Eat, Pray, Vote

Graphic of the words eat (made of pasta), pray (made of beads) and vote (made of an American flag)

A Reflection on Voting this November with a personal testimony: “How Transgender People have changed my life.”

As the November election day comes up, we’ll be hearing more about candidates and issues, policies and ballot initiatives – and I want to put in my plug to you for being sure you cast your vote. The headlines of the world remind me daily of how precious the freedom to vote is and the ability to actively participate in the form of government you want to have. Some friends we know are running for office now for the first time – and putting their bodies, not just their votes, on the line for this belief in our democratic process.

My friends, on many issues always but especially in this upcoming election, there are positions on justice at stake. However you may feel about immigration, borders, gun rights, the environment, mass incarceration, racial justice, equality of voice for women, reproductive rights and so much more, the candidates who will take office and the ballot questions we pass will have far-reaching justice implications for our friends and neighbors, and most definitely for our children. Please turn out to vote your conscience for them, even if you are feeling jaded about voting for yourself.

When you go to the ballot box, please bring your whole selves – the one who prays and ponders, the one who learns and loves, the one who gets scared and the one who has hope.  What does our faith have to say about how life should be in the world? How are we thinking and caring for the ones on the margins, the powerless, the ones with minority representation?  What voices of hate should we stand up to? What voices of love and compassion do we want to sustain?

Our Social Justice team will be having a table on November 6 all day as they did on Primary Day asking you to Eat, Pray, Vote!  Please research the candidates and ballot questions, and use the right you have with such privilege here in the United States.

Vote411.org is one way to learn more about the candidates you will be voting for from your address.

There will be three ballot questions for us here in Massachusetts.

One of the ballot questions you will be considering here in Massachusetts is Question 3 – should we keep the current civil rights law that includes equal rights for transgender people?  Mary Friedman has written a detailed look at this question, with the sides for and against (see article). As an Open and Affirming church in the UCC, it is our stated intent to stand with LGBTQ people and affirm them to full life and ministry in our church.  Many of you have come to movie nights, panel discussions, support groups, PRIDE parades and so much more as part of your walk on this path here at First Church, and I ask you to approach this ballot question out of your deep prayer and discernment. I will not tell you how to vote, but I will share with you my own experience of transgender people I have increasingly come to know and love, and how they have changed my life –  that it may join the stories of your own experience as you consider this ballot question.

Some of you know that I have family members who are gay, bisexual and trans, as well as LGBTQ friends, colleagues and neighbors I care about.  Much of my learning about LGBTQ people has been across my lifetime, as perhaps are yours – and the best of it has come through my relationships and people whom I love.  But for a long time I thought what I was doing was making room in my imagination and my heart for alternative lifestyles of others – people I believed should have equal access to all the freedoms, opportunities and justice that I did, because I was convicted that they were God’s children just as much as I was. But it never occurred to me that their lives would actually also free my own.

Let me tell you what I mean. During an LGBTQ Support Group program, our guest speaker that night, Louis Mitchell, led us in an exercise called the Gender Bread Person inventory.

This helps you examine your own life along three continuums:  how you express gender (your internal experience of gender, your identity), how you express yourself sexually (attraction), and your biological sex (the gender you were born with externally.)  By completing this inventory and sharing it with the group that night, I realized some things that had never been fully clear to me. Up until then, I knew that I identified my gender as female, which was also my biological sex, (so they matched).  I always “passed” as “female” growing up and in my lifetime.

BUT . . . the truth is, when I answered the continuum questions about my gender identity, I could see something really important that now had an explanation.  As a child and later a teen, I didn’t have many female friends. I mostly hung out with boys. I wasn’t comfortable with many feminine qualities I saw expressed in other girls – feminine colors, clothing, interests, activities, even conversation topics, and so I couldn’t share them.  This tended to alienate me from girls. They made fun of me at school, and I wasn’t included in other social things. Please know – this is not a story to pull your empathy! – but merely to say, I knew I was different and it caused much isolation and loneliness until I became an adult – where diversity of personality and expression was much more tolerated and enjoyed, by many people I met.

When I did the gender identity inventory, and we shared it in the group, I suddenly realized that gender identity (how you feel inside) doesn’t automatically match biological sex (how your body expresses gender outside).  What you feel about yourself inside isn’t necessarily left or right, this or that, male or female, binary – one or the other. I realized gender actually falls along a continuum – and many of us are actually a mix of qualities we think of as feminine and masculine, and only some of us are more at one end or the other.  On top of that then, sometimes that matches the biological sex you were born with, and sometimes it doesn’t.

I realized that some trans people I knew had dissonance between their gender identity and their biological sex not unlike me – only they had it far more fully than me, and so they were suffering and in pain all the time until they transitioned or self-actualized in some other way.  For me to be my full self, I had needed to find my way as the diverse woman I felt myself to be inside, which still matched my biological sex. For my trans friends to be their full selves, some would have to repair their bodies’ outward expressions of gender more radically to match their internal experiences of gender.  Some would have to create new language for themselves and fight to be witnessed in their fullness in a world conditioned by binary ideas about gender (only male and female.)

I was surprised to find that in this process, it was not just me who could understand others more expansively, but myself who was also more understood: exactly as I am, without having to “fit” a singular definition of what it means to be a woman in this world.  Now I understand my suffering as a younger person in a new way, and through it, I can be a sibling, not a stranger, to trans friends. My trans friends have liberated me.  They are a gift to me from God, the God who continues to show me more every day how much we are all loved, each of us, in all the ways we are becoming who God has called us to be.

May prayer and grace surround us all in the days to come,

— Rev. Marisa