Monday, July 15, 2013

The one where the boring, straight, middle-aged, Midwestern lady throws a pretty good party

For the past few weeks, I've been working on a Pride-themed service for the Unitarian Universalist church I attend. Although most communities hold their Pride celebrations in June, our local festivities are held in July (apparently our city likes to wait until you can fry an egg on the sidewalk and the humidity reaches epic levels and THEN plans an outdoor event). I serve on the Sunday Services Committee for the fellowship, so I have a hand in planning some of our services. At a meeting held during the winter months, I floated the idea of having a Pride service the day after the Pride festival. I volunteered to coordinate it, and then I volunteered my friend Karen to be my co-facilitator.  I caught her during a weak moment . . . at happy hour on her birthday.

Once I'd decided to coordinate the service, the next task was to find speakers. I was hoping to find two or three people who would like to share their personal stories. I was turned down more than once. And really, I definitely get it. If someone asked me to speak about my sexual identity and how I choose to express myself, I would probably get a little balky too.  Eventually, we landed two speakers. My friend Karen found one, a very nice gentleman who runs a local design/marketing firm. I found the other through a friend.  I emailed my friend Jennifer and said, "Hey, you seem to know a lot of interesting people. Do you know anyone who might be willing to speak during a service at my church?"

I asked her because she's a roller derby chick and they, as a whole, tend to be a pretty diverse group. She connected me with a friend of hers (they play in the same derby league) who was not only willing to speak, but also grew up as a Unitarian Universalist. Perfect! She was willing to share her story as a transgender person.

I worked with the fellowship's music director to select hymns for the service. I checked out "And Tango Makes Three" from the library.  It horrifies and saddens me that parents around the country have tried to get this book taken out of libraries. If the story of two male penguins raising a baby penguin isn't the sweetest story ever, I just don't know what is.

Karen and I selected some readings and meditations for the service. I also took an excerpt from a recent NPR article to use as a hand-out at the service. As the service date approached, we pulled together the finishing touches and then just kept our fingers crossed for a good turn-out. Attendance at our church can be pretty spotty in the summertime.

Well, let me just say that I could not be happier with how the service went. We had good attendance and quite a few new visitors, too. The speakers blew everyone away as they shared their stories. In their voices we could hear that the enduring pain of being "other" was still very close to the surface for both of them, but the message was so very powerful. It's not a choice. Be kind, be open, be who you are. The derby chick even stripped off her baggy clothes to reveal that she was wearing her skating gear beneath (I tell ya, those derby girls sure do keep the fishnet makers in business). Everyone just loved both speakers.  We have a tradition that allows members of the congregation to offer a response to the speakers.  I walked around with a microphone and was thrilled to see how engaged everyone was, how so many people were eager to share their thoughts. As an added bonus, my friend Jennifer brought along another friend of hers, who just happens to be a cross-dresser. I must say that his ensemble was pretty memorable - a sequined dress and zebra print shoes (with matching clutch, naturally).  And you know what was more awesome?  After the service, my daughter didn't say to me, "Mom, why was that man wearing a dress?" What she said instead was, "Mom, did you see that the sequins were silver one one side and black on the other?!" I'm surprised she didn't ask him where he bought it.

I can breathe a sigh of relief now that I've got this well-received service behind me. I struggled a bit with how to present the service in terms of the LGBTQ community and how I would want them to perceive it. I would feel awkward/uncomfortable to have a gay or transgender person say to me, "Thank you for accepting me," because really, why wouldn't I? I wouldn't want an African-American person to thank me for not being a jackass racist. And yet, I suspect that the speakers at yesterday's service have run into so many douchecanoes in their lives, so many unwelcoming environments, that perhaps there is an element of being pleasantly surprised when they encounter a community that celebrates and embraces diversity. I have a friend who once lost a job simply because she is gay. As I recall, as she was leaving she heard a former co-worker say something like, "Good, the dike is gone."  I mean, really. Who raises their child to behave like that? 

Initially, I wrote a personal reflection that I was going to read at the service. I feel fortunate to have been raised by parents who said things like, "We don't care if you date someone who is black, brown, purple, male, or female, just as long as they are good to you."  I didn't realize what a blessing this was until I was older. I hope I didn't disappoint them too much by only dating white boys (and eventually marrying one). 

Eventually, however, I scrapped what I had written. Why?  Well, you see, I can hold my husband's hand any day, anywhere. There were no roadblocks to our marriage. We adopted a child together (a feat that is extremely difficult for same sex couples).  I can be as indignant about inequality and oppression as I want, but the fact remains that I don't know what it's like not to be able to hold my guy's hand in public. I don't know what it's like to have to filter everything I say because it might fall upon the ears of someone who doesn't approve. So, ultimately, I decided to leave the message fully in the hands of those who have lived it. And I am so grateful to the wonderful people who took a chance and participated in the service.

I might just belong to the coolest church ever.

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