“(Trans)gressing Boundaries,” November 5th, 2017, with Jack Gaede
I wonder what strength has it taken for you to be you? What fences have you busted out of? What voices did you refuse to listen to? What was keeping you small? You might not know what strength it takes to be me, but what about you?
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Where are you in today’s story? What deceptive line of thinking have you subverted? Maybe you broke the power of a lie that had been holding you under its thumb. Maybe you used to tell yourself that you had to choose between happiness and health. Or maybe the choice was between being honest and being loved. Whatever the case, what does your life look now with those walls torn down? And which walls still need tearing down? Maybe some form of addiction is holding you captive. Maybe you are living with fear of the unknown or fear of the other. Or maybe you are just stuck in a routine that is slowly sucking away your spirit and your joy. Today is a day to celebrate the stories of people who have found their power and authenticity while swimming against the current. I hope you find resonance and respect difference when you encounter these stories of unique tenacity.
Growing up, I had been taught that homosexuality was not a legitimate or valid way of living life as a good Christian. It was made clear to me in no uncertain terms that being gay and being Christian were mutually exclusive, which was especially hard as I was coming to terms with my own gay identity. All I knew was an exclusivist and dogmatic religious community, and as a youth I did not yet have the imaginative power to imagine another way of being religious. I felt trapped. And it wasn’t just my religious community keeping me fenced in. Heteronormativity functions like many other dominant norms and sometimes oppressive regimes—sometimes silently and often effectively. It was not so much a flood of messages saying “straight is great.” It was more a steady and constant drip of subtle messages implying that gayness was off, funny, weird, unnatural, different, dangerous. And in the schoolyard, it was the worst thing you could be. Smear the Queer.
In so many ways, I felt fenced in! For we don’t all live in a progressively evolving, beauty-drenched world. Many of us on the margins live in an imperfect and complex world with many setbacks. I was told that my being was sinful. I was told that my innermost desires were demonic. Everywhere I looked, it seemed, there was judgment and fear of gay people. I was told on a consistent basis that what I knew most intimately about myself was disgusting. Not just less than beautiful, but the opposite of beautiful.
When I first came out as gay, I refused to go to Pride parades. I refused to be fabulous or flamboyant. I was so used to the fences that I couldn’t imagine living completely without them, so once I broke free from them, I fenced myself in. I made myself smaller, because I knew that the label that I had accepted for myself was so threatening to certain people. I still wanted so badly to be tame and normative in the midst of my queerness. “I’m just like you,” I claimed just a little too loudly, trying to hide the thing that made me so special and powerful.
You see…I was taught that sexuality was shameful, secret, private, and had nothing to do with my spirituality. In fact, in my study of the Christian scriptures, I found a verse where the apostle Paul admonishes men to marry women if and only if they burn with passion, but he makes it very clear that celibacy is the holiest option. I was taught that the holier and more spiritual decision was to deny the flesh, to ignore the body.
But something inside of me was calling me deeper, calling me to transgress this strict boundary between body and spirit. I knew there was a greater truth somewhere deeper, and I was committed to finding it. I began taking dance and yoga classes, longing to be more connected to my own body, and in these embodied activities, my spirit came alive. I wonder almost daily what would have happened to me if I hadn’t fought for this power and agency to heal my body-spirit divide. But this whole and integrated self did not bloom overnight. There had been so many impediments to growth. There was infertile soil. Droughts of denial. The weeds of self-hatred had almost suffocated me, yet still I grew. As my own sexuality was blossoming within me, and I was finally able to see it as the beautiful cherry blossom tree that it was, I saw that that my tree had grown so big that it had broken down the fences around it. They had tried to fence me in, and I even fenced myself in for a bit, but this cherry blossom tree just wouldn’t quit!
More than I knew anything else about God, Jesus, heaven, hell, or the afterlife, I knew I was gay. The belief that I held more passionately than the Nicene Creed was the belief that I was beautiful as I was and that I did not need to be ashamed, secretive, or apologetic about it anymore. This cherry blossom tree was here to stay.
I jumped fairly quickly to being a revolting queer and a radical faerie. I revolted against heteronormativity and rigid masculinity, and I embraced the power of my femininity, choosing to upend gender and fashion expectations. I started celebrating the controversy caused by my sexuality. I even went so far as to reclaim the word “faggot.” A term whose origin came from a bundle of sticks—often used to start a fire to burn queers, radicals, witches, and heretics. I got involved with some projects to reclaim gay slurs by creating beautiful, vivid, and color-soaked images to poke fun at and defang the sting of those slurs. My favorite is an image of a bundle of sticks bound together on a brightly colored dance floor: a faggot on a dance floor. In fact, I loved the image so much that I added flames licking up the bundle of sticks and tattooed it on my body. A constant and ever-present reminder of one of my favorite ways of being: a flaming faggot on a dance floor.
At this point, when someone calls me a faggot in an attempt to marginalize or demean me, I just laugh and thank them for the compliment. Because do you know how much strength it takes to be a faggot? To feel completely broken by the world, to feel at times like I should just give up, but instead to double down and say “Fuck no!” to any voice telling me that I am anything less than beautiful. This act of boundary-breaking takes guts. It takes tenacity. It requires a strong core of convictions, and it requires deep roots of resiliency. Some of my biggest heroes and inspirations are queer in some way. Maybe yours are too. May we live up to the legacy and the panache of the queer people who came before us.
And now, 13 years after breaking free from the fences that constrained me, I am confident that I can live and thrive in any climate and weather any storm. I am not invincible, nor do I pretend to be. I still need watering and pruning, but my trunk is strong and my roots are deep.
Some of you sitting here today are cisgender and straight and might not feel yourself represented here today. Well…let me just say two things. First of all, it is good and important to center the voices and stories of those on the margins, the queer, the non-normative. What a privilege it is for our community here to be made the richer through the expression and celebration of those among us with marginalized identities! And to be clear…my life is enriched by being here in a space where I know that I am fully embraced and welcomed in the complexity of my sexuality and where people across the gender spectrum are welcome not just to exist and survive but to express and thrive.
And secondly, I wonder what strength has it taken for you to be you? What fences have you busted out of? What voices did you refuse to listen to? What was keeping you small? You might not know what strength it takes to be me, but what about you?
May we know the strength of transgressing unhelpful boundaries. May we find the wholeness of our full selves. May we know the radical act of bridging our chasms of difference. And may we notice that our loving is a miracle. Make it so and amen.
Tags: boundaries, homosexual, transgender