Hate Will Not Have The Final Word

photo from Holden Village, 2006

Republican lawmakers in North Carolina on Wednesday pushed through a broad sweeping anti-LGBT bill, removing local ordinances for equal rights based on sexual orientation and gender identity, and mandating that government controlled multi-user bathrooms be restricted to a single sex based on the gender assigned at birth.

It is distressing to have people debate my genitalia and my worth, when all I have to do is pee. More importantly, this law makes the trans community, trans women in particular, even more vulnerable to violence and harassment.

Lawmakers rushed the bill through during Holy Week, when we prepare for Easter Sunday. In multiple states and cities around the country, people are rushing to deny rights to the LGBTQ community, while waving the flag of Christianity.

It makes me sick, and it is not my religion.

On Good Friday, I remembered Jesus, the Son of God, who came to share a message of good news to the poor, release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, freedom for those oppressed, and the year of the Lord’s favor. This is how he kicked off his ministry in the gospel of Luke (4:14-21). He spoke against those in power who had set up laws based on ritual purity. Those laws drove people into isolation and onto the margins. Jesus spoke against those laws, and brought people back in who had been made outsiders. He restored relationships by healing individuals and communities.

On Good Friday, Jesus was crucified by those in power because of the threat he presented with his ministry.

On Easter Sunday, we celebrated that death and hate did not have the final word.

On Easter Sunday, we remembered that Jesus preached a message of love, and care for one another, especially for those who are most vulnerable.

Many of us in the LGBTQ community have personally experienced abuse and cruelty at the hands of the church, or Christian family members and friends. Many of us have seen the hate and vitriol come out of our political system in the name of Christian values. Countless members of the LGBT community and our allies have left the church, because it was healthier and safer to leave.

Why would I expect anyone to be a Christian? Why would I even want to admit I am a Christian?

On Easter Sunday, we celebrate that death and hate will not have the final word.

The opponents of Jesus’ message of love, inclusion, and freedom for the oppressed, thought they had won when they nailed him to the cross.

They did not count on the expansiveness of God’s love.

For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:38-39

The resurrection of Jesus is a way for us to celebrate this truth. Not even death can separate us from the love of God. Not even a rash of discriminatory legislation. Not even an abusive church, or having left church altogether, will make God stop loving us.

So what does this have to do with North Carolina?

The lawmakers who are governing out of fear and ignorance will not have the last word. Jesus stands in solidarity with the oppressed. Jesus would stand with a sign at the governor’s residence proclaiming, “God loves all LGBTQ peeps.” Jesus would wear a button that says, #Illgowithyou and make sure that trans people have an ally to go to the bathroom in safety. God’s Spirit is active in igniting our hearts to stand with those who face violence, discrimination, and rejection.

We will not let hate win, because God has said “No!” to hate.

This is what I celebrate on Easter Sunday.

Wishing you all a Blessed spring, with a resounding Alleluia that God says “Yes!” to love.

I’m praying you may know love, safety, and the confidence that you are a wonderful child of God.
I’m praying for the freedom to pee, and an end to anti-LGBTQ legislation.
I’m praying for an end to violence against our LGBTQ community, particularly against trans women and people of color.
I’m praying for all who have been kicked out of church, and out of their homes.
I’m praying for all who are oppressed in any way.

With love for you this Easter season,

Leo

I Was There

A view from Holden Village, 2006

[This is my meditation from last night’s Good Friday service at St. Andrew Lutheran.  There were seven readers, each with a part of the passion narrative from the Gospel of Luke, sharing from the perspective of one of the witnesses. We began with “I was there”…]

Luke 23:32–43: Two others also, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him. When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” And they cast lots to divide his clothing. And the people stood by, watching; but the leaders scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God, his chosen one!”The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine, and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.” One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” He replied, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” 

I was there, on the cross next to Jesus. The mood was violent, and the frothing crowd that had yelled, “Give us Barrabas”, and “Crucify him!” craved more. They tried to humiliate Jesus, even as he was dying. I don’t know why they were so angry. Maybe some felt persecuted by the Romans, and some were just caught up in the frenzied rally. They wanted Jesus to feel their shame and impotence, and mocked him with “Save Yourself! Come down from the cross now!”

Jesus didn’t save himself from the cross, but he forgave them. I was so angry at them all. They were so cruel! And he forgave them. What did this Messiah hold within his heart that he could forgive such hatred and violence? I chastised the other criminal for heaping insults along with the rest. Isn’t it enough that he was dying?

I mustered up all of my courage to speak to him. “Jesus,” I said, and was shocked at how intimately I was speaking to this stranger. What should I ask for? He hadn’t saved himself from the cross, so saving my life seemed out of the question. He was as powerless as I was. He was in the same bad state, maybe even worse after all of the beatings. Then, I said, “Remember me when you come into your kingdom.” I don’t know what I expected. I didn’t deserve a place with the Son of God. But I wept with relief at his answer. “Truly, I tell you, today, you will be with me in paradise.” Truly this man was the Son of God. I would not only be remembered, I would be restored. I would be with God. I had never been good enough or at all righteous. I felt shame and embarrassment about all I had done, but he invited me to be a part of his kingdom.

Even in dying, I felt great joy. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see the sneer on the face of the other criminal. And I had compassion on him and forgave him. He was just as I am, and worthy of a place in the kingdom too. That day, I forgave myself, because Jesus forgave me. And I forgave the angry crowds and the brutal soldiers, because Jesus loved even them. And I entered into God’s glorious kingdom, of forgiveness, restoration, welcome, and peace.

Finding Leo: One Chest Hair Is Enough

This article first appeared in PQ Monthly, Portland, in March, 2016.

I have been on testosterone for 21 months, and still only have one chest hair.  One.  It’s faint, and sometimes I need my glasses on to see it, but it’s there. Sigh. My facial hair status bar is still loading at 20%. I can wish for more right now, for the hormonal transition to go faster, but I may as well wish for civility in our national political discourse.  Some things we just can’t control.

Most of the time I feel ok about my body. But I also deal with wishing I was manlier. Part of me believes that the more masculine I appear, the more easily I will navigate the world.  Even though I am very out about being trans (including writing a column about it), I don’t always want to be out to strangers and worry about being misgendered. I am nearly always called “sir” by waiters and sales people, but then I brace myself for them to wrongly “correct” themselves.  I try to butch it up so they know they were correct in identifying me as male.

I often don’t feel masculine enough when I’m contemplating dating. If you missed it, last January I came out as bisexual, which is not infrequent in the trans community. I’ve been told that people read me as a gay male, which is great when the dating audience is a gay man, but discouraging if I’m trying to pursue a straight woman.

You know how we lament (or celebrate, depending on your opinion) that men are socialized to be manly from a young age?  I missed out on all of this socialization into the world of being male.  I feel like I’m trying to learn a foreign language by only watching television and guessing at the syntax and rules. For example, I am deducing that I need to stop fluttering my hands about or clasping them to my chest when I’m shocked. Or do I?

Our world has so many ways of telling us we are not enough. We are not manly enough, we are not thin enough, smart enough, funny enough, popular enough. Some of this comes from advertising, to be sure. If we buy <insert magic product here>, we will be <insert desirable quality> enough, and then be happy.  But our judgment of ourselves and others also comes from our own tendency as humans to tear one another down as we tease, exclude, or bully those who are different from us, often as a way to ease our own insecurities.

To be sure, it frustrates me when we are mean to each other.  But what breaks my heart to pieces is when churches or people of faith tell people they are not enough: pure enough, holy enough, cisgender and straight enough.  How can I hope to do enough to help heal the wounds inflicted by spiritual leaders on those who are seeking God?  The truth is, I can’t.

I have had many conversations over the last few years with people who have been hurt by the church.  It doesn’t matter to me if you go to church or if you believe in God.  It’s not my job to get you to church, and none of my business.  I love you just as much as the person who does go to church or believes.  But I do care about your stories.  You deserve to be heard. You are worthy of being seen and loved just as you are.

I mentioned last month that the tattoo on my arm references my favorite bible verse, Romans 8:38-39 (NRSV): “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

I’d like to put that another way.  “For I am convinced that nothing will make God stop loving you. No matter what anyone has told you, you are enough. Whatever you have done, whoever you love, however you live, you are still beloved.”

I can understand if it doesn’t really make a difference for some people if I say this. Their hurt and rejection by the church is too deep to heal quickly. As a person who lived as a straight, cisgender, white woman in the church for 37 years before coming out, I’m sorry that we haven’t done more as a church to speak love over the rancorous voices of bigotry, discrimination, and shame.

I regularly feel awkward about talking about God and faith, especially in the LGBTQ community. I’ve been told I am too churchy to date. I don’t relish being the uncool guy that always talks about God and goes to church.  But I have been the humble recipient of your stories, and I want to be a good caretaker of the anger and hopes you tell me. I am honored that you have shared your lives with me.

You know, I’m going to try to take my own words to heart. I will celebrate my one little chest hair. It is enough. I will try to accept my mannerisms that are read as feminine. I am male enough. I will keep working for justice in the church. I am cool enough.

And you?  You are enough. And you are pretty damn awesome.

Finding Leo: My Best Valentine

This article was first published in PQ Monthly, Portland, in February 2016.

It’s raining outside. I’m scrolling through Facebook past angry political posts and memes about cats. And then I see a post from AIDS Walk Portland. Drawn in, I look at the photos from last summer. Blue sky and sunshine on the green grass of The Fields Park, smiling friendly faces, pictures that bring back happy memories and joy. My mind starts jumping ahead to this summer, and ideas bubble up for making 2016 even better.
I volunteer for Cascade AIDS Project because I believe in the mission: to prevent HIV infections, support and empower people living with or affected by HIV, and eliminate HIV-related stigma and health disparities. I also want to make a difference because of the people I care about who are affected by HIV.


But how do I describe the greater gift that the community has given me?
In 2010, I was mad a God for suffering in the world, and mad at the church for the human failings of its leaders. Upset about my poor choices in love, and my loss of faith, I was struggling with depression and felt adrift. I had moved back home to Beaverton, after dropping out of seminary. I was lonely, tired of taking myself to dinner alone, and I was just plain feeling blue. I didn’t yet know I am trans.


My friend from seminary asked me if I would join her team in the AIDS LifeCycle, a 545 mile from San Francisco to LA. I wasn’t a cyclist, but thought I would give it a try, hoping it would be a way I could get fit. Because I live in Portland, I was connected with the training captains and teams from this area.


Team Portland for the AIDS LifeCycle is very committed, and I tried to train hard. We got up early on Saturdays and spent the whole day on the bicycle, going up steep hills, learning to ride in the wind and the rain, learning to follow good cycling etiquette. We shared the stories of how our lives were impacted by HIV.


Truthfully, I was still a bit of a lost soul on those rides. I am especially grateful to David Duncan and Maje Anderson, great cyclists and extraordinary men who shepherded me along my steep learning curve, fear of falling and other anxieties, as well as my general struggles. They never left me behind. They helped me face the scariest downhills. The rest of the team is also awesome but some of my strongest memories are of those times when I couldn’t keep up, but David and Maje stuck with me.


The actual event in the summer of 2011 was amazing, with 2500 cyclists and roadies over 7 days. Again, I felt out of my element, and overwhelmed by several challenges (for me one of the hardest was waking up, packing all my gear, and getting on the bike without my usual slow morning dawdle). I was moved deeply, however, by the way people encouraged and supported one another. This was also a time when I most strongly identified as “one of the guys”, and tried to figure out what that was about.


Flash forward to 2012, and David and Maje invited me to ride a shorter ride, this time for the local organization, Cascade AIDS Project. I did some training on the bicycle, but more importantly, became involved in the local community. I met so many new friends who changed my life forever, and found meaning and purpose in working to end AIDS and fight stigma.


It’s amazing how just a few choices can change the direction of your life. I raised money, fought stigma, and promoted education to make a difference in the lives of those affected by HIV. But what I have received far outweighs anything I have given.


It was a journey for me to come from the place of sorrow in 2010, to the place of joy I am now. It took time to rebuild my faith, and find community. It took a village to help me come out as trans.

I find so much inspiration and courage from those who choose to be public about their HIV status, such as the Positive Pedalers from AIDS LifeCycle, whose motto is Eliminating Stigma through Our Positive Public Example, and Cascade AIDS Project’s group Positive Force NW, who seek to build community and eliminate HIV/AIDS-related stigma. I have tried to craft my own life motto, “no shame, no fear, no stigma” based on these role models. They have given me the bravery to live my own most authentic life, loved and cared for me, and helped me find community as my true self. I saw God at our AIDS Walk.


For Valentine’s Day this year, I give my love and gratitude to all who walk, all who donate, all who volunteer, and to all who don’t let stigma or fear hold them back. For those who are struggling, you are in my heart.
I look forward to a day when HIV is no more, but until then, I am grateful for an opportunity to walk alongside those affected by HIV. I can’t wait organize our faith communities again this year for AIDS Walk Portland, on September 10th, 2016. You can sign up now! Start or join a team at AIDSWalkPortland.org!


Thank you all for being a part of my story, and in my life.

Finding Leo: Back to the Beginning

This article was first published in PQ Monthly, Portland, in January, 2016.

Coming out as trans, starting with my own self-realization on March 26, 2013 was both terrifying and liberating. Of course I told Daniel first. A friend of many years, he is the one I call when things go bump in the night. We talk about everything, squabble like siblings, and laugh till we can’t breathe. Daniel was my first go-to for many awkward questions about being gay, and he was patient in my ignorance.

I confessed to Daniel that I thought I might be trans.  I say “confessed” because it carried the burden of so much fear and shame, and was so hard to finally admit. I second-guessed myself. Was I wrong? Was I just trying to fit in? Was I really trans, or trans enough to be trans? Was it just in my head? 

I told my roommate, Patrick, next. After an incredibly awkward pause, I started with “I’ve been looking up transgender stuff on the internet.” A few nights after I shared this new secret, we stayed up until three in the morning, analyzing why I felt this way. He shared his fears, and held me while I sobbed.

If only the me-of-today could share with the me-of-then what I have learned! I am so much more vibrant and authentic living out of the closet. I stand taller, and am more confident in my uniqueness.  I am joyful, and understand why I never quite felt like I fit in.

Within a week of my confessions, I decided to cut my hair. For most of my life, my hair had been long. It is thick and naturally wavy, and I never really styled it. Daniel did want to give me big ponytails or “poof poofs,” but that wasn’t going to happen. I did the “wash, comb and go,” and it felt like a big fluffy triangle. I told myself I could always grow it back.

It was also time to broaden my circle of people-in-the-know and I decided to tell my friend Andrew next. In another story, I’ll tell you how his comment made me realize I am trans. But at this lunch, I didn’t know how to bring it up. I asked about his day, and dawdled over food choices. It felt shameful to admit. In my head, I was a poser and a wannabe. Maybe I wasn’t really trans, but just wanted to be cool.  I finally got the words out, “I’ve been questioning my gender identity.”

He was not fazed or worried. This was not the end of the world, and he would always be my friend. After our conversation, I felt like maybe it wasn’t going to be that big of a deal.

However, for the next few months when I would come out to people, I still softened the statement by saying “I think I may be transgender.” It was a journey for me to go from considering the idea, to tentatively suggesting it, to embracing it. But that softened statement was also made out of fear and defensiveness. My logic was that if I expressed doubt, then people couldn’t attack my sureness.

I made the appointment to get my hair cut. I didn’t tell my other friends or my hair dresser what was really going on. I even brought pictures of women with short hair that matched the men’s style I wanted. I had to go back three times, each time getting shorter and closer to what I truly meant. When I finally came out to my barber, I finally got the man’s haircut I wanted. Authenticity really does pay off!

At first, I didn’t recognize myself in the mirror or in my reflection in windows with the short hair. It was unsettling. I began wearing jeans, a sports bra, and t-shirt regularly, but wanted to expand my male wardrobe. I am blessed with the best of friends who gave me their hand-me-downs to help me start out.  Each step towards living as male just clicked and felt right.

But during those first few months, being in public scared me. I felt vulnerable and exposed in a way that I hadn’t experienced before. I vividly remember walking five blocks in my neighborhood in men’s shorts and a t-shirt with short hair. You’d have thought I was streaking through a priests’ convention the way I felt that I stood out! The places I felt safest were at my friend’s home or at gay bars. However, even there, as I felt more authentically me, I also felt I had made myself ugly and unlovable.

Two months after I came out, I got a tattoo on my right forearm: “Nothing can separate us” from a bible verse, Romans 8:38-39. It reminds me that nothing I can do will make God stop loving me. This reminder was critical in these first few months when I was filled with so much fear: fear I was doing something wrong, fear that people would be upset or hurt me. 

I needed something permanent to remind me that God’s love is bigger than my fear, bigger than other people’s judgment, bigger than my own internalized transphobia. I needed this tattoo to remind me that I am still good, and whole, and worthy of love.  I needed this tattoo to connect me to my faith, even when I was too afraid to believe. 

TO BE CONTINUED…

Beautifully Made

This article was first published in PQ Monthly, Portland, in January 2016.

You are not alone.  You are lovable and worthy.  You have a place at the table. For those of us longing for a community of faith, longing to be known and loved by God, we need to hear these words.

More and more churches are willing to take a public stand and proclaim that “All Are Welcome” really does include everyone, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. Churches are having faithful and sometimes hard conversations, while at the same time working to maintain community. But while these discussions are being had within the sanctuary and church classrooms, many of us may be left outside in the cold, separated from community and kept from hearing those words, “You are a beloved child of God.”

The Rev. Mike Tupper of Kalamazoo, Michigan is a Methodist pastor longing for justice and inclusion in the United Methodist Church. He was brought up on charges within the church for officiating at two marriages of same-sex couples. One of the couples included his daughter. Currently, in the Methodist church, pastors can lose their credentials for marrying a same-sex couple. To protest this, he is camping outside every night until the General Conference for the United Methodists this May. At that time, groups within the Methodist church are going to ask for full inclusion for LGBTQ members and pastors, and for the rules to allow pastors to perform same-sex weddings. (Local folk – heads up – the conference is scheduled for Portland, Oregon from May 10-20th, 2016.  You can be involved and find out more here: http://www.rmnetwork.org/newrmn/itstime)

In his moving picture, Rev. Tupper is outside of a tent, in the snow, proudly holding the photo album from his daughter’s wedding. On Facebook, his caption reads, “Day #51 Cold and snowy. I’m holding book of our daughter’s wedding. Sarah is the reason I’m sleeping outside every night thru General Conference. Praying that Sarah will be fully welcomed inside our church. On to Indianapolis this Friday for a witness.”

I am truly grateful for Rev. Tupper and others who work to not only make the church safe for LGBTQ people, but to celebrate and live alongside our LGBTQ neighbor, fully recognizing the wonderful gifts and strengths of each. I will be paying attention to the Methodist General Conference when it comes to Portland this May, and ways that we can help support those working for change in the church.

This work can sometimes feel daunting, so it is also important to find sources of renewal and strength.  One such opportunity is being sponsored by the Lutherans in the Portland Metro area.  It is a community-wide church service to celebrate that each of us is beautifully and wonderfully made, loved by God and embraced by our community.  Our queerness and diversity is part of what makes us beautiful!  

You are welcome to join us on Sunday, January 24th at 6:30 p.m. at Central Lutheran Church, 1820 NE 21st Ave, Portland. Child care will be provided. There will be a pop-up choir for the event, if you would like to participate.  The one rehearsal is at 5:45 p.m. that evening. A dessert reception follows.

The Episcopal Church also recently had a Festal Eucharist in honor of St. Aelred, the patron Saint of Integrity USA, the welcoming church movement in the Episcopal Church.  This celebration was on January 9th this year at St. Matthew’s Episcopal.

The voices that say “No” to inclusion and love are not the whole story.  They are not the complete picture of church. God’s hospitality is abundant, and God’s love is bigger than any box we can try to use to set up insiders or outsiders.

Please know that no matter what you are told, you are not alone. You are lovable and worthy. You do not need to stay on the outside, for you are welcome at the feast. You are beautifully and wonderfully made, just as you are.

Photo used with permission of Rev. Mike Tupper.

Some helpful links…

To find a welcoming congregation in your area, of any denomination: http://www.welcomingresources.org/directory.htm

I also highly recommend PFLAG as a place to find comfort, community and strength:  https://community.pflag.org/

To find out more about the welcoming church movement in a few of the many denominations with such organizations:

Lutheran ELCA – http://www.reconcilingworks.org/

United Methodist – http://www.rmnetwork.org/

Episcopal – http://www.integrityusa.org/

Community of Welcoming Congregations – an interfaith advocacy group –

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?

What’s New?!

Hi friends,

I wanted to take a moment to share a quick update of what keeps me busy, inspired, and energized.

This year I got more involved volunteering for ReconcilingWorks, a national non-profit that walks alongside the Lutheran Church (ELCA) to help churches welcome, support, and celebrate lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people. In 2015, I had the chance to travel, meet people around the region, and train churches how to talk about God’s love for all, and how to have (sometimes hard) conversations in their faith community.

It is hugely rewarding to meet people working to make a difference in the world.  I am grateful that I am able to hear the stories of why people choose to spend their free time at a training. Many come because they have a loved one who is LGBT and was treated poorly by the church.  They want to change the church so that someone else’s sibling or child has a place to call home in a faith community. Their love and compassion is inspiring!

(Portland area folks – if you are so inclined – join us for a community wide celebration in January – more info here)

I am also grateful that I have been able to help out with Cascade AIDS Project. CAP is the oldest and largest community-based provider of HIV services, housing, education and advocacy in Oregon and Southwest Washington.  It has been amazing to get to know this community even better as we work together to fight the stigma that still surrounds HIV, and work on prevention, education, and services to improve the lives of those affected by HIV.

I also am now a regular columnist at PQ Monthly!
Here are my columns from JanuaryOctober, and November, December … stay tuned for more!

Be well!
~Leo

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!

Finding Leo: My Crotch and My Faith

This article was first published in PQ Monthly, Portland, in October, 2015.

Disclaimer: This my own story and not intended to depict all trans experiences. You probably knew that already. 

As I write this, I am lying in my bathtub, one leg draped over the side of the tub, and I look over my naked body. I am a trans man, assigned female at birth, and have been transitioning socially, hormonally, and surgically for over a year.

In the tub, I admire my legs that are hairier. You know, dude hairy. Testosterone shots in my thigh every week have done their magic, and I am quite pleased with the result.

Testosterone has done other things: deepening my voice, giving me one chest hair (one!), and acne. Even my hands and feet have changed a little.  I’ve always had large hands and wide feet for a woman, but now, as male, they just make sense. How do I explain to my cis friends that my hands and feet now seem right on my own body?

I scoot down in the bathtub so my shoulders are covered, and then cross my arms behind my head, admiring my flat chest. The scars from my top surgery are fading, and the experience is a distant memory. I feel contentment with a chest that fits.  I wish every trans person who needed surgery had access and funding. I am grateful I was able to borrow from my 401k to pay for relief from the mental anguish over intrusive body parts that did not belong.

I look with gratitude at my naked body that has carried me through this world for 40 years. I admire my arms growing stronger from aerial classes. I wiggle my toes in the water; I am happy. But then, there is one source of continued anguish, my lack of penis.

This is not something I enjoy talking about, but a deeply private source of pain. Many times I wish I could live a stealth life, in which I never had to disclose that I am trans. But I feel compelled to share my reflections as an advocate and theologian, and to stand by my personal slogan, “no fear, no shame, no stigma.”

Sigh. I dread being attracted to someone and then revealing that I don’t have the genitalia they expect or desire. When acquaintances talk about the pain of getting hit in the groin, I nod knowingly while hoping they don’t realize I am trans. I wish I could use the men’s urinals. As often as I think about sex (often!), I think … if only I could experience it with a penis. I feel uncomfortable and sad when people gush about the wonders of a dick, which happens regularly in my experience. Surgery is not an option for me right now, considering the cost and physical recovery time.

So why do I bring it up here? People ask me, as a person of faith, if saying that I am transgender means God made a mistake. The emotional distress of gender dysphoria is real, and yet Christianity has been hijacked and used to bully the LGBT community.  People have used their belief in God to tell the trans community that we are mangling or butchering our bodies, defying God’s will for nature’s plan, or that we are sinful or confused.

That, my friends, is bullshit. 

How can I say this? 

Because God is not an asshole (though I respect your right to disagree).

I am trans, and I didn’t choose this. My body and experiences do not match what my brain says they should be, which can be miserable.  God did not do this to me to punish me,  and God did not make a mistake when creating me.  God does not rejoice in my sorrow, nor does God despise me for finding ways to survive, i.e. transitioning.

Why am I trans? Did God make me trans? I don’t even know how wireless internet works, so I don’t expect myself to know how to explain a mystery of the human body.  And I’m ok with not knowing. There are no easy answers. But I don’t believe God made a mistake, in the same way I don’t blame God for the death of my loved ones, for earthquakes, or for world hunger. I may shake my fist at God in anger or frustration, but still not believe God caused these things. 

Paradox and mystery describe the trans experience for me. Being trans is both a blessing and curse. It is the wisdom of having walked in two genders, and an interesting adventure learning a second gender. Being trans is also a source of despair. It is a mystery why I am this way, and yet it is.  It is.

It’s none of my business if you believe in God. I think you’re still awesome. In my beliefs, God delights in the diversity of creation and treasures each one of us. We all belong. Our lives, our journeys, our bodies are all unique. That is a gift.

So now I climb out of the bathtub and onto my soapbox. No matter what, you have worth and dignity.  You are precious, and beautiful, and mysterious.

My own gender dysphoria is sometimes a struggle. The distress is real, but so is my joy in our community, my love of learning trapeze, my delight in the beauty in the world, my conviction that trans people are a blessing, and my knowledge that my faith is big enough for one such as me.

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