26 January 2015

A Harder And More Necessary Lesson Than I Imagined

For a long time, I simply didn't think about whether there was anything beyond or after this life.  That spell was interrupted, at times, with my denial that anything of the sort existed.  It was easier, really, than trying to reconcile the possibility there could be a deity with the fate I had been dealt in my life--which, of course, includes my gender identity--let alone the fates of other people who suffered all sorts of cruelties and injustices.

For years, when people asked about my beliefs and I couldn't find a way out of answering, I replied that I was an atheist.  It was easier to argue non-belief to a believer--actually, it still is, for me--than it is to reconcile the interpretations I usually read and heard about the divine or the supernatural with anything I had seen in my life.

For much of my life, I didn't want to believe, even if a way to reconcile belief with reality (as I understood) had been explained or revealed to me.  People tried to convince me that their way was right or that they accepted people (i.e., me) but not the things they did.  Or they spewed what I thought was the most awful and absurd line:  "God loves you.  God loves everyone."  That, to me, was a sure sign that the person uttering it hadn't the first idea about what love is.  Hey, there were times when I thought that love itself is a delusion.  Sometimes I still wonder...

For the past year and a half, I have been attending a church.  I'm still uneasy about it.  It's not because, as one parishoner suggested, I'm worried about what other people think.  (I stopped worrying about that when I realized that too many people simply don't think!)  Actually, there is still a part of me that doesn't want to be convinced that there is a God (or whatever name you want to give) and that s/he (or whatever identity) loves me, or anybody.  And, in spite of what I have experienced over these most recent months, it's still hard for me to believe, sometimes, that I've met people who are actually Christians or adherents to any other faith, let alone clergy, who don't think I need to be changed or "cured".  Actually, one of the priests in my church has asked me a lot about my identity and story because this priest admits, "There's still a lot I don't know."  This same priest has listened to me talk about all sorts of other things and has helped me in other ways.

Yes, there are all those verses--mainly in the Old, but sometimes in the New--Testament that warn against "a man lying with a man as with a woman" or whatever.  But, as a student of literature, I know that all sayings, all words, come from specific places and times.  Some of our greatest writings contain notions that are outdated or simply quaint, and portrayals of people that we today consider to be bigoted.  Some things were forbidden because of conditions that prevailed at the time (for example, in the time Exodus was written, it probably was important to produce as many children as possible) and the tenets of Judaism and Christianity developed in a context of notions about gender and other cultural mores that most of us (well, at least most people I know) would find abhorrent or simply incompatible with life as we know it.  

But, whatever prohibitions there are in the Bible, the harshest utterances of Jesus himself--at least, the harshest ones recorded in the Bible--were not directed at gays, lesbians, bisexuals or transgenders.  In fact, the Bible, as far as I can tell, says nothing at all about trans people. (Some interpret "a man shall not appear as a woman" as an injunction against us.  But those of us who are trans women would argue that we are not men.) Nor were they directed at those who suffered any sort of prejudice or oppression.  Rather, he reserved his most scathing indictments for the Pharisees, those religious teachers so focused on rules that they forgot what mattered, namely mercy and compassion.

Mercy and compassion.  Learning that people actually try to practice such things, as best as they know how, to people like me--and not only because we're trans or whatever--is a harder lesson to learn and accept than I could have imagined--almost as hard as the struggle with my gender identity. But it seems that I have no other choice but to learn it.

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