A reflection for the International Transgendered Day of Remembrance
About ten years ago, I was in the lobby of Barnes-Jewish Hospital going to my car from a visit with my spouse, Stephen, who was recovering from an operation. Crossing my path on his way into the hospital for tests was an old friend and former colleague of mine and his wife. We exchanged greetings, brief “catchings up,” and the reasons for our presence there in the lobby. I’ll call this colleague “Roy.” He says to me, “Well, old age isn’t for sissies.” Irrepressible as I am, I stepped back slightly and turned my hand in a gesture of self-display and said, “Oh, yes it is.” And I laughed. He and his wife did, too. Perhaps for each of us, it was a bit of a nervous laugh. I mean, a couple of decades before that, my gay activism had been on display at the campus on which Roy and I then taught. I was known to Roy as a gay activist, a hard-working and competent university professor, and also a man in a long-term same-sex relationshp.
I didn’t realize it at the time, nobody did, but I was a transgendered kid. I never had a good explanation for all the woes of my childhood while it was happening. It just seemed like my life was really difficult and challenging with a lot of stumbling blocks. On the other hand, there were segments of my childhood living that were a joy. I loved school and excelled in every subject but art and physical education. I hung out with my mom, her mom, whom I called “grandmother” and her mom’s mom, whom I called “grandma.” My social world tended to be the Erb children who lived next door (three girls, one boy), my first cousins who lived next door (three girls), and the cluster of women friends who regularly visited and played cards with the female trio of our household. Not that I didn’t relate to my dad. Though he struggled with alcohol addiction, he parented me thoroughly enough that even today he is often my go-to moral reference. When dad was drunk, he could terrorize indiscriminantly. When dad was sober, most of the time we worked out an uneasy truce and tried to get along. We were so different from one another.
In changing their name to “Jayms,” they are coming out as nonbinary.
I recently decided to change my Twitter and Facebook first name from “James” to “Jayms.” While my friends and family have been largely accepting and unquestioning, I would like to explain why for me this makes a significant statement about who I am and how I have evolved in my lifetime.
Sunday morning I awoke to the horrifying news: 20 had been killed in a mass shooting in Orlando. Stunned, I went about the business of getting Stephen and me to church. As usual, we picked up our neighbor, Jim, to give him a ride. His first words in the car were, “Did you hear that 50 people were killed in an attack on a gay bar?” There was something about having that initial estimate of deaths more than doubled that threw me into one of the worst places that I have ever found myself in. I almost couldn’t function. Thank God, our Rector, Jon, started the sermon with silence and a prayer for healing. But I couldn’t even watch the news that day, I was so much in a state of shock.
All of our problems in this world are not due to us queers. All of the problems of this world are due to the killers. The people who hate queer, fear queer, are pissed off at queer.
I didn’t have an easy time accepting my sexuality. I grew up loved, but I lived in fear of saying that I was gay, let alone acting on that fact. I was 30 before I came out, and essentially lived a second teenage during that decade. I did my share of exploration, but always, I was looking for and not finding another man with whom to share my life.
Most everyone who stays in touch with the news knows that the Episcopal Church USA is undergoing a seismic shift towards the full inclusion of gays and lesbians into the life and liturgy of the Church. As reported in the New York Times, at the Church’s tri-annual convention in Anaheim yesterday, the House of Bishops hammered out a broadly supported resolution which, among other things, “gives latitude to bishops who wish to go ahead and bless [same-sex] unions, particularly in states that have legalized such marriages.” Of course, as a gay man whose committed relationship has already received the blessing of the Church in 1993, I was delighted to see this move towards equal treatment. However, millions of people worldwide are as appalled and disgusted with this progressive move as I was thrilled and gratified. One line from the NYT article particularly caught my attention.
The Rev. Steve Wood, pastor of St. Andrews Church in Mount Pleasant, S.C., said: “The conservatives are treated more as zoological oddities. We’re patted on the head, nice-nice, and then we get steamrolled.”