About a Boy

About a Boy

Ryan called us late in the summer. He did his best to mask the urgency and fear in his voice, but we knew right away that something was wrong.

He told my husband that things weren’t safe at home, and that he needed a place to stay. It was all we needed to hear- we told him to come and stay with us as long as he needed to.

This boy- my sixteen year old cousin- he is radiant. I love him so much. Hearing that fear in his voice literally broke my heart. I knew what it was about.

Ryan is sweet, smart, and funny. He loves his cat, Noodle, scary movies, and staying up late. He and I can destroy a bowl of guacamole in 2 minutes flat, and we always pick each other’s cards in Cards Against Humanity. He writes poetry, is an activist on Twitter, and likes making films. This is his Junior year of High School.

Ryan is also transgender, which basically that means that when he was born, Ryan had all the parts we typically associate with being female. But his inner self, his identity, his personhood- that’s all boy, all the way. By coming out as Trans, he’s both publicly and privately making peace with his most essential truth, and moving towards it in a healthy way.

Being transgender also means that world is a much scarier place for Ryan to navigate than it was for me as a 16 year old. Everyday, Ryan interacts with people who deeply misunderstand and fear him- parents, teachers, peers, and strangers. Coming out literally fractured the fault lines of Ryan’s life: he’s been the victim of domestic abuse, and is currently in the long, uncertain process of custody transfer from his bio mother to foster parents. He was recently forced off of his school bus by the driver because he is trans. Some of his teachers still refuse to call him “he,” humiliating him in front of his classmates.

And still, my baby cousin chooses to face this world with patient hope and optimism. He wants to educate people rather than bite them back with hate. He wants to build bridges instead of blocking the world out. I’m really proud of him for being so courageous- I just wish he didn’t have to be.


As he slept in the guestroom that first summer night, exhausted from the events that brought him to our door, I paced the kitchen nervously. I stocked the fridge with sweet tea and cheese sticks (his all time favorite) and my thoughts darted between prayer, anxiety, anger and relief. I wanted so badly to be able to wrap him in maternal wings; to shield him from the ugliness and ignorance of the outside world.

This had been the summer of the bathroom debates. Conservatives all across the country were protesting Trans people’s right to use the bathroom that matched their gender identify. Folks took to social media to announce that they were boycotting Target because it had inclusive bathrooms. Men expressed fear for the safety of their daughters, weaving  hypothetical worst case scenarios which loudly insinuated that trans people were predatory and perverted. I saw people on my own timeline- some of them pastors– liken being transgender to drug addiction, disease, and mental defect. I saw videos of religious protesters waving bibles in the air, screaming about the disintegration of American family values.

It was tragically ironic to me, because the bibles they held up in defense of their bigotry didn’t actually contain a single passage condemning being transgender. Their bible do contain, however, the story of Jesus: who told us to love our enemies, embrace the outcasts of society, defend the weak, refrain from judgement, and care for the vulnerable.

You would be hard pressed to find a more vulnerable, marginalized group of people in our society than trans youth.

Transgender suicide rates are staggering: the suicide attempt rate for the general population is 4.6 percent; compare that to 40 percent among Trans people. For Trans teens, it’s worse; hovering right around 50 percent.  Hear me- HALF of all trans youth internalize a message of  shame, self hate, and exclusion to the point that they kill themselves.

It’s worth pointing out that calls to transgender suicide hotlines doubles in the wake of the bathroom debates. Culture wars have their casualties. When we choose to humiliate, dehumanize, and dismiss an entire demographic of human beings, there are consequences. Our words have power.


Look: I know it’s tempting to view our world in terms of strict categories: boxes of good and bad, black and white, true and false. Doing so gives us a sense of security, comfort, and control over our environment. But insisting on these sort of strict binaries leaves little room for the incredible complexity of the human soul. It can be used to downplay the validity of each unique human experience, and as a crutch to keep us from truly listening to one another.

The truth is that human gender and human sexuality are not these rigid, binary categories we they are.

Whenever I want to understand the science behind something, I turn to the writings and podcasts put out by “Science Mike” Mike McHargue. One night, Ryan and I stayed up really late our living room couch,cuddled up and listened to an episode of  The Liturgists podcast in which Science Mike broke down some of the misconceptions we have about gender identity:

“Biologically speaking, these clear categories or male and female, straight and gay- they don’t exist. The fact is, the scientific picture backs up the ones we marginalize the most. Biology, neuroscience, even DNA all reinforce the idea that our popular conceptions of gender and orientation are simplistic at best, and outright harmful to come people at worst.”

He explained that during human embryonic development, DNA, hormones, and base tissue interact to create what we typically associate with a baby boy or baby girl. He was careful to clarify that “you’re talking about the same base tissue that becomes either labia or a scrotum, ovaries or testicles, a clitoris or a penis. In most cases, you get a baby boy or  a baby girl in a way that appears to fit a gender binary. But it doesn’t always happen that way.”

“In fact, about 1 in a thousand children born are gender ambiguous, which means that modern trained scientists and medical professionals, with all the equipment we have today, cannot make a clear determination of whether that child is male or female… There are some boys with x chromosomes, which is what you associate with women, and there are girls with an xy chromosome, which is what you associate with men.”

So basically, none of this is cut and dry. Not biologically, not physiologically, not emotionally, mentally, or spiritually. Human beings are remarkably complex, and when Trans people talk about their experience of their own life and their own identity, it is scientifically valid, and you have no grounds to dismiss it.

I’ve often heard people try to dismiss Trans people’s experiences by saying “Well, I just think God knew what he was doing when he created male and female.”

To which I would ask, did God also know what he was doing when he created millions intersex people, who are quite literally neither male nor female? Is not the existence of gender ambiguous people a challenge to this construct you’re so desperately clinging to?

 

The truth is that God does not create throwaway people. He creates people in his image, on purpose, wonderfully. God knew what he was doing when he created Trans people, too. Despite what he’s been told, there is nothing wrong with Ryan.

We get must get past this in order to do better for our transgender youth.

We must do better for our trans people, because they deserve to live in a society where they free from the threat of violence.

We must call for trans rights, because people’s lives are on the line.

We must reject fear, reject silence, and embrace humility, for the sake of the gospel, because Jesus told us to love people and to seek justice.

We must create a better world.

Signing off now. Going to run through haunted houses with Jake and Ryan, stay up late, and hug him still he’s sick of me.

 

 

 

Dear Christians Thinking of Voting for Donald Trump

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Dear Christians who are thinking of voting for Donald Trump,

Let me plead with you.

So much is at stake in this election. And not only in the ways we typically associate with the political circus. As Christians, it is essential that we honestly face the way Donald Trump’s words demean those who are most vulnerable in our society. We must compare his words and actions with those of our Jesus- and honestly ask whether we can usher in the kingdom of God by voting for such a man.

Donald Trump is a man who brags about overpowering and groping women:

“I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star they let you do it. You can do anything…. Just grab them by the pussy.”

Donald Trump has been accused of rape and sexual assault multiple times over his career- from women including his ex-wife Ivana and a woman who describes him raping her at parties as a 13 year old girl. He refers to women as “bitches” and “pieces of ass.”

These are not just words. This is inexcusable.

Misogyny is anti-gospel. And it cannot be shrugged off by evangelicals.

Jesus, our teacher, while he walked the earth, was was primarily concerned with the most vulnerable and marginalized people in society. As a Christian, that is our call, too- to protect the value and dignity of those with the least power. That includes people who are not like us- people of different color, religious background, and sexual orientation. Our God has commanded us to love our enemies, reject violence, turn the other cheek- even when it comes to our enemies. 

 

The most vulnerable people in society are Donald Trump’s primary targets. When he says, “Islam hates us,” and “Mexicans are rapists” and “blacks are living in hell,” it matters. 

“Donald J Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of all Muslims entering the US.” He told a roaring crowd. His treatment of the Khan Family proved that he included all Muslims in that statement- even Americans who fought for this country, and veterans who and made the ultimate sacrifice while in service. He still promised to excommunicate and ban them all.

That is racism, plain and simple. It is a rejection of religious freedom. It is unconstitutional, anti-gospel, and it is terrifying for all Muslim people listening.

How can we, as Christians, love our Muslim neighbors well while simultaneously supporting a candidate who wants to ban them and keep them on a registry?

Muslims, minorities, and Syrian refugees are the scapegoats on which Trump has attached society’s anxieties and fears. Never mind that the majority of Syrian refugees are children, and that not one has participated in a domestic terror attack since 9/11, Donald still says “I will look Syrian kids in the face and say, go home.”

Compare that sentiment the words of your Jesus: “Depart from me, you evildoers. For I was a stranger and I knocked at your door, and you turned me away. Whatever you have not done for the least of these, you have not done for me.” (Matthew 25)

Compare Donald Trump’s inciting his supporters to violence, punching protesters,and throwing people out into the cold “without a coat”  to Jesus’s call to love your enemies: “But I tell you not to resist an evil person. If someone slaps you on your right cheek, turn to him the other also; if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well.”

As a teacher, I’ve already seen the effects of this campaign in the classroom. I’ve had a Muslim girl stay after class, quietly deteriorating into tears because of cruel words whispered to  her. Other schools have had to deal with similar issues- such as students bringing “build the wall” signs to basketball games, taunting and screaming at Mexican teens as they play.

If a candidate for President for say it, why can’t they? How can we punish this cruelty in our schools if it’s accepted by one of the most potentially powerful people in the world?

We must remain aware that, historically, when powerful groups of people have systematically targeted vulnerable groups of people, dehumanizing them and blaming them for societies problems, that is when we have seen the greatest capacity for human evil.


 

This man we are considering electing to the highest office in the land- this reality TV star with a third grade vocabulary, this person with no political experience whatsoever- he is more than just a political danger. Donald Trump is a xenophobe, a proud vulgarian, and an accused rapist. His popularity is proof that racism and fear of “the other” are still powerful forces in America, boiling just beneath the surface of the American psyche. We have seen White Nationalists gather from the fringes and rally in the mainstream to support Donald Trump- including members of The Ku Klux Klan.  We should not ignore the significance of that.

As followers of Jesus, we cannot give into this- we have to stand against it, call it into the light, and oppose it. We must remember that racism, implied or explicit, it fundamentally wrong, and fundamentally against the will of God. We cannot give power to a man who wields it for political gain.
Fr. Richard Rohr said “The evangelical support of Trump will be an indictment against its validity as a Christian movement for generations to come.” 

I believe that’s true. We will be asking ourselves how we let this happen for years to come. To vote for Donald Trump is to be on the wrong side of history. It is to vote for a man whose words and actions come into direct opposition with the teachings of Christ.

I encourage you to join the many Evangelicals who have stood up in opposition to Trump, refusing to support his toxic rhetoric or try assimilate his message into a Christian one. Read through this Declaration by American Evangelicals Concerning Donald Trump, which has been signed by over 80 prominent Evangelical figures and continue to prayerfully consider this important decision.