A powerful poem from a member of our Trans Teen Writing Squad. We will be posting a new entry in our series every Monday.

 

Hello, my name is Lekker,

and I keep this paradox on the crowns of my cuspids.

My mother has never checked my mouth for sores or secrets and I keep my lips pressed tight in hopes she won't grow curious.

I write my name on papers like a dirty word.

I shout curses into the XY chaos,

a liberating punch at proving my masculinity to the boys I want to be.

I want to flow with those boys and be one of the wolfgang

wanna run amuck with those sturdy boys

standing tall and broad shouldered

with painted nails hidden in my palm.

I ache to rip fur from flanks with those sodden boys, a spitblood-pact on my life.

To say Lekker and not beg forgiveness.

My mother introduces me,

“Hello, this is my daughter *******.”

I feel curses surge like power lines up my tongue,

electricity burning my lungs as I suck in those words and exhale forgiveness.

I can forgive her, though she could not forgive me, I fear.

Spitblood-pact: Promise you'll be the truest form of yourself. You are mother, you are father, you are your own guide. You are a kiss, you are a cuss. You deserve to be here, you deserve to make mistakes.

I cut open my slimy palms and shake hands with myself.

I promise.

-Lekker Jagelka

A Trans Teen Atheist’s View on Glitter-Ash Wednesday

In the lead up to Glitter+Ash Wednesday, we will be posting reflections from participating pastors, churches and individuals.


As a Trans Teen raised by a single Christian mom, I was marginally terrified to come out. Imagine my surprise when she came out to me - and (here’s the kicker) continued her work as a minister and queer advocate. Perhaps it was due to my latent atheism, but I never thought that being queer and being religious could ever fit together, but hey. I’m wrong about a lot of things.

I feel as though a lot of the LGBTQIA community has a fight-or-flight response to religion: after all, most of the negative rhetoric seems to come from a place of faith - you’re going to hell, G-d hates F*gs, God made one man and one women, etc, etc. But a quick perusal of the bible (and a couple rants from my mom) quickly proved that this was not God’s way! In fact, as my mother is wont to remind me, Jesus loved all people, and chased out hypocrites and haters - as in Godspell, these snakes, these viper's brood cannot escape being Devil's food! (Side note: he also chased out high interest loaners with a whip, or something. I wonder if he could do something about student loans. Anyway.)

My personal amusement and relationship with faith aside, the problem on our hands is a serious one. How many of my friends, brothers, sisters, in-betweens and neithers have been kicked out of their religious homes? How many of them have been forced to fatal conversion therapy because apparently that’s God’s will? How many of them live in fear of coming out, in fear of losing their community and identity? How many of them have lived their lives in lies, in doomed relationships, because of their families or church leaders words on sexuality and gender? How many of them must suffer and die until we realize that faith and pride can be one in the same?

With that in mind, I was excited when my mom told me about her idea for Glitter Ash Wednesday. Never mind the fact that I had no idea the religious significance of such a celebration - who doesn’t like glitter? I will admit, my mom had to explain to me what it meant several times: it marks the beginning of Lent, it prepares us for Jesus’ death and resurrection, and it reminds us of our own mortality. So why the glitter?

 “Well,” as my Mom says, “it means different things to different people.” Some think of God’s stardust, our queerness a reflection of God’s life. Some say that glitter celebrates queers unique spark as a gift to the church. Another part, Mom says, is mere rebellion. We refuse to give in. We are preparing to die, but the story doesn’t end there. Jesus is resurrected, and we have hope. The glitter is a reflection of that hope. While the glitter seems to some blasphemous or sensationalist, in reality it is the essence of faith: it is hope, and it is the shining of light on our lives and on our gifts.

As a poet, I can appreciate the joining of a symbol of the reflection of light with the symbol of “our Peace in His Will.” I can appreciate a symbol of pride joined with a symbol of faith. As a part of a new generation of queer teens why should I “mourn the vanished power of the usual reign?” In fact, I celebrate this - so many kids will come up in faith knowing that they are loved and believed in. Isn't that what Jesus wants?

Faith, I can say, is not a part of my life, beyond Jesus Christ Superstar, Veggie Tales, and Godspell. But it is a part of my friend’s lives, and my mom’s life, and it’s a part they love and an identity as natural to them as their gender or sexuality. Perhaps that’s the beauty and truth of Ash Wednesday or, if you want to try it out, Glitter Ash Wednesday. From dust we are made, and to dust we return, with bits of glass (and maybe rainbows) making us visible from the stars. To allow people to be marked with Glitter-Ash is to mark themselves as reflections of a new faith: one that celebrates life as well as death, the resurrection of Queer lives and hope in dark times.

The message is this: you are here. We see you. We love you. You belong.

 

In the lead up to Glitter+Ash Wednesday, we will be posting reflections from participating pastors, churches and individuals.


The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me; because the Lord hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound; To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all that mourn; To appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he might be glorified.

Isaiah 61:1-3 KJV

The one unconditional love I knew in this world died the day after my birthday in 2003. But just before her passing, my grandmother did for me something that I cannot repay, but I may die trying. Every major moment in my life was shared with her. Every joy, every sorrow, and every question imaginable I took to her. And though she was born before the Great Depression, she, in this one moment, defied every wrong notion I'd conjured up about what she'd think of me when I shared with her my truth. And though this story is profound to me and deeply moving, what I'll say here is simple:  my grandmother set the atmosphere for my healing to begin.

When I wept at her side about the conflict I was feeling, not so much about coming out, but of living authentically in front of my church community, she preached courage. When I let out doubts about my self-worth, she reminded me of every victory that God and I had accomplished in my life. When I told her that I wondered if God even loved me, she said that God authored love, and expanded His capacity daily to love me more and more, "just the way He made you." She told me I was beautiful and that I made her proud. That day she saved my life and altered the course of my ministry forever. I knew that the hope I was handed had to be shared with others, who, like me, were steeped in wrong religion that taught us to hate and mistrust ourselves.

God's word speaks of giving beauty for ashes to those who mourn. This year, Christ's Community Church in Chicopee, MA (C4), in partnership with Manantial de Gracia of West Hartford, CT and the UCC's Proyecto Encuentros de Gracia y Bienvenida (@UCCBienvenida), are hosting a special Intersectional Service to celebrate Mardi Gras, and cross right over to Lent.  The Premier "Mardi Gras Masquerade Ball will take place the night of February 28th, featuring vogue dancers, drag performers, live music, and more. It will raise the roof in the hopes of embodying the welcome God and the church have for our LGBTQ2IA family. It will be part New Orleans Mardi Gras and part Carnaval. The night will open with revelry, but end with reverence, as celebrants enter the sanctuary unmasked at midnight to receive glitter infused ashes, symbolizing that we are not hidden in this faith. The beauty that shines through the ruins is seen in our collective will to persevere adversity and redeem our experience. 

But understanding our responsibility to bind up wounds that many churches helped create, our event will provide access to LGBTQ and allied clergy to listen and share their stories of how rediscovering faith is possible in the church of Jesus Christ for all of us.  It is important for churches to start meeting all communities, but particularly the LGBTQ community, halfway. We can't be all things to all people if the church doesn't start reflecting the creativity of God in engaging the least, the last and the left out. 

The Ball came as a response to Parity's #glitterashwednesday initiative. C4's Senior Pastor GeorgeOliver and UCC Proyecto Encuentros de Gracia y Bienvenida's Elivette Mendez Angulo conceived of adding celebration to the normally somber Ash Wednesday services, since celebration is a key aspect uniting Black Church, Latinx, and LGBTQ worship. Thus the Ball will offer the church and these communities a new way to allow their distinct cultures to innovate Christian life. Like what my grandmother did for me, we hope to till the soil for new hopes to bud.

Let us not forget that God came to Earth in human form, walked, talked, lived, died and rose again so that all people would know there is power in humanity to overcome everything that threatens us. But we have to be willing to go where the people are and speak a common language. The Mardi Gras Masquerade Ball will do just that, by showing LGBTQ persons, people of color, and those inside the church that glitter will always shine in the center of our worship, for the glory of the Lord is surrounding us as we dance and pray.

 

George E. Oliver, M.Div.

Senior Pastor

Christ's Community Church-Chicopee MA

Slapping at the Gender-Neutral Sign

The Obama administration was, for lack of a better word, damned revolutionary for trans folks across America, especially trans teens like me. Back in January of 2015, Former President Obama (take me back) made history as the first President of the United States to say the word 'Transgender.' 

For a trans kid like me, that was pretty affirming, or maybe life-changing. It was a message of validity, of compassion. No matter what the kids at school or my doctors said, the President of the United States had my back. 

But that was then. That's no longer the case. 

It's no secret that the election of President Donald Trump sounded alarms in the Transgender community, and, indeed, in the LGBTQIA community as a whole. We scrambled for hormone treatment and birth control, unsure if our health care would cover it in the years to come. We begged parents for legal name changes, unsure if that right would still be there for us. And now, it appears we were right.

On Friday, President Trump and his administration dropped Obama's guidelines on Transgender bathrooms in schools, which Obama outlined was protected by Title 9, saying that the Justice Department was "...considering how best to proceed in this appeal." 

This does not bode well. As Obama's decision was a message of hope, Trump's is a message of fear and uncertainty to Trans students in America. This threatens one of the only (meager at best) protections we possess in school. 

Even in my high school in New York, our Gender Neutral bathrooms are generally used by cis students for, shall we say, social time, and I've seen many a callous student slapping at the Gender-Neutral sign, wearing away at the paint. At least under Obama we had some standing that this basic right was assured to us in school. That we would be safe. That would be respected like everyone else.

Now? I'm not so sure. Citing safety reasons for this decision only cements the hatred evident in this administration: we don't care if you get assaulted in the bathroom, so long as it's not the cis students. Never mind the fact that, overwhelmingly, its Trans people who's safety is threatened when they're forced to use bathrooms that don't match their Gender Identity. 

When reading the New York Times article about this development, my heart sank at the mention of Gavin Grimm, who I had just seen in Nat Geo's Gender Revolution documentary. His fight (and our fight) has become that much harder. 

But in some ways, this is the most comforting fact of all - the fact that trans folk like Gavin Grimm are fighting in this uncertain time. After all, we are the generation that was told It Gets Better. But that message seems dated now, when our identity is attacked from all sides. We need to make it better now, for the trans children entering high school to the trans elders who deserve to live their life with dignity and respect. 

Though times are pretty damn scary, as Abigail Adams said, "It is not in the still calm of life, or the repose of a pacific station, that great characters are formed." As I write, activists across America are fighting for clean water, their right to live in America, and even their right to go to the damn bathroom. As I write, the future President of the United States is somewhere taking part in political action for the first time; their first protest, their first die-in. In that knowledge, I have hope. In the people of America, I have hope. 

Have a good week, guys. Let's all be kind, and let's all be ready.

Fyodor

National Geographic's "Gender Revolution": A Response

The first in a new weekly series of blog entries from a group of trans-identified teenagers, part of our Parity Youth Arts Showcase.

GENDER REVOLUTION: A JOURNEY WITH KATIE COURIC AIRS MONDAY FEBRUARY 6 at 9/8c.


We arrived about ten minutes early to the theatre to be informed that we should probably sit in the spillover room, called the party room. I was already anxious from the countless cameras flashing in the reception and the sharply dressed folk loudly discussing society upstairs, and was subsequently anxious to find a seat with my darling Mother.

We filed into the party room with the other rejects, on vaguely geometric couches that hurt my neck and back. I settled in as much as I could for what I assumed would be a shallow documentary that existed in the white, binary sphere of the transgender community. 
Boy, was I glad to be wrong. 

At the first sight of Facebook's alphabetical gender identity list, with agender at the top, I nearly burst into tears. Yes, I regularly talk with other trans people-write poetry, make art, discuss change. Of course we exist. But to be immortalized, splayed on the screen as a legitimate life and identity? That affected me more than I could ever express-a feeling of 'that's me' and 'look there I am' that every transgender person is validated by experiencing.
Seeing the age range covered by the documentary had a similar affect-five year olds, twelve year olds, laughing with their siblings and looking utterly whole in the love of their family was moving and affirming. I have so much hope the the next wave of trans people, in high schools and elementary schools everywhere. What drove me to tears, though, was the stories of the older trans folk who suffered to pave the way for us-the 80 year old who sought out Gender Affirming Surgery so they wouldn't be buried in the wrong body, the transgender woman who transitioned later in life with her wife by her side. Each story drove the point home-we have a future. We get to grow old, have families. Sometimes I forget that I have a whole life ahead of me. Sometimes I forget that I can be more than a suicide, more than a 'woodworker', as Renee Richards put it. 

While the Nat Geo team handled every story and all the information with tact and grace, there were a couple parts that I (and a few others in the room) kind of cringed at. For one, the appropriation of the GenderBread person from a queer black artist, the use of Trans Lives Matter and All Lives Matter as used in a panning shot of protestors, piggybacking off of the Black Lives Matter movement. While the documentary was touching and moving (and Katie Couric did mention the unemployment gap between Trans Women and Trans Women of Color), it did seem very white. Even the anthropologists discussing the gender orientations of those in India, Mexico, and Samoan were mostly cis white men, and the words of these actual people were few and far between, in stark contrast to the stories of trans white folk. 

In all, the documentary was well directed, touching, informative, and affirming, with just a few moments that reminded us how much work we have to do.

Because the topic of being transgender in America and within the binary can be deeply frustrating and depressing, I was happy to see moments of levity as Katie Couric educated herself and met transgender kids. My personal favorite moment was the introduction of Esmeralda, a pot bellied pig (whose owner, of course, is the hugely inspirational Gavin Grimm) who is very excited to meet Katie Couric. I also liked seeing the LGBT youth camps with kids of all identities gathered around a camp ride laughing. It was cheerily cliché for a community that has never been visible enough to be cliché.

While the documentary had its mistakes  I applaud the documentary for highlighting the lives of transgender women, as transmisogyny is so rampant inside and out of the community. I also admire how they didn't shy away from the disgusting and abhorrent history of the human rights violations committed against Intersexual individuals, and treated intersexuality and transness as separate gender experiences. I think it could be used as a great educational tool for high schools and families around the countries, but as a trans activist active in the community? It isn't required viewing.

 

Liggera