Finding Leo: Light a Candle

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

When I look back over 2015, there were many bright moments. I had a few firsts in my life as a trans man: taking off my shirt in public for the Trans Pride March in June, wearing a tux for my birthday.  For Halloween I wore an outfit that was, for me, a classic look that I’d been longing for: dress slacks and suspenders with a white undershirt, which in my imagination exudes a classy masculinity and sexiness.  I also marked the first anniversary for both top surgery (with a sassy shirtless picture), and of taking testosterone. I became more comfortable using the men’s bathroom, though I still hold it rather than use some bathrooms, and definitely rush to get in and get out, anxiously trying to make sure I don’t give myself away as trans. #wejustgottapee

2015 was liberating and joyful in my transition, and I’m feeling more comfortable in my skin.  I also had the opportunity to train people in four states on how to be more welcoming and inclusive to LGBTQ people in their church, and to help them understand sexual orientation and gender identity.  It was a good year for making connections and seeing more churches become welcoming to the LGBTQ community.

I love the chance to stay connected with people on social media (and find interesting articles and cat memes). But there is also a painful side of humanity that bleeds on our Facebook walls: mass shootings, nasty debate about refugees, finger-pointing, fear mongering, and a world grappling with escalating violence.  When I look over 2015, it seems like we are bent on a downward spiral.  It makes me angry and uncomfortable.  It takes an effort to not let my fears or cynicism win.

I need a reminder of the good in the world. On long winter nights, some traditions use the flame of a candle to draw our attention towards light. One Christmas tradition has an evergreen wreath, the advent wreath, with candles representing hope, love, joy, and peace, in addition to one in the middle for Christmas Eve, the Christ candle. I really appreciate the symbolism of a flame, lighting up the gloom around, bringing warmth and visibility.

You remind me of the good in the world. Together, let’s light a metaphorical candle. Can we give a spark of hope in a world of looming climate disaster? Can we give a flicker of love when families kick out their LGBTQ kid? Can we give joy, even when we want to weep at the suffering we see? Can we give a portion of peace in a world of bloodshed, racism, and fear of the other?

Will you light a candle? Let us each put energy towards bridge building, peace-making, and hearing the stories of others. Let us find out what we have in common.  Let us be curious about each other, in a way that is caring.  Let us be brave enough to share our own stories of struggle and happiness.  Let us be gentle with ourselves about our own short-comings, and learn to be graceful with others for theirs.

I need that candle’s burning flame because it is easy for me to fall into despair and fear. I can let the long nights of the cold, wet winter drown me in hopelessness about all that is wrong in the world. I want to stick my head in the sand, and binge watch detective shows where all of the problems are figured out as a neat puzzle, and the bad guy gets locked up in the end. 

In my faith tradition, the light of the candle also reminds me that God is with us in these hardest moments. God is weeping with us, and chanting with us “Black Lives Matter, Trans Lives Matter.” The flickering flame reminds me that God does not come in a chariot to save the day, but dwells with us in these long nights, loving each of us, no matter what. Because of that presence we can be inspired to be voices of both consolation and protest.

I know we come from different traditions, and I respect that. I don’t expect you to believe in God.  It’s not my job to convert you, and it’s none of my business. Regardless of our different faith traditions, my wish is that together we can be the light of hope, and love. Together we can find joy and work for peace.

As we look over 2015, where was your heart most broken? For me it was in loneliness, and a fear for the future in a world of hateful political rhetoric. Is there a way I can hold space in my life for the feelings that come up and be gentle with myself and with others? Can I breathe in, breathe out, and work for hope, love, joy, and peace?

I wrestle with this. In the midst of our hectic world, how can we bring hope, share love, manifest joy, and create peace in tangible and concrete ways? You probably have ideas. Here are a few of mine to start us off: Buy a Street Roots magazine from every vendor you see. Register to vote. Send a card to someone who is feeling down. Advocate for the rights of trans people to use the restroom that aligns with their gender identity. Vote. Love. Give generously.

Will you light a candle?

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