going to write. It might be messy. It might be boring. It might not be important.

But it’s important to me. Finding what I lost is important.

Posted in Writing | 4 Comments

A Tale of Two Franklins

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“But the God of the Bible says that what one does in private does matter. Mr. Clinton’s months-long extramarital sexual behavior in the Oval Office now concerns him and the rest of the world, not just his immediate family. If he will lie to or mislead his wife and daughter, those with whom he is most intimate, what will prevent him from doing the same to the American public?” Franklin Graham, 1998

“…there’s such bigger problems in front of us as a nation that we need to be dealing with than other things in his life a long time ago. I think some of these things — that’s for him and his wife to deal with… I think this thing with Stormy Daniels and so forth is nobody’s business.” Franklin Graham, 2018

Talking about infidelity is hard. Back in the day, I had a lot of Big Thoughts about it. Thoughts about what kind of people commit adultery. Thoughts about how we should treat people who cheat. Thoughts about what forgiveness looks like after an affair. And I’ll be honest, they weren’t always very charitable.

And then I was the one embroiled in an affair. I was the cheater. I was the adulteress.

Some of my views have changed. I always thought that I was exempt from having an affair, that I was way too good to make that decision. I know now that avoiding an affair requires more than being good, but also being intentional. It means working on your marriage. It means recognizing that divorce can happen. It means being willing to be happy.

But more than simply talking about avoiding affairs, I have thoughts about the aftermath of an affair, and what infidelity means when you have a public presence.

I’ve read through the first article from Franklin Graham, linked above. In it, he eschews the idea that one’s private actions are not of public concern, particularly when one is in a position of power. He said that President Clinton could not use doublespeak and that forgiveness is available to those who are repentant.

I’ve also listened to the interview linked above where Graham says that President Trump’s affair with Stormy Daniels is nobody’s business, and that America (no mention of himself) was wrong to go after President Clinton back in the day.

The truth is, even if you’re someone who is seemingly without shame like Trump, an affair coming to light is embarrassing. A secret that you don’t want out is no longer under wraps. You feel better exposed and you know that exposure hurts people that you probably care about.

And if someone you like or admire is caught in an affair, it’s natural to want the best for them. To want to cover their shame, to erase that part of them that is hard to like or admire. So moving from a position that included “what one does in private does matter” to a position that says an affair is “nobody’s business” is completely understandable switch for Graham.

As someone who has had her private sins made at least somewhat public, I want to believe the idea that it’s nobody’s business. I want to believe that what’s private should stay private. I want someone to give me a mulligan and pretend that it never happened.

But I believe that 1998 Graham is the right one. Not the blatant partisan politics driving the statement, but the statement itself.

Because when I am forced to acknowledge my choices and the way that they hurt others and myself, I am able to find healing. Repentance and forgiveness help us and strengthen us. Bringing what is hidden to light allows us to face shame and overcome it. Acting with honesty after dishonesty allows us to begin the process of restoring trust.

When we say that these things need to remain hidden, need to be passed over, need to be ignored because they’re nobody’s business, we deny people the opportunity for healing. When we offer people judgment free spaces to be honest about their mistakes, we offer hope to those who have had the same experiences, and may prevent others from making the same detrimental choices.

Public people have a unique opportunity to teach when they are successful, but also when they stumble. Seeing our leaders model honesty, humility, and repentance in the face of their embarrassing secrets allows us to see the strength that is inherent in vulnerability. Denying leaders those opportunities by sweeping them under the rug or issuing mulligans keeps all of us from growth. It may seem like we’re trying to avoid shame, but it amplifies shame for many.

Franklin Graham was right to laud his father’s consistency in his private and public life. And if he wants to be a friend and spiritual advisor to President Trump, he would expect the same.

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Reflections on Why Christian 2018

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Growing up, my sisters and I spent many long days at my grandparents’ house. We would bang out “important” letters on the old Underwood typewriter. We would play dress up with clothes Gram had, making up little plays to entertain the adults. We would swim in the pool in the summer, jump in piles of leaves in the fall, play “cars” in the spring (a game where each person picked a color car and we’d see who saw ten of their color first), make snow angels in the winter.

One of my favorite things we did was to hide under the steps to the basement with an old tape recorder and leave messages for each other. My sisters usually left shorter messages, but mine would be epic. Long and usually filled with a lot of religious speak. Because when I was a little girl, I really wanted to be a pastor when I grew up. I loved Jesus, I loved preaching, it made sense.

I don’t remember who told me I couldn’t be a pastor. Maybe a parent? Maybe my own pastor? Maybe I just gleaned it from the culture around me? I went to a denomination where women weren’t (and are still not) allowed to be ordained. Our particular church didn’t allow female members of the congregation to vote on issues put before the church. Women couldn’t lead mixed adult Bible studies. A man who cooked at the camp I went to every summer was chided by a visiting pastor for doing “women’s work.” So maybe no one had to tell me I couldn’t be in authority over men. Maybe it was just how things were and I figured it out.

When you don’t see women in positions of authority, you can start to think that women don’t deserve positions of authority.

By the time I reached young adulthood, I had fully embraced that world-view. Women shouldn’t be ordained. My first vows included the word “obey.” I don’t know if I was ever a model submissive wife, but I could spout the party line with conviction enough to make up for any misgivings I might have had.

The truth is, I had a lot of misgivings. I never could understand why our church thought the Bible was literal about women being silent, but didn’t require women to have long hair or wear head coverings. It struck me as odd, considering both were New Testament commands, authored by the same man. It didn’t seem very consistent. Why did some rules about women apply, but not others?

This tension between what I said I believed and what I actually believed gnawed at me. Gnawed at me until it had bored a hole in my soul where it could sit comfortably, where the cognitive dissonance was tolerable. Until one day when I said that it was stupid, that of course women were called to be pastors, that of course wives were equal to their husbands in every way, that of course we should burn down the patriarchy.

But in the midst of that personal spiritual revolution, I stayed in churches that taught the inferiority of women. Oh, they would never frame it that way. There would be talk of the value of everyone, and specific roles that men and women played. Talk about protection and covering. But it all boiled down to the same thing. Anatomy trumped equality. And so that little hole inside of me continued to exist, because even if I believed something different than what my church taught, I was still immersed in that theology. I was the one defying the rules. I was the one who was wrong, or rebellious, or heretical, or whatever. And since I was a woman in defiance of men, it still managed to ping that place in me that had half believed in male superiority and it left me with just a twinge of doubt. Just a dash of unease.

I am no longer in a church or denomination that teaches a gendered hierarchy. But my church still has two male pastors. Most of the people in front of the congregation on a given Sunday are men.

Please hear me. I love and appreciate these men. They have played a critical role in my ability to attend church at all. They are unabashed voices for justice for the oppressed of all kinds. They bring words of grace and mercy and compassion and truth and back them up with their actions. I am proud to be a part of this church.

But that little space for tension still exists. Despite the possibility for a female pastor in my denomination, my practical experience is still that of a male perspective, of male leadership.

Attending Why Christian forced me to face some of the discomfort to which I have grown accustomed. One after another, ordained women of all stripes – queer, straight, black, brown, indigenous, cis, trans – all gave sermons. All spoke words of truth and justice and equality. They showed, without equivocation, that women are called and ordained, not only by churches, but by God, to be bearers of the Good News.

And it was hard.

Not because I believed it was wrong, but because it forced me to believe it was right. The truth that combated the lies I had been told as a little girl, and that I later spewed from my own mouth, was directly in front of me. It forced me to repent of my unbelief in a God who truly calls ALL to serve in exactly the capacity to which they are equipped. It brought me face to face with the truth that women are not merely theoretically “allowed” to lead, but that they are doing the work, regardless of anyone’s permission-giving. It forced me to face head on that cognitive dissonance and really start to expel it in a meaningful way.

I’m still processing a lot of it. I’m thinking about that little girl with the tape recorder and wondering who she might be today if she hadn’t been told that women didn’t mean as much to God as men did.

I guess to find out, this 43 year old woman needs to work on believing it.

 

 

Photo by Grant Whitty on Unsplash

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I Can’t Agree to Disagree on the Nashville Statement

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Another day, another back and forth between Christians about LGBTQ people.

Yesterday, a group of evangelicals released a statement about sexuality called the Nashville Statement. It has everything you’d expect. Condemnation upon condemnation for LGBTQ people and those who affirm them laid out in 14 neat articles.

And it was met with strong words. Nadia Bolz-Weber’s church released The Denver Statement. The folks over at The Liturgists released a response. GCN posted a reflection. LGBTQ Christians and allies have been vocal about their opposition to this way of thinking.

In the midst of all of this tête-à-tête, I saw someone who sides with the Nashville Statement ask a Denver Statement person if there was a way the Nashville folks could disagree about this issue that was acceptable to the Denver folks.

That’s the crux of it, I think. Can we, as people of faith, have an “agree to disagree” view on sexuality and gender expression?

I’ve thought about this question for years. And the more stories I hear from LGBTQ people, the more I think the answer is, “No.”

I haven’t always felt this way. When I center the thoughts on my own journey toward affirmation, I want to find grace for the intolerant. I know at least a little of what they believe because there was a time when I believed it too. And honestly, I don’t love condemning past me, because I know that I was trying to be loving.

Here’s the thing. I wasn’t loving.

No, I wasn’t spewing hate. I wasn’t shouting epithets and slurs. I wasn’t banning folks from churches or even pushing to deny equal rights. I probably didn’t directly contribute to LGBTQ suicide or homelessness.

But I was okay saying that it was sinful to want to be with someone of the same sex. I was okay saying that gay people should probably not marry, but just choose to be alone. I was okay suggesting that love wasn’t really love and that some kinds of love were more righteous than others. I was okay suggesting that there was an inherent flaw in LGBTQ people that made them less valuable, less deserving of love, less important to the Church.

When I focus on the way those actions impact the LGBTQ community at large and the LGBTQ Christian community specifically, how can I find a way to just brush that off? How can I see that as a mere difference of opinion? How do I just shake my head and move on to something else?

The question behind the need to agree to disagree is, “What is an acceptable level of homophobia I’m allowed to display without making you think I’m a bad person?”

We see it with racism. We see it with sexism. We see it with islamophobia.

We want to keep thinking and teaching what we already think and teach, and we don’t want people to tell us that what we’re thinking and teaching hurts people. We want to approach these as simply theological issues and ignore that at the heart of every issue is a person.

But I’ve sat with my child in an emergency room after a suicide threat. I’ve watched people lose their kids to suicide. I’ve watched friends struggle with significant bouts of depression. Things like the Nashville Statement aren’t simply theological positions, they’re words that wound, words that kill.

If you agree with the Nashville Statement, I don’t think you’re a monster. I don’t think you’re out actively abusing LGBTQ people. I know that you probably have a gay cousin or co-worker or friend who you get along with just fine.

I know, because I was you.

At some point, though, we have to look hard at people, not theology. We have to engage empathy. We have to decide if hurting people is okay in the pursuit of theological correctness. We have to decide if we are okay with the fallout from our positions. We have to decide if we want to feed the hungry or heal the wounded on the Sabbath. We have to decide if we want to pluck out eyeballs or forgive.

But I’m here to tell you, I’m not going to just agree to disagree if you support words that harm the LGBTQ community. I won’t stay silent when you relegate LGBTQ people to a theological position. I won’t back down when you embrace ideology that casts LGBTQ people as sinners and second-rate humans.

I won’t agree to disagree, not because I think you’re bad, but because I think my LGBTQ friends and family are good.

 

Ming Jun Tan

Posted in LGBTQ | Tagged , | 4 Comments