Finding Leo: A Place at the Table

This article first appeared in PQ Monthly, Portland, in November, 2015.

I love autumn leaves and pumpkins, turkey and mashed potatoes, my friends and my family. I really want Thanksgiving to be my favorite holiday. But anticipating that it will not be the ideal holiday I envision, I can get bummed out. I have a few social invitations, for which I’m grateful. But to be honest, I feel like the odd man out at Thanksgiving.

When I was a child, drawing plans for my dream home with my future husband, with names for each kid, and a room for the grand piano, I didn’t know that I would grow up to be a divorced bisexual trans man who scarcely remembered how to play the piano. Thanksgiving is when I pictured myself hosting a big gathering of friends and family around a long table, with shared traditions and memories. 

But now I’m 40 and I don’t have a place of my own, or a nuclear family.  I am grateful that most of my family loves and accepts me for who I am, but I can’t help but feel like each year at Thanksgiving I’m the single guy who winds up tagging along with other families’ traditions.  Would this have turned out differently if I had come out as trans as a kid and didn’t have to start over at 38? Would I have a more solid sense of belonging?

My relationship with God has certainly not gone as planned either. When I was a kid, I imagined myself as a pastor, conducting burial services for my best friend’s bird, and performing marriage services for my dolls and cats. I have attempted seminary twice, in 1997 and 2006. But God and I had our biggest fight in the fall of 2008.  It wasn’t our last or only fight, and I was probably the only one yelling and crying, but it was certainly the most dramatic. I dropped out of seminary, and was ready to walk at away from the church.  I was PISSED that God allows suffering in the world, including my depression. I had lost my faith, lost my sense of direction in life, and felt betrayed by the church and God.

Socially, I felt lonely and isolated.  I couldn’t figure out how to be “one of the guys” and didn’t know what trans was. I frequently felt like I didn’t quite fit in.  Friends from that time period describe me as socially awkward and uncomfortable in my own skin. 

Fast forward seven years, and this autumn is very different.  Finding a place in the LGBTQ community, raising awareness and money to end AIDS, and coming to my own as an advocate for LGBTQ welcome in the church, each of these has helped me to reconnect with God and understand who I am as a person who seeks out spiritual connections. 

Disclaimer: As I try to mention in all of my writings, I am not trying to get you to go to church, or believe in God. That is none of my business, and not my job. I only want to make churches safe and loving for those who already want to go, and tell the story of my own faith journey.

The other day I helped serve communion at my church, St. Andrew Lutheran in Beaverton.  Maybe I don’t have a home of my own to throw big Thanksgiving parties, but I am grateful for a church where I can publicly transition from female to male. I’m no longer so mad at God, and appreciate being able to receive communion as Leo, to preach and teach as an out trans man. Life didn’t turn out as I planned or hoped, but I am grateful to be loved as my authentic self. I belong here.

Serving the grape juice at communion this day, I came to a toddler, who, when I reached them, plunged their hand knuckle-deep into the juice, their chubby three year old fingers wrapped around the bread.  The image captured my imagination. This child knew they belonged at this communion table, and with exuberance dove into the elements.

Some people have a tradition in the month of November, to express gratitude.  I am grateful for the child at communion who claims as matter-of-fact the love that surrounds them.  I am inspired by the people in our community and my church who work so hard for equality and justice.  My life is so much better for having the chance to be authentically myself, and I pray that all may experience that freedom.  I am thankful for good friends and laughter, my roommate’s sassy kitty, and trapeze classes!

I will try to adjust my holiday attitude from being a bah humbug-turkey. Looking around, I realize I do belong here, with you, in our wonderfully diverse and beautiful LGBTQ and ally family. This new reality is much bigger and better than I could have imagined as a child. I still want my own house with the big table for gatherings. But I do have a place at the dinner table, at the communion table, and alongside all of you on this journey. For this I am grateful.

And even as we celebrate, we need to look around to see who has been left out or turned away, and make sure there is room at the table for them too. There is a place here for all of us.  Happy Thanksgiving!

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